How to survive a multi-aged group classroom
Multi-Aged Group (MAG) classes can present many challenges for a teacher. Not only are there multiple levels of curriculum to teach, but low numbers make it tricky to group like-ability children.
On top of this, MAG classes usually occur in small schools with only a few teachers, so the outside of classroom tasks can be extensive (school council, learning area leader, etc.). These factors can easily become overwhelming and prevent best teaching practices.
Here are some tips that I wish I had known when I first started:
Know the curriculum
The curriculum has been carefully designed to be built on year by year. If you know the progression of skills, start at the earliest point and differentiate or progress as appropriate for your students’ abilities. The beauty of this is teachers can close any gaps and improve existing skills, particularly if you teach students for consecutive years.
Know your students
Take the time to observe and know the capabilities of each of your students. An advantage of MAG classes is that usually your numbers are low. This means fewer students to observe and teachers can spend quality time with each student more often than in a traditional class. When you know the capabilities of your students, you can map this against the curriculum and more easily identify and cater for individual and group needs.
Know what is going on in your classroom
If you organise your teaching to be in rotational groups, how do you supervise the group that is not with you? How are you recording the learning that is happening when you are not there? Plan for each and every task to reinforce your teaching intentions and adopt a system that works for you so that you can track outcomes.
Know the programs that you use
If your school uses particular programs, such as Talk 4 Writing, or Stepping Stones, take the time to research these programs and know how to get the best out of them for your MAG class. Are there topics across the years that can align? Even if you think you know, look it up again; the updates and resources can be amazing.
Good learning outcomes are achieved when you plan for and take the necessary steps to achieve them. When you prepare your resources and have them at hand, you will save so much time and stress and create a productive learning environment.
Have real expectations
Don’t forget that you are teaching a MAG class of students of different ages and these students will produce different quality work. Be sure to support and assess each student on their abilities and not at levels that are too high or below them, but specific to where each student is at. Also have real expectations about yourself. Don’t plan too many outcomes for a short period; be prepared for quality learning to take quality time.
Don’t get distracted by the fluff-tivities
We all love walking into a neat and attractive classroom showing students’ work. But if they all match and are largely teacher influenced, what worth does it bring to those in your class? Find a way to incorporate real skills into every activity.
Ask for help
When there is a lot going on, lean on those around you. Ask an administration team member if they are free to help out for that tricky maths lesson this week, kindly ask your education assistant or a parent to come and help. The School Curriculum and Standards Authority has some great resources on their website to assist in planning for your MAG class.
Talk to those in schools around you
Networks are made with teachers in the schools around you. Smaller schools create a network to share resources and the cost of events including professional development and incursions. Knowing the equivalent teachers in your network offers many opportunities to tap into professional knowledge, share lesson plans and seek support and advice on what is happening in your class. Chances are they are experiencing it too!
Reflect and improve
Did that go to plan? Why or why not? When you teach it next time, what changes would you make to improve effectiveness? Be sure to critically reflect on your practices, both good and bad, and identify what changes need to be made in the future.
Teaching can be a very rewarding job and overcoming challenges, such as being effective in MAG classes, is a fulfilling journey. I encourage anyone on this journey to consider my tips, but most importantly find what makes you an effective teacher and your students effective learners. To share wise words that were shared with me: work smarter, not harder.
By Chloe Scott, K-2 teacher, Eneabba Primary School
This article was originally published in the SSTUWA Journal “Western Teacher’.