Another great "side-effect" of a multiage classroom are the personal skills students learn when having to work with people of varying ages. Younger students learn to become an advocate for themselves, voice their thoughts and opinions, and take risks in their learning. Older students learn how to teach and listen thoughtfully, have patience, and appreciate each others' strengths and differences. Because most of our learning is done in small groups, students also naturally learn to become independent thinkers, problem solvers, and responsible community members.
A multiage classroom can really be a wonderful place, but it takes a lot of time and practice for the learning environment to get there - especially if most of the children have not experienced this type of classroom before. The beginning of the year always brings many frustrations and challenges to my students, new or returning. At first, younger students may feel intimidated by the older students, while older students may lack patience for their younger classmates' maturity and developmental abilities. Additionally, returning students may feel a pang of sadness for last year's friends that have moved on, while new students sometimes find it hard to navigate new routines and procedures.
I've used a variety of strategies and activities to combat these challenges, and we work hard throughout the year to build a supportive learning environment. Daily classroom meetings, team building games, and honest dialogues with each other have helped all students acclimate to our classroom and feel successful working within a diverse community. It is important for me that the activities I choose help students build trust, deal with conflict, and allow them to commit to the group. It is also imperative that each student is held accountable for their words and actions and that we work together to achieve results for the good of the group.
Over the past three weeks I've watched my new group of fifteen students interact with my eight from last year. I've seen older students take on more responsibility while younger students have become more confident in their abilities. It brings me joy to see young, old, new, and returning all working together and having fun. There are certainly moments of discord in our days, but we are ultimately still getting to know each other and learning what works for us as individuals and as a group. We must keep reminding ourselves that in order to get to where we want to go as learners, we must put in the time and effort to build that environment as a team.