Multi-Age Collaborative Learning

Is the best way for children to learn to share a class with children who happen to have been born within the same arbitrary time frame, aka a school year? I don’t have an answer, either to this question or to how best to implement this hypothetical answer, but here I’ll explore my current level of thinking.
My instant reaction to this is ‘it depends’. I think that that single-aged classes have a place, and the reason (I think) they’ve been the standard way of organising classrooms is because children of a similar age have similar levels of knowledge, skill and development. I do agree that this format is important in some situations. Being around the ‘same’ kinds of people can obviously have its advantages. Humans are designed to look for what’s familiar and gravitate to like-minded people, and age is an obvious example of something that is (usually at least approximately) easy to spot. So from this point of view, it makes sense to have children of similar ages in the same class.

I’d now like to challenge two things about the idea of one-age classes

Firstly, children of the same age can display large differences in maturity level (influenced, largely, by their environment at home), level of reading (again, heavily impacted by home life), physical ability etc. This can have positive and negative repercussions: positively, children can be exposed to these differences ‘naturally’ even within a single-age class; negatively, their exposure to children of other ages is limited, and limits their access to the benefits that these children have.

This leads to my second point: there are things that children can’t get from children their own age. For example, how much benefit would a five year old get from the attention, teaching and wisdom from an 11 year old? And how much benefit would the 11 year old get from teaching the younger child? I believe passionately in this. I think that, in some ways, it would be more important for the five year-old to learn from an older child than from an adult because the younger child can relate more easily to someone who is much nearer their age.

At the moment, I don’t have an answer about whether it’s best for children to be with others of the same age or in a mixed age class, or whether there is a compromise to be reached. At the moment I think that schools that use single-age classes should encourage collaboration across children from Reception to Year 6.

Moving forward I hope to shed some light on what the optimal way to organise a classroom is, and how best to implement this strategy.

Differentiation: A Happy Medium

The importance of differentiation is obvious: everyone is unique. In an ideal world, teaching would be individualised and tailored to a single child’s unique personality, needs, knowledge, strengths, challenges and goals. Not only is this very nearly impossible in a class of 30 children, it is also not desirable because this individualised approach does not allow for social interaction and social learning.

Differentiation bridges the gap between the individual approach, mentioned above, and ‘one size fits all’ methods of teaching. It allows students to work at their own level with peers of a similar level of understanding/competence. This process also allows for children to work with others with different understanding and competencies. This forms the basis of teamwork: working with others in a way that collates and integrates individuals’ resources and skills in order to achieve an outcome that benefits each individual and the group as a whole.