Teaching mixed-age classes
Teaching a mixed-age class can be a daunting task, and more teachers are grappling with the challenges of making it work. In this post, we'll explore the benefits and offer practical guidance to not just survive, but thrive in classrooms with children from more than one year group.
Watch the enlightening 3min 40sec video below: where Jonathan Gower, an experienced Headteacher - with a wealth of knowledge in teaching and leading mixed-age cohorts - engages in a conversation with our own Professor Ruth Merttens. In the remainder of this post, we've distilled essential insights from Ruth's discussion, covering the hurdles, strategies, and advantages for both classroom teachers and school leaders. Enjoy the read!
Ruth Merttens interviews Jonathan Gower about teaching mixed age classes
Ruth - What’s the problem with mixed age classes?
Jonathan - “Teaching any class, you will have a wide range of abilities. But obviously in a mixed-age range class, the spread is even wider. It is therefore even more necessary for the teacher to focus on different children’s needs and abilities and accommodate these into the programme of teaching and learning.
In addition, there will be two sets of curriculum objectives for most subjects, and all the concomitant challenges raised by having to ensure that children in each year group have access to, and subsequently cover, all the content outlined for their specific age range.”
Ruth - Are some mixes harder than others?
Jonathan - “Some mixes of year groups are definitely more tricky than others. This is not because of the children but is wholly down to the way our National Curriculum is organised. For instance, Y2/Y3 makes life much harder since the teacher is not just planning using two different sets of curriculum objectives, but is having to teach across two key stages as well. And this includes the National Assessment requirements and SATs.”
Ruth - How do you plan for a mixed age class?
Jonathan - “It is a lot harder. For a start, you have two sets of teaching and learning objectives to consider. Then you also have to work out how to combine these into coherent lessons where children in each year group are learning at an appropriate level, yet, at the same time, some of the teaching and learning will ideally need to involve both year groups.
“It is literally hours of work to structure a short or a medium-term plan which successfully combines two sets of National Curriculum objectives and every class teacher should not be expected to do this for themselves. So, carefully planned materials, specifically tailored to and written for mixed-year groups are a massive bonus for a teacher.”
“If someone else has done the work of combining appropriate sets of objectives and working out how these can be sensibly taught together, then that is a huge amount of work removed from the class teacher.”
Hamilton resources for maths include mixed age classes, including between Key Stages
Ruth - Why don’t more publishers create planning for Mixed-Age classes?
Jonathan - “Part of the difficulty here relates to the fact that, when planning for a mixed-age range class, it is not just that two sets of objectives are combined and two separate sets of curriculum content must be covered. The teaching strategies are also different.
“No-one will want to spend all year teaching each year group separately – it will be necessary to combine the two and then use good teaching techniques such as ‘peeling off’. This is where the children all start learning together and then one of the year groups ‘peels off’ and goes to start an independent or group activity while the others remain with the teacher for more focussed teaching. Other similar techniques include rotating the teaching, particularly common when teaching maths, and ‘weaving’, where different groups are taught at different times throughout the lesson.”
Hamilton offers mixed age planning across the trickiest age groups!
Ruth - What are the rewards of Mixed Age classes?
Jonathan - “There are definitely advantages. Many children flourish in an environment where there is more scope to engage with both older and younger peers at different times.
Some children enjoy being ‘stretched’ by having access to parts of the curriculum which they would not encounter in a single age range class.
Some will also thrive when they can learn or play with children younger than themselves and maybe sustain for a longer period some of the fantasy play that they really enjoy. Being part of a group with a wider age range of children can allow for all sorts of benefits, and some schools prefer to use what is sometimes called ‘vertical grouping’ to arrange their classes as they are all too aware of the potential benefits and believe that these out-weigh any disadvantages in terms of the extra work required in teachers planning.” Jonathan concludes, “it is definitely not a second-best option – there are sound educational arguments in favour of mixed-age range classes.”
An example of how detailed mixed age planning from Hamilton Brookes can support the wider curriculum - for Science for Years 5 and 6.
Hamilton Brookes is the only primary publisher to specialise in mixed age planning - so we’ve been getting feedback from teachers for a long time- constantly improving and refining our offer. To take a look at our offer, explore from the menu at the top of our website - where you can view our planning for class mixes: including Yr2/3 and Yr4/5.
Register for free today, to look at why you should trust Hamilton to help you and your colleagues make Mixed Age classrooms thrive and reduce teacher workload! We have subscriptions that suit every school, and incredible deals for individual teachers.
Our thanks to Jonathan Gower for his time and expertise. You can watch the video of Jonathan and Ruth, discussing the reality of mixed age class teaching and learning below.
Jonathan Gower is headteacher at Georgeham Primary School in North Devon. He can be found at https://twitter.com/jona1
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