One of the questions we are often asked is how we deal with a multi-age classroom. My question in return is how do traditional schools deal with kids with such different abilities from such different backgrounds, with such different home situations, and with such different expectations for their futures?
Our classes may have four years of students in them, but because it’s individualized, it doesn’t matter. We do some whole class teaching, but we use several methods to make sure each student gets what he needs in the way he learns best. One method is Sue Patrick’s Workbox System. Each of our students has four workboxes in math and four in language arts. We may do a whole-class teaching, and then students will look at the daily agenda to see what workboxes they are to do. Inside they may find a puzzle, Hot Dots to drill math facts or subject/predicate, a worksheet, or a book to read. While they are working in their workboxes, the teacher is able to provide attention to individuals or small groups. This also allows us to put more challenging material in the boxes of students who need more difficult work.
Another method we use is stations. Today one language arts class went to five different stations, all dealing with subjects and predicates. One was our Sentence Staging station, where parts of a sentence are arranged on a platform divided into subject and predicate. Articles are pictures of heralds blowing a trumpet, because articles mean “NOUN COMING!” Nouns are small toys, while verbs are written on one inch tiles. Conjunctions are on small cubes. Prepositional phrases are green Model Magic strips, with a place for a preposition-bearing butterfly, an article or adjective, and a platform to put a noun for an object. Adjectives are flags, which, like articles, are on lollypop sticks and go into the holes drilled in the platform. I’ve not introduced helping verbs, linking verbs, adverbs or interjections yet. The students can now sit down at the Sentence Staging table and write the sentence, identifying the parts of speech. Today’s sentence was “The turtle with the red hat eats a hamburger in the volcano.” Other stations included a Schoolhouse Rock video, a Hot Dots teacher-made activity where they showed they could tell a sentence from a fragment, a worksheet, and a sentence puzzle. We’ve also used the station format in math, social studies and science.
With both of these methods, kids appreciate the opportunity to move around and to not have to spend what seems like an infinite amount of time on any one activity. If one activity is a worksheet, they know there will not be an endless procession of worksheets; a puzzle or building activity is coming up next. This also ensures there will be an activity that will support the learning of a visual, auditory, kinesthetic or tactile learner. We also use a lot of manipulatives and drama.
Because we are small, we can individualize. Because we are private, we have the luxury of parents who want their kids to have a better education. And these are not just children with wealthy parents. We are committed to having a large percentage of lower-income children, and those children have parents who have gone the extra mile to get them there and to support us in our work—sometimes literally, as one third of our student body drives from Wake County and another student comes from Chatham. Because we don’t have homework or EOGs, we don’t have to worry about struggles in that area and students can learn at their own rate.
I really do believe we have the easier job.