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The function and the role of the multigrade teacher

It is obvious that a combined class of students differs a lot from the conventional type of a student class of a single grade. That means that the way that the students of the multigrade class should be taught must be different as well. It is true that the function of the teacher in the multigrade classroom is multidimensional or to be more accurate it is much more complicated and demanding than the role of the teacher in the monograde school respectively.
This is the main subject of the MUSE project to assist teacher professionals to be able to work effectively in the multigrade school environment and be trained on teaching in the different ways referring to the multigrade classroom. For children to learn effectively in multigrade environments, teachers need to be well-trained, well-resourced and hold positive attitudes to multigrade teaching. Multigrade teaching in many views represents a more demanding teaching situation and special attention should be given to it. However, many teachers in multigrade environments are either untrained or trained in monograde pedagogy; have few, teaching and learning resources; and regard the multigrade classroom as a poor cousin of the better-resourced monograde urban schools that are staffed by trained teachers. In addition, at the majority of the cases, the multigrade teachers are very young without significant experience, "chosen" by the state to teach at the specific rural areas. These teachers are left alone without resources and support to handle the demanding multigrade classes. The former has serious negative impact on teachers' psychology and attitude towards the multigrade class, and affects in a negative way their teaching performance.

The effort should be focused by the educational authorities to reverse the teachers' negative view for multigrade teaching and the rural school and provide them with the resources and support to be able to overcome any difficulties. Teachers should attend special training programmes before introduce themselves at the multigrade classroom and try to adjust to their multidimensional role as multigrade teachers. A training programme like the MUSE project which represents an effort to address the specialised needs of the multigrade school teachers ought first of all to record and analyse the multiple role that these teachers possess in the multigrade class. Below you can find a first attempt to present the basic functions and roles of the teachers in rural multigrade schools. The categorisation in the different roles presented here are based on similar former research activities, training attempts and documentation found in the literature so are more or less well accepted by the wider educational community. These common functions which multigrade teachers must carry out in their schools are as follows:

As Teacher
The main function of the multigrade teacher is to teach students by imparting knowledge not just follow a curriculum. Teacher must be able to develop skills and inculcate desirable values and attitudes among pupils. The teacher is expected to be versatile and utilize different strategies to make learning meaningful and effective for all students in his or her classroom, no matter what individual differences may exist among the students. In the following section of this web training content you will be able to get informed more specifically on teaching and learning strategies referring to the multigrade setting.

As Facilitator
The teacher should be able to understand differences between pupils, be able to motivate them to learn and guide them though their learning materials. The teacher should be able to do this for all grade levels in the classroom, no matter what curriculum subject is being studied. The teacher should not only be a provider of knowledge but should also be a facilitator of learning both at a group level and on a one-to-one basis.

As a planner
Planning is a critical function for the Multigrade teacher. Appropriate planning by the teacher will result in classes which are more productive for the learners and easier for them to follow. Planning in the multigrade school classroom is much more important that in a monograde one. The teaching hour must be spent productively for student groups in grades of the class and thus accuracy on time spending is crucial.

Suggestions for activities of a good planner. For each grade level for which you as multigrade teachers are responsible you must determine the answers to the following questions:

• Whom do I teach?
• What must I teach?
• How do I teach?
• When do I teach?
• Why do I teach this?

Once you have determined the answers to these questions, you must then devise an implementation plan in order to achieve the objectives of the lesson for each grade. Such implementation strategies include lesson planning, selection of week activities, time- tabling. All these must be carried out before the actual lesson is given. Try the above in one of your teaching hours. Try to determine a working model for your case based on the above suggestions. Feel free to add or remove questions from this list taking into account the special educational conditions of your professional setting.

As Evaluator
Another role which the multigrade teacher must carry out is to monitor the progress of pupil's learning so as to ensure quality of education.
Therefore, assessment should be considering a continuous and integral part of the teaching process. Usually, this requires teachers to determine the educational levels of pupils when they first enter schooling, during the school year and at the end of each school year. Therefore, assessment should be considered a continuous and integral part of the teaching process.

Types of Assessment:

Entrance Tests
Entrance tests are usually conducted at the beginning of the schooling process and for new student entries at the class. The purpose of these entrance tests is to determine exactly the educational level of each pupil is. It is as a result of these tests that each pupil can enter or resume his or her studies at the appropriate grade level. More importantly, test results will assist the teacher to identify the particular stage within each grade that individual pupils have attained and therefore help the teacher to provide appropriate individual instruction. Test results may also help to persuade the teacher that the initial allocation of students to grade groups should be altered.

Regular Assessment
Regular assessment is carried out for the same purposes as those described above but is administered routinely through the school year. Such assessment may be carried out daily, weekly or monthly. The frequency of such testing will be determined by the purpose for which it was designed for.

Periodic Assessment
Periodic assessment is often used for specific purposes, such as determining if students have understood a particular topic which has just been completed. Means of assessment include: short tests, topic tests and the use of homework.

Self-assessment and Peer-assessment
It is often possible to ask pupils to assess their own work or the work of their peer group. Alternatively, older students may help the teacher to assess the work of younger pupils. It is often the case the student workbooks are designed for these types of assessment.

Suggestions for activities for evaluation and assessment. Try to think of ways that you can develop assessment tools for every one of the above categories. Especially focus on self evaluation and the development of entrance tests.

As Materials Designer
Although various curriculum materials are usually prepared by national educational authorities, multigrade teachers still need to develop their own additional materials. These additional materials serve the purpose of meeting actual and concrete needs of Multigrade teaching within the local context. You should also try to make the national curriculum more relevant to the local needs of the community. Examples of such curriculum materials include the following:

  • designing and making small boards, flash cards, etc. to save time in the classroom and to maximize the time which pupils spend on learning tasks
  • using local materials to develop instructional materials and to encourage students to make their own
  • designing workbooks which are suitable for student use within the local context and conditions
  • including within these locally designed materials and workbooks activities and knowledge which are relevant to the local culture

As Action Researcher
Teachers are not usually trained to be educational researchers, since their main task is to teach. However, it is through research that improvements in teaching take place. In schools where access to other resources is easily available, it is not as critical that individual teachers be researchers since they can easily seek the advice of more experienced educators. However, in Multigrade Teaching schools this advice and resource is not as easily and readily available. Therefore, the Multigrade teacher must also be a researcher, that is, a person who asks questions in order to understand better certain phenomenon. Such research questions include:
owhat makes instructional materials and aids useful in teaching and learning in the local context?

  • how can the enrolment rate be increased and the drop-out rate reduced?
  • what types of games and sports should be played in the school?
  • what useful extra-curricular activities can be arranged and when?
  • why certain students are not learning as well as might be expected?
  • how to use local resources, including students and monitors, efficiently and effectively?
  • what classroom strategies and management enhance learning for different activities?

It is not an expectation that the multigrade teacher become an expert in research methods but, rather, is able to formulate appropriate questions in the classroom setting, seek and obtain the information necessary to answer these questions and be able to put into action those changes which are necessary - all of which is caught up in the term "Action Research". In summary, the teacher must always have an enquiring and evaluating mind.

As Contact with the Community
In many situations, multigrade teachers, because of their training and position, assume an important position in the local community. This is the case, not only in the eyes of the pupils, but also from the parents' perspective. Thus, the multigrade teacher is the critical link between the school and its community. The nature of many situations where a multigrade school exists is such that the co-operation and assistance of the local community is needed to improve the quality of educational services that Multigrade Teaching schools provide. This may include community involvement in such diverse activities as building and maintaining classrooms, assisting in the preparation of curriculum teaching aids and acting as a paraprofessional teacher.

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