Implications of Each Grouping
Although the distinctions between the grouping practices implied by the terms defined above may seem slight, they have significant implications for practice. The ungraded or nongraded approach acknowledges that age is a crude indicator of what children are ready to learn. It emphasizes regrouping children for instruction on the basis of perceived readiness to acquire knowledge and skills, and not according to age. It does not emphasize educational benefits of a learning environment in which children at different knowledge and skill levels work together. In other words the main goal implied by the term nongraded is that of homogenizing children for instruction according to achievement instead of age, even though this was not the original rationale for introducing the term (Lewis, 1969).
Several kinds of combined grades and continuous progress practices do not set out to increase the sense of family within the class or encourage children with different levels of knowledge and experience to team together. In contrast, mixedage grouping involves class composition that takes advantage of the heterogeneity of experience, knowledge, and skills in a group of children with an age range of more than one year (Katz et al., 1990). Research on crossage interaction in spontaneous, experimental, and educational settings indicates that a variety of developmental and educational benefits can be obtained from such interaction, especially in the early years (Balaban, 1991). Elkind (1989) recommends mixedage grouping as a developmentally appropriate alternative to a rigid lockstep curriculum and as a way to strengthen teachers' sensitivity to the normal variability of children's developmental trajectories in a single age group.
Mixed age grouping can provide older children with the opportunity to be helpful, patient, and tolerant of younger peers' competencies, and thus give them some of the desirable early experiences of being nurturing that underlie parenting and helping others who are different from oneself. Exposure to older children as nurturers provides young recipients with models of behavior they can emulate when they become the older members of a group. Research on crossage interaction, peer tutoring, and cooperative learning indicates that an age range of greater than one year can provide a level of intellectual stimulation that supports the development of both intellectual and academic competence. This sort of learning environment is also likely to generate greater social benefits than sameage groups, especially for children who are atrisk in particular social development categories (Katz et al., 1990).