Success or Survival in the Multigrade Classroom

Part 4 — Planning a Multigrade Curriculum Design

by Sandra Wright Smith1

This is article four in a four-part series on teaching in a multigrade classroom. Article one is Success or Survival in the Multigrade Classroom: 1 — Crossing the Cultures.

Managing curriculum that is not designed for the multigrade, much like taking 110-volt appliances into a 220-volt environment, requires the teacher to be the “adapter.”

Pre-designed curricula are intended to help the teacher by reducing much of the planning and preparation process. Pre-designed curriculum plans, however, present numerous difficulties for the multigrade teacher. Many teachers become frustrated and burned-out trying to follow these plans in the effort of trying to fit one system (single-graded) of education into another. It is, subsequently, necessary that the teacher develop the curriculum plan for the unique mulitgrade class.

When I was teaching in the Philippines, I had watched Filipino seamstresses take a picture of the dress desired and make an outfit for each choir student according to their individual measurements. Their basic understanding of fundamental pattern piecing and measurement alterations was essential. Homemade pattern-making has become a lost art in our modern world of prefabrication. So also, the skills of curriculum planning are becoming lost in light of increasing dependency on preset curriculum programs.

Once you know the steps, the “pattern making” of curriculum plans is really quite simple. The standard ingredients for educational planning are similar, but the specific measures and design for each piece need to be “fitted” to the unique characteristics of each group of students.

Setting Educational Goals

Curriculum is the wide-range plan for a full educational program. The purpose is to (1) set educational goals, (2) establish instructional guidelines, and (3) layout the steps necessary to reach the goals. Prior to laying out the pieces for the curriculum plan, the following “measurements” must be evaluated in order to determine the instructional pattern that will be the most effective.

What is the student like?

Since the students and their educational needs are the first priority, then the student must be assessed as to cultural background (international, cross-cultural, sub-culture), learning styles and preferences, personality traits, special learning needs, previous educational experience, and futuristic educational or vocational goals. Take time to identify and articulate your student population.

What does the student need to know or be able to do?

In order to maintain consistency year after year, some schools may have already established the concepts goals. Should a school not provide this, the teacher will need to set down concept criteria for each level of learning. This criteria may be based upon national standards of educational measurement, other educational models from established programs, or published curriculum standards. For example, fifth graders should master long division. The key is the wise planning of prioritized, sequential, concept learning.

What are the logical steps to achieve learning?

It is important to be aware of basic concepts including their scope and sequence for each learning level and in each subject. Within each subject different concepts are developed in sequential steps that require the student to master one at a time, each step building upon what was previously learned (i.e. simple addition—>double-digit addition—>addition with renaming, etc.). Scope and sequence concept charts can assist in distinguishing this criteria.

What are the best learning seasons for key educational development?

Certain times during the year the children have a greater learning capacity undistracted by yearly calendar events. Critical or difficult learning units need to be scheduled during the most effective learning times in the year which are usually the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th months into the school year.

Planning the Curriculum

Keeping in mind the students’ needs, the established concept requirements, and the materials available, the teacher can begin to map out the curriculum plan for the year.

Step 1: Charting Basic Concepts by Levels (Grades)

Identify concept goals for each area on each level and then combine similar concepts into sections within a concept unit. This enables all the students to study the same or similar concepts at the same time using the multigrade instructional format (see previous article). Scope and sequence charts, available in most instructional materials, will aid in this step.

Begin by making a chart for each subject area. Each learning level represents one column. List the concepts in sequential order under each learning-level column. Briefly specify the scope of the concept covered within the learning level [i.e., English Grammar 4th: Nouns (4 weeks)—identify, common/proper, plurals, compound, usage: subject, direct object]. If possible, next to each general concept goal on the chart, place an estimated instruction time.

Table 1a Sample Scope & Sequence Chart (English Grammar)

STEP 2: Matching Basic Concepts

Using the first chart, match up the units and like or similar basic concepts within the units. It is helpful to use different colored highlighter pens to mark matching concepts. These combined level concept groups become learning units.

Table 1b Sample Scope & Sequence Chart (English Grammar)

STEP 3: Planning Correlated Learning Units

Using the matched concepts and the estimated time factors from the previous chart, plan the sequences of the learning units for the year. Using a chart divided into weeks, plot the units, giving the estimated time it will take to accomplish the learning for each level. Be

careful not to turn around the essential sequence of concepts. Plan for the crucial concepts first. Remember to keep in mind the key learning times throughout the year.

There will be learning units in which the lower grades will not require as long a period of time to accomplish the scope of the concepts required on the chart. Leave these spaces blank. These will be filled in with review or uncorrelated concepts in the next step.

Table 2a Sample Subject Curriculum Plan (English Grammar)

STEP 4: Fill in the Vacant Time Spaces

In each grade level there are concepts not taught on the other levels that do not go into any basic unit, especially in the lower grades. These are referred to as uncorrelated concepts (i.e. 1st grade: days of week). Plot these concepts with their estimated time factors into the chart from Step 3. These concepts may be taught using either segregated or combined instructional approaches.

Plan in small non-building learning units to be inserted between the large concentrated units to give a little break between the high intensity learning times (i.e. creative writing).

Table 2b Sample Subject Curriculum Plan (English Grammar)

By generating a spreadsheet, a teacher can see a yearly curriculum plan at a glance. This chart is then used to plan learning units and daily lessons, choose materials, and plan for different teaching approaches to meet the learning needs of your students.

Most predesigned curriculum packages will require a great deal of material that may not be necessary. Through multigrade instructional approaches (see previous article), personal curriculum planning, and the careful use of text materials (as resources rather than instructional mandates), schools can cut expenses substantially and teachers can make the most of each learning day. Greater investment in preparation yields a greater learning experience and ownership of the learning process.

This is the end of the series.

Permission to copy, but not for commercial use.

  1. Sandra Wright Smith is a Multigrade Specialist/Educational Consultant and Director of International Family Services, Mission Training International.