When students are grouped with other children from different grades and with different ability levels, how well do they do in school? In order to answer this question, we must look at the lengthy history of combination classrooms. Before examining the strengths and weaknesses of a multiage educational program, it is necessary to define it: Combination classes are created when children of different ages and grade levels are intentionally combined in a single classroom to realize academic and social benefits. At the end of each year, the older students move on to the next grade and a new group of students enters at the lower grade. "Combination classrooms are nothing new. They've been around since the days of the one-room schoolhouse, when children of many ages studied side by side under the same roof with the help of one teacher" ( Bozzone 8 ). However, with the enactment of No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, combination classrooms in today's society have taken on a new meaning. When talking about multiage education, we must understand the history of education in the United States. Graded education did not appear America until 1843, when the concept of separate grades was born of administrative practicality and puritanical traditions ( Anderson 28 ). At that time, the United States was beginning the process of industrialization and the idea of mass production was extended to the educational system. Dividing students into grades enabled teachers to specialize on a specific portion of the curriculum, and paved the way for the advent of the graded textbook. The graded system of education made the delivery of curriculum more efficient than the one-room schoolhouse system. After 1918, the use combination classrooms in the United States declined. However, in the 1960s the nongraded movement once again gained support in the United States. At this time, many schools combined students in mixed-age groups, but with negative results. The motivation for the movement in the 1960s was to save money. It was not accompanied by necessary changes in philosophy or teaching practices. While there is currently a resurgence of the combination classroom, many teachers, administrators and parents continue to wonder whether or not combination classrooms are effective in teaching students; or if it just another way to save money.
Administrators and school districts list countless advantages of combination classrooms. These advantages can be grouped into several categories: advantages to students because of the mixed-age environment; advantages to students because of the multiple-year experience; and advantages to teachers. One major advantage to children in combination classrooms is the modeling that takes place. Modeling is the natural process by which younger students pick up behaviors they observe in older students and occurs even when it is not intended. "If older students and younger students are in close proximity while engaging in learning activities, the younger students will seek to imitate the behaviors modeled by the older students" (Merrick 14 ). Younger students will imitate academic and social behaviors demonstrated by older children. "Nothing is more interesting to a child than another child who has the skills that he or she wants to acquire" ( Merrick 14 ). In addition to this unintended, natural modeling, older students can also provide direct instruction to younger students. When the one student shows another student how to do a task, it introduces the concept to one student and allows the other student to practice the skill and develop nurturing behaviors (Goularte 14 ). "When older children 'teach' newly learned skills to younger classmates, they strengthen their own understanding of these skills" ( Lodish 37 ). Modeling also benefits the older students when social behaviors are involved. Self-regulatory behavior improves when older students need to remind younger students what the rules are...
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