The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

May 8, 2012

A time to shore up on tougher subjects: Cardinal students spend extra time on trouble spots

ELDON — “Thinking Thursdays” weren’t designed to be fun. They were designed to give intensive math lessons. Turns out they’re fun anyhow.

Every Thursday, second- and third-grade students at Cardinal Elementary School line up to find out what room they’ll go to, who their teacher will be and who their new classmates are that day.

“The teachers are assigned a group to work with once a week for an hour,” said Deb Swope, normally the Title One reading teacher. “Instruction is based on what that particular group may need.” 

The principal, Cindy Shepherd, said a normal second-grade class may have 22 students. By bringing in every available teacher, special education teachers and the Talented and Gifted teacher, the school is able to have classes as small as four or five children.

“This was suggested by our Area Education Agency school psychologist,” said Shepherd.

Cardinal Superintendent Joel Pedersen said he likes the idea because the students get to hear an intensely focused lesson on the designated, very specific, skill.

The most recent assessment shows that 100 percent of third-graders have improved their math skills compared to fall.

“If you’re not good at math, they help you get better and better at it,” said Matthew Streeby, a Cardinal second-grader.

“If you don’t know what the times [on clocks] are, they’ll help you with that,” agreed classmate Blaine Bryant.

Yet all groups, said teacher Stefany Rachford, are working on the same general category. Besides clocks, explained teacher Priscilla Giltner, a recent unit on money had some children adding and subtracting dollar amounts. But some little ones weren’t sure of the difference between a penny and a dime — or at least why the supposedly more valuable dime was “so little” compared to the penny.

That’s why, in the money unit, some students were in a class adding all sorts of coins: quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies. Another, smaller group was adding up just three types of coins: pennies, nickels and dimes. A third group was learning how to tell which one is a nickel and which is a quarter ... and how many cents each is worth.

Teacher Stephenie Welch said it’s OK if the classes overlap a bit. In fact, said Pedersen, classes should overlap when it comes to vocabulary used by teachers. It’s more helpful for every teacher to use the word “subtract” for new learners instead of some teachers saying “subtract” while others tell the kids to “take away.”

“The students are fully engaged while learning at their level,” said Giltner, the third-grade teacher. 

“The feedback we get from the kids is they like going to different rooms, and being with different kids,” said Shepherd. “We’ve tried to mix it up so they see every teacher.”

The original concept, she said, was that struggling students get more individual attention focused on their biggest challenge each week. Getting kids excited about learning has been a pleasant surprise.

“The students love being with different groups and different teachers,” said Rachford. “They all get excited for Thursday to come.”

The three second-graders the Courier spoke to said math can even be fun.

“When we’re done with our work,” said second-grade student Sophie Langford, “we get to play math games!”

School administrators say they are contemplating expanding the program.

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