classroomHere’s an interesting article quoting a publishing exec who thinks technology will make us rethink age grouping in schools and organize them instead by competency. The executive, Jeff Livingston, points to online platforms like Khan Academy and Coursera as examples of technological innovation that allow students to progress and learn at their own pace.

From the article:

“In a virtual roundtable with reporters, he said, ‘What does it mean to be a 9th grader or 10th grader beyond being a certain age? … It doesn’t make sense that all the 15-year-olds are in this grade and all the 16-year-olds are in that grade. It should be where your interests, your skills and your mastery of certain concepts takes you.'”

As an educator myself, I agree—to an extent. The French curriculum I use builds on what was done in prior years. I can catch a new child up, of course—a certain amount of reinforcement is built in—but to a certain degree, there is little difference in what I would do with a new Grade 1 student or a new Grade 2 student. Of course, a new-to-study 15-year-old might need different materials than a 7-year-old, and it would not be appropriate to group them together. But within a certain range, I can see competency grouping being useful.

I have two senior kindergarten (SK) classes this year, for instance, and one of the classes is all returning students and one has three new children. I’ve definitely found that I have to take more time to explain things to that second group, because I know there are new children who are not used to the routine. And then I have to be mindful that I don’t let the other class get too far ahead—they may be able to handle more because we can get through certain routines quicker, but the two peer groups are supposed to follow the same curriculum and be kept at rough parity. Why? Because they are both ‘SK classes.’ Would it, in a perfect world, be better to bump up those kids who truly are ahead? Would it be better to separate out the new kids—and throw in my five new Grade 1s while I’m at it—and give them their own ‘new students’ class? Maybe. But our schools are not equipped for that right now. Logistically, it would be hard to pull together kids from different classes because the classes have their own schedules. When the SK kids are having French, the Grade 1 kids are having art. I can’t pull them out of there. But then again, while the Grade 1 kids are having French, the SK kids are having gym …

Perhaps by the high school level, where students can sign up for classes by level, there would be no harm in having a Grade 12 student take Grade 10 French, or for that matter, a Grade 10 student taking Grade 12 French. A certain amount of rethinking would be required, but it would be feasible within the framework of high school education. If online enrichment options can raise a student to a higher level at that stage, I think it would be amazing to give them the opportunity to progress in a more self-paced fashion. But I don’t think age grouping is on its way out anytime soon.


  1. Ah, yes, High School–a time when hormones run wild and learning is far down the list. I haven’t been in high school for decades but I remember plenty of classes where age groups were mixed (math, science, drama, typing (okay, I’m really dating myself here). The only ones that weren’t mixed were English and History. Of course, some students were double-promoted while others were held back, which had some of the same effects. So, yeah, I think knowledge-learning-based education would be fine but if you lose track of the social aspects, you really miss the point of high school.

    Rob Preece

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