A Combination Class – Now What? Part Two

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Will my child in the lower grade be overwhelmed? Teachers and administrators are very careful to select children who can be successful and compatible in a combination class. In any class, there are a variety of students who are at different social, emotional, and academic levels. Lower-grade students have an opportunity to observe, emulate, and imitate a wide range of behaviors modeled by the older students that they might not have been exposed to in a single-grade classroom.

Lower-grade children are also intellectually stimulated by older children. Mattern and Yates report that lower-grade students have a “broader social experience and increased opportunities to lead and follow, and to form stable peer relationships” (1995). Younger-grade students can rely on the teacher to answer their instructional questions, but can also receive assistance from older students in the class. Students in the lower grade can also benefit from enriched learning by their exposure to curricular material designed for a higher grade (Society for Developmental Education 1993).

Will a child learn less in a combination class? The University of Louisville’s Center for Gifted Students conducted a study to compare the achievement of students in single-grade settings and in combination settings. Their study found that 20% of the students in combination classes significantly outscored the single-grade classes on standardized tests in four key areas: word identification, reading comprehension, mathematical computations, and mathematical problem solving (Viadero 1996).

Veenman’s research of multi-age classes spanned 56 classrooms in 12 countries. He argues that there is no empirical evidence for the assumption that student learning may suffer in classes with students of different grades and ages (1995). What he did find in his 1996 study were significant differences in the affective areas of learning. Student attitudes toward learning, school, self-concept, and personal and social adjustment were higher in the students who had participated in combination and multi-age classes. Students in the combination classes were able to form relationships with a wider variety of students than are possible in the traditional same-age classroom.