ERIC Identifier: ED409604
Publication Date: 1997-06-00
Author: Gaustad, Joan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Building Support for Multiage Education. ERIC Digest, Number
Multiage education involves placing children of different ages, abilities,
and emotional maturity in the same classroom. Students are frequently regrouped
for different learning activities rather than being consistently segregated by
chronological age, and they often remain with the same teacher or teaching team
for more than one year. Many different labels have been applied to such classes,
including "family grouping, blends, nongraded, and multiage continuous
Research indicates that heterogeneous grouping promotes cognitive and social
growth, reduces antisocial behavior, and facilitates the use of research-based
developmentally appropriate instructional practices such as active learning and
integrated curriculum. The wider range of ages and abilities in a multiage
classroom discourages misleading age-graded expectations and helps teachers
focus on students' individual learning needs.
WHY IS PARENT AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT IMPORTANT?
community support benefits all types of educational endeavors by positively
affecting student learning, but it is particularly crucial for multiage programs
because the approach is unfamiliar to most citizens.
Multiage practices have evolved gradually over decades as research revealed
more about learning and child development. But to adults whose last contact with
elementary education occurred during their own childhoods, these practices can
seem a sudden, radical departure from familiar ways.
Multiage practices are vulnerable to misunderstanding and can stimulate
violent opposition if efforts are not made to explain and build support among
parents, the local education community, and the general public.
HOW CAN INFORMATION ABOUT MULTIAGE PRACTICES BE EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATED?
Information should be communicated in many ways to be
accessible to adults with different learning styles, backgrounds, and
personalities, just as instruction is offered in many different formats to reach
students in multiage classrooms.
Written forms of communication include newsletters, brochures, copies of
published articles, and teacher-written notes and letters. Surveys and
questionnaires encourage parent feedback and suggestions. Newspapers and other
local media are the main sources of education information for many citizens, but
because many reporters are unfamiliar with multiage practices, administrators
must ensure that information about multiage programs is understood and reported
Informational meetings can range from formal presentations and participatory
workshops to informal parent-teacher coffees. Schools should schedule meetings
to accommodate both working and nonworking parents. Educator Colleen Politano
finds that involving students in presentations increases parent attendance as
well as effectively demonstrates multiage activities (Gaustad, forthcoming).
Parents of children in multiage programs also make convincing presenters.
Classroom visits or videotapes of multiage activities are also valuable.
Word-of-mouth communication is a powerful tool that can elicit support for
multiage programs. Multiage teachers and principals have an important role to
play in this regard, but any member of the education community, from custodian
to school board member, may share information and opinions with curious
citizens. Therefore, it is essential to educate all members of the school or
district about multiage practices.
HOW CAN PARENTS AND THE COMMUNITY BE INVOLVED IN MULTIAGE EDUCATION?
The multiage approach encourages students to learn from each
other as well as from the teacher, and multiage teachers often work in teams,
helping and learning from each other. Adult volunteers are natural additions to
such a "community of learners" (Chase and Doan 1994). In addition to assisting
teachers with labor-intensive multiage methods, participating in instruction
helps volunteers learn about multiage practices and see how they benefit
children. Volunteers often increase community support by conveying information
and positive attitudes about multiage education to friends and neighbors.
Parent and community volunteers can participate in instruction in many ways.
They can give special whole-class presentations, teach ongoing classes in art,
science, or languages to small groups, or tutor individual students. Parents can
also participate in instruction at home, guided by written directions for
homework assignments or suggestions for ways to reinforce their child's
learning. Instructional skills can be taught at volunteer training workshops.
Volunteers can also provide behind-the-scenes support with activities such as
preparing materials, fundraising, and organizing volunteer activities.
Depending on their resources, businesses can offer support ranging from
modest, one-time donations to ongoing business partnerships. Businesses can
encourage employees to volunteer in the schools by providing paid release time
or allowing flexible schedules. Kentucky business leaders formed the Partnership
for Kentucky School Reform (1996) to support implementation of the new multiage
Primary Program and other reforms.
WHAT OBSTACLES CAN HINDER MEANINGFUL PARENT
Multiage programs typically describe parents as "partners in
education" and seek to involve them in instruction in substantive ways. However,
meaningful parent involvement can be hindered by ingrained attitudes and lack of
experience. In traditional age-graded schools, parent involvement is often
limited to nonclassroom support tasks. Teachers work autonomously in classrooms
"separated by time, space, and curriculum" (Miller 1994), rarely collaborating
even with fellow professionals. Parents and teachers must acquire new skills and
change old attitudes to become effective partners.
Teachers may be uncomfortable sharing control or fear that involving
volunteers will lower the quality of instruction. They may believe parents are
uninterested or have little to contribute. They may be reluctant to admit
potentially critical "outsiders" to their classrooms while they are still
mastering multiage practices, or may feel overwhelmed by the additional time
demands of training and organizing volunteers. Parents may doubt their ability
to contribute or believe they should not "interfere" with instruction. They may
distrust educators or educational innovations because of past negative
experiences with the school system.
Negative preconceptions are more likely to be replaced by trust and good will
if teachers and parents have positive experiences sharing thoughts and feelings
and working together. Planners must surmount practical obstacles such as
parents' work schedules, their need to care for other children, and teachers'
needs for administrative support and training in how to work effectively with
Fully mastering multiage practices takes years. Teachers can work more
comfortably with parents during this ongoing process if their principal strives
to create a school climate supportive of change--a climate in which it is
accepted that mistakes are a normal part of learning and growing (Miller).
HOW CAN PARENTS AND COMMUNITY MEMBERS PARTICIPATE IN DECISION-MAKING?
Parents should have input into significant instructional
and assessment decisions concerning their child, as well as major decisions that
affect their child's school or program, such as whether multiage practices
should be adopted. Parents should also decide whether their child attends a
Participation in decision-making increases ownership and support for multiage
education, as it does for any innovation. Parents, educators, and other
stakeholders should be included in the planning process from the beginning.
Parent and community representatives can serve on school advisory councils or
multiage study committees. All parents should have opportunities to voice
concerns at each stage of the implementation process via such means as meetings
Planners should expect conflict to arise during the course of
decision-making. Calkins (1992) urges school leaders to regard disagreements as
normal and to be open to learning from other members of the school community. He
advises administrators to educate themselves about consensus-building strategies
and the change process in order to manage conflict constructively.
Superior solutions sometimes arise from the interaction of participants with
different perspectives. At Boeckman Creek Primary School in Wilsonville, Oregon,
skeptical parents joined the multiage evaluation team and helped devise a
rigorous evaluation process that satisfied even the most doubtful (Gaustad).
Administrators, teachers, parents, and community members can follow Boeckman
Creek's example, working together to create and refine successful multiage
Calkins, Trevor. "Off the Track: Children Thrive
in Ungraded Primary Schools." "School Administrator" 49, 5 (May 1992): 8-13. EJ
Chase, Penelle, and Jane Doan. "Full Circle: A New Look at Multiage
Education." Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1994. 184 pages. ED 371 864.
Gaustad, Joan. "Building Support for Multiage Education." OSSC Bulletin
Series. Eugene, Oregon: Oregon School Study Council, forthcoming.
Miller, Bruce. "Children at the Center: Implementing the Multiage Classroom."
Eugene, Oregon: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management; and Portland,
Oregon: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 1994. 138 pages. ED 376 544.
Partnership for Kentucky School Reform. "From Dilemma to Opportunity: A
Report on Education Reform in Kentucky, Five Years After the Kentucky Education
Reform Act of 1990." Lexington, Kentucky: Author, February 1996. 47 pages.