Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Multi-age Classrooms & Looping As A Strategy for placing ELL Students And Deeper Interactions EDUC731

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I have spent 20 years in the classroom and woven throughout those years have been wonderful interactions and opportunities to work with and learn from ELL students. As I have been studying the SIOP Method of teaching ELL, I have read numerous articles. I was looking for something. I never found it.

I was looking for how multi-age classroom settings if available at a school, are the ideal place for an ELL student to learn. I am going to address the benefits of a multi-age classroom specifically at an elementary level is a great opportunity for ELL students. I was also looking for information on how looping as a strategy would be a benefit to ELL students if available and create deeper and more meaningful interactions.




I have had the opportunity throughout these many years to teach in multi-age classrooms. In fact, I rather like it. I take it as a challenge and I like challenges. Over the twenty years, I have learned some of the following things from my experience both in looping and as a multi-age classroom teacher.

Looping: 

This allowed me to have a deeper understanding of the child over more than a year's time. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses helps me meet their needs better. In the beginning of a school year, I have spent a great deal of time learning to get to the students. In a looping classroom, that was cut down drastically.

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It is like opening up a flower very carefully and the opportunity to have more than one year to do so is a sacred trust. This can build children to be successful learners. Students in this setting develop a family of learners and this support is critical tothe academic growth. It is also good for their social and personal growth as they learn to care for and support each other.


Multi-Age

When I have opportunities to multi-age teach, it was a great chance to see above and beyond these students as unique individuals and to group them in many wonderful and holistic ways. What I would do is teach the general lesson concept as a whole group for Reading or Math and then have the guided instruction be at their levels. With some freedom in the curriculum, one would be able to better place a student for success and slowing down as needed or acceleration as needed.

 In a multi-age classroom, allowing students to flourish at their own rate is a beautiful thing.

Creating Education Hackers:
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What I desire most for learners in this 21st Century is to be able to hack their own education. Why do I always have to be the one to tell you what to learn? What do YOU want to learn about? What do YOU want to create? I like to think of it as giving the children their own right to hack their education process...speed up or slow down as needed. In a high functioning multi-age setting, you will see several levels of abilities and interests going going on harmoniously. You will see a teacher who has become a lead learner, creating a safe space to learn where there is no shame. No bullying about abilities, just understanding that we all learn differently and that is okay.

I think I like multi-age teaching because I see how holistic practices that I have often admired such those of Maria Montessori are so easy to apply as I seek to first understand each need of the child and work with them and their families to create safe learning environment that is as diverse as they are. Similar to the looping strategy, we become connected as we learn and weave our experiences together.

I have seen the experiences when there are mentorship and leadership roles in a classroom as children begin to realize that they learn best when they are learning together and from each other. It lowers the competition that sometimes traditional classrooms have. That spirit of cooperation is beautiful to nurture in each child. It helps with understanding that we are a micro example of what global learners look like.

I have been privileged to see how young learners can gain skills earlier than peers their same age in same age centered classrooms. The younger learners gain insight from the older learners on ways to see situations, problem solve.

They also learn great deal about how to both be independent and interdependent across the grade level lines. There is a ebb and flow to working together and working individually that takes over as they learn to make choices during guided reading times or guided math times. They become brave learners! They become brave education hackers.

I even had experiences where the student did a better job of reaching another student than maybe I would have at that particular moment because students enjoy learning from peers more than from teachers. (Though I would say that I am a fun teacher and approachable!)

One Final Thought:

Does it strike you as interesting that schools focus so much on separation of learners based on age but somewhere in the world past the walls of education, we are always grouped in different ways? There are children of different ages on gymnastics teams or BMX teams or in drama programs. What is the big deal about the isolation of ages? Out of the four walls of a classroom, we learn about community and getting along no matter what race, religion, gender. If you swing wide the doors to a great multi-age learning environment, you will see a community of learners who will learn that things are not always equal and that is okay. Fair is not equal, and we are all in this together.

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There are lots of ways to place children in classrooms. Again, if possible, placing an ELL child in a classroom that is using the looping strategy or multi-age strategy I think is a wonderful blessing and both create deeper, more meaningful interactions.