This post has been written to give some inspiration to teachers who are teaching three or more year levels within the same classroom. It is intended that you pick up something that you can apply or reconfigure to suit your teaching style and the needs of your students.
I've taught in a three multi-level classes at small rural schools. Small schools mean you have to have some flexibility in year levels and at times half way through the year you find that you need to have a move through and suddenly you have acquired a new year group in your class.
So I've had a Year 4/5 class become a Year 3/4/5 class, a Year 5-8 class become a Year 4-8 class and a Year 4-8 class become a Y3-8 class with some Year 2s thrown in for reading. To boot, those classes have all contained students who were working well below their age group peers, some of whom were receiving support from RTLBs and teacher aides, some even going to Speld for extra support. One class even had an ORS student with a full-time teacher aide.
Consequently, it can be quite daunting when you are not only faced with a multi-level class, but you have students working well below the level of your youngest year group.
So back when I had a Year 4/5 class with quite a number of students on IEPs, an RTLB helped me establish the Reading Tumble in my class. We did this particularly for one student with dyslexic tendencies to have him more integrated into the learning programme and have him working with his peers rather than in isolation. The premise was the Tumble groups were mixed ability and of mixed age so when I withdrew an ability group for reading, there would still be other students within the group working with and supporting the student with dyslexic tendencies, thus keeping his learning on track and him focused.
I have then used this model in a multi-level class to support the younger members of the class to learn routines and activities for reading and maths. I've also used this model in inquiry and maths units.
I would recommend having a buddy system to teach the younger children how to do games and independent activities when you are first establishing the routines of the class and introducing new games to the students. I teach the older children the new games first and then have them teach the younger students. Sometimes, if the older student is a bit unsure I will start with that group until that older student has got their mojo.
When you're doing reading or maths, have "vertical groups", groups with a mixture of ages and ability, so that when you pull out your ability groups for maths or reading, there are still some older children there to support the younger ones during their activities.
You can read about what sorts of activities the "vertical" Tumble groups do here and how it works.
Because you will have multiple levels in your learning, assessment is a very important tool to personalise learning. My spelling programme personalises for each child and you can learn more about this here. Handwriting is also something that will have to be targeted to the ability of each child. I discuss how I do this in this post here.
Because I will end up with multiple worksheets for handwriting and other activities, I photocopy all the sheets I know I'll need for the term, then wrap a scrap paper around it and then write on it which group of children and which week to hand it out. I then put all the sheets for one week in a cardboard wallet (like those to the left) for each week.
There are some things I do whole class such as the Newsboard (see the post here), Poem of the Week (working on a post for this to publish later in the term) and Shared Big Book. These are great for practicing reading fluently as you are doing repetitive reading daily, introducing and discussing new vocabulary, investigating punctuation, spelling patterns, editing skills, sentence structure and other literacy skills, developing critical thinking and questioning skills, oral language and responding to literature.
Singing is another good form of sneaky reading that the whole class can share in at once.
Many maths warm ups can be done whole class... others you could split them into age or ability appropriate and set each group to do, after having the older students teach the younger ones using the buddy system.
PE, art, drama and dance was whole class - it just means you have to chunk it down a bit more with explicit teaching. Sometimes you may leave the more able to it while you target those who need that little bit more teaching. It is about setting those who can up to succeed and with additional challenges to work on while you mentor those who need it, then let them practice while you challenge those who are more able. You have to be on your toes.
When it comes to inquiry or themed unit work, you are going to have to do some things whole class and then design some different activities and learning experiences for different groups within your class according to their abilities or needs or the need to challenge your able students. I found by incorporating some of that into my Reading Tumble I was able to cover a fair chunk of content knowledge, new vocabulary knowledge and some general activities or response.
Don't be afraid to give your older students leadership roles, but don't expect the same older students to always be the teaching buddies for the very youngest. As you progress through the year, let the next age group down take on some of the role of being the teaching buddy for some things. Grow the leadership capabilities of even your youngest students by putting them in charge on occasions.
Personally I loved the challenge of having a multi-level classroom. It enabled me to cover many aspects of teaching that I love and it challenged me to keep on my toes with a wider base of knowledge of available resources and how to use them as well as a variety of teaching techniques.