EWE goes old school with looping classes
Fifth-grader J.D. Mullis' first day of school for the 2007-08 school year was different than the previous year ---- he knew more.
He knew more facts and skills than he did when he was a fourth-grader, but when he stepped into the classroom in August he found he also knew the teacher.
That's because his instructor, Megan Whitebread, is one of several teachers within the district who loop or stay with their class for more than one year.
"It's a lot better because you know your teacher," J.D. said.
So far, Whitebread and fifth-grade teacher Niki Rheuport, have had one full class complete the two-year cycle.
Their current fifth-grade students are a month into their second year. Both Whitebread and Rheuport studied the concept of looping elsewhere.
"I thought it was a good idea," Rheuport said.
The concept isn't completely new, Eudora West Elementary School principal Jan Irby said. It's similar to a one-room schoolhouse, she said.
"It's just a wonderful way for children to be engaged in a learning process that just keeps on going," Irby said.
The program that began with Rheuport and Whitebread has expanded to include seven teachers within the building.
"We're finding great benefits in the retention of what information the children are learning as well as the procedures," Irby said. "They're able to get right down to getting the work accomplished."
The looping teachers learn two years worth of curriculum for each cycle. The fourth- to fifth-grade curricula includes lessons on reading, math, penmanship, science and writing skills.
"I think we know the kids' strengths and weaknesses," Whitebread said.
It also means the teachers know what was covered the year before.
That comes in handy if a student claims they weren't taught something the previous year, Rheuport said. If it happens, she has a response.
"You can't tell us that you didn't learn that last year, because I taught that to you," Rheuport said.
Having students for multiple years helps strengthen the student-teacher bond.
Rheuport sees her students grow from the first day of fourth-grade until they leave.
"Their faces change," she said.
It also gives the teachers the opportunity to witness their academic progress.
"You see them go from not knowing cursive to having beautiful handwriting," Rheuport said.
The close bond between students and teacher isn't always a good thing. If it isn't handled correctly, it could be disadvantageous.
"If they get too comfortable, they can take advantage of you," she said.
Because the fifth-graders move on to Eudora Middle School the following year, Rheuport and Whitebread said they have an easier time starting with a fresh class. They don't have to see their former students in the halls afterward.
"It's bittersweet," Rheuport said.
The district doesn't have any hard numbers yet as to the effectiveness of looping because it hasn't practiced it long enough, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Don Grosdidier said.
Even so, there are signs of success, he said.
"The feedback has been very good," Grosdidier said.
If it's a success, the looping concept could expand.
"At some point in time, at least in the elementary grade levels, we hope to have teachers looping at each grade level," Grosdidier said.
If that happens, the district would offer parents the opportunity to keep their children in a traditional classroom, Grosdidier said.
Like Mullis, fifth-grader Ross Chumbley realized the advantage of both knowing his classmates and his teacher when he started the school year.
"You don't have to be embarrassed to talk the first day of class," Ross said.