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"Just Right" Education

Westside Christian - a “Just Right” Education


At Westside Christian, we focus on providing learning that is just right for your child.  We do not emphasize grade-levels.  We develop multi-age or multi-grade classrooms– which are a broader mix of ages than a traditional grade-level classroom.  Although students in a typical grade-level might have just as much of a span in age, a multi-age classroom intentionally puts students together from different grade-levels. 

Multiage is usually done for two primary reasons in education.  One of the reasons you have likely heard of most often is due to financial necessity.  For example, there might be a very small or uneven student to teacher ratio for one or two grade-levels, and it might not warrant the expense to a school system of providing two teachers just to have grade-levels separated.  This is often viewed in our minds through the lens of our own experiences, so it is often seen as a non-traditional classroom to many.

However, what most people don’t realize is that a multi-age or multi-grade classroom is often intentionally done for a purely pedagogical reason.  In other words, the belief that it is best practice in education to not place an emphasis on a particular grade-level, but to allow students the opportunity to benefit from a multi-age approach and focus more on practices that can allow students to be best nurtured—both academically and socially. Teachers in these classrooms are ideally given more time for planning, preparations, and collaboration with others.

Westside Christian will be doing the multi-grade approach for both of the above reasons.  We are dedicated to maintaining smaller class sizes- in order to maintain reasonable teacher to student ratios, while being good stewards financially as well.  However, we are also embracing multi-age classrooms, because research suggests that children benefit in many ways from multiage classrooms (Miller 1990).  Academically, children typically do better in multi-age classrooms than in traditional classrooms (Anderson & Pavan, 1993). If they don’t do better, they do the same. Multi-age classrooms clearly do not negatively affect academic achievement (Miller, 1990).

After reviewing twenty-one quantitative studies comparing the effects of multi-age classrooms with single grade classrooms, Miller (1990, 6) notes, “In terms of academic achievement, the data clearly support the multigrade classroom as a viable and equally effective organizational alternative to single-grade instruction.”

The benefits for children, socially and emotionally, are consistently higher for multiage classrooms. The affective domain is greatly impacted by multi-age classrooms. From his review of the research, Miller (1990, 7) notes, “When it comes to student affect, the case for multigrade organization appears much stronger, with multigrade students out-performing single-grade students in over 75 percent of the measures used.”

Finally, multiage children often have a greater sense of belonging (Sherman, 1984) and have more positive social relationships. Anderson and Pavan’s (1993) review of research from 1977-1990 found that multiage children consistently like school more. Multiage children have more positive attitudes towards school than same-age children. The attendance rate in multiage classrooms is also significantly better than in same-age classrooms.

Multi-age classrooms reflect the natural groupings found everywhere else– in our families, our neighborhoods, our communities, and the world.  They provide opportunities for the exchange of ideas, modeling of behaviors, and practice of responsibility.  We use our multiage classrooms and our whole school focus to intentionally develop compassion toward others while giving our students confidence in who God created them to be and to allow each student to develop leadership and social skills.

At Westside Christian, we believe that providing and utilizing “just right” learning language in every classroom throughout the school is important because it:

  • Reveals the truth about a student’s ability to learn: “God has given each of us a unique ability to learn.  My brain is different from everyone else’s, and God made me this way.  He has made my mind to learn and understand many things.  I can use strategies that help me to learn or do things.  Some things are easy for me to learn and difficult for somebody else.  Some things are difficult for me to learn or do and easy for somebody else.  I may have to work harder at learning or doing some things than other things, but I can learn and do almost anything if I put effort into it.”
  • Focuses on student needs, rather than grade-levels.
  • Fosters a growth-oriented mind-set for students as they learn about how they learn.
  • Empowers students by becoming cognitive of their own learning-styles, strengths, weaknesses, and needs.

Teachers and administration at Westside begin by focusing on building relationships within classrooms, and quite frankly the whole school.  Once students feel safe and secure in an environment that supports one another, then we quickly facilitate students learning about themselves as learners.  

At Westside we believe that every learner should be given “just right” instruction in math, reading, and spelling.  Age shouldn’t matter.  If students entering a grade-level have already mastered certain things, they shouldn’t have to be held back academically in order to be with their age-peers.  This is how children lose their spark and appetite for learning!  We provide opportunities to be with academic and social peers throughout the day.

We also have more planning and preparation built into the school calendar and the school week to ensure that each teacher has time to plan and prepare “just right” lessons and to collaborate about student’s needs.  We use simple assessments to facilitate this throughout the school year, make regular adjustments that allow students to be fluid throughout the year based on student need, and we align our school day around math and reading.    

Multi-age classrooms break down invisible barriers related to grade-level. Students begin to see themselves within a learning community as growing and developing in a variety of ways at different times, different ways, and in a variety of contexts. 

This question assumes that traditional classrooms are the best way to educate children.  Just remember that having secluded grade-level system came as a result of masses of children coming to public education systems.  As you investigate the philosophy of multiage classrooms, you can quickly conclude that this child-centered approach can be very rich and rewarding for all children.  A system that allows children to progress at their own pace, view themselves as successful competent learners, and gives them opportunities to teach and learn from a variety of people without competition.

Westside administration and teachers work collaboratively to form a balance of ages and abilities.

In multiage classrooms, all children, even the older children, are on their own continuum of learning. The curriculum is opened up for ALL the children. The older child is able to go as far as he or she is able to go just as the younger child is. Oftentimes in a same-grade classroom, some children who have accomplished the curriculum, stagnate or get bored with learning things they already know. This does not happen in the multiage program. The older child is able to progress beyond the traditional curriculum limits.

Older children also benefit socially and emotionally. Older children have the opportunity to mentor younger children. This allows all the older children to gain confidence and increase their self-esteem by helping others. Without the strong competitions of same-age classrooms, older children are free to cooperate and help others.

Sometimes families move and a student must be relocated to another school that does not provide multiage classrooms. Experience has shown that children who are in multiage classrooms are more confident learners and quickly adapt to same-age classrooms. One positive aspect is that they have had time to enjoy seeing themselves as competent learners. Also, if a student is working at an advanced rate in a subject, such as math or reading, it is noted on student progress reports, which is a matter of a student’s academic file.  To have some time in a multiage classroom is better than no time at all.