Many educators lament the idea that the age of a student should drive the level of math, language arts, comprehension, and social communication skills a student has. They also are frustrated by the lockstep expectation that all students progress at exactly the same pace. We know these age and pace standards are fallacies. But when we’re in a large system, there has to be some manageable way to herd students forward. So we use the industrial-era assembly line production model, as if our precious children were widgets!
Different School, Different Standards
Not in micro-schools. Being small means that we can have multiple ages in one group. And we can group students based on ability, interest, or any other characteristic we deem important. At times, we pair students of different ages so that we can create a mentor-mentee relationship. Why is it a benefit to create multi-age classrooms? Let’s look at three reasons.
We know that students become disengaged when they are bored. Is it any surprise that a Gallup poll finds that students become increasingly disengaged as they progress in grade levels and find that 50% of adolescents feel disengaged?
A teacher in a large traditional school may have to teach 30 students at once. In a middle or high school, teachers may have to teach up to five groups of 30 a day. Lectures and textbook work are two common ways to manage such a large number of students. Unfortunately, most students find this style of learning boring. In our YouTube, short-attention-span, modern society, kids are used to jumping from topic to topic and only focusing for ten minutes (or less!). Some can focus longer if the topic is of great interest or there is a reward to staying focused.
- Mastery Learning.
We live in a society in which mastery comes after practice and there are many systems in place–laws, even–that require one to prove their abilities before moving forward. Take driving, for example. We don’t give teens and adults a driver’s license until they pass a written test and a practical driving test. The amount of time it takes to pass both tests can vary greatly. Mastery learning is of critical importance. It should be foundational in ALL learning.
A student should receive a pre-test and if they demonstrate mastery, be able to move on or engage in enrichment activities. At the end of a unit, if a student does not demonstrate mastery (usually considered 80% or higher), they should have a chance to keep learning before they move on. In a micro-school, it is possible to personalize the learning so that each student is working at their own pace of mastery. We don’t have any of our “drivers out on the freeway” before they demonstrate mastery!
- Student Voice. Student Choice.
We know that when we have a voice and a choice, we are more likely to participate willingly and learn. When we are not pressured by external standardized tests over rote content, we have time to create ways for students to have agency. Not only does this allow students to pursue their own interests, but it allows students to learn from each other and explore new topics. It’s exciting to see students share interests.
One phenomenon we saw in my own micro-school, LEADPrep Academy, last winter was middle school boys learning to knit and crochet. Who knew?!
These are just three of the many benefits of a multi-age classroom. And micro-schools, with their flexibility, are a natural place for multi-age classrooms!
Changing with the Times
As we move forward into the future, we must prepare to adapt to changing times. We must also prepare to develop the adults and leaders we want to see navigating the world we live in. While traditional structures may work for some schools, we have a different take on things in micro-schools. Multi-age classrooms are our norm and we’ve seen the benefits. There is no right or wrong take on this approach, but we are adapting and evolving to meet the needs of today for the future.