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Benefits of learning in a mixed-age classroom

Do you really want your child learning in a mixed-age classroom, where there will be an even wider range of skills and abilities amongst students? Well, if we look at the research, the answer is ‘yes’. Yes, you definitely do. Some of the questions I often get from prospective parents is how the mixed-age classrooms work? How do the teachers cope? Don’t the older children get forgotten about, and do the younger children get the support they need? To answer all of these questions, we can look to the research which outlines the benefits of mixed-age classrooms.

Since Montessori students remain in the same learning community for 3 years, children in their first year are able to spend time observing older children. Younger children benefit from being a part of a classroom where older students are introducing more complex ideas in discussions and are doing advanced work. Younger children can see what they are aspiring to achieve and are able to participate in conversations that stretch their thinking. The overall challenge of the classroom is increased with students with higher level abilities. Academically, children have a year of introduction, a year of practice, and a year of synthesis in each Montessori cycle[1]

Children in the second year of a cycle start the year off with confidence; they already know the routines and established culture and expectations of the learning environment. They essentially pick up where they left off. It’s no wonder that the beginning of our year at North-Eastern has started so smoothly. One of our parents remarked to me at drop off last week that it didn’t feel like the start of the year. I think a big part of this is that only a third of each classroom cohort are new each year, so our classroom communities are stable, and learning happens naturally and easily for our students.

Peer teaching is another one of the amazing benefits of Montessori classrooms. Older children help teach younger students and these experiences enable the older children to reflect and synthesize their own learning. There are cognitive benefits for the older children because peer teaching reinforces skills[2]. When students are encouraged to ask for help and to offer help to others, this reduces competition, aggression, and social isolation. It’s no wonder that the academic research consistently demonstrates that mixed-age classes improve children’s social behaviour[3].

Finally, one of the most important benefits of being in a classroom for a 3-year period is the relationship students develop with their teachers over time. As a former mainstream teacher myself, I can say that the first term of every school year is largely spent getting to know your students. Of course, having good assessment data helps, but it takes time to know what strategies will work, how to leverage on students’ strengths, and it simply takes time to build connection and trust with each individual student. In our Montessori classrooms, teachers build strong and lasting connections with children, and are able to extend and support their students academically, socially and emotionally because they know them so well. Students who work with teachers for more than one year perform better academically[4].

If you’re interested in seeing our classrooms in action, and learning more about the benefits of a Montessori education come along for a tour with me this term. Book a tour online, and come see if our School is what you’ve been looking for!

[1] National Centre for Montessori in the Public Sector, White Paper: Three-Year Age-Spans in Montessori Classrooms: The Benefits of a Full Upper Elementary cycle (2016). https://www.public-montessori.org/research-and-resources/#whitepapers

[2] Bargh, J.A. & Schul, Y. (1980). On the cognitive benefits of teaching. Journal of Educational Psychology, 72(5), 593-604.

[3] Katz, L.G. (1995). The benefits of mixed-age grouping. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED382411

[4] Hill, A. J., & Jones, D. B. (2018). A teacher who knows me: The academic benefits of repeat student-teacher matches. Economics of Education Review, 64, 1-12.

'There is a great sense of community within the Montessori classroom, where children of differing ages work together in an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competitiveness. There is respect for the environment and for the individuals within it, which comes through experience of freedom within the community.
Dr Maria Montessori

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