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Kindergarten vs. 5th Grade: Study Island Implementations at Two Ends of the Elementary Spectrum

Kindergarten vs. 5th Grade: Study Island Implementations at Two Ends of the Elementary Spectrum

This past March, I had the pleasure of speaking with kindergarten teacher Courtney Munsell and 5th grade teacher Nikki Privett, both educators at Fortville Elementary School in Indiana. In our conversation together, they quickly began comparing and contrasting their use of Study Island, Edmentum’s K–12 practice and formative assessment program. While in kindergarten, students are still mastering tying their shoes and taking their very first formalized tests of any kind, 5th graders are expected to be more independent learners as they read, write, and research to refine their growing skills before transitioning into middle school. Those differences alone might indicate that one program couldn’t possibly find its place inside of both classrooms—but these teachers have expertly uncovered keys to utilizing Study Island to help their students meet grade-level expectations and prepare for summative assessments.

What classroom need is Study Island helping you solve for?

Mrs. Privett: I think that Study Island can be used and is being used in my [5th grade class]room as a teaching tool, a reteaching tool, and a practice tool. For the teaching, there are some kids in my class who are well above 5th grade level, and there’s not always time. . . . I can squeeze in some 6th grade material for them, but I can’t sometimes take them beyond that as I maybe would like. But, if I can give them some time to work in the 6th grade path [in Study Island], those kids are self-motivated. They’re able to read the lessons, [and] they’re able to practice that material—so it’s differentiating for me, when I’m not available to differentiate that material—as far as they could go.

Mrs. Munsell: For us [in kindergarten], it’s more of an exposure. We know that our kiddos take the standardized testing [in upper grades], and we know that, in the future grade levels, they are going to use Study Island [to prepare for those]. We start using [Study Island in our] whole group and do Group Sessions that require them to really listen and to hear how the speaker is speaking. We think out loud, and we choose our answer together, and then, they go off on their own.

Your school also uses NWEA™ MAP® Growth™ assessments. How does Study Island’s integration with these assessments empower more meaningful learning opportunities?

Mrs. Privett: I’ve got kids who are still struggling, of course—that yes, we’re in 5th grade, but we still don’t know some of our 3rd and  4th grade materials. And, because of the NWEA path that recognizes that, it has put them on a path that can reteach and practice things that are maybe holes or gaps in their learning. That’s not material that I’ve had to pull, but that practice is happening without me having to lift a finger.

And then, with the tracking of the data, kids have been so happy to see, "Hey, my NWEA score went up. And look, it's because I worked on my lowest strand." I've watched kids’ faces light up when they get that final NWEA score of the year and see just how far they've come. I really feel like their exposure in Study Island is part of what helps them get there.

Mrs. Munsell: I think that’s the most valuable tool for us—having Study Island and having it relate so much to NWEA and being able to expose our kids to the voices, questions, answers, and choosing one. I know in the past, when we didn’t have Study Island, [students would] get to the NWEA, and they would have no idea what it was. They’ve never taken a test or even answered questions on an iPad or device. So, I think that's been the most valuable tool for us, just that introduction piece, and showing them what it's like and that relationship to NWEA.

Describe what your Study Island implementation looks like.

Mrs. Privett: I use a blended learning model, where I am giving small-group instruction as much as possible during the day—for sure, during the core subjects of math and reading. During that time, I might be teaching a small group, while the rest of my class is independently working on assignments that may be paper and may be Study Island. We try to toggle back and forth [between their NWEA path and on-grade-level material] because, while it’s important to fill the 5th grade standards because, ultimately, that’s what I’m responsible for, it’s also about providing so many opportunities to fill gaps and stretch kids beyond what I can teach in a classroom.

Mrs. Munsell: At the beginning of the year, it’s a lot more full-group [learning] with Group Sessions. We filter those in throughout the year as well. I think those Group Sessions are nice because they give [students] an opportunity to feel success. We also use [Study Island] in traditional centers or rotations.

How do you keep students engaged and motivated to learn in Study Island?

Mrs. Munsell: They’re definitely extremely motivated in kindergarten by the Blue Ribbons. We have a Study Island wall in our school where the kiddos each have a shell or a different symbol that represents each grade level, and their name is on it. They get to move up their object in increments of five [Blue Ribbons earned] in the younger grades. They get really excited when they come in and say, “Mrs. Munsell, I get to move up my shell.”

