Cassie Norvell on Multiage Education

Featured Wonder Teacher, Cassie Norvell

Yesterday we met featured “Wonder Teacher,” Cassie Norvell, and learned about her fantastic Shoe Store unit. If you missed it, be sure to go back and check it out. It’s so inpsiring!

Today I am sharing more of my interview with Cassie. I gave some of her credentials yesterday, but to review:

Cassie teaches a multiage class of K, 1st, and 2nd graders. She has earned many accolades, including National Board Certification (and renewal) and the prestigious Charleston County Teacher of the Year award. (In a county with 83 schools!) She is an amazing teacher.

Here’s a little more of my interview with Cassie:

Tell us about your background:

I started teaching 6th grade here (at Jennie Moore) in 1970. I had 36 children in my classroom and I would say maybe five of them could read. All I had was 6th grade textbooks and no other materials! It was incredibly difficult. The school was much different back then- the poverty level was very high. It was a time when there was a lot of racial conflict in our country and even within the faculty. I only taught in that context for one year but I made it- I taught the whole year!

The teacher next to me was a friend who was a first-year teacher too and she quit before Labor Day. Sadly, I don’t think she ever went back to teaching. It was such a shame. Our new teachers should never be put into such impossible situations.

The next year I moved to a different school and it was a much better experience. I taught there for five years and made a lot of life-long friends.

Then I had my children and stayed home with them for ten years.

After that, I returned to teaching and taught preschool for five years until my youngest son was in 5th grade. Finally I ended up back here at Jennie Moore teaching kindergarten.

What was your path to Multiage?

In my second year of teaching kindergarten, a friend (Jean) was teaching 1st grade and we really clicked. We started putting our classes together and had them do things like buddy read, publish cooperative books, etc. It worked beautifully. At the time our district’s early childhood coordinator had a friend teaching in a multiage situation in Atlanta. We took a road trip to Atlanta to observe a “real” multiage program in action. We started reading everything we could find about multiage education and decided that if we were going to do it, we wanted to do a K-2 program.

We recruited one other teacher to join us and I’ve been doing it ever since. I think I’m in my 18th year of teaching K-2 multiage!

What do you like best about teaching multiage?

The sense of community in a multiage classroom is unbelievable. It creates a powerful family atmosphere. The routines are set before the year even begins and those older children take the new kindergartners under their wings right from day one. Being together for three years creates that sense of family- they learn to really love and care for each other. I’ve also observed that it creates a somewhat sheltered environment for the older children- my second graders still get up and dance and laugh and do all the fun kindergarten things without feeling “too big.” That’s precious to see. That’s probably my favorite thing about multiage- it invites children to be children.

I also love the deeper relationships I experience with families. We really bond. A family is with me for three years at the minimum- often longer if they have siblings. Some of my families have become dear friends and we keep up with each other and visit socially long after their children have left my classroom.

What do you say to people who worry that multiage is too challenging for the kindergarteners and too easy for the second graders?

It’s funny. We used to attend a big multiage conference every summer out in Ohio. Multiage was “the thing.” But then the state curriculum standards came out and multiage went out of fashion. Once they stopped having the multiage conferences, they started calling them “differentiation conferences.” It was the same people- the same speakers- same everything! “Differentiation” was the new trendy term. But that’s exactly what multiage always has been about: differentiating instruction within one classroom to meet the individual needs of the students. We already had to think that way- what will this lesson look like for my kindergarten students? My 2nd graders? And even then, you have a variety of levels within each “grade” level, so you really had to know your children and be ready to modify every learning experience to meet their needs.

Differentiation is what multiage teachers have always done.

What weak teaching practices do you wish we could eliminate from our schools?

The boring stuff! I just wish all teachers would be excited about what they are teaching and pass that excitement on to their students! I’d love to get rid of the mediocre textbooks and published curricula. Let’s stop plodding through a basal reader story by story! If teachers can get excited and motivated about what they are teaching, the children will really catch on.

What is your favorite idea or strategy to engage a child’s sense of wonder to motivate learning?

Authentic learning! The power of the shoe store is that it provides an opportunity for authentic learning. It’s purposeful and real. We aren’t just pretending with plastic money- we’re really selling shoes! The money is real, the store is real, the customers are real, and the profits are real! I think that kind of learning is far too rare in our classrooms today. Sadly, it seems especially rare in many of our lowest performing schools and I think those are the children who need authenticity the most.

If children are excited to get up in the morning and come to school, you’ve got them. My students wouldn’t miss the shoe store experience for anything!

What is one of your most powerful teaching moments?

Last spring we were working on a reading unit of study on series books. Students chose a “just right” (reading level) book series that interested them and joined book clubs to talk about them. They were really excited about it. One day I was out at the car rider area after school and it was the typical loud, busy dismissal scene. I turned around and noticed that in the midst of the chaos, every one of my children had their series books open, were tuning out the noise, and they all were engrossed in their books.

I loved seeing that. They were hooked! I had parents call me and ask, “What have you done? My child won’t stop reading!”

I’ll definitely be doing that unit again this spring!

Thanks, Cassie! Tomorrow we’ll take a look at Cassie’s classroom library and learn how she organizes and manages it.

Other Posts in this Series:

Authentic Learning: The Shoe Store

This Classroom Library Rocks



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  1. Alice Simmons says:

    I had the pleasure of observing Cassie this past Thursday. What a fabulous choice to feature her, as she is truly a “Wonder Teacher” in every sense of the word! Her classroom felt like a “home” and I could tell she had a true passion for the profession. As a graduate student, she was a great encouragement to me!

    • Thanks for the comment, Alice! I’m always glad to welcome a new member to the Cassie fan club. :-)
      Isn’t it a treat to see her in action!?

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