Walnut Hills Elementary uses multi-age grouping in classrooms

By Kelli Ameling • Last Updated 2:13 pm on Thursday, September 29, 2011

Daily News/Kelli Ameling Jeanne Strohkirch had her first- and second-graders gather on the floor at Walnut Hills Elementary School on Monday while she gives examples of what different editing marks look like.

GREENVILLE – Walnut Hills Elementary School had to get creative to teach its students due to budget cuts.
Because of budge cuts, some teachers were laid off and the school had to look at how they were going to teach the same amount of children with fewer teachers.
New this year, the elementary school decided to use a technique called multi-age grouping within some of the classrooms.
“Most people think of a split classroom, but it’s different,” said Principal Susan Ayres.
Multi-age grouping within classrooms is where students are grouped so the age span of the class is more than one year or grade. Programs are planned that are developed appropriately for each student regardless of their age or grade level.
“In education, whether it’s a traditional first-grade classroom or a multi-age classroom, there are always many levels of learners,” said Teresa Nord, a first- and second-grade teacher.
Walnut Hills uses this technique in combining two different levels of grades into one classroom for subjects.
“It’s based on skill, it’s not set up like a split (classroom),” Ayres said.
A split classroom is designed to have two different grade levels working in the same class, but not on the same assignments. While one grade is being instructed on one subject, the other is doing something different.
“With a multi-age classroom, I am able to look at the students, not their age or grade, and group them and their learning according to their abilities,” Nord said.
If a first-grader is very strong in math, Nord said she does not have to spend time on teaching them first-grade skills he or she already knows. Nord can teach that student at a higher-level skill.
“At the same time, I don’t have to push forward another student that is ready for the first-grade skills,” she said.
The multi-age grouping also is designed to have the older children mentor the younger children. They are role models that help the younger students, but the teachers do the teaching, Ayres said.
“I love the fact they are small groups working together,” Ayres said. “There is the ability to dive deeper into concepts.”
Nord said the older students love to help others and are aware of routines, procedures and expectations.
“When they are done with their work, they often go to another student on their own to see if they can help,” Nord said. “And the younger students that are being challenged academically, feel great success in working with older students and doing the same things.”
Currently, under the multi-age grouping, the fourth- and fifth-grade students are being taught social studies and science at the fifth-grade level. Next year, the new fourth- and fifth-grade students will be taught at the fourth-grade level.
“This is definitely a two-year commitment,” Ayres said because of the schedule.
The school is learning about the process as it goes, but Ayres said Walnut Hills did a lot of research on multi-age grouping in the classroom before trying it.
Ayres said the hardest part was communicating with parents about the change and how the new techniques were going to work.
“It wasn’t perfect timing, but it’s a good opportunity for the kids,” she said. “The teachers work so hard to make it the best opportunity for the kids.”
Although Walnut Hills has the multi-age grouping as an option, there are some full-grades set aside for those students or those parents who do not want their child to be in the multi-age classroom.
Walnut Hills Elementary is currently the only Greenville elementary school participating in the multi-age grouping within classrooms.

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