Teaching in a Multiage Classroom, Part 1

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(Background and graphics by From the Pond, Fonts by KG Fonts)

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to receive a comment from a fellow Prep/1 teacher (Kylie) who asked about any tips and tricks I had for teaching in a multiage classroom. I decided to write a short series of posts on how I’ve managed this over the last two and bit years.

First up, I’m going to talk about how I prepare myself for the coming year. Following posts will focus on setting up the physical layout of the classroom, and planning and implementing lessons.

Obviously, these are my personal views, and I think everyone approaches teaching a multiage classroom in the way that best works for them. What works for me, may not work for everyone, but I think it gives us a great opportunity for discussion!

Be Prepared

In my school, we run multiage classrooms at just about every level. It’s part of our school culture and how the staff work together and we’ve worked really hard to build a school community based on good values and great education.  Our current class structure is this:

  • 3 Prep (Kinder) classes
  • 1 Prep/1 (Kinder/1) class
  • 5 Grade 1/2 classes
  • 4 Grade 3/4 classes
  • 3 Grade 5/6 classes

However, teaching a Prep/1 has always been a tough ask because parents come to a school (regardless of how many info nights they’ve been to) expecting their preps to only be in a ‘prep’ class. It takes a lot of clear communication to manage this.

Questions that you get (from Prep parents and Grade 1 parents alike) are always:

  • How do you teach Preps and Grade 1s at the same time?
  • How does it work?
  • Do you only pick bright Preps to be in the class?
  • Do you only pick low-achieving Grade 1s to be in the class?

And, invariably, you get the parents who (within their right, but often without thinking about their tone) turn around and say “I don’t want my child in the P/1.” (Which, as a P/1 teacher really stings, even though it’s not personal, because often times this statement happens before they even ask about the class.)

So, you kind of need a tough skin because of all the composite/multiage classes in my school, it’s only my Prep/1 that has SO MUCH commentary. (But I’ll talk about that in later posts.)

Now that’ve you’ve got a bit of a run-down, there are 2 things that I think about at the start of every year:

1) What are my goals for the P/1?

2) What do I want my classroom to look/feel/sound like?

Setting Goals

Just like in any classroom, think about what YOU want to achieve in the year. If you know where YOU’RE headed, you’re already in a better place to direct your class.

If you’ve been lucky enough to meet you class before the start of the year (which I do), you already have a bit of a feel for the class that you’ll have. From speaking to their previous teachers (school or kinder) I get a sense of who they are and what their needs might be. Obviously this needs to be reassessed once they start the new year, but it gives you a good place to start.

I know if there are students who have special needs or requirements, students who have friends in the class or not, students who are new (to the school/to the state/to the country).

Do I need to find out more? Do I need to attend any PD to assist particular students? (A perfect example is one of my little kiddos who is visually impaired and I needed to find out how I could best support him in the classroom.)

Every year that I’ve taught the Prep/1 (and this is my third year), I reassess what I need to do each year. My first year, I was SO nervous because I had no idea what to do. My second year, I had a bit more confidence. This year I started completely confident because I know my curriculum and I’ve had things succeed and fail and so I don’t worry so much about things going a bit pear-shaped now and then because that’s teaching.

Nothing works the same way perfectly every year because the kids are different.

So my goals this year?

  • Start every day with a smile (I ask my kids to, so I need to as well!)
  • Learn about visual impairment and how to support students with a VI in the classroom.
  • Look at the new AusVELS curriculum yearly planners and adjust for the Prep/1 classroom (Maths/English)
  • Refine my Guided Reading practice (This is actually my personal focus for my PRP)

Building a Classroom

I’ll talk about classroom layouts/etc in my next post, but I did want to touch on building classroom community here, because it’s not all that dissimilar to building classroom community in any other classroom, but there are a couple of things to consider.

How will you sell the P/1 to your students? Happy students equals a happy classroom. At the end of the day, the biggest sell I have to make is to the students themselves, because they are the ones I see every day.

When we have ‘Meet the Teacher’ day in December, I sit down with my future Grade 1s and talk to them about the P/1, reinforcing that they will be doing work at their level (but that might be more challenging than their current Prep work), and that they’ll be the Big Kids. They’re the role models, just like their Grade 5/6 buddies were for them. It’s a big responsibility and they’re the only Grade 1s who get the opportunity. So it becomes special for them.

Likewise, I’m able to tell the incoming Preps that they’ll have some really lovely Grade 1 buddies to help them once they start in the classroom.

If my students are happy and enjoying themselves and are making friends, then that is the best selling point you can make to parents.

How will you refer to your students? Will you refer to them as Preps and Grade 1s as clearly delineated groups? Will you use group names? Will you refer to them as Class?

I use a combination of all 3. Unfortunately this year I’ve had to step up to the Preps and Grade 1s labels a bit more, which I actually don’t like because I don’t think it promotes a ‘whole class’ feeling when you’re constantly saying “Preps are doing this” and “Grade 1s are doing this” – but alas, the larger community has put some pressure on the P/1 and things have to be a little clearer for everyone outside the classroom.

My preference has always been to use flexible groupings in the classroom because I have a wide range of abilities – I have high achieving preps and low-achieving ones. I’ve taught Grade 1s achieving end of Grade 2 standards and Grade 1s who were at beginning Prep level at the end of the year. Classrooms ALWAYS have a wide range of abilities and so just saying ‘Preps and Ones’ isn’t very flexible.

At the start of the year, it’s pretty common – the Preps are generally learning the very basics of school and so it makes sense to have them work together. Later in the year, though, the lines start to blur a bit as students really show what they’re capable of and I do have Grade 1s working with Preps and vice versa in a range of capacities.

How will you group your students? I’ve touched on this a bit above, but I use a range of grouping strategies, from the year level groupings, boys and girls, multiage, partners, groups, etc. Whatever works best for a task.

For example: my Maths groups are identified by pre-tests and students with similar needs work together, and these groups change. My Literacy groups are similar, too, and just as fluid. For more generic subjects like Integrated Studies, I prefer to use multiage groups because it gives everyone an opportunity to work TOGETHER and be a class. (The same goes for PMP and any other special activities we do.)

By keeping these things in mind at the start of the year, I can consider the more technical aspects of teaching with less stress.

And it’s not perfect – nothing ever is – but it works for me.

Do you teach in a multiage classroom? How do you prepare for a new year?

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2 thoughts on “Teaching in a Multiage Classroom, Part 1

  1. Stef, I love reading your blog. It’s always so interesting.

    I had a Prep/1 two years ago (my first year teaching) and to begin with it was a huge struggle. But once I got my head around the curriculum things fell into place. I loved pairing up grade 1s with the preps and use the older kids as leaders. The grade 1s loved having such an important job!

    Jemima
    Luck’s Little Learners

    Like

  2. Dear Stef,
    Thanks for the blog about multiage teaching. I agree with everything you said, especially about building relationships with children and knowing about them so you can cater for their needs.
    My early career was in multiage classrooms, then I moved to a department school where we had single streamed classes until this year, where we have a straight prep, prep/one and 2 grade one classes. So I am interested in planning for multiage and using AusVels. Paperwork and maintaining data are my areas of growth this year.
    Once again thank you for a wonderful blog.
    Regards
    Kylie Anne

    Like

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