ERIC Identifier: ED351148
Publication Date: 1992-00-00
Author: Katz, Lilian G.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Nongraded and Mixed-Age Grouping in Early Childhood Programs. ERIC Digest.
Interest in the potential benefits of mixed-age grouping in preschools and the early primary grades has increased steadily in recent years (Willis, 1991). Two large-scale mandates to "ungrade" the first years of schooling are receiving a great deal of attention from educators. One is the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1989 and the other is the provincial mandate of British Columbia in Canada for ungraded classes in the primary years. These initiatives are likely to be followed in several states where similar efforts are under consideration (e.g., Oregon).
Among the reasons behind the trend toward mixed-age grouping are widespread concern about the high proportion of young children who are retained in the early grades, increasing recognition that grade repetition does not help children overcome difficulties in meeting narrow and specific grade achievement expectations, attempts to implement developmentally appropriate teaching and curriculum practices in the early grades, and growing awareness of the potential benefits of cross-age interaction to intellectual and social development (Katz et al., 1990).
CONFUSION OF TERMS
NONGRADED OR UNGRADED GROUPING
In many implementations of nongradedness, children in a class or across classes are placed in regular or temporary groups for specific instruction in basic skills regardless of their age. In this approach to nongradedness, the main goal is to increase the homogeneity of ability of instructional groups rather than the interaction across ability groups. In other words, the terms nongraded and ungraded refer to grouping practices in which ages are mixed, but the primary purpose is to homogenize groups of children for instruction on bases other than age.
MIXED-AGE OR MULTI-AGE GROUPING
IMPLICATIONS OF EACH GROUPING
Several kinds of combined grades and continuous progress practices do not set out to increase the sense of family within the class or encourage children with different levels of knowledge and experience to learn together. In contrast, mixed-age grouping involves class composition that takes advantage of the heterogeneity of experience, knowledge, and skills in a group of children with an age range of more than one year (Katz et al., 1990). Research on cross-age interaction in spontaneous, experimental, and educational settings indicates that a variety of developmental and educational benefits can be obtained from such interaction, especially in the early years (Balaban, 1991). Elkind (1989) recommends mixed-age grouping as a developmentally appropriate alternative to a rigid lock-step curriculum and as a way to strengthen teachers' sensitivity to the normal variability of children's developmental trajectories in a single age group.
Mixed-age grouping can provide older children with the opportunity to be helpful, patient, and tolerant of younger peers' competencies, and thus give them some of the desirable early experiences of being nurturant that underlie parenting and helping others who are different from oneself. Exposure to older children as nurturers provides young recipients with models of behavior they can emulate when they become the older members of a group. Research on cross-age interaction, peer tutoring, and cooperative learning indicates that an age range of greater than one year can provide a level of intellectual stimulation that supports the development of both intellectual and academic competence. This sort of learning environment is also likely to generate greater social benefits than same-age groups, especially for children who are at-risk in particular social development categories (Katz et al., 1990).
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
Teaching strategies likely to result in children's realizing the benefits of a wide age range include encouraging more knowledgeable and experienced children to assist less able ones, regardless of age, as needed; encouraging younger children to request assistance from more competent classmates; and encouraging older and more experienced children to take responsibility for helping the others.
Each grouping arrangement has its risks. A risk of homogeneous age grouping is that some children will become acutely aware of failing to live up to normative expectations for behavior and achievement for their age. Risks of mixed-age grouping are those of younger children becoming burdens to older ones and being overwhelmed by more competent classmates. Teachers must keep in mind the risk of overlooking older and more experienced children's need for challenge, but this is the case in every class, even when student age is not a factor. Research on mixed-age grouping suggests that in spite of its risks, its potential advantages outweigh its disadvantages (Katz et al., 1990).
Blumenfeld, P.C., et al. "Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning." Educational Psychologist 26 (Summer and Fall, 1991): 369-98.
Elkind, D. "Developmentally Appropriate Education of 4-Year-Olds." Theory into Practice 27 (1989): 47-52.
Goodlad, J.I., and Anderson, R.H. The Nongraded Elementary School. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1959 and 1963.
Goodlad, J.I., and Anderson, R.H. The Nongraded Elementary School. Revised Edition. NY: Teachers College Press, 1987.
Katz, L.G., and Chard. S.C. Engaging Children's Minds: The Project Approach. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1989.
Katz, L.G., Evangelou, D., and Hartman, J.A. The Case for Mixed-Age Grouping in Early Childhood. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1990. ED 326 302.
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Shinn, B. M. Nongraded Elementary Schools. ERIC Bibliography. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, 1967. ED 015024
Willis, S. Breaking Down the Grade Barriers. ASCD Update. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1991.