Teaching Kindergarten…I Mean First Grade: And We’re Looping!

Okay, so I’ve waited almost all year to write about looping with my Kindergarten class up to First Grade. Why? Well, there are several reasons, the biggest being that I’ve been a “first year” First Grade teacher, and I’ve been SO busy!

I’ve been asked many questions about looping this year, and it seems like some pop up way more often than others. So I’m here to share with you what I’ve learned in hopes that my experience can help you decide what is best for you and your students!

Looping is when a teacher stays with a group of students for more than one year.  I have stayed with my kindergarten class from last year and now teach them as first graders. Here are the questions I’ve encountered the most…

1. Why are you doing this?

I approached my administrator about looping with my class when I realized that we had an opening in first grade. Every year when my kindergarteners leave me, I seriously feel like I am NOT DONE. Selfishly, I am not ready to give them up yet. I’ve contemplated looping before, but I didn’t ever feel comfortable leaving my first love, Kindergarten! I was too reluctant to learn a new set of standards for First Grade. I felt like I was good at Kindergarten. Why would I want to leave?

Ultimately, the urge to NOT BE DONE teaching my students became a conviction that I knew I had to pursue, especially when I saw an opening in First Grade. I found a partner teacher in Kindergarten who agreed to loop to First when I will go back to Kindergarten next year. And we will continue to loop back and forth as long as it is helpful to our school and students!

2. But, don’t you know you’re going to have to learn a new curriculum and set of Common Core Standards? And then go back to the old grade? Every year?

Yes, I’ve realized that. 🙂

Actually, let’s just talk about “curriculum” and “standards” for a second. I see and hear a lot of negativity about the Common Core Standards that Alabama teachers have spent many hours studying and understanding in order to pass them on to our students. Many times, I notice that the negativity is directed towards the Common Core Standards, but what is actually causing  duress is the activity, or curriculum, that the teacher or district has chosen to use in order to teach the standards. I would urge parents or guardians to first contact the teacher about the activity that’s used to teach the standards before reacting negatively to the actual standards! 🙂 If you have ever wondered what the exact standards are for your child’s grade level in Alabama, you can see them here.

Learning a new course of study for first grade was actually on my list of reasons why I should stay in Kindergarten forever! But my friend and mentor, Janie, gave me some advice that every teacher needs to write on their heart. When I said to Janie, “But I’ll have to learn a new curriculum and everything…”, she responded with this:

“You know those kids. And they are the curriculum.”

They are the curriculum. And I know them. I know their strengths and weaknesses. I know what they need each day to pick up and go. I know where we left off.

That’s exactly what we’ve done in First Grade. We’ve picked up right where we left off in Kindergarten. And it’s been awesome!

3. Did you want to be a First Grade teacher? Is that why you looped?

Actually, I love Kindergarten, and that’s what held me back from looping sooner. I didn’t loop because I wanted to move to First Grade; I looped because I wanted to continue with my students for another year. And the benefits have been amazing. 🙂

Next year, when I walk in  my door on the first day of school, and my heart is sad because my sweet friends won’t be coming through my door, the main thing that will keep me going strong is that I will get a new set of friends to do Kindergarten with. Kindergarten is what I love!

4. What are the advantages to looping?

In my opinion, the advantages easily outweigh the disadvantages. Here are the main ones I can attest to in my personal experience:

  • More teaching time- I probably gained an extra four to six weeks at the beginning of the year to actually teach standards. My students walked in on the very first day of school, offered me a cheery wave or high-five, and went directly to their morning activities. Our routine took a little longer than usual, as students needed to sort new school supplies. However, they knew where to put supplies already. They knew where to hang their backpacks, and they knew the routines for morning activities. As a matter of fact, they remembered all of our classroom rules and routines, and were ready to get started on day one. So, we started…right where we left off in Kindergarten. On day one.
  • Classroom Community- since we already knew each other, our bond as a class has just had more time to grow deeper and stronger. Students who were once too shy to speak in front of others now read stories aloud to the class. Friends who were struggling in areas of math or reading now verbalize their ways to solve problems in a safe, risk-free environment full of friends and peers. We did have four new students join us this year, and they were accepted quickly and easily into the Classroom Community. They have made us even stronger.
  • Student Growth- with more teaching time, it’s a given that there will be student growth. At the beginning of the year, I knew who was struggling and in what area before they even came in my door. I knew who needed to be pushed higher and further, and we hadn’t even said the pledge yet. I already had a plan in place and was ready to use it. I am in an awesome position in that I have gotten to see an incredible amount of growth in my students. I have seen students go from ones who could not write their names to ones who are writing stories that take up multiple pages. I have seen them go from little people who didn’t know how to sit criss-cross applesauce to contributing citizens of a wonderful community of learners. This gift that I have been given is one that I pray I will never take for granted. The gift to see two years of personal and academic growth in my students is simply priceless.
  • There are many, many more advantages to looping that would take pages and pages to go into. Some include parent/teacher relationships, understanding vertical alignment of standards, understanding why foundations of learning are so important, and advantages specific to students who are at-risk.

 

5. Are there disadvantages to looping?

I can’t say that there are many. One thing that was hard for me was finding space in my classroom for two sets of materials (Kindergarten and First Grade). Another concern I had was that my students wouldn’t feel as if they were really in First Grade since they were on the Kindergarten hallway. I quickly found ways to help with room arrangement and organization and got rid of some things that were collecting dust anyway! I’ve had to up my organizational skills and ask myself several times in regard to certain items, “Is this truly necessary for real, authentic learning?” And as for my kids not feeling like true First Graders, that never happened. As a matter of fact, they’ve been able to help their younger peers because they have been closer to them this year.

The biggest disadvantage that I can name is that soon, May will arrive. With it will come the end of a two-year experience that I’ve been absolutely blessed to be part of. And I am not looking forward to it.

It’s going to hurt. For me and for them.

That’s the biggest disadvantage.

 

The Verdict

No matter how much it hurts, I know now that the disadvantages cannot outweigh what this wonderful experience  has taught me and my students. They are what’s important, their learning is why I am a teacher, and their lives have been positively impacted by this experience.

Looping…it’s definitely not for every teacher, and it may not be for every student. But for this teacher, it was perfect. I’d do it again and again. 🙂

Questions about looping? Let me know! Have you looped before in education? We want to hear about it!

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One Response to Teaching Kindergarten…I Mean First Grade: And We’re Looping!

  1. McCombs says:

    I love looping! I have looped with 4th and 5th grade math for 12 years! The learning gaps seemed to decrease because the students were familiar with the vocabulary I used as well as the expectations set for them in the beginning! I agree that seeing the growth of your students is powerful especially when they believe in their self which continues as you have them another year:)

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