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Jake Frackson

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If we didn't educate students in "batches", how would their social development differ?

If we stopped educating students in "batches" (a reference from Sir Ken Robinson's "Changing Education Paradigms" TED talk), how would their sociological development change? Rather than classifying them by "date of manufacture" what if we organized them according to learning styles and abilities depending on the subject, how would that affect them socially in comparison to students currently? Would students be embarrassed to be in a class with younger and/or older peers? Would the differences in level of maturity and range of social skills make learning in this kind of model more difficult? Would this system help students to be more open with their peers, no matter their age? Would it also help reduce agism in the education system and possibly the world? Ultimately, would it be a worth while investment to experiment with this model on a larger scale?

Additional questions, answers, opinions or any other sort of comments are welcome! I'm a Canadian high school student who is curious about education and I would appreciate anything you have to offer on the topic.

Cheers, Jake Frackson

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    Aug 27 2012: Hi, Jake. There is a lot of experience now with mixed grade classrooms in some countries, including the United States. It can be a little hard on someone who is the lone 8th grader in a 6th grade class, but if there are a few older kids rather than just one, it often won't matter. My son was in a Latin class with many kids a year or two younger than he was. It was no problem. He will be in a different class this Fall with kids two and three years older. I expect there will be no problem there either.

    When I taught secondary school, I don't remember ever teaching a class that was not mixed grade. We had no problem. A smile comes to my face when I recall the hen-like pleasure my eighth graders had when the sixth graders left early to go to "their first dance."
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      Aug 27 2012: It is similar with Canada's system; there is a small amount of mixed grade classrooms in elementary and middle schools but in secondary school the practice is more common. I view these examples as a scaled down version of the possible fully mixed school model but I like what I see so far with some of the results and feedback. Fritzie, what is your opinion on scaling up from this level of the experiment and trying a more mixed model. For example, where all classes (not just some of the sciences and other subjects, but everything from language, to math, to science, to art) in school are taken at student pace, so if a student is excelling at a course in one semester he/she can take the following course the next semester rather than waiting until the next year. Or even having accelerated courses that a student could complete in a shorter frame of time. Do you think this would be a more efficient use of student time and more importantly do you think it would be an effective teaching model?
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        Aug 27 2012: At my son's high school and where my daughters went (public school), math, languages, science (except 9th grade biology) and art/music were all mixed. It works fine. No one cares about age differences.

        Both those high schools also have accelerated versions of courses or courses offering a more intensive option.

        I think these are time-tested approaches that serve students well.
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          Aug 27 2012: I'm glad to hear that. I think that model would serve my regional school system well. Now what do you think about extending this to younger ages, such as k through 8? Do you think the model would translate well or do you think it would disrupt social development?
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        Aug 27 2012: We already talked about how grades 6-8 often have some blending of ages as well as variants of courses that move at different paces.

        I am less familar with curriculum and instruction for lower grades, other than of course that there are lower grades programs that proceed in every subject at a faster pace and with greater depth. than a regular class for students who are ready for that. Lots of big city and suburban public schools in the US offer such options. Maybe in Canada also?

        But there should also be plenty of research on blending ages in lower grades for some subjects. Decades ago when I was in grade school in a very giant and diverse California school district, kids moved to reading classes based on reading level rather than age. Those were lets just say ancient times.

        So the idea is far from new! And there are certainly samples now of schools, more private perhaps than public, that blend ages in grade school.

        Usually the research in education is highly searchable, so if no one here has any specific references about the experience in blending ages at grade school, an internet search should help. One big clearinghouse for research articles in education is called ERIC. here is a start; http://www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/2009/RAND_WR685.pdf
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          Aug 27 2012: Thanks Fritzie I'll research the topic some more with that. Another follow up question to some of your previous responses, are you basing the effectiveness of these models on the number of students using the opportunity to take higher level or accelerated courses? Also, do you have any opinion on how sociologically these students may be affected by being in these classes?
        • Aug 29 2012: My elementary experience was similar to this. Many students at my school spoke little no English, making "no child left behind" an outrageous proposition. What happened was each student would periodically take tests on their reading levels and the library would help that student find books in their reading range. While we were all the same age, we got to experience literature at our own pace.
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        Aug 27 2012: Here is a page with lots of links for you: http://www.multiage-education.com/multiagelinks/index.html

        I have not done formal research myself on this. I am sharing anecdote only from my experience in education.

        In secondary grades, I think the variation in maturity within students of one age likely swamps the variation across grades. I have not noticed any issues, provided the teacher knows how to accomodate the differences that exist. For example, the first week of school, I would seat the younger kids in front to let them get comfortable rather than having them possibly intimidated to be in class with kids a foot taller than they were. That meant when they were new at school, sixies first sat with other sixies.

        For social effects at grade school, you will need to follow up research leads. I cannot help you.

        I was evaluating the effectiveness of mixing grades/ages only by how well students demonstrated they learned the material at hand and the sense of friendship and comraderie that developed in the classroom. I was not judging by the number of students who were in accelerated courses, though I do think that effective differentiation of instruction works best when there are accelerated courses for students who learn faster than average.

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