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March 2021


What research has been conducted on multiage classrooms in elementary schools?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on multiage classrooms in elementary schools. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed multiage classrooms in elementary schools. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Bailey, G. J., Werth, E. P., Allen, D. M., Sutherland, L. L. (2016). The prairie valley project: Reactions to a transition to a schoolwide, multiage elementary classroom design. School Community Journal, 26(1), 239–264.
    From the abstract: "Originating from progressive educators who saw the need for student-centered educational designs rather than the traditional, single-age classroom design based on Henry Ford's assembly line, the multiage classroom design is returning as a viable alternative to the single-age classroom. The authors explored the perceptions of parents and teachers impacted during the transition of two elementary schools away from single-age classrooms to a multiage classroom design. This study specifically focused on kindergarten through fifth grade and examined the overall effect of the multiage design on these two groups and on the elements that were important to the administration. Results indicate that parents support the transition to a multiage design. Although they demonstrated support, teachers were significantly more neutral than the parents in several areas, such as family-school relationships, class size stability, teacher assignment stability, and overall ability of students to do well in the multiage classroom. The findings of this research will assist districts transitioning to a multiage design in identifying what elements of the design are likely to be supported by parents and teachers."
  2. Huf, C., & Raggl, A. (2015). Social orders and interactions among children in age-mixed classes in primary schools--New perspectives from a synthesis of ethnographic data. Ethnography and Education, 10(2) 230–241.
    From the abstract: "The article synthesizes data from two ethnographic projects, which both explore interactions of children in age-mixed groups in primary schools. It illuminates critical perspectives on social orders and children's interactions in age-mixed classes by showing how pupils in age-mixed groups become involved in power relations and how the teacher's authority and institutional rules are intricately interwoven into the social orders of the peer culture. The article highlights children's complicity with the teacher and her expectations and accordingly questions the notion of an increase of children's autonomy in age-mixed groups."
  3. Kallery, M., & Loupidou, T. (2016). Learning science in small multi-age groups: The role of age composition. International Journal of Science Education, 38(9), 1570–1590.
    From the abstract: "The present study examines how the overall cognitive achievements in science of the younger children in a class where the students work in small multi-age groups are influenced by the number of older children in the groups. The context of the study was early-years education. The study has two parts: The first part involved classes attended by pre-primary children aged 4-6. The second part included one primary class attended by students aged 6-8 in addition to the pre-primary classes. Students were involved in inquiry-based science activities. Two sources of data were used: Lesson recordings and children's assessments. The data from both sources were separately analyzed and the findings plotted. The resulting graphs indicate a linear relationship between the overall performance of the younger children in a class and the number of older ones participating in the groups in each class. It seems that the age composition of the groups can significantly affect the overall cognitive achievements of the younger children and preferentially determines the time within which this factor reaches its maximum value. The findings can be utilized in deciding the age composition of small groups in a class with the aim of facilitating the younger children's learning in science."
  4. Lindstrom, E-A., & Lindahl, E. (2011). The effect of mixed-age classes in Sweden. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 55(2), 121–144.
    From the abstract: "Mixed-aged (MA) classes are a common phenomenon around the world. In Sweden, these types of classes increased rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s, despite the fact that existing empirical support for MA classes is weak. In this paper, the effect of attending an MA class during grades 4-6 on students' cognitive skills is estimated. Using a unique survey with information on students, parents, and teachers, it is possible to control for many factors that could otherwise bias the results. A negative effect on short-run cognitive skills, as measured by grade 6 cognitive tests, was found. This effect is relatively large--almost 5 percentile points--and robust to a rigorous sensitivity analysis. On grade 9 credits the effect is still negative but smaller in size and not statistically significant. (Contains 1 figure, 10 tables, and 20 footnotes.)"
  5. Ramrathan, L., & Mzimela, J. (2016). Teaching reading in a multi-grade class: Teachers' adaptive skills and teacher agency in teaching across Grade R and Grade 1. South Africa Journal of Childhood Education, 6(2), Article 448.
    From the abstract: "The skill of reading is regarded as the cornerstone of literacy learning in the foundation phase. Although it is the most complex skill to master, it forms part of literacy teaching. Most learners begin schooling without having any kind of exposure to reading. This lack of exposure introduces a number of challenges, which are consequently exacerbated if teachers have to teach in multi-grade classes. This case study was conducted in two primary schools in the Ndwedwe Circuit in KwaZulu-Natal. It is framed within the interpretive epistemology embedded in a qualitative research methodology. Empirical data were generated from two rural schools where multi-grade teaching was undertaken. To produce data, two teachers teaching multi-grade classes (incorporating both grade R and grade 1) were observed during an isiZulu Home Language reading period. Subsequently, semi-structured interviews were used to elicit more data for corroboration of findings. The findings show that teacher agency is crucial in making adaptive decisions. These decisions are based on the intersection of formal knowledge, situational knowledge and experiential knowledge that the teachers have acquired over time."
  6. Roberts, J., & Eady, S. (2012). Enhancing the quality of learning: What are the benefits of a mixed age, collaborative approach to creative narrative writing? Education, 40(2), 205–216.
    From the abstract: "This study, based in a small rural school, explores the opportunities provided by collaborative learning with a mixed aged class of 7-11 year olds (Year 3-Year 6). This paper specifically focuses on those children aged 7-8 years (Year 3) and how they worked on improving the quality of their writing through optional and directed collaborative group work. Data were collected predominantly through a series of observations and interviews. The findings suggest that optional collaboration does not always lead to shared ideas or improvements in the quality of writing. However, directed collaboration and structured conferencing can enable powerful learning to take place within a group context. The study concludes that with skilled adult support children are not only "learners" but can also become "peer teachers" within a supportive context."
  7. Shalom, M., & Luria, E. (2019). The multi-age school structure: Its value and contributions in relation to significant learning. Educational Practice and Theory, 41(1), 5–21.
    From the abstract: "Most schools around the world are configured as a single-age structure, according to their chronological age. Based on a case study of one Israeli school, this article seeks to present the value and contributions of a multi-age structuring relation to significant learning experiences. The findings of this article show that the multi-age structure allows for student mobility in cognitive, social and emotional aspects according to their developmental age, not their chronological age. In addition, the teaching-learning processes derived from this structure such as adaptive and mediated teaching and peer learning are found as significant learning motivators."
  8. Stuart, S. K., Connor, M., Cady, K., & Zweifel, A. (2007). Multiage instruction and inclusion: A collaborative approach. International Journal of Whole Schooling, 3(1), 12–26.
    From the abstract: "This article describes a multiage classroom led by three co-teachers who facilitate the education of 42 students ages six through nine years. The classroom is located in a public school district that practices inclusion and subscribes to the principles of whole schooling. A literature review defines the concepts of co-teaching, multiage education, and inclusion and demonstrates how the co-teachers practice the principles of whole schooling. A rich description of the classroom follows so that the reader may fully understand how to implement similar teaching strategies. Implications for practice are discussed. (Contains 2 tables.)"


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Multiage classroom, elementary school
  • Mixed-age grouping, elementary school

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.