Guest Editorial: Advantages of Multi-Age Grouping

The Barclay School is a small, private, non-profit school in Ridgeway for K-12 special needs students. At our school, not only are we proud of our differences, but we are proud to do things differently.

Dr. Barclay-Smith

Our students “show” us what they have learned through projects and reports. We move at the pace of the individualized students, rather than having to race through a mandated curriculum. And we like to “mix up” our grouping, often having students of different age groups working together.

The academic justification for multi-age grouping abounds: older students gain confidence by helping younger students with something they once found difficult; younger students learn valuable social modeling skills from their older peers; and all the students gain insight and experience into the real world skill of communal problem solving.

This week I was reminded of yet another reason to bring students of different ages together in the classroom:

A younger and an older student were paired to work on a Social Studies project. They sat together on a couch, heads together, working diligently. I chatted to them briefly as I walked by, but thought nothing of it.

The next morning, the older student’s teacher brought me a journal. It was then that I realized the true significance of what I had witnessed.

The older student is on the autistic spectrum. She is sometimes confused by social cues, misreads body language and is perplexed and overwhelmed by sensory overload. Daily tasks and interactions that the majority of us breeze through can cause her to withdraw and despair.

That morning, things were already not going well for her. Her journal noted that,  “Today I was so tired that I don’t know if I am gonna get good or worse. But yesterday was a bit if a cure for me because of my friend. She was really funny, singing Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ while we were doing a project. She got me hollering on the floor.”

But it wasn’t the fact that the much younger student had, despite herself, made her smile. It was the fact that the interaction had helped her pause, reflect and conclude,” Maybe today things will turn around for me.”

The multi-age grouping had not just created a bond between two students, years apart. The younger student’s optimism and vivacity had shown the older that not all days that begin badly have to end badly.  More importantly, the interaction had also provided the older struggling student with the possible insight and hope that things were going to be okay.

And THAT you can’t teach!

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