It’s about the ownership they take in it. We have our higher kiddos that are at 120 Blue Ribbons with goals to get to 200. It's fun to watch them set a goal. They use that wall that we have in our school now. "Oh, I want to be at 60. Right now, I'm at 58. How can I get two more?"

It's also been fun for our kiddos who maybe have been in Study Island and have really struggled to get a Blue Ribbon, and the one day that they finally do get a Blue Ribbon, and they want to share it with the whole class. We actually have a spot on our wall for those kiddos that are at zero Blue Ribbons, and they can move up. It's fun—even some of our lower kiddos when they get that and feel that success.

What unique elements of the program have helped support your specific students?

Mrs. Munsell: I like with the Group Sessions, just the ability to be able to pause the kiddos. A lot of times our younger ones—they just want to click. So, it’s nice to be able, with those Group Sessions, to pause them. It freezes the screen. They have to think before I can unlock it for them to choose an answer. That’s been beneficial.

Mrs. Privett: I like the explanation piece that comes after they’ve gotten something incorrect. They don't always stop long enough to read it. I wish that they did. But, they're not allowed to come ask me for help—unless they have read the Study Island explanation, and they have asked a friend, and they have searched online, maybe for a Khan Academy video or some other resource. Then, they're allowed to come ask me.

I firmly believe, that when students can dig in and discover those answers on their own, that it is sometimes more valuable than me teaching it. I feel like Study Island can be a tool of, “I'm going to send you into a challenging area, but I'm also going to respect that you're going to fight through it by doing X, Y, and Z before you come to me for me to then have to carry you through that Study Island portion.”

How does the data in Study Island help guide instruction?

Mrs. Privett: I definitely use the data in 5th grade. I feel like at this point in the year—especially when I feel like I’ve taught everything 500 times and I’m starting to go, “OK, what is this that they’re still lacking?”—I can go into a skill in Study Island and go, “OK, who is still struggling in this specific skill or that specific skill,” and I can adjust what needs to be retaught or what students are struggling with which skills.

My kids also track [their NWEA path progress] in a data folder. I print out their NWEA path for them, after they’ve taken the test in the fall. And then, as they master things, they check them off on a hard copy list so they can see their progress. Every few weeks, I go in and sign off on those. During data meetings [with my students], we talk about, “What is your lowest strand?” “What are you doing to focus your attention on beefing up that portion of your score?” And, Study Island is a piece of that. We track their data throughout the year, and then, as they retest in the winter, I reprint the NWEA path, and we start tracking anew.

Beyond use of Study Island specifically, devices have become a huge part of instructional practice. How have you supported use of technology effectively in your classrooms?

Mrs. Munsell: Being given devices, we definitely ease into the school year and introduce one thing at a time. A lot of kiddos come to us, and they've had devices at home. It's primarily just games, videos, YouTube. So, we really start basic. How to hold an iPad, how to take care of it, when we use it, when we don't, when we need it. And, then introduce an app at a time. [I’m] trying to teach them that the iPad belongs to school. It’s just like a book that you would read; we use it to get information to help us learn.

Mrs. Privett: I very much stress self-motivation, self-advocation. I feel like it's important for kids, especially before they hit middle school, to understand that, yes, in elementary school, we have spoon-fed them a lot. We are the givers of information. But, as we get to 5th grade, we want the responsibility to rest more on their shoulders shoulders: “When I don't understand, I must go look for the answer.” Not, “I have to wait for the teacher to tell me how to do it.”

For us, I feel like the 1:1 has been phenomenal in that there's so much information at their fingertips. It gives them so many opportunities to be able to go beyond what maybe my lesson plan is and do far more than I would have been capable of doing as one human in a group of 20-some kids.

Interested in learning more about Fortville Elementary School’s Edmentum implementation? Read the full success story: Going Above and Beyond in All Elementary Grades in Fortville, Indiana. Want to try out Study Island for yourself? Get a free trial.

madison.michell's picture
Madison Michell

Madison Michell has been a member of the Edmentum team since 2014 and currently serves as a Marketing Manager. As a former Kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher during her time as a Teach For America corps member, she believes education truly has the power to transform lives. She is passionate about connecting educators with online programs, best practices, and research that improve teaching and learning for today's students.