Public schools often face criticism for not seeming to keep pace with the rapid changes that are happening in today’s world. Every time a new program or technology is introduced, companies expect schools to immediately purchase and incorporate it into their classroom instruction. Even though it is easy to get caught up in the latest hype, we remain committed to critically analyzing the educational benefit that comes with each new idea. Our number one priority is to provide a quality education while being fiscally responsible to our community.
There are strong, and often differing, opinions regarding the curriculum that we teach, the instructional approaches that we use and what skills are necessary to be successful in the 21st century. When we talk about increasing student achievement, we are criticized for focusing on test scores and not developing the whole child. When we discuss making changes to how schools and classrooms are structured, we hear comments like, “That’s not how it was done when I was in school, and I turned out OK.”
It is easy to be critical of the status quo, yet difficult for many of us to embrace change. School District 54 is constantly looking for ways to improve teaching and enhance student learning. This requires a careful analysis of how our students are performing and then carefully implementing the changes that are needed.
Over the past several years, there has been a great deal of discussion taking place regarding 21st century learning. Proponents of this movement believe that the ability to work collaboratively and creatively with others is an essential skill for long-term success. They stress the importance of providing experiences that allow students to collaborate, communicate effectively, be open to diverse perspectives and incorporate group feedback into their schoolwork.
One type of learning structure that we have found to benefit our students and promote 21st century skills is a multiage classroom setting. For more than 10 years, we have seen tremendous academic and social gains in schools using this type of instructional programming.
While school districts have used multiage configurations to address uneven numbers of students at different grade levels, research supports that academic and social benefits also accompany this model. Multiage classroom structures allow for more flexible grouping, encourage children to work cooperatively and promote more of a family and community atmosphere.
In District 54, strong student achievement data from our multiage classrooms supports not only its ongoing implementation, but expansion as well. An important reason for the success of multiage classrooms has been our district’s proactive work in establishing clear guidelines in each curricular area and providing professional development to staff working in this type of setting. These supports help to ensure that our core curriculum is delivered with integrity and enable teachers to capitalize on the opportunity to differentiate instruction where appropriate.
Multiage instructional programming has provided District 54 students with an innovative model that has repeatedly proven to generate impressive academic results. This structure has also enabled schools to build consistent staffing plans that keep class sizes low and stable over time. The implementation of multiage structures is an example of where instructional innovation and fiscal responsibility complement each other.
We have consistently found that multiage classrooms are an effective way to address the diverse learning needs of our students, prepare them to be successful in the 21st century and help us meet our district’s mission to ensure student success while fostering lifelong learning.