By Rachel Hill
One of the primary goals at KiS is to help our students feel engaged, challenged, and supported wherever they are developmentally, which is why a mixed-age educational model works so well for us. Children grow and learn at different rates, and it is important to make each student’s academic journey as unique as they are. As far as research for mixed-age classrooms, Mattern and Yates discovered that elementary level students have a “broader social experience and increased opportunities to lead and follow, and to form stable peer relationships” (1995). Younger students can always look to the teacher in the space to answer their questions, but can also get help from older students in the class. Additionally, children usually perform better academically in multi-age classrooms than in traditional classrooms (Anderson & Pavan, 1993).
Our multi-age classroom at KiS comes with a few unique challenges. One of the trickiest is incorporating activities that include and appeal to the entire class. From my experience as a reading teacher, regular read-alouds are beneficial for students of all ages, so I decided we should share the book, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, a heart-warming work of Science Fiction. This decision led to a ton of academic opportunities as well as quality community building. Students received many opportunities to make predictions, actively visualize and imagine, retell what they heard in the story, and connect the events back to their own lives.
Usually we read one or two chapters each day to kick off our literacy block, but as we delved deeper and deeper into the story, the students started wanting more, and they were definitely feeding off of each other’s energy. On a surprisingly related note, as the school year has gone on, we’ve been sharing more and more music during the morning meetings. One of my students is a big Twisted Sister fan, and one morning he requested We’re Not Going to Take It. When the other students heard the song, they were instantly fans for life. The song has become a regular request now as well as a silly response to classroom requests, even when there’s no true intention of bucking my instructions.
As we were approaching the end of The Wild Robot one morning, our second chapter left us on a climactic cliffhanger, and the kids begged me to continue. I gave in and read on for another two chapters, and when I told them we should stop for the day, a riot broke out like I had never seen in the classroom. The students began running around, chanting for more story, and eventually broke into a repeated chorus of We’re Not Going to Take It! As surprised as I was by the sudden rebellion, it made my teacher heart happy to see them so excited about our book!
I changed my reading block plan for the day in that moment of chaos, and we finished the book together. The chorus of cheers when I gave in to their demands for more of our shared story will always remain one of my favorite memories as an educator. As we finished the book that day, I wasn’t the only one who ended up a bit teary-eyed, and it wasn’t just because of the emotional ending to the novel. The student excitement that our shared reading cultivated and the community we have built while sharing this story combined to have my heart close to bursting. I can’t wait to figure out what we’ll read next!