Pass or Fail: Mixing Ages to Accommodate Developmental Differences
In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.
While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?
Promoting or holding back students based on age alone is not a helpful to the student — or our overall student population. If age were taken away as a factor in retention and social promotion, what would our classrooms look like?
Multi-age or mixed-aged classrooms offer an alternative to graded classrooms and are a key part of the redesigned schools we talked about in the previous chapter. To create these classrooms, schools will need to change not only the structure of the curriculum and application models but also the management of classrooms and the use of teaching strategies.
Multi-age classrooms group schoolchildren who differ in age by two or more years into the same classroom. The goal of this grouping is to make the best use of the educational potential inherent in such a mixture of ages.
Multi-age classrooms are nothing new. For much of the history of the American education system, in fact, multi-age classrooms were the norm. The one-room schoolhouse is a classic example.
Definitions of multi-age classrooms have, however, been quite fluid. Before the common school reforms of the 1830s and 1840s, the multi-age classroom was considered to be a single classroom in which all students within a school, no matter what their age, studied as separate grades or subject groups. The historical multi-age model did involve whole-group teaching some of the time, but administrative or economic reasons were often behind this particular use of the classroom.
The graded, curriculum-centered approach to classroom organization, as outlined in Chapter One, become the standard in the United States toward the end of the 19th century, after its introduction in the mid-19th century. Its rise was triggered largely by the nation’s rapid economic development and massive waves of immigration.
In fairness, there were some genuine education-centered efforts to reform the public education system. These efforts attempted to create child-centered education models that reflected developmental variability and made use of teaching environments that were more social and congenial.
Although the multi-age approach has received some modest support from educational innovation in the past, more recent developments have provided unequivocal support for multi-age education.
Should we be looking at eliminating age-based retention and social promotion completely?