A New Channel of Communication: Multi-Age Groups in Education
High tech and four-year looping combine successfully.
Located in a rapidly growing suburb of Burlington, Vermont, Williston Central School serves about a thousand kindergarten through eighth-grade students. From its technological infrastructure to the structure of its classes, Williston is in the process of implementing comprehensive reforms based upon the latest research about effective learning and successful organizations. Instead of grouping students by age, for example, they are organized into multi-age groups spanning two to four grade levels.
In order to assure continuity in the learning program and flexibility in using time, students and teachers normally remain together for the full four-year duration. Each student has a personal learning plan that reflects district standards that all students are expected to achieve.
Williston's network of more than 400 computers supports its educational goals. Students can use tools like the Internet, two-way video conferences, or multimedia production as they work on projects that engage them in challenging and meaningful work.
"The kids love it," says principal Lynn Murray. "Unlike traditional lessons when students tend to drift and daydream, you find that most are totally engaged in learning."
Electronic mail has opened up new channels of communication in the school. "When kids get to school in the morning they make a beeline to the computers to check their mail," says Murray. "They use it to communicate with their friends, teachers, and parents. Any kid can e-mail me and I'll answer. Kids who may not even like to write enough to pass notes in class have had to improve their language skills because e-mail is so much a part of their social interaction. If someone abuses the system with foul language or nuisance mail and we revoke their access, it's like cutting off his or her tongue."