One of my favorite classes to teach was Poetry. My son and older daughter, 16 and 13 at the time, agree it was one of their all-time favorites, and even my younger daughter listened in, particularly as her older siblings shared the poems they wrote. We met twice a week to read and analyze poems, learn about meter, form, and literary devices. I included a few quizzes, a midterm, and a final, but emphasized a poetry journal, writing poems, and a Poetry Slam.
The Slam brought out the poet in everyone, with each child (including the 10-year-old) performing two poems. My husband composed three haiku for the occasion, and I recited a poem I had composed for publication later. Even my father joined in, reciting two poems he learned in childhood. We ended with pie, ice cream, and a celebration.
While this class was unique in many ways, it wasn’t unique because I was teaching to students in different grades. To make homeschooling work with three kids and get dinner on the table before bedtime, I regularly had to find ways to teach to more than one child at a time.
Here are some multi-level teaching strategies I have used:
1. Teach up
The material and concepts I teach are nearly always taught to my oldest child’s level. It’s easy to underestimate the ability of younger children to understand difficult concepts. While requirements and expectations are different, younger students can benefit from being part of a class taught to an older student.
2. Be prepared to change up the order
If I am using different books for each level, I take time to make sure we are covering the same things. One year I taught Earth Science and Astronomy to three kids in different grades. One curriculum taught Astronomy first while the other started with Earth Science. I chose the latter approach and wrote out lesson plans, so we were all studying the same things each week and only doing one lab each week instead of two or three. I would meet separately with my youngest, who was just ten, but my older students primarily worked independently outside of the labs. I required more research, particularly internet sources, for my high schooler.
3. Incorporate everyone’s learning needs
My son values discussion and learns best when he can verbally process what he is learning. He prefers to go over his work orally whenever possible. My older daughter would rather I schedule the reading and assignments with a due date and leave her to work independently. I learned to incorporate both styles into classes, and found these natural preferences made it easier for me to have the time I needed to work with different levels.
4. Be sensitive with feedback
Depending on the personalities and abilities of your children, you may need to be careful about how you give feedback and assess learning. A child who lacks confidence may require discreet, private correction and feedback, to avoid feeling “compared” to a more academic or confident sibling. While this is usually a younger sibling, it can work both ways.
With my oldest off to college, I only have one multilevel class this year: United States History. One day a week, my younger daughter takes a class specifically on the Revolutionary War with a recent homeschool graduate. This gives me a chance to focus on higher-level learning with my older daughter. Then I cover primary sources with both students and have some good discussions from different perspectives. Once again, I am finding joy in bringing my children together and teaching them the important things.