As a school we run composite classrooms from Year 0-5. The key to understanding this approach is to appreciate “growth and learning is determined by stages, not ages”.
The New Zealand Curriculum is set up in developmental stages/levels which span roughly three year levels. The diagram below shows the levels of the New Zealand Curriculum and how they correlate with a number of year levels. As you will note it is not as simple as Year 1 teaches level 1, Year 2 teaches level 2 etc. This type of curriculum allows teachers the flexibility to extend and support children dependent on their developmental stage/level rather than having a rigid curriculum based on age.
Teachers at Birkenhead Primary School are highly competent and skilled at responding to the needs of each child. Although a child might be chronologically older or younger—their maturity, social needs, academic and behavioural needs are all individual. Regardless of the type of classroom a child is in, teachers will group and teach children according to their specific learning needs. There is no difference in the range of abilities present in a traditional ‘straight’ year group classroom compared to that of a composite. The practice seen in a traditional classroom will be the same in a composite classroom - the child will remain at the centre of the learning and teaching will extend and support them as required.
However, research has shown that children in composite classrooms are often socially more developed than those in traditional classrooms. They tend to become more confident and are able to work alongside and cooperate with a wider range of children. They also develop relationships outside of their ‘standard age-groups’ and can relate and communicate with a wider range of peers. This approach also allows for peer modelling, where those more socially able students ‘set the tone’ within the classroom. Irrespective of age, all children can be role models.
We know relationships are incredibly important for effective teaching and learning to happen and teachers will continue to work hard to establish relationships with each child and their whanau to ensure learners reach their full potential.