Key Advantages STARS Academy Has Seen with Mixed-Age Grouping
Traditional age-based learning, where students are placed in a classroom based on age alone, has the potential to create a host of problems for students, teachers, families, and administrators. Discover the academic, social, and personal benefits of flexible grouping in the classroom.
6 Reasons STARS Academy Private School Opts for Mixed-Age Grouping
STARS Academy Head of School Shayna Turk Dovitz discusses the myriad benefits of a more flexible approach to education.
1. Better Teaching Environment for the Teachers
One of the biggest challenges teachers face in a traditional age-based system is the wide range of student levels and skills.
“Writing and math tend to be the most challenging,” said Dovitz. “It’s standard for some students to be onto multiplication while others are still learning to do addition. Others still are ready for long division.”
That discrepancy creates big challenges for teachers. Just to keep a class session running smoothly, it’s often necessary to create multiple lesson plans to accommodate all the different skill levels. Attention, time, and effort must be split between these groups throughout the lesson.
This creates extra work, time, effort, and stress—all of which contribute to teacher burnout.
In a flexible group setting, children are placed based on ability rather than age. This frees the teacher to create one effective lesson plan that suits everyone in the session. It also ensures more dedicated time per student because everyone is asking questions about and working through the same task.
2. Less Behavioral Problems with the Students
In standard age-based learning, students are bound to be advanced in some areas and average or behind in others.
The result? In many cases, behavioral issues.
When children aren’t challenged enough, they tend to act up and be disruptive as a result of boredom.
When children are too challenged, they can lose attention and interest and become disengaged or disheartened with the material.
Mixed-age groupings help ensure a child is properly challenged in every subject throughout the day.
This leads to:
More engagement with the material
Fewer feelings of overwhelm or defeat
For teachers, it means more time teaching and less time dealing with the behavioral fallout of overly challenged and underchallenged students.
3. Flexibility (Especially in a Small School Environment)
Flexible grouping means every child is individually assessed and placed in the appropriate group for that given subject.
In a private school with a smaller student population, those ongoing assessments are feasible.
“Our units are four weeks long. After every unit, the entire teaching staff gets together and talks,” said Dovitz. “Because we have a small staff, we can individually discuss which students are struggling, which are thriving, and we can move as necessary. Sometimes we’ll even make the change during the unit.”
The flexibility of mixed-age groupings allows for students to move up and down as needed.
4. Every Child Gets What He or She Needs in Flexible Groupings
In an ability-based system, it’s a much more customized way of looking at what any given child should be learning in a subject.
In the age-based system, it’s a one-size-fits-all approach with much less consideration of personal needs.
“It’s like treating every injury with a Band-Aid. For some injuries, great. That will help,” said Dovitz. “For bruises, that’s not going to help. For headaches, that won’t help. With mixed-age groups, every child gets what will actually help.”
5. Opportunity to Practice Inclusion and Support
In these kinds of systems, there are situations where there’s a large age discrepancy between the students. Maybe a sixth-grader and a third-grader, for example, are in the same math class.
Schools that implement mixed-age groups, including STARS Academy, see this as a tremendous chance for other learning opportunities.
“When we get a big age difference in a class, it’s a chance to talk with the students about acceptance. About minding your own business. About it not being your job to know what anyone else is doing,” said Dovitz. “These groups better represent what it’s like in the real world, and there are so many other related learning opportunities within that.”
For younger children who are academically advanced but struggle with the concentration necessary in those higher levels, older students will often support those younger students. They’ll help remind them of proper behavior and model the appropriate actions.
In every interaction, there’s opportunity for inclusion and learning even beyond the scope of the lesson itself.
6. Improved Academics and Self-Esteem
Perhaps the biggest advantage of these mixed-age group sessions is that every child is getting the appropriate level of challenge.
The result is twofold: better academic performance and better self-esteem.
“Some of the students we’ve enrolled from the public school system are totally defeated. It’s so much initial work to build that self-confidence back up,” said Dovitz. “When they start doing well, when they learn strategies for how not to compare themselves to other students, then they start to feel successful. That breeds more success.”
In this system, every child should be succeeding in their academics because the level is appropriate. If a child isn’t succeeding, then some other issue is likely at play. Between the student, the family, and the teaching staff, this can be discussed, identified, and remedied.
Interested in Learning More about Flexible Group Learning at STARS Academy?
Does mixed-age learning sound like a system where your child would thrive?
Schedule a tour of the STARS Academy West Hills campus today. See the classrooms. Ask questions. Discover if this is the right learning environment for you and your family.