At Last – a Multigrade-Friendly(ish) Curriculum

When school re-opens this fall, teachers in BC will be at the helm, implementing a re-designed, new curriculum for Kindergarten to Grade 9.  Its a time of excitement – and, yes, a bit of nervousness – as we prepare to set sail this September.  We are entering uncharted, but not untested waters; we will be working together to discover new ways of “doing” school, and the possibilities are inspiring.

But as I wade through the many  pages and  links, I am also wondering: how well will our new curriculum serve multigrade teachers and learners?  So often, our unique configurations – along with their strengths and needs – are not acknowledged.

So I was surprised to read this on the Ministry’s Curriculum Info page:

The focus on personalization and the flexible structure of the curriculum support the configuration of combined grade classrooms.  Classes of students of more than one grade provide opportunities for teachers to develop a mindset that sees all the students as a group of learners with a range of needs and interests. Multi-grade programs should find a comfortable fit with the curriculum.

And it gave me a glimmer of hope for three reasons:

  1. The existence of multigrade classrooms is acknowledged, not in an isolated section titled “Multigrades” but with other possible options under “Flexible Learning Environments”
  2. One of the benefits of multigrade teaching and learning is specifically mentioned
  3. Multigrade configurations are a good fit for the type of teaching and learning defined in the new curriculum; the inference is that they may even be advantageous.

Its not exactly an outright endorsement of multigrade  learning, but its the closest thing to it I have read in a Ministry document.  Perhaps we are getting closer to the day when multigrade education – whether it be school-wide, a few classrooms, or one subject area – will be considered a positive way to enhance learning.

The new curriculum will officially be launched this September, but in reality, many teachers have been navigating their way through these changes for a number of years. This shift from the “what” of teaching to the “who” of learning is fundamental, and now mandated.  In multigrade classrooms, that emphasis is present out of necessity, but was at odds with former curricula.  Will the new curriculum make our complex jobs easier?  Time will tell.  Will it make our teaching better?  It must.

As multigrade teachers, we are in a good place from which to continue our voyage of discovery.  Now, however, we have the advantage of company!





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Multigrades – Why? Why Not!

At our small school, like many in rural BC, children are taught in multigrade classrooms where students from more than one grade learn together.  There is a special type of teaching and learning that occurs in such a diverse classroom, and it involves more than just putting students from different grade levels into the same room and hoping for the best.  An effective multigrade approach is one that  intentionally taps into the rich conditions for learning that are possible in a multi- age setting.  When children who are younger and older learn together, one significant benefit is a student’s exposure to “pre-teaching” (listening to the teaching and learning designed for older children) and “re-teaching” (reviewing important concepts by “listening in” as they are taught to and practiced by younger children).

Many people do not realize that the invention of grade levels and the single-grade classroom was, and is, solely for administrative purposes: sorting children into groups based on birth dates is simply a quick and easy way to organize large numbers of children.  The practice of compartmentalizing students and their learning into single grades was never based on models of child development, theories of learning, or current research. Rather, it was, and is, based on the efficiency modelled by Industrial Age factories in assembling products step by step, resulting in the mass production of objects. The assumption was made, and quickly accepted as learning became institutionalized, that the same model could and should be applied to educating children.

Soon the entire education system had centered its structure, supports, and expectations around single-grade education, and multigrade classrooms existed only on the rural fringes of society. But over the years, multigrade education quietly thrived by defining and refining its strengths – many of which are now internationally recognized in the OECD’s Seven Principles of Learning¹ – the most necessary and desirable conditions for a formal or informal education.  By necessity, a multigrade environment is learner-centered (rather than grade-centered), provides a social context that is wider than same-age peers, values and adapts to individual differences, and recognizes how individuals can change over long periods of time.

Teaching and learning is always awash with challenges and opportunities, but during my career as a multigrade teacher, I have come to appreciate the richness and depth of learning that can occur when children who are younger and older learn to learn together.  Prior to the segregation of learners and learning into grades, this is how all learning occurred, and it is how we learn best as children.

For more information on multigrade teaching and learning, visit

¹Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. The Nature of Learning:Using Research to Inspire Practice  Innovative Learning Environments Project (Practitioner Guide)

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Wow – Has it Really Been Three Years?

A lot has happened since I last wrote…After that post “My 19th Year as a First Year Teacher”,  I learned (the week before school began) that instead of teaching my cherished Grade 6-9 class, I would now be our small school’s Kindergarten to Grade 2 teacher.  I was willing, but what a shift to make so quickly!  While I packed up one classroom, and set up another,  I tried to re-acquaint myself with the abilities, needs and desires of 4-7 year old learners.  I had taught primary children before, but only in the context of the one-room school; I had never taught an entire class of early learners, and in many ways I did feel like a first year teacher. But I was also thankful for the lessons I had learned over the years, and I found I could respond to the myriad of challenges with enough wisdom and grace to (mostly) smile rather than cry over all the lessons I was learning. In retrospect, I hadn’t realized how ready I was for a change – ready being different from prepared!  But eventually I found my inner primary teacher, grew to love my new role, and believed this was where I would happily spend the last decade of my teaching career.

