Why do we go to classrooms with peers our age? I did not ask this question until I started teaching. How often do we really work with peers our age in real life? Never.
Age segregation was a byproduct of industrialization. It made sense to separate people based on age since their futures looked similar. Farming families led to generational farmers and the same happened with other professions. But does this work today?
Age segregation is based on the assumption that learners of the same age have similar intellectual and emotional quotients, perform tasks similarly and should be taught as a group.
Peter Gray in his blog speaks about the concept of age segregation as an assembly line method with children on a conveyor belt and the outcome is a so-called ‘full adult’ built to the specifications of society. I believe the entire education system from kindergarten through high school is built on these principles. And this needs a reform.
Schools throughout the world have been making a mark in multi-age classrooms. These focus on one hard truth – children are complete and learn at different paces.
Through my research, one example of multi-age classroom school stood out :
At Agora, there is no curriculum, no classrooms and no classes. Children focus on challenges. They learn what they are interested in and teachers coach instead of lecture. The challenges are project based and children are not assessed by standardized tests. Every challenge has 17 children of different ages and levels. Children work individually in workspaces and collaborate as needed. There is no schedule, just a challenge and children designing their day to meet the goals of the challenge.
What are some advantages of multi age classrooms:
1. Learn by doing
In multi-age classrooms, children have opportunities to observe and learn from peers who are older. It builds healthy collaboration to learn from an older peer through practice instead of instruction.
2. Lead by example
Imagine the leadership qualities learnt by teaching a younger peer. Multi age classrooms provide opportunities for children to mentor and learn through that experience.
A multi age classroom builds confidence in all learner. A younger peer gains confidence by asking questions and learning from a peer who is not a teacher and similarly the older peer gains confidence by helping and resolving problems.
Multi age classrooms are a community. Children learn to share, help, take turns and build a sense of belongingness.
5. Focus on individual student progress
In multi age classrooms, children can move ahead in the curriculum by doing their own research and building their pace of learning. The curriculum does not wait for all children to understand rather gives opportunities for personalized learning.
The challenge of age-segregation is global and while we have alternative education models, it’s not a systemic change yet. So what can we do to infuse the advantages of multi-age classrooms at home? Three suggestions:
1. Learning pods
Build a learning pod with 3-5 children of different age groups. Rather than give the pod a structure, begin with themes like reading day, lego day or video game day. Allow learning to flow and pods to collaborate as they like. Over time, the pod will keep navigating through experiences and learn softer skills like collaboration, leading through influence and building self esteem.
2. Challenge of the day
The big challenge of schools is that it is prescriptive. It restricts thinking. One other way to build collaboration at home is to solve a challenge together. For example – Why do birds fly in formations? The idea is to encourage original thinking and collaboration.
3. Role Play
Children love to teach. They love showing you their skills through play. Do role plays at home that help children lead. In these role plays, ask questions and build on curiosity.
Multi age classrooms build the curiosity muscle. Children push themselves out of their comfort zone to learn and to teach.
Imagine going through life with peers your age only. How would it affect our growth? Why are we still doing this to our children?