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Kindergarten teachers find success in block scheduling

Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kindergarten teachers at Grovetown Elementary School this school year discovered a better way to instruct pupils through a method of block scheduling.

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Small groups of kindergartners at the school, about six to eight at a time, receive 30 minutes of intense reading instruction from their teachers in the mornings and another 30 minutes of math in the afternoons.

Pupils in each class rotate through a 90-minute block of time in the mornings and afternoons when they'll receive instruction, then get 30 minutes of recess, 30 minutes of story time in the media center, 30 minutes working with instructional games or 30 minutes of added instruction.

"(Teachers are) working with students in small groups and they're differentiating the instruction based on the children's needs," said Grovetown Elementary Principal Scott Weinand. "They're taking those students to the next level."

Kindergarten teacher Diane Baker said she has separated her class into high-, medium- and low-level students in both reading and math.

On Friday afternoon, Baker was working with each group on telling the time.

"With high-level students I can work with them on something a little more difficult, like getting them to recognize time to every hour and half hour," Baker said. "With lower-level students, it might be enough to get them to recognize time to every hour, but with them I can spend more time working on their counting and number-recognition skills."

School officials credit the scheduling program with dramatically boosting the percentage of kindergartners fluent in letter naming, number identification and counting.

During a presentation last week to the school board, Weinand showed that just 52 percent of his school's kindergartners could satisfactorily recognize a sufficient number of letters in the alphabet within a minute at the start of the school year. Now, 85 percent of kindergartners can perform that task.

Another test performed by the school to measure math success is asking kindergartners to count as high as they can in a minute without making mistakes. Just 33 percent of them did so at the start of the school year. That percentage since has risen to 88.

"That small-group instruction is key," Weinand said. "Being able to tailor instruction to meet their needs has made all the difference."

The program has proven so successful that North Harlem Elementary adopted block scheduling and several other county elementary schools have dropped by Grovetown Elementary to observe, Baker said.

Though successful, the program might get stifled at the kindergarten level.

Weinand recently asked the school board to consider allowing him to institute block scheduling in first grade next school year, but the resources he needs might not be available.

Para-professionals play an integral part of the block scheduling because they can attend to pupils while the teachers are engaged in small-group instruction.

Because of a more than $7 million revenue shortage in the school system budget for next year, the school board had considered eliminating para-pros in the first and second grades.

Without the para-pros, block scheduling wouldn't work and the hope of extending it to first grade likely is dashed, Weinand said.

Because the state provides funding for kindergarten para-pros, Weinand said block scheduling will remain in kindergarten.

"We've seen such tremendous growth," he said. "I can't imagine that we would ever not find a way to keep making it work."

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