Education Opinion

Envisioning new models - Is it time to move away from age based classrooms?

By LeaderTalk Contributor — January 13, 2009 2 min read

Recently a colleague posted a link to an article from the denverrpost.com, a Colorado newspaper site. The headline reads “Adams 50 skips grades, lets kids be pacesetters.” The concept is pretty straight forward but its underlying model and the actual implementation of the program require us to really stretch our thinking about teaching, learning and school itself.

The concept is to do away with age as a determining factor in school placement, teach to the standards and use student mastery levels rather than traditional grades to determine placement. I hope you will take time to read the whole article but here are a couple of quotes to get you started:

“In a standards-based system, time becomes the variable and learning is the constant,” Selleck said. “When a kid can demonstrate proficiency of a standard, they move on. There is nothing magical about a quarter, semester or the end of school. That becomes blurred. Learning becomes much more 24-7.”

“Credit hours and grade levels were replaced with tailored lessons. Students were grouped by proficiency, not age. To advance, they had to show mastery in 10 standards from academics to personal skills.”

In our digitally connected world where knowledge and learning opportunities have become almost ubiquitous this model may be very timely indeed. However, rather than seeing it as a solution for underachieving schools I see it as addressing the needs of all of today’s students.

We know that the assembly line method of education does not work well. We also know that all students can learn but in different ways and at different times. With the ever changing information landscape, and our limited ability to predict the skills our students will need or the future jobs for which we are, preparing them there is one constant. All of us must have the ability to access, evaluate, and use information. We have to be able to adapt to new situations and to think outside the box. A model like the one described in the article is well suited to this kind of learning. One caveat however would be that in my opinion, mastery must focus not on the knowledge itself but on how that knowledge is applied.

Another model, which also embraces many of the same ideas, is the idea of multiage classrooms, which has recently re-appeared. One of the best articles on multiage classrooms can be found at the North Central Regional Laboratory (NCREL). Both the idea of multiage classrooms and the “no grade” concept at Adams 50 represent ideas we have ponder in our school community for the last several years. It will be interesting to follow the unfolding reality of the program in Adams 50. In the meantime, I think there are some essential conversations, which need to take place. What is mastery? What knowledge and skills would we choose as the “10 standards” per level? How can we facilitate 24-7 learning? How can we extend this kind of learning outside of the walls of our traditional brick and mortar classroom?

Barbara Barreda

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.