The multigrade: beliefs, difficulties and practices of Italian teachers

About 30% of students in the world attend primary education in multi-grade classes. Multi-grade education is common in many rural areas of the so-called minority world, i.e. high-income countries such as the United States, Canada, in many European countries and in majority world countries such as India, China, Nepal, Peru, Colombia and Brazil. In Italy nearly 29,000 students attend mixed-age classes, distributed in around 1,500 schools throughout the country. According to school administrators and headmasters, multigrade classes are affected by a high turnover rate among teachers due to their lack of experience and adequate training. As multigrade turns out to be a very challenging practice for many teachers, in 2020 INDIRE investigated their needs, their teaching styles and the main critical issues by means of a qualitative survey.  This paper reports the results of the analysis of 124 cases highlighting the main critical issues related to curriculum design and to the organization of learning groups, schooltime and classroom spaces and comparing the teaching styles of “novice” teachers, namely those with less than 5 years of experience in multigrade classrooms, with more that of more experienced colleagues. The investigation points out that while teachers easily learn to mix grades to take advantage of age difference among students, they remain very much focused on guided learning activities and struggle to provide an effective setting to individual and group independent learning.