Students in 2nd and 3rd grade at Cardinal Elementary School are starting to mix it up. Every Thursday, just before noon, all the students start to line up to find out what teacher they are seeing that day. To the casual observer, it almost looks chaotic, but they still all manage to quickly and efficiently criss cross the hallways to the designated teacher. “What are we learning today” is an often overheard question. As any student would tell you, it is time for “Thinking Thursday.”
“Thinking Thursday” is a collaborative effort from the 2nd and 3rd grade teachers, Title, Special Education and TAG focusing on math skills. For one hour a week, students are broken up into small groups to work on targeted needs in math. Teachers evaluate student skills through the use of NWEA Map scores and classroom assessments and divide the students into 7 small groups focused on skills they are ready to learn. “The teachers are assigned a group to work with once a week for an hour” said Deb Swope, Title. “Instruction is based on what that particular group may need.” “The program and it’s framework allow for intensified differentiated instructional groups based on pin-pointed skills which are determined by collected and analyzed data” said Stephenie Welch, Spec Ed. Students stay with that particular teacher or group for 2 to 4 weeks until they are mixed up again around other mathematical skills. Your group focusing on geometry could look very different than your group focusing on multiplication. “Once the groups are arranged, we look over the Iowa Core and the DesCartes RIT ranges to see which skills should be reviewed, instructed and expanded within each group,” said Stephanie Ferrell, 2nd grade. “We then align our content, language, vocabulary and social goals to these areas.” “It’s like having Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for all students in math” said Jessie Greiner, TAG.
Time is set-aside for these teachers to collaborate and plan around a common skill. The groups are graduated based on student needs, so 2nd and 3rd grade students are mixed in a flexible manner. If a student demonstrates that they can move on to a different level on a skill, they are moved to a different group. Teachers also rotate the content that is taught, so every teacher is given time to work at different levels. Google Docs are used to keep track of what content or big idea is being taught and how each teacher will approach the skill level of the students in the group. All teachers use a common language and format, such as using sentence frames and social goals, but instruction is varied based on student needs. All the teachers use the Gradual Release of Responsibility framework, so during every Thursday all the students get to hear a focused lesson and work productively in groups around the designated skill. At the end of the day, the teachers not only have a good idea what their own group from Thursday can do, they also have a strong knowledge of what the students who were in other groups can do when they come back to their classroom. Relationships are also emphasized, not only in how the teachers are working with each other, but with how the students interact with each other and a new teacher. “It is nice because the 2nd grade teachers are already familiar with the 3rd grade students, and the 3rd grade teachers are getting to know the 2nd graders early” commented Stefany Rachford, 3rd grade.
And the students are responding. “The students are fully engaged while learning at their level,” said Priscilla Giltner, 3rd grade. “The students love being with different groups and different teachers” said Stephenie Rachford, “they all get excited for Thursday to come because of this.” “It is nice to see some of the 3rd grade students take some of the 2nd grade students under their wings” said Stephanie Ferrell. In fact, the teachers and students like it so much that the practice might be expanded next year to 4th and 5th grade, and possibly around literacy skills and not just math skills. “We even learned about division,” said 2nd grade mathematician Griffin Greiner, “It makes you feel smart when you are with 3rd graders.”
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