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A Multigrade Education Just Works

Updated: Apr 9, 2022

Photo by Jessica Lewis

I am sorry, but trying to find a photograph let alone a quote about multigrade grade classrooms without referring to homeschool is well nigh impossible.

Here at Maricopa Christian Academy we will always be a multigrade school. The main reason is it just works really well. I have been using multigrade classrooms when I taught regular education in public and private schools or as a special education teacher for over forty years.

This year the school will have students in grades first through sixth together because I am the lone teacher supported by my classroom aide of six years and counting. I am really looking forward to six grades working together.

But as we grow, the school will be divided into primary classes that will contain around fifteen students ages six, seven and eight; first, second and third grades. Elementary classes will house ages nine, ten and eleven; fourth, fifth and sixth grade students.

I would never, no not ever, instruct in a class not designed to be a multigrade class. Here are my thoughts from my many years using this structure as to why the multigrade approach is so superior.

With multigrade classrooms, the focus is on the individual and his goals. Because I teach to individual goals built on each student's mastery from the day before, what the rest of the class is learning is irrelevant to the other student‘s goals in the class.

My fourth grade student may be working on basic math concepts typical for a sixth grade student as well as have the expectation to double the amount of work to complete during the allotted math instruction because she has the skills and the work ethic.

While in the same classroom, a sixth grade student may be working on skills typical of a second grade student's expectations with myself as the teacher expecting only half the work to be completed as expected by typical students during the same class.

I know, you are having about now, many thoughts running around in your head. Doesn't the sixth grade student feel bad with his situation? No, he will not after, at the most the first week at the school. He is finally learning some math skills after spending so many years behind. He is able to see he can make progress. And what I know, and I tell this to him and his parents, is he will not always be behind by four years. The math skills taught through seventh grade are not really different than second grade skills. A few more place values, larger numbers to divide or round, but with some exceptions, he will not need four years to be at class expectations for his grade.

There is a problem with the fourth grade student advancing so quickly. And it is a very real problem in our culture. If and when she goes to another school, there is no school in Arizona that will have any idea whatsoever in how to instruct her at her advanced level.

Multi-grade classrooms have am amazing interpersonal dynamic going on between each of the different students. Competition and concern about where a student is at in his or her skills is pretty much gone. Instead, older students are proud of the younger students reaching milestones they have already met. Younger students are happy for the older students and their accomplishments, working to someday achieve at their level. Otherwise the students are focused on their unique individual learning goals.

Teachers in the typical three year primary and elementary classes, have the opportunity to build amazing communication between the student and the parents. Really, the worst part is when the three years of the teacher/family relationship is formally over. It is tough to say goodbye.

As a teacher of multigrade classes, I work for the long goal. I know that for the next three years, the sky is the limit. I do not have to train a new class each year on my expectations. Yes, there will always be a few new students arriving in the class, but they will have the other students to model and share my expectations.

I know each student is a very, very unique creation made in the image of his creator. And each of those students have much in common as far as how they respond to praise and success. Also, each of those students are unique in their past experiences. I and my future teachers will know how to teach our students from where their skills are at and where we are taking them, one day at a time, here at Maricopa Christian Academy.

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