Curriculum planning in a multigrade classroom.
The Multigrade Teacher training module for Zambian teacher trainers
The history of Multigrade teaching in Zambia.
Challenges of multigrade teaching.
Classroom management.
Curriculum planning in a multigrade classroom.
Assessment and evaluation.
Documentation in multigrade teaching.
Instructional materials.
Final word


When I first learned that I would have to teach in a multi-grade    classroom, I thought I would die!

Multi-age grouping , also referred to as vertical or family  grouping, can be any deliberate grouping of children that includes more than one traditional  grade level in a single classroom community


Multi-grade Challenges


Multi-grade Opportunities



Curriculum Provision:


In multi-grade situations teachers have increased curricular responsibility. They are accountable for curriculum mandates and student learning outcomes for a greater number of courses over several grade levels.  They must be knowledgable of the curriculum for each grade level and develop strategies for its provision.



Responding to Student Needs:


It is generally acknowledge that in a multi-grade situation there may be a greater range in student ability and attainment.  Meeting the needs of this broader range of students may be quite demanding.





Extended Time Frame:


The extended time frame provides both teachers and students with a number of potential advantages.  The teacher has the opportunity to get to know the students extremely well.  S/he is, therefore, in a position to plan for and monitor each student's learning and development in a continuous and more responsive fashion over a two or three year period.


Broad Range of Curriculum:


Students have the opportunity  to experience and participate in a much wider range of educational experiences.  Opportunities are there for students to encounter academic challenges that stretch their abilities and  to review and revisit work that may not have been mastered. They can do both without leaving their classroom.








Challenges (cont.)





Planning and Preparing:


Given the greater curriculum responsibilities and the wider range of student needs, planning and preparing is a more time-consuming and complex task in multi-grade situations.




Lack of Curriculum Materials:


Curriculum documents, text books and other learning resources generally assume a single grade organizational structure. Seldom do these resources make reference to multi-graded situations.




Multi-grade teachers have the same amount of instructional time during the day and week as do teachers in single grade classrooms. Finding the time to meet the greater curricular responsibilities and student needs can be a problem.




Mixed Age Interactions:


Related to this is the ever present opportunity for mixed age and/or ability interactions among the students.  Such interactions are highly conducive to spurring cognitive growth, developing language skills and enhancing vocabulary development.


Roles and Responsibility:


All students have the opportunity to experience a variety of roles and responsibilities as they progress from being the newest members of the class  to being the more senior.  Among the most important of these roles is assisting other students learn and modelling desirable attitudes and values.






Challenges (cont.)





Managing Multiple Learning Events:


Multiple learning events occurring simultaneously is a fundamental characteristic of multi-grade classrooms.  Students, both individually and  in small groups  may be engaged in different activities without the direct supervision of the teacher.  Keeping everyone productively occupied and engaged in meaningful tasks takes careful planning and organization.


Lack of Pre-service and In-service:


Generally, pre-service teacher education programs do not address the curricular and instructional demands  of multi-grading.  More often than not, advice and guidance is not available to teachers from District personnel. As a consequence, multi-grade teachers have had to solve their own problems



Social Development:


Grouping children  of different ages together has a positive impact on all aspects of social development. Most teachers indicate very little time and attention taken from instruction for discipline and behaviour concerns in multi-grade classrooms.




At the beginning of each year the teacher does not face a whole class of new students. The returning students provide valuable help and assistance in orienting the new students to classroom norms and routines.



When I started teaching, I organized the class in the same way I was taught. The kinder- gartens  were on one side of the room, the grade ones on the other. I first would teach the one grade and then the other.

I spent all of that first year struggling to cover what I thought should be covered. At the end of the year I realized I didnt do the job I wanted to do and I came to the awful realization, the kids didnt learn what I thought they should.


Traditional Approach


Emergent Approach



Students in each grade level are treated as a separate and distinct  entity.


Each grade group is assigned to their own part the classroom,  with  their own row(s) of desks.

Curriculum is planned and organized on a yearly basis and for  each grade group separately..


Instruction  is planned and organized for each grade group separately.


In class grouping  is  on a grade and age basis.


Each year the teacher attempts  to "cover" the complete curriculum for each grade.


Depending on the number of grades combined in the classroom, this could mean preparing, scheduling and teaching 20 or 30 separate courses.



The class operates, in the first instance, not as separate grade groups but as a unified community of learners.


All members of the community work together and help each other learn regardless of age, grade or ability.


The starting points for planning and instruction are provincially prescribed learner outcomes and emergent student needs.


The extended time frame of multi-grade settings is used to create a more effective and efficient multi-year plan for meeting mandated, curriculum content requirements.


A thematic, integrated approach is taken to curriculum and teaching. The teacher strives to create learning activities and sequences that serve multiple purposes.


