"Multi-aged classrooms force us to individualize learning for each student," explains Theresa David, teacher at Chinook Elementary School in Vancouver, Washington.
Tailoring instruction to the student is one of the founding philosophies of the five-year-old school, where students learn in the same classroom with children from two or three grade levels. "With different grades and abilities in the same classroom, you could have students working at eight different levels in one room. It helps us meet the needs of all kids," says teacher Laura Bolt.
Because a core group of students stays with a teacher for the next year, start-up time is faster when students come back to school in the fall. "Once students have been in my class for a year they take on leadership roles and help new students adjust," adds teacher Eric Hoglund. The individualized learning approach is reinforced by the use of technology in the classroom.
Five networked computers in each class allow students to work on their own or in small groups. Parents also help out, staffing learning centers in the classroom where students rotate to work on different activities like reading and research.
Multi-aged classrooms and other strategies create a sense of community in this large elementary school, which serves over 750 kindergarten through fifth-grade students. Ten classrooms are clustered together in wings called "houses." Within each house, teachers meet for long periods a few times a week to plan themes and coordinate instruction. Students in each house participate in joint activities and even eat lunch together. Combining personalized instruction with a feeling of community helps make learning at Chinook a successful journey for all students.