Initially, my task was to put on paper the benefits of mixed-age groupings in education, a topic inspired by this era of pandemia induced homeschooling. And while I have much to say on this topic, and don’t fear, it will fill the following sentences, be warned; it will only appear relative to my much bigger idea. Here is the idea: we, parents and educators, need to recognize that the time has come for us to embrace a new starting point in education.
Let me explain, or really, Sir Ken Robinson, in his 2010 TED talk, on changing education paradigms, does a great job explaining it here (pictures for full effect included). The creation of education as a system was done as the answer to an ever-growing population and for a nation of people transitioning from the old into the modern and industrious.
Perhaps, one thing the pandemic has gifted us is the hindsight to appreciate why education as a system was created and needed – let’s be honest, we want to go back to work, and the best way to do that is to have our children in school. But school is not childcare, and the longer we adhere to the structure of its inception, the greater a disservice it will be to our children and the educators in the classroom – foresight, we can thank the pandemic for as well.
So, in my last musings, I meditated on crisis management vs. homeschooling and alternatives for families who couldn’t or didn’t want to be virtual anymore. Now that we have started to embrace these alternatives, we are met with brand new “challenges” – though they are challenges only when in the context of the institutional structure we know and not really “challenges” when we look at children and how they develop.
In creating school as a direct response to industry, what we have is an attempt to pack and organize our children into a structure based on their age. Adherence to this fundamental school ideal has been a convenience, but have we truly maximized our children’s’ and student’s potential because of it? Adhering to these structures has prevented us as parents and educators to explore what would happen if we mixed kids by skill and ability and not just by age.
So, as I see it, we have arrived at one goal (we institutionalized education, so to speak), and now, I think we can challenge this very goal and use it as a new starting point. This idea that children born within the same time frame should, therefore, be lumped together for at least the next 12 years – should sound weird when you take a minute to think about it, right? So let’s think about it!
Way back when – before Sir Robinson had his epic TED Talk and before pandemia was even a thought, back in April of 1997, ERIC (Education Reform Information Center) published this study. What researchers found was:
Posttest findings suggested a significant positive effect on children’s prosocial behavior as a result of participation in a mixed-age classroom context. Fewer children appeared to experience social isolation in mixed-age classrooms than in same-age classrooms. Aggressive and negative behaviors were significantly less likely to be noted teachers in mixed-age than in same-age classrooms.
I have fifteen years of traditional/institutionalized education under my belt (as a teacher) and 14 years as a parent. I don’t need research or case studies to tell me what I already know – (if you do, though – read that whole study, it’s quite an eye-opening). Here’s what I know for a fact: children learn better from each other, children learn best through modeling and opportunity to practice, children learn best when they have context and the arena to express their curiosity.
None of the things that I have just named and know to be correct has ever been coupled with or found to be that: children learn best when with other kids the same age.
Now, I know, non-educator parents are sitting here silently screaming: What about state standards and being on “grade -level.” My answer – look at those standards! Whether on a national or state level, you will find repeated measures. For example, in the state of Ohio (and this is true in almost every state), the very first literacy standard for grade 1-3 is known as RL: “Key Ideas and Details.” The objective is the same, and as a standard, it is only represented differently from one another when written as a grade-level standard: (RL = Reading Literacy) RL1.1, RL2.1, RL3.1. Do you know why this is? Because, in every classroom, every single class, you will find a spectrum of children, just think of them as plots on the traditional bell curve. Educational standards have to span the appropriate developmental time frames so that our children can learn. Therefore, our standards and objectives, UNLIKE our groupings, reflect the time it takes to learn and master skills appropriately. However, our same-aged clusters are a convenience, and the reason why parents and non-educators lack the understanding of what “grade level” is and I believe this misunderstanding has also been detrimental as to how parents and noneducators grasp these concepts.
On May 20th Business Insider published this article; like me, the author finds the educational silver lining in pandemia induced education. The report finds that whatever alternative you find for school this year – your child can have a more individualized and less “factory” like experience. Now, imagine the potential if they are receiving this personalized attention in a grouping that reflects their needs and not JUST their age?!
“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another”
Like my last musing (linked above), this too is a battle cry for us (parents and educators) to start and look for those constant goal-setters (like A+) those parents or educators always moving the post every time they meet a goal – I bet they’re doing amazing things right now. And, while these fantastic things may be on a small scale, the potential they can have to effect change when these students return to “traditional school” or “school as we know it” will inevitably be grand in scale.
If you are exploring or already committed to an alternative school option this year – embrace the radical (which isn’t so extreme)! Now is our chance as a society to break the norms of education and challenge a stagnant system. Our children WILL return to these institutions one day (please g-d) very soon. If we can redeliver them back into this system “on grade level” socially and emotionally acclimated, we can force the system to reexamine its foundation. Parents, you should not fear breaking from these traditions (most of us are doing this to survive pandemia anyways and not for the long term). Research and what we experts know tells us that mixing ages, isolating skills, and learning from one another, is how children learn best.
Parents, embrace your: in-person learning, virtual learning, homogeneous pod, heterogeneous pod – whatever YOUR education will look like this year, and think of it as an opportunity for the school your child will be returning to one day soon. This year will afford all of us – institution and parents alike the chance to reexamine the structures of education that we adhere to – so embrace this year and do it without fear, and remember to look for those constant goal-setters, like A+ Solutions when you need help!
Sima Ackerman Maryles, MA ELL
Educator at A+ Solutions