The traditional one room schoolhouse is an historical example of a model of multi-age learning. Once legislation made education mandatory, around the turn of the twentieth century (Lingwall, 2010), schools expanded to accommodate mass education. Segregating the students into classrooms by age was an efficient and logical step in the organization of larger schools.
Through the twentieth century, the single-age classroom persisted. One teacher was in charge of each classroom. The students were assigned their class according to their age with one teacher in charge of each class. The curriculum was determined by the grade, and focused on the retention of knowledge delivered by the teacher. The goal was the fit the child to the class and little consideration was given to fitting the class to the child.
Research has shown that children learn at different rates and the variance in knowledge and skills between students of the same age can be great (Stone, 1997). A continuous progression in curriculum expectations will simultaneously prevent some students from advancement relative to their current abilities and preclude others from valuable additional practice. In this context, a single-age classroom may be viewed as an impediment which imposes limitations on learning (Johnson, 1998).
One great benefit of the multi-age classroom is the opportunity to foster collaborative learning. An environment composed of students of varying experience, knowledge and skills is one in which group projects, problem-solving and mentorship can benefit all.
“For example, Stone and Christie (1996a, 1996b) showed that older children’s literacy development benefited from more frequent opportunities to expand on basic and comprehension skills while mentoring younger children.” (Ong, Allison & Haladyna, 2000)
Is the multi-age model well-suited to the use of digital technology in the classroom? Perhaps it is time to revisit this pedagogy and assess its fit with the future trends in education.
Lingwall, J., 2010. Compulsory Schooling, the Family, and the “Foreign Element,” Evidence from the United States, 1880-1900. Retrieved May 26, 2012, from http://www.heinz.cmu.edu/faculty-and-research/research/research-details/index.aspx?rid=372
Ong, W., Allison, J., Haladyna, T. M., 2000. Student Achievement of 3rd-Graders in Comparable Single-Age and Multiage Classrooms.(Statistical Data Included). Journal of Research in Childhood Education, March 2000. Retrieved May 26, 2012 from http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-63567049.html
Stone, S. J., 1997. The Multi-age Classroom: What Research Tells the Practitioner. ASCD Curriculum Handbook, p 105-120.