There is no question that a child’s social-emotional wellbeing is critical to ensuring success at school.
Multi-Age Classrooms are one way that children are able to make deep connections to peers and their
teacher. They are able to lead, and follow the leadership of others. They recognize a wide range of
interests and abilities, and this recognition creates an environment based on acceptance and inclusion
rather than competition and working in isolation. While this makes a strong case for the consideration of
Multi-Age Classrooms itself, I believe Multi-Age Classrooms are more relevant now than ever before, in
meeting the needs of a 21st century Learner.
21st Century Learning
Preparing learners for an uncertain future is one of the most daunting and exciting challenges for
educators today. To rise to this challenge the notion, of instilling learners with 21st century skills, as
opposed to long lists of specific content and benchmarks, continues to gain popularity. While we may be
unsure what the future holds, we know that students equipped with skills like collaboration, creativity,
and global citizenship will be more likely to excel. Multi-Age Classrooms provide a strong foundation to
build these skills upon.
The community of a Multi-Age Classroom is made up of a larger age span of learners, and therefore best
reflects what a child experiences in the real world. In their families, neighborhoods, and communities
across the world children interact with other children of various ages and are not divided into age groups.
In the Multi-Age Classroom, emphasis is placed on the child rather than on the curriculum. (Stuart, 2006).
This is consistent with the shift toward the development of skills rather than a set curriculum.
Studies have also focused on the instructional practices best suited to a Multi-Age Classroom. Some of the
most prevalent instructional practices include continuous-progress learning, integrated instruction,
cooperative learning, hands-on and active learning, portfolios for assessment, project based learning, and
specific instruction in positive group interactions to teach social skills and independent learning skills
(Hoffman, 2002). Many of these practices, such as project-based learning, have shown a strong connection
to enhancing the development of 21st century skills for young learners. Pairing these strong instructional
practices with a dynamic learning community creates rich opportunities for learners to interact, discover,
and problem-solve with a diverse group of peers. Thus, research has found that Multi-age Classrooms
allow for the development of a balanced personality by fostering attitudes and qualities that enable
students to live in a complex and changing social environment (Veenman, 1995).
The teachers of Multi-Age Classrooms have also demonstrated a high degree of flexibility and diversity.
One study found that the beliefs of Multi-Age teachers centered around four themes: differentiated
instruction, social collaboration, flexible grouping, and student interest. Observational data yielded
instructional practices that supported these beliefs and that demonstrated a commitment to the tenets
of multiage grouping. A review of qualitative studies on MACs, concluded that teachers with a high degree
of consistency find teaching in a Multi-Age Classroom more difficult than teaching in a single-grade setting
(Daniel, 2007). Thus, teachers who are adaptive, flexible, and focused on student interests are most likely
to be successful in a Multi-Age Classroom. This set of beliefs certainly connects to the profile of an
excellent 21st century educator.
However, this is not a future trend. Multi-Age Classrooms are currently in place around the globe. The
following are excerpts regarding the Multi-Age program from a variety of schools: