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.

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Is This Enough To Pique Your Curiosity About Meaningful Learning?

How many things have you enjoyed learning when you didn’t want to learn them? And how much did you learn?

  • English (e.g. writing instructions for how to board a plane);

  • Maths (e.g. calculating distances and times of journeys; working out takeoff angles);

  • Science (e.g. magnets, electricity, gravity);

  • Art and Design (e.g. designing a new logo for a plane company);

  • Computing (e.g. programming an ‘aeroplane’ to go from A to B);

  • Design and Technology (e.g. building a model plane);

  • Geography (e.g. interpreting a map of an island your plane has landed on);

  • History (e.g. looking at what life was like in the time when the first plane was built);

  • Languages (e.g. communicating with plane enthusiasts in other countries);

  • Music (e.g. creating their own music to play to passengers of their planes);

  • PE (e.g. training like cabin crew in order to be able to stay balanced during turbulence).

Working within the national curriculum, this means that we have to make the objectives relevant to the children so that, even if they’re not consciously choosing what to learn, we’re making them ‘think’ that they are. In this way, we could plant some ‘bait’ to pique the children’s curiosity.

For example, suppose we’re planning a lesson on magnets. You could, quite easily, begin by talking about what magnets are and how they work. The children would learn, sure, but would they really care? What if you started the lesson by, for example, throwing paper clips at a magnet? I think that if the lesson began in this way, it would be hard for the children not to be curious and want to learn more! I believe that this kind of lesson starter inspires children to want to learn more and, from this choosing, they have more invested in the lesson and therefore will learn (and enjoy the lesson) more.

As good as it is to engage all children in this way, where they all learn the same thing at the same time, is it possible that at least part of the school week could include an individualised curriculum, where children with similar interests work together across all areas of the national curriculum? Which child wouldn’t want to go to school if that were the case?

Assessment For Learning: Why Bother?

Assessment is such a big topic that it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re doing and why. Fundamentally, assessment means finding out what the children know. With this information, we can then help with the children’s next steps in learning; if we don’t know where we’re starting, we can never go on a journey of any relevance/meaning. Try starting a journey without being at the start of that journey!

 

There are various times at which we can assess for learning (or ‘assess for knowledge/skill’). At the start of a topic, we might want to find out existing knowledge – from previous years in school, previous topics in the same year, and/or from their life outside school. Mid-way through a lesson, we might want to check that the children are heading in the right direction and have understood the teaching to a point where they are able to complete the task they’ve been set. At the end of a lesson, or series of lessons, it’s important that we know what the children have learnt; otherwise, what’s the point?
I believe that children always learn. I actually think it’s almost impossible, when you’re new to the world like children are, not to learn. The difficulty for us as teachers is to find ways to understand where the children are in their journey and help them from that point. This is where assessments made in lessons feed into planning; assessment is pretty useless if it’s not used in the planning process.
Future posts will outline specific techniques to use to assess for learning, both formatively and summatively, but for now I just wanted to outline the basics of why assessment is important and give a few examples of how we can use it.