Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

A Descriptive Study of Multi-Age Art Education in Florida

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

A Descriptive Study of Multi-Age Art Education in Florida

Article excerpt

Grouping students by grade level has been the predominant organizational structure of U.S. elementary schools for over 150 years (Goodlad & Anderson, 1959/1987; Tyack & Cuban, 1995). Although some teachers appear satisfied with the graded system in which they work, there are those educators who continue to seek alternatives to traditional models of school organization. Such professionals may turn to multi-age models of instruction in order to find more effective ways to scaffold1 students' learning.

Multi-age learning environments at the elementary level are loosely defined as the purposeful grouping of students from two or more traditional grade levels in order to form classroom communities of learners (Kasten & Clarke, 1993). Students widiin multi-age classes still move from easier to more difficult concepts as guided by their instructors, but this movement occurs at a pace that is not determined only by age or grade level.

Literature about multi-age education first became prominent between 1955 and 1975 and has since seen a major spurt in activity beginning in the 1990s (Anderson & Pavan, 1993). Throughout this time period, however, little research has been conducted to aid art, music, and physical education instructors who work at multi-age school sites.

To remedy this lack of attention, I initiated a research investigation on the topic of multi-age art education. The research took place in two phases, with the first phase involving the collection of survey data from a select group of elementary art educators who were already teaching multi-age classes in Florida. The second phase involved qualitative observations and interviews with an art teacher of multi-age art students and yielded insight into specific organizational adaptations used in real-life multi-age art instruction and curricular practice (Broome, 2006). This article presents the findings from the first stage of research involving the written questionnaires. The purpose of the survey research was to gather foundational information on the context of multi-age art instruction and on the practices and perceptions of art teachers in multi-age classrooms. Based on the findings, I discuss the implications for implementing mixed-age models of art instruction at other school sites and for future studies on multi-age art education.


Although the one-room schoolhouses of pre-industrial times in the United States did not feature grade levels, these facilities eventually proved too small to service the ever-growing number of students who were required to attend such schools (Buffie, 1971; Kasten & Clarke, 1993). By the mid- 1 9th century, larger schools were being built and administrators began placing students of the same age into grade level groups (Hallion, 1994). The structure of the first graded schools in the United States was largely based on an assembly line model that had proven to be successful in the realm of industry (Goodlad & Anderson, 1959/1987; Tyack & Cuban, 1995). Under the graded school system, administrators took on the role of crew foremen who "monitored the school assembly line for quality control, measured by grades, tests, and, in cases where uniform quality was defective, non promotion of pupils" (Kasten & Lolli, 1998, p. 7).

The advantages of graded schooling have remained more or less the same since the practice first began. Graded models offer an economical system that is easily monitored and organized by educators (Kiddle & Schem, 1965). Ideas developed in the 20th century, however, identified flaws in the theoretical foundations of the graded system. Learning theories now propose that children of the same age have significant differences in cognitive development (Bigge & Shermis, 1999; Eisner, 1998). Mental age data suggest that a typical first grade classroom can have up to a 4-year gap in students' readiness levels (W. Miller, 1996). The application of such findings to an assembly line model of education reveals that some students may not be ready for a predetermined educational "part" to be added to their cognitive "motors" while others may have already acquired it. …

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