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Definitions of terms

Pupils in a classroom in Nepal

Multigrade and monograde terms need to be used with precision because the conflation of studies from different contexts has possibly led to misleading claims being made for the cognitive effects of multigrade settings. It is particularly important to distinguish between terms referring to mixed age classes formed by administrative necessity and those formed by choice (Mason and Burns, 1997; Veenman, 1995). The latter usually occur within a non-graded context where there may be special curricula, instructional materials, and teachers, while the former occur in graded contexts where there may be no special provisions made. The following terms are defined here:



Small school

This is defined as a primary school in which there are fewer teachers than grades and consequently the majority of classes must of necessity contain more than one grade level. Small schools are frequently found in rural and sparsely populated areas in both developed and developing countries. They are also sometimes referred to as multigrade schools. Phillips (1997) provides a useful critique of the small school literature.

Monograde school

This is contrasted to the previous term and is defined as a primary school in which the majority of the classes are organised along monograde lines. These schools tend to be larger in both pupil and teacher numbers than multigrade schools, ensuring that there are sufficient teachers to take a separate grade level class. Although these schools sometimes employ multigrade organization to deal with fluctuating enrollment, it is unlikely that this will occur in the majority of classes. When it does occur, there is likely to be selection of students to the multigrade class (see below).

Multigrade school

This term is used to describe any class in which students of different grade levels are placed together for administrative reasons. This includes multigrade classes in both multigrade schools, where multigrading is a response to the fact that there are less teachers than grade levels, and larger schools, where multigrading is a response to uneven pupil intake (Veenman, 1995; Mason and Burns, 1997). Several other terms may be used in the literature to refer to a multigrade classroom. These include combination class, vertically grouped class, mixed age class, split-grade class, and double grade class (the latter two terms for classes containing only two grades).It is also necessary to distinguish between multigrade classes to which students cannot be selected on the basis of such things as ability or attitude (non-purposefully assigned) and multigrade classes to which students can be selected (purposefully assigned). Mason and Burns (1997) introduce these two terms to explain why many studies of multigrade settings find no difference in cognitive achievement when compared with monograde settings. Students are always non-purposefully assigned to multigrade classes in multigrade schools. Studies of the effects of multigrade classroom organisation have not always made this distinction explicit.

Monograde class

A class that contains students of a single grade level, but usually of mixed abilities. Normally such classes contain students of a similar age range, but in countries where repetition and acceleration are common, a monograde class may also be mixed age (Noonan and Hallack, 1987). The term single age class is sometimes used to identify classes that contain students of a specified age range congruent with grade level.

Multiage class

A class that has been organised across grade levels and ages by choice and for pedagogical reasons (Veenman, 1995; Bacharach et al, 1995; Mulcahy, 1999). Such classes may occur in either graded or ungraded school contexts. Other terms used to describe classes formed across age/grade level boundaries by choice include vertically grouped classes, non-graded classes, and ungraded classes. Multiage classes can vary in terms of the complexity of the instructional strategies employed. For example, students of different ages may be deliberately grouped together for one subject with the intention of reducing heterogeneity of ability and making it easier to teach the whole class. On the other hand, multiage grouping may be introduced across the curriculum in order to take advantage of the perceived advantages of mixed age classes for focusing on the developmental needs of individual children (Gutierrez and Slavin, 1994). Multiage classes, particularly of the latter type, tend to differ in two important respects from multigrade classes (Mulcahy, 1999: 5):

Other multigrade contexts

Multigrade classes may also occur in large urban and suburban schools that have uneven or fluctuating student enrollment. For example, a two form entry school may have an intake of students only sufficient for one and a half classes. Consequently, a class may be formed from two year groups. While these classes have much in common with those found in small schools, they differ in one important respect. Students can be purposefully assigned to a multigrade class in a large school on the basis of such things as ability or attitudes. Mason and Burns, 1997 describe the possible implications of purposeful assignment in their review article.



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