The end of the school year is a busy time. It involves setting up the structures for the following year, including creating class groupings. Ashdale PS prides itself on forming heterogeneous classes where all classes are similar e.g. There is no streaming of students into ability groups.
There is also a great deal of time spent on ensuring students are placed in classes which are created using a variety of data. This allows teachers to identify potential relationship issues based on historical data.
Class groupings are formed before the allocation of a teacher, as all teachers should have a sufficient skill set and practices to teach any class in a particular year level. Therefore, at Ashdale PS, we don’t ask parents/caregivers to request particular teachers or friendship groups. This extends into the early years as well, as every opportunity should be provided for children to develop the skills to meet new friends and sustain new relationships.
It is necessary in schools to maximise the use of our resources and that means there may be some composite (split) classes in certain years.
How do you cater for all students in a composite (split) class?
Teachers in composite, as well as those in straight classes, are very conscious of learning as a lifelong, continuous process. They develop a knowledge and understanding of each student's development. Programs are planned with individual outcomes in mind. Activities are open ended, allowing for different outcomes, depending on the stage of development of each student.
For example, a study of frogs in a composite 2/3 class may result in the younger members of the group being able to draw an accurate representation of a frog; others would be expected to draw and label the frog; some would be required to add a description of the frog, its habitat and so forth, while the talented student may be expected to write a short report about a particular type of frog. Teachers accept that students work at their appropriate level of development and plan programs that will extend and support the learning of all in the group.
How will students cover the Curriculum?
"Covering the work", is an idea which comes from the early days of public schooling. It is based on a belief that there is only so much knowledge in the world, and if people keep learning long enough, they will know it all. There is no list of facts that students must learn each year of their schooling.
They do not "pass" Pre-Primary, or Year 5. They do, however, pass through stages, such as beginning reader, early reader and advanced reader. They pass at different rates, reaching each "milestone" at different times, according to their own individual differences.
Nor does this take into account other, just as important, lessons to be learnt in the learning environment; how to learn; how to find information; how to present information; how to get on with other people. Knowledge, understandings, skills, attitudes and values are all part of our curriculum.
Do younger students get lost or are the older ones held back?
The simple answer is no. Students are extended at their own individual rates, regardless of whether they are in a straight or composite class. Through teachers effective programming, students will be provided with learning opportunities appropriate to their stages of development, no matter what kind of class they are in.
My child is bright, and I believe he/she will be better extended by being with older students.
The concept of extending students depends on the provision of effective learning opportunities appropriate to the developmental stage of each child in the class. Whether a child is part of the younger or the older group of a split class, their individual educational needs will be catered for by the class teacher.
What does the research show about the academic levels of students in composite classes?
Research has shown that students in composite (multi-age) classrooms are at least as successful academically as their typical school peers. Professor Barbara Pavan's October 1992 article for Educational Leadership pp.22-24 titled "The Benefits of Nongraded Schools," reviewed 64 research studies on nongraded (multi-age) schools. Pavan found that 58% of those students in multi-age classes performed better than their peers on measures of academic achievement. 33% performed as well as their peers, and only 9% did worse than their peers. Pavan also found that students in multi-age settings were more likely than their peers to have positive self-concepts, high self-esteem, and good attitudes toward school. Her review of the research also indicates that benefits to students increase the longer they are in a nongraded setting, and that "underachieving" students also benefit from being in multi-age classrooms.
What else does the research say about the benefits of composite classes?
Older students provide a model of intellectual development as well as of appropriate behaviour for the younger students.
Interaction between less and more advanced students, benefits all individuals both academically and socially.
Younger students are able to seek help from a wider range of people rather than relying on the teacher to help them all the time.
Older students are able to practise the skills they learn by teaching them to the younger students.
There are less behaviour problems because younger students integrate quickly into established class routines as older students model appropriate behaviour.
Students are more confident, can operate better as part of a group, are more assertive, develop a greater respect for individual differences, become more independent learners and better problem-solvers. They also make friends outside of their standard age-groups.
Older students can benefit from helping younger students in cooperative learning situations.
Composite classes build self-esteem and personal competence and provide opportunities to build social skills in a context more reflective of the social interactions within families and the community.
Changing the focus of learning from achieving a certain grade to individual personal best, alters the nature of the learning experience to lead children to value learning and the learning process.
Students experience a wider range of roles including leadership and responsibility within a composite learning environment.
Although a student might be chronologically a year older or younger in a composite class, and the learning path may be different, the destination of achieving their full potential will be the same.