But a funny thing happened on the way to retirement: perhaps it was completing my Masters degree, or this recent change in teaching position – both invigorated me and deepened my understanding while honing my skills –  but I felt ready for another step, and after two years with my treasured primary students, I stepped into the role as teaching principal at our small school…

During my first year as principal (which further broadened my perspective and honed my skills and also, unexpectedly, compartmentalized and challenged my teaching; the subject of a future post, perhaps), I learned that a proposal I had written  about studying multigrade teaching and learning in BC had been accepted!

The proposal was submitted on behalf of the BC Rural & Multigrade Teachers’ Association that multigrade teaching and learning be studied as an innovative approach to personalizing education.  Our proposal was accepted in September 2015.  You can read more about our project on my K-12 Innovations page .  And if you are a multigrade teacher, you can participate here until September 30th, 2016.

And so here I am, three busy years later, blessed by a writer’s dream – a rainy west coast July.  Time to reflect.  Read.  Write.  To ponder.  And, at last, to post.

Welcome back.

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Dear new teacher me.

Thank you to Carolyn Durley – just the balm – and courage – I needed!

A Fine Balance

looking back

Shared on Flickr by Sonia Crawford

Dear new teacher me,

You started teaching with a vision; protect and nurture your vision as your first-born.

Teach from your heart, even when it hurts, even when you get hurt.

Bend with the winds but continue to grow. If you lose a few branches in the storms, know you will re-grow new ones.

Try to not let friendships, popularity, or group dynamics cloud your professional judgement. But accept if they do. Move forward from there.

Accept the off days, weeks, months or even years. Know it as part of a healthy cycle.

Know that it is OK to step away from your career for family, children, illness, or relationships. You will come back and find your stride.

Make ‘bubble bath’ reflection time part of each day. And then put the day away.

Accept your practice as not perfect and will never be such…

View original post 400 more words

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My 19th Year as a First Year Teacher

Every year, as September approaches, I feel like a first year teacher all over again; the task before me is suddenly daunting and overwhelming…

Part of my teacher-anxiety this year is that I will not know my new assignment until the week before school begins. I will, however (and thankfully) remain in the same three-room school. The not-knowing means I’ve only semi-prepared myself – and prepared nothing for my students – not knowing whether I will be the Kindergarten to Grade 2 teacher or the Grade 3 to 5 teacher, in addition to a possible block with the Grade 6-9 students (my former assignment, and joy of my heart!).

Uncertainty is familiar territory in teaching, as it is in most of life’s important commitments (marriage, parenthood…) Now is a good time to take a deep breath, to be still, and to focus on my teacher’s heart, rather than my fears. To remember to trust. To reach out to others for help and with help. To be mindful of and thankful for the children who will be placed in my professional care. To acknowledge the trust of their parents. And to appreciate the support of my teaching colleagues, near and far (and of my non-teaching family & friends, as well!)

Yes, I’m nervous, but I’m also excited. And most likely, my students are feeling the same.

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August Reading for September Teaching

I am just beginning to read Book One of The Multigrade Classroom: A Resource for Small, Rural Schools. There are seven handbooks in this series; Book One is a review of the research on multigrade instruction. If you’d like to read along with me, the handbooks are available through my symbaloo (click on the tile Multigrade Handbooks) or here. As I read, I will be posting my thoughts and questions about the material…

These handbooks were updated in 1999, and are based on the 1989 publication by B.A. Miller (Northwest Regional Educational Library). At the time, Dr. Miller conducted a comprehensive review of multigrade research, and collaborated with successful multigrade teachers to refine the handbooks. I am curious as to how current the information in these handbooks will be as I read through them; from what I have read so far, I am impressed by how applicable, practical – and relevant – the writing remains. And looking to the future, I have high hopes for how easily the BC Ed Plan will dovetail with what is already happening in many multigrade classrooms!

The authors describe the handbooks as “a research-based resource guide for the multigrade teacher”.

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Multigrade-Friendly Format: K-7 Language Arts Learning Outcomes

In 2007 I created a multigrade-friendly format of the BC Language Arts curricula (Kindergarten to Grade 7). As a multigrade teacher, I felt I needed a resource that allowed me to see, at a glance, the expected development of individual skills and concepts from grade to grade. The document provides an overview of each learning outcome in the BC Language Arts curricula, and how it develops over a range of grades.

You can access this document here.

Please spread the word! Many multigrade teachers from around our province have told me how much they appreciate this document. I hope you will find it beneficial, as well.

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