Primary school structure

Multi-grade teaching practices in Austrian and Finnish primary schools

We looked at teaching practices used in multi-grade classes.

We used bi-national teacher narratives as data.

We found two main practices: to reduce or capitalize on students’ heterogeneity.

The results contribute to the awareness of the potential of multi-grade teaching.

This article describes the teaching strategies used in multi-grade classes in five small rural primary schools in Austria and Finland on the basis of the content analysis of transcribed teacher interviews. Two main types of strategies were identified: practices that (1) aim to reduce or (2) capitalize on students’ heterogeneity. The results illustrate how differently multi-grade teaching can be realized and how it can effectively support individual student learning. The findings are discussed with regard to teacher education with the intention of increasing the awareness of the professional skills required in high-quality teaching practices in multi-grade teaching.


  • Curriculum;
  • Differentiation;
  • Multi-grade teaching;
  • Narrative inquiry;
  • Peer tutoring;
  • Rural school

1. Introduction

This article seeks to contribute to the discussion of rural education and teaching in multi-grade classes by reporting an investigation into the teaching strategies used by teachers of such classes in rural primary schools. The main focus is on small schools in Austria and Finland, defined in our study as schools with fewer than fifty students. In general, small schools are rural primary schools. They usually employ two or three teachers who teach different grades in the same classroom; this is called multi-grade or multi-age teaching. Concern over the closure of small schools and the related reduction in multi-grade teaching has motivated research on the subject. The contributions in the edited volume on multi-grade teaching based on the “Second International Multi-grade Teaching Conference” showed that multi-grade teaching is common throughout the world, in both developed and developing countries. The conference was held in Bangkok in September 2004. Accordingly, the International Journal of Educational Research highlighted the importance of rural school studies by publishing a special issue on the topic in 2009 that included reviews of research on rural schools and their communities in Norway, Sweden, Finland, England, and Scotland. The review articles were, however, based on studies conducted ten years ago or more, and thus the need for new and diverse research is clear.

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