Mixed-Age Grouping: What Does the Research Say, and How Can Parents Use This Information?
by Debbie Reese; May 1998
SourceNPIN Parent News
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Parents can feel intimidated by the jargon used by teachers and school officials. Some terms may be new to those who have not spent much time in educational settings. As the school year draws to a close, some parents may find that in the coming school year, their child will be placed in a "mixed-age classroom." This article provides some basic information about mixed-age grouping and examines research on mixed-aged grouping. Finally, a list of questions is provided--questions parents can pose to prospective mixed-age group teachers or the schools principal--about how they will address parents concerns.
Mixed-age grouping is a way of grouping children in which the children's age range is larger than a year--sometimes 2 years and sometimes more. It is intended to optimize the educative potential of the mixture itself. In a mixed-age classroom, children stay with the same teacher for several years. For example, in a classroom with children who are 5, 6, and 7 years old, the children who enter at the age of 5 remain with the teacher for 3 years.
In The Benefits of Mixed Age Grouping (1995), Katz provides a clear understanding of what "mixed-age grouping" means. She writes that "Although humans are not usually born in litters, we seem to insist that they be educated in them." In most families children are born one at a time, and if the parents opt to have more than one child, the children are spaced out over a few years. In the home, the older children help the younger ones with certain tasks. In this helping relationship, the younger and older children work together to help the younger learn new skills.
Take, for example, tying shoes. Older children who have mastered this skill will often help younger siblings tie their shoes. The older child has the opportunity to develop her patience, as well as the verbal skills necessary to communicate the steps to the younger child, while the younger learns how to tie her shoes. Often, an older child may read a story to a younger child, occasionally pointing out letters of the alphabet as they read. The older child has the opportunity to develop and solidify reading abilities, while the younger has an opportunity to develop listening and early reading skills.
These sorts of opportunities occur naturally in a home environment. However, as more parents join the work force, and children enter child care settings in which they are grouped according to age, there are fewer opportunities for children to learn from older or younger children in a natural way. Mixed-age classrooms allow this sort of interaction between older and younger children to occur.
The research supporting mixed-age classrooms indicates that academic achievement is the same as, or better than, the academic achievement of children in same-grade classrooms. Mixed-age classrooms do not negatively affect student achievement, and students in these classrooms have significantly more positive attitudes toward school, themselves, and others (Stone, 1998; Veenman, 1996). The Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) lists the following benefits of multiage classrooms:
However, some researchers suggest that it is important to examine the way in which mixed-age grouping is implemented in a particular school district. Mason and Burns (1996) have identified important differences in how mixed-age classrooms are implemented that relate to why the school district has chosen to implement a multiage program:
Another factor that may affect the positive outcomes of mixed-age grouping, according to Mason and Burns, is that the principal, in an effort to reduce the burden on the teacher, will place children who are more cooperative, and more independent, in the mixed-age classroom. In some cases, the principal will assign the more-able teacher to the mixed-age classroom, believing that person needs more experience and skills in order to manage the range of childrens abilities.
What can parents do with this information?
Mixed-age grouping has great potential, but only if its implementation is carefully and knowledgeably planned (Gaustad, 1995). Parents who have the option of choosing their childs teacher and classroom for the coming year may want ask these questions when deciding whether to request a mixed-age classroom: (1) Was the classroom established based on an educational decision or a budgetary one? (2) Did the teacher choose to work in that classroom? (3) Does the teacher feels she has the curricular materials necessary to work with all the children in the class? (4) How does the teacher ensure that younger children are not overwhelmed by older or more competent children? (5) How has the curriculum been modified to take advantage of the heterogeneity of the classroom? Asking the teacher or principal these questions can help parents make the best decision for their child.Back to the Table of Contents
Gaustad, Joan. (1995). Implementing the multiage classroom. ERIC Digest. Eugene, OR: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management.
Katz, Lilian. (1995). The benefits of mixed-age grouping. ERIC Digest. Champaign, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.
Mason, DeWayne A., & Burns, Robert B. (1996). "Simply no worse and simply no better" may simply be wrong: A critique of Veenmans conclusion about multigrade classes. Review of Educational Research, 66(3), 307-322.
Stone, Sandra. The multiage classroom: A guide for parents. ACEI Speaks.
Stone, Sandra. (1998). Defining the multiage classroom. Focus on Elementary, 10(3).
Veenman, Simon. (1996). Effects of multigrade and multi-age classes reconsidered. Review of Educational Research, 66(3), 323-340.Back to the Table of Contents
Published monthly by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Children's Research Center, 51 Gerty Drive, Champaign, IL 61820-7469. This publication was funded by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. DERR93002007. Opinions expressed in this magazine do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the Department of Education.
NPIN Coordinator and Parent News Editor: Anne Robertson