The thought of planning for a multi-age class can be overwhelming at first, especially if you are unfamiliar with one or both of the curriculum. It may seem that you now have to plan and teach two grades simultaneously; however that is the thinking from a “split-class” perspective. With multi-age learning, the focus is on the individual development of each student. The goal of the teacher is to take each student from where they are at and help them progress through the developmental stages or skill levels at their own pace. This being said, it is still necessary to understand the curricular expectations of each grade level represented in your multi-age class.
Reading and Analyzing the Curriculum:
1. This initial planning stage is where the team teaching aspect of multi-age is beneficial. The teaching team for each mult-age level (1/2, 3/4, 5/6) needs to go through both curriculum for their level and see where the expectations overlap or build upon similar skills. In Language Arts, Math, Health and Physical Education, the skills tend to develop in depth from one grade to the next with some new skills being introduced at each grade level. For these subject areas, it is easy to visualize and build a continuum of skills on which to evaluate the students.
2. The next step is to look at the themes used to teach these skill sets. Now, some might decide the easiest thing to do is to cycle the curriculum. For instance for a 3/4 multi-age class, do the Grade 3 Science curriculum one year and then do the Grade 4 curriculum the next year. The problem with just cycling the curriculum this way, is that the philosophy of multi-age is not being applied. Teaching each subject area independent from each other, does not allow students to see the connections between the different subjects. Often the outcomes from a variety of subject areas overlap. Broader themes can be created by looking at combining themes or outcomes from Social Studies, Health, Science, Language Arts and Religion. The primary focus for the teacher is teaching skill acquisition, rather than sharing knowledge on one particular topic. Students should be learning “how to learn” and “why we learn,” not just “what to learn.” This will allow students to gain the skills to learn other knowledge as they get older, without being dependent on someone “teaching” it to them.
Creating a 2 Year Cycle:
1. Once the teaching team has a better understanding of the curriculum themes and outcomes for each of the grades at their level, it is time to create a two year theme/topic cycle. If you are creating a multi-age class for the first time in a school previously following a graded system, it will be necessary to take into consideration what the upper level has already learned. For instance, in a 3/4 class, the “4s” will have already covered the grade 3 curriculum, but the “3s” will need to cover those stepping stones, before being presented with material from the grade 4 curriculum. This may seem like a daunting task, however, if the themes are broad enough, it is possible to ensure that students are working on the same topic, but learning the skills at their level. There will be some “4s” who still need more practice with the grade 3 (or in some cases even lower) skills and some “3s” who are ready to advance onto grade 4 skills. This is where the multi-age groupings come into play. Students are grouped according to what skill(s) they need to develop, not their age or grade level. These groupings are fluid and change frequently as students show progress, as well, the groupings may be topic/subject specific. For instance a student may be working at a grade 2 level in Math, but at a grade 4 level in Language Arts.
2. After a 2 year cycle for themes/topics has been set, the teaching team can sit down and list which outcomes from each curriculum they will be covering with each theme. As there are many outcomes, this is where it is necessary to prioritize the essential outcomes and only include these on your plan.
3. As student voice and choice is an important part of multi-age learning, it is vital that this is considered in the planning. At the beginning of each year, ask the students which topics they would like to learn and then see where those topics can be fit in with the broad themes the teaching team has come up with. It will not be possible to have all student choices to be included, but do the best you can. This year we had students brainstorm as many topics as they could and put them on sticky notes on the board. Then each student was allowed to pick their top 3 choices and write them down. We then calculated the top 3 choices based on those lists to incorporate into our year. It was surprising as to how many of those topics fit in with the existing curriculum!
To help with the above steps, I have created a planning guide template (see link below). I have combined the subject areas I found have outcomes in common and have not listed each subject separately. I have also have included a link to our 2 year plan. The plans developed need not be set in stone and can be adapted/changed as needed.
Multiage Classroom Planning Guide Template
C-MA Planning Guide
After the 2 year plan has been created, the individual units can be planned. How the units are planned, is up to the teaching team. Teachers may decide to divide up the units, so each teacher is only planning a few units. Or a few weeks prior to each unit, teachers may want to collaborate and come up with a plan together. There is flexibility in the unit planning, as not all units need to be planned by the beginning of the year.
Again, as with the unit planning, the lesson planning can vary depending on how the teaching team decides to divide up or share responsibilities.
The important thing is that the teachers (and students) are working together to make the multi-age classroom work. In the multi-age philosophy, teachers are not working in isolation and teachers are not the sole source of information. The best way to look at it is as “multi-age learning” not “multi-age teaching.”