One of the advantages of blended learning is that it offers students the ability to move at their own pace. In order to give our students more control over their learning we also allow them to move fluidly between subjects so that they take responsibility for their learning by managing their time.
The way this works in general terms is that for a large block of time every morning students choose one of four classrooms: the math classroom, the science classroom, the english/writing classroom or the social studies classroom. As a result, students from various grades in our middle school ( and some of our stronger fifth grade students have joined this model as well) may find themselves in the same classroom, often for extended periods of time.
We expected that our move into blended learning would produce unexpected changes and issues, and we were right. One of the unanticipated issues that came up immediately related to concerns that our older students had.
“Concerns” is probably an understatement. Some of our eighth grade students were quite upset over the fact that they needed to be in a classroom with students who were two or three grades younger. Their argument was that these other students are far more immature and, as such, it is inappropriate for them to be in the same class.
While an analysis of the advantages and challenges of multi-age classrooms is beyond the scope of this blog post (there is much literature on this topic) we have definitely learned a lot from this experience.
- Allowing students to discuss their concerns, and empowering them to play a role in finding solutions is incredibly helpful and can provide great learning opportunities. Our administration met with the eighth grade students, and together they came up with a plan to address this issue. They would have a limited time on a regular basis where one of the rooms is exclusive to eighth grade, giving them “their own space”. At the same time the discussions helped them understand the potential benefits of this model and achieved a higher level of “buy-in,” as well as allowing them to develop a more tolerant attitude towards the younger students.
- Change takes time. Many (not all) of the students who were extremely bothered at the beginning of the year have adapted and don’t seem quite as bothered anymore.
- Another secondary benefit that we have observed is that this model allows unique opportunities for certain students that would otherwise not exist. Students in our eighth grade class who have not yet developed leadership qualities now have opportunities to lead. We have observed them helping, supporting and guiding younger students. As helpful as they are to the younger students, the growth opportunity for these eighth grade students would not have existed if not for the multi-age rooms. They have the opportunity to shine and feel accomplished in this unique environment.
- On the flip side, younger students in fifth and sixth grade who are used to always playing leadership roles, or always being the smartest in the class, now find themselves in situations where they need to look for guidance and support from older students. This makes for equally important educational opportunities for these students.
The underlying rationale in the way we originally structured the program still remains. Allowing students to move at their own pace ensures that each student is learning to their own capacity and is empowered to control their learning. Students no longer have to struggle to keep up with the class in unrealistic fashion, or feel bored while waiting for everyone else to catch up.