Flexible grouping. Students are grouped cross grade for instruction accorded to need in relation to prescribed outcomes.


Students who master grade related skills and content can move ahead and encounter more challenging materials.


Class size will also affect the success of a multiage program. It can work with a balanced class of 25, be more successful with a class of 18 or 20, and become increasingly difficult with classes of more than 25

I think the way my approach has changed the most over the last two years is that I now think of my two grades as one.


The kids have, more or less, a communal experience in the classroom.  They have sort of given up on the idea of me and mine, now it is us and ours.

Forget about saying, this kid is in grade one and that kid is in grade two.  Just put them all together; they are a salad bowl.

Teachers in multi-grade classrooms identify integration as one of  their most valuable strategies. They are drawn to this strategy, in the first instance, because it enables them to make a more effective and efficient use of instructional time.


When an integrated approach is taken to curriculum and teaching, the teacher strives to create learning activities and sequences that serve multiple purposes.  Instead of planning separate learning experiences for each subject area or set of outcomes, the teacher creates an integrated sequence of learning activities.


Students participate in experiences and interactions that are interdisciplinary and  achieve  outcomes across several learning areas and grade levels.  The emphasis is on creating connections and links between  separate areas of knowledge and inquiry.


Curriculum integration is not a strategy exclusive to multi-grade classrooms nor is its value limited to an efficient use of instructional time.  Integrated approaches are equally valued for the way that they combat the fragmented approach to curriculum and learning that  often dominates in schools.

I combine and integrate more now than I did at first. I find myself doing this more so each year as I become more and more familiar with the programs.

The process is gradual.

My approach has changed from the traditional to the open type of teaching with emphasis on themes which gives more opportunity for integration.

The focus is on a theme, not individual subjects. The central focus in integrated approaches to curriculum development is a theme or topic as opposed to an individual  subject or a grade level course.  The selected theme becomes the organizational nucleus for all learning activities for the whole class.


Student interest and learning outcomes. The choice of a theme, therefore, is crucial to the effectiveness of the integrated unit.  Of prime importance is the theme's potential for meeting a wide range of prescribed student  outcomes in several subject areas and more than one  grade level.  Student interest is also  a prime criteria when selecting a theme.


The emphasis is on interdisciplinary learning throughout. In an integrated thematic unit, the teacher takes advantage of all opportunities to make connections and linkages to as many different learning areas as is appropriate. The theme and related sub-topics are and authentic role in all aspects of the learning process.The students interests are considered when choosing a theme and there is ample occasion for them to pursue topics and questions, related to the theme, of

their own devising. Students will work independently, help each other, and take some degree of responsibility for their own learning outcomes.

Teacher as learner. In integrated  approaches to curriculum, the teacher is a co-learner with the students in the exploration of  a theme. During the planning stage the teacher takes some time to become thoroughly familiar with the content materials. During the investigation and exploration stage the teacher acts  as co-investigator with the students.

Resource based learning.  Integrated approaches assume that multiple resources will be used by the students during the course of their theme study projects. Textbooks will be one of these resources but these will be supplemented by a variety of additional print, audio-visual, and community and human resources. Field trips, guest speakers, films, videos, sound recordings, fiction and non- fiction books, newspapers, and magazines may be used as resources.  Learning how to use a variety of resources to find required information is one of the intended learning outcomes of integrated learning.

Varied activities and interactions. In developing a sequence of learning activities for an integrated unit the teacher aims for maximum variety and variation. Hence, in the course of a thematic unit students will work as a whole class, in small groups, in pairs and sometimes individually. They will interact with the teacher, other students, members of the community, various learning materials and computers and software. The theme and sub-topics are seen as natural contexts for students to use and further develop their emergent skills and abilities in language arts, math, science, and the creative arts.

I take some time during the summer and I decide what themes I am going to do.  Then I go through the grade level curriculum guides for science, math, language arts,  and social studies.  I pick out from each of the guides what I will do with each theme.








Planning Chart for Integrated Unit: Cross -curriculum Connections


Multi-grade situation: Students in grades 1, 2, and  3.


Theme: Bears



Potential Language Arts Outcomes




General Outcomes In Reading


Respond to Literature










General Outcomes in Writing


Engage in the Stages of the writing process.



Specific Outcomes


Read Daily for interest from a  variety of children's literature


Read aloud with expression and



Request that literature be read aloud.


Interpret information in  illustrations, comparison charts, time lines.


Specific Outcomes


Use pre-writing techniques.


Engage in a drafting process.


The biggest change in approach has been integration of grades for subjects such as math, health, science and religion.

The kids are all brought together for group instruction at different points in the day and then they go off to work in small groups.


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