The organization in multigrade classrooms, either for structural reasons or for pedagogical reasons, together with the value of the context, is one of the main characteristics that define the rural school .
In order for students with different ages, interests, learning levels and characteristics to learn together in the same classroom, a diversified educational response is necessary, which allows taking advantage of the pedagogical and inclusive value of the rural school and takes into account its environment.
This cannot be based on a standardized model, following the patterns of the urban graduate school. Nor can it be accompanied by teaching materials and resources that are not adapted to the reality of the rural school and that, therefore, are not useful in these contexts.
A clear example is that of textbooks, most of which are focused on graduate work. Especially if we take into account that 30% of the world’s schools are rural, with their own different contextual characteristics. These are not isolated cases, and must be taken into account.
The importance of teaching resources
Although teaching resources are considered one of the key elements for the success of multigrade teaching , there is still a lack of research on the subject.
There are few useful and adjusted materials to address the particular teaching and learning processes that take place in these schools. How should the resources be focused on rural schools?
Our international research on multigrade resources and materials in rural schools was based on a systematic review of the state of the art and allows us to define how resources focused on work in multigrade classrooms should be.
The study not only verified the lack of knowledge about the nature of these resources but also the lack of pedagogical criteria that help teachers to create and select them.
The results allow us to provide a definition of them, show the main resources and materials used in rural schools, opportunities and needs, and a series of useful guidelines to adapt existing resources to the multigrade reality.
Learning guides and multigrade books
On the one hand, the resources can be of a curricular type: their content is designed to learn what is established in the curriculum, taking multigraduation into account. For example, multilevel learning guides or textbooks developed in some countries.
On the other hand, there are manipulative materials or resources that, despite not being focused on rural schools, can be adapted according to the methodology. This aspect is crucial since the materials must be deliberate and subject to the decisions of the teachers. It should not be transferred directly from one classroom to another without taking into account the particularities of each one and its territory.
Textbooks, far from multigrade reality
Textbooks are still one of the most used resources in rural schools despite the fact that they are not useful or suitable for work in this context. Most are focused on the graduate work typical of urban schools, without taking into account the particularities of the school located in rural contexts.
Teachers in rural schools do not have the facilities to create their own materials and adapt them to multigrade, so they are forced to use graded textbooks, which has methodological repercussions.
The most obvious is to organize the students in the same classroom by courses, using books of different grades, without incorporating different levels of complexity of the contents depending on the needs of each student regardless of their age.
In addition, the fact of learning in the framework of a multigrade classroom, with active, cooperative and participatory methodologies that allow joint and meaningful work, does not mean using textbooks with immobile and standardized content either.
If each student has different needs and interests, and also works together with others of different ages, we cannot use only standardized materials created for homogeneous educational realities.
Support, but not axis
The only way to reverse this situation would be to not use the textbook as the axis of teaching and learning, but rather as support and guidance for teachers. And it is essential that the designers of these materials take into account the idiosyncrasy of this school model.
Another key point to highlight is that the materials and textbooks are created from a staggered school model (by grades), due to the existing educational policies, which do not sufficiently take into account other educational realities than the urban one, and which condition turn to the publishing industry. There is a lack of contact with the educational experience and with the teaching staff.
Criteria for preparing or selecting teaching materials
The teaching materials must be aligned with the multigrade classroom, the rural environment and interdisciplinarity. In addition, they must be creative, flexible, well structured and with clear guidelines for use.
They must also contemplate different levels of complexity in the activities they propose, include references from the rural world, promote globalized and cyclical work on curricular content and problem-based learning, among other key aspects.
Finally, it is necessary that in any case these resources are deliberate and subject to teaching decisions. For this, it is necessary for the teaching staff to have training that includes the rural school, the development of skills for work in the multigrade classroom and a view that seeks to take advantage of the pedagogical value of the multigrade classroom.
Main needs in multigrade resources
The initial and permanent training plans still do not sufficiently take into account the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out teaching work in rural contexts. This makes it difficult to use, create and select the appropriate resources and materials and, therefore, adjust the pedagogical response to the particularities and needs of rural schools.
It would be very necessary to create digital platforms to share successful experiences with other schools and publicize the resources and materials that have been useful to them in similar contexts. This would give visibility to the resources created and make it easier for teachers to create, share or adapt their own materials.
The rural school is alive
It is necessary to give its place to the rural school: it is a school model that exists and is alive, with a great capacity to innovate and to respond to its complexity.
A school from which other centers can also learn, but which must have sufficient and appropriate support and resources. Our research contributes to improving the quality of educational practices in rural schools, favoring equal opportunities for students regardless of where they live.
Author Bios: Laura Domingo-Peñafiel is Professor of the Department of Pedagogy – Specialty: Education in rural contexts and Nuria Carrete-Marin is a Researcher and Doctoral student in Education both at the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia