Shannon K. Stuart University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

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A Collaborative Approach

Shannon K. Stuart

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Mary Connor

Karin Cady

Alicia Zweifel

Verona Public School District

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.

Today, a central concern of United States educators is ensuring equitable access to general education for all students, including students with disabilities, students from diverse cultural backgrounds, and students who speak English as a second language. Both the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 (U.S. Department of Education, 2001) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 (U.S. Department of Education, 2004) articulate the school’s responsibility to ensure that all students are able to access the core curriculum of general education and be educated in the general education environment whenever possible, with appropriate supports and services. Regardless of legislation, supporting all students’ success in the general education curriculum is important to us. We are three primary school educators who teach cooperatively in an inclusive, multiage classroom and a parent who has been part of this classroom for four years.
This article describes our inclusive, multiage classroom for students ages six to nine years in a public elementary school. We hope that information chronicled here not only generates discussion about multiage instruction and cooperative teaching, but also serves as an example for educators interested in these models of instruction. First, we discuss the literature on multiage education, cooperative teaching, and inclusion. Next, we describe our multiage classroom and how we facilitate learning for 42 students in grades one, two, and three in a public elementary school. We then discuss how our program model fits into the six principles of Whole Schooling. We close by sharing some implications for practitioners who may be interested in building similar learning environments.

Literature Review

The concepts of multiage education, co-teaching, inclusion, and whole schooling are grounded in the philosophy of progressive education. Progressive education emphasizes child-centered planning and teaching, with the goal of making democracy work through education (Morrison, 2006). The progressive movement in education was sparked by Dewey (1916), whose theory of schooling emphasized students and their interests, rather than subject matter, and viewed education as a process of living, rather than a preparation for future living. Progressive education-based practices today include inquiry-based learning, portfolio-based assessment, multiage grouping, and flexible scheduling. Here, we define multiage education, co-teaching, inclusion, and whole schooling using the philosophy of progressive education as a guide.

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