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Multi-age classrooms and competency in Pittsfield result in greater student community and achievement

Pittsfield Elementary School is using multi-age classrooms and competency to create more flexible, supportive learning environments for their students, reported The Concord Monitor. Within the first month, teachers report that their students love the new approach and feel more “valued and supported.”

In multi-aged classrooms, grades are combined–like Sarah Jean-Gilles’ combined fourth-and fifth-grade classroom. It means Jean-Gilles has to rethink the way she teaches–it’s no longer a single, fourth-grade lesson–but she can better meet students’ individual needs in this environment:

“Multi-age grouping does create the expectations that you personalize the education for kids,” Chris Sturgis [of CompetencyWorks] wrote in an email. “In a multi-age classroom, you can’t just deliver one grade level curriculum. Teachers will have to organize the classroom around personalizing instruction to ensure that students are getting instruction and building . . . skills based on their personal educational trajectories.”

“That’s the most exciting part about my multi-age classroom – I feel like I can give them what they need,” Bernadette Rowley [teacher at Pittsfield Elementary School] said. “If you give a second-grader second-grade work, but they’re on a kindergarten level, you’re setting them up to fail.”

Pairing the structure with a competency model helps teachers like Jean-Gilles identify students’ gaps in knowledge:

A reform that aims to more authentically track student learning, competency-based education’s hallmark is the jettisoning of traditional grading systems. Instead of receiving As and Bs, students are told, specifically, whether they are achieving competency – or, as some call it, “proficiency” – in individual skills, whether it be long multiplication or identifying a theme in a work of fiction. Students are expected to work at their own pace, moving on to the next topic only when they’ve actually demonstrated they understand the material.

The new approach has students excited for school. And many who would normally fall behind or feel bored by school are excited:

“I think there’s a really strong sense of community, and I think the students feel like they’re being valued and supported,” she said.

Her instructional aide, Christine Darling, joked that students were still telling her they loved coming to class – a sentiment that usually doesn’t last past the first week of school.

Jean-Gilles also said that children who had often been isolated – either because they were too far ahead or falling behind – seemed better socially integrated this year.

Read more about how Pittsfield is transforming the traditional classroom into an engaging, authentic learning environment:

Read the full article here.

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