Multi-age classrooms or composite classes are classrooms with students from more than one grade level. They are created because of a pedagogical choice of a school or school district. They are different from split classes which are formed when there are too many students for one class - but not enough to form two classes of the same grade level. Composite classes are more common in smaller schools; an extreme form is the one-room school.
Studies of the performance of students in composite classes shows their academic performance is not substantially different from those in single-grade classrooms; instead, outcomes tend to be a function of the teacher's performance.
For a given number of students, composite classes allow greater administrative flexibility in allocating students to classes. This allows gender balancing, matching of student needs to teaching expertise, and balancing class sizes. By allocating children to classes according to specific learning needs, it is possible to arrange classes with narrower ranges of abilities.
Schools composed exclusively of composite classes are increasingly common in Australian primary school education; they are not uncommon in New Zealand.
Composite classes often meet resistance, with parents often believing that their child is disadvantaged by being in one. This perception is often regardless of whether their child would be in the younger or older cohort.
Advocates of multi-age classrooms point to the lack of age stratification in workplaces, families or other social environments as a reason to create a similar environment in the classroom.
Social benefits often cited are:
- Older children in a composite class get more leadership opportunities and frequently build self-esteem as a sort or role model to the younger class mates. Younger children aspire to do work like the older children in the class.
- The ability for a child to be educated by the one teacher for two years, creating a stronger relationship
Educational benefits often cited are:
- Because literacy and numeracy is taught in ability groups, teachers need heightened awareness of individual student's capabilities - they must think of children as individuals.
- The techniques of classroom teaching and of individual teaching can be still applied.
- Learning by teaching occurs when students at different stages of learning can help each other with their work; children resolve differences in understanding of material.
- Composite classes provide a range of levels of work, so the needs of both talented children and slower learners can be catered for, while providing a supportive environment for both.
At any one time, both composite and single-level classes have groups of students at a variety of levels. This is part of the normal delivery of the curriculum. Education expectations are set at curriculum levels which span across two years; for example, see the Victorian Essential Learning Standards. Contemporary teaching and learning materials are developed for multi-age classes. By using them, teachers can introduce core concepts to the whole classroom, and then differentiate instruction for the range of learners in the classroom.
The students will be of a greater range of size, age and maturity which can have both positive and negative implications particularly in class sporting activities and playground interaction.
- Age segregation in schools
- One-room school
- Sudbury schools, schools that are completely age-mixed from age 4 through high school. No age-groupings.
- Ungraded school, a school that does not formally organize students according to age-based grade levels
- Wilkinson, Ian A. G.; Hamilton, Richard J. (23 July 2002). "Learning to read in composite (multigrade) classes in New Zealand: teachers make the difference". Teaching and Teacher Education. 19: 221–235. doi:10.1016/S0742-051X(02)00105-1. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
- Wilson, Valerie (March 2003). All In Together? An overview of the literature on composite classes (SCRE Research Report 113) (PDF). The SCRE Centre, University of Glasgow. p. vii. ISBN 1 86003 073 4. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
- "Composite Classes". Coatesville School. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
- Cameron, Hay (August 20, 2009). "Parents' fury over composite classes". Paisley Daily Express. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
- Cornish, Linley (August 2006). "Parents’ Views of Composite Classes in an Australian Primary School" (PDF). The Australian Educational Researcher. 33 (2): 123. doi:10.1007/bf03216837. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
- "Getting the right mix". theage.com.au. The Age. November 17, 2003. Retrieved 2012-03-31.
- Song, Ruiting; Spradlin, Terry E.; Plucker, Jonathan A. (Winter 2009). "The Advantages and Disadvantages of Multiage Classrooms in the Era of NCLB Accountability". Education Policy Brief. Bloomington, IN: Center for Evaluation & Education Policy. 7 (1).
- Barr, Laura (February 14, 2012). "Expert weighs in on mixed-age classroom settings". ednewsparent.org. EdNews Parent. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
- Roopnarine, J. L.; Johnson, J. E. (September 1984). "Socialization in a mixed-age experimental program". Developmental Psychology. 20 (5): 828. doi:10.1037/0012-16220.127.116.118. as reported in Stone, Sandra J. (1997). "The Multi-Age Classroom: What Research Tells the Practitioner" (PDF). ASCD Curriculum Handbook. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-05-31.