Life Learning

Monday 22 September 2014

Multi-grade classes can be an advantage

Seán Cottrell

Published 13/05/2014 | 02:30

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Question: MY daughter is in a 'split class' and I am concerned that this will affect her education.

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Answer: THERE is no reason to be concerned that this will affect your daughter's education. A 'split' class, or a 'multi-grade' class, is where two or more levels are taught together by one teacher (for example, 1st and 2nd class).

This arrangement is common not just in small schools but also in schools where enrolment numbers fluctuate a lot from year to year. There are, indeed, many advantages for children in multi-grade classes.

The first thing that must be said is that education is not about 'covering' the curriculum, it is about helping children to learn new ideas, skills and concepts. The curriculum is the content that the teacher uses to help children learn. It is not an end in itself.

Children in multi-grade level classrooms learn the skill of working in groups as well as working on their own, sooner than children in single-grade classrooms.

Also, children in multi-grade classes are always listening to the teacher working with the other half of the class and, consequently, have the advantage of their learning being reinforced.

Since the new curriculum was introduced in 1999, the concept of 'differentiated learning' is a major feature of the modern classroom. What this means is, whether a teacher has a room with all of the children in the same class or in a room with half the children in one class and the other half in a class level above, it makes no difference; every child is on their own learning journey.

In the key areas of literacy and numeracy, each child is challenged to learn at their own level of ability. This means that teaching is focused on group work and the individual child, and not focused on the class as a whole unit.

Children in multi-grade classes learn to become independent learners and develop the skills of producing independent projects and interacting in a variety of group activities.

In my own experience, children that are educated in multi-grade classes develop social and independent learning skills as a result of having to respond to the different age and ability levels of the children around them. Also, many of the younger children benefit from listening to the teacher working with the older children, exposing them to new challenges.

Overall, multi-grade classes offer many benefits to children and I don't think that there is any reason for concern.

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