Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Who do we learn from and with?

As a child, my mom always told me if she gave me a cow and a library I'd be happy for life.  She's right, again:)

  • My favorite drink was milk (paired with chocolate).
  • I loved reading and learning (my favorite spot to do this growing up was our bay window with the curtain closed creating solace from my 10 siblings)!

For those of you who knew me then and now -- I have not changed in my love of milk, chocolate, reading and learning.  And our family is now 66 strong according to the Christmas letter my mom wrote this year.

"Dick and Jane" is the series I remember learning with when I was in early elementary.  I don't read "Dick and Jane" anymore -- but I do A LOT of reading -- both on-line and print.  Our local librarian, Patrice Strellner, can attest to the books I ask her to find for me utilizing inner-library loan.  This is an awesome resource we have as citizens and I definitely take advantage of this service!   Two of my reads for break are: 

One of my favorite people to read and learn from on-line is Sarah Brown WesslingSarah is a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa.  She is the 2010 National Teacher of the Year and is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. You can connect with Sarah on Twitter – @SarahWessling.  Her most recent blog post on Teaching Channel is about stress relievers for teachers.  As we move closer to our holiday break -- I hope you all find some time to "feed your soul and stomachs".  I'll be reading and finding myself some milk and chocolate!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Iowa Department of Education spotlights Benton Community

The following story was written and shared by the Iowa Department of Education on their website.  We appreciate their willingness to share our journey of "Teacher Leadership".

District thrives with teacher leadership program

Monday, November 24, 2014
Benton Community School District’s Superintendent Gary Zittergruen, left, poses with his teacher leadership team. Zittergruen is impressed with how quickly the district is seeing positive results through the teacher leadership program.
The Benton Community School District’s teacher leadership program is working better than anyone anticipated: Student performance is already improving classroom by classroom just three months into the program.
But don’t think it’s a fluke. The success comes from long hours of planning, making sure all of the i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.
The Benton school district was one of 39 districts approved to participate in the state’s new Teacher Leadership and Compensation system through a $50 million legislative appropriation. Eventually all districts will be able to participate, at an annual cost of $150 million.
The program, known as TLC, gives teachers a new career path opportunity in which they work with their peers to improve instruction. The underpinning concept of the legislation is that when students engage with great teachers, their education improves.
And Benton Community school officials say it works.
“Three out of five of the teachers I work with have data showing that student achievement has already improved,” said Benton Instructional Coach Cynda Mehlert, a former fifth grade teacher. “It has nothing to do with what I say, but with the teachers. They are more reflective of their work. While your gut instinct is good, you have to look at what your data says.”
“We are accomplishing at faster rates than we thought would be possible,” he said. “No one was sure of what to expect initially. But we know now that the resources and energy that teacher leaders can provide is fantastic.”
Benton Community’s journey into the teacher leadership program began with an arduous hiring application process. No favoritism, thank you very much.
“We first had to answer questions online, and do a resume and cover letter,” said Laurie Donald, curriculum and professional development leader for the middle-high school and former school Spanish teacher. “Once you got an interview, you had to answer dozens of questions, and then watch a classroom scenario and role play by responding as a coach. Then we had to do a written reflection on our coaching.”
Jo Prusha, right, who is Benton Community’s curriculum director, said that teacher leaders must be perceived as individuals who can provide help and service to other teachers.
“The job descriptions really framed what the jobs were going to be,” said Jo Prusha, the district’s curriculum director. “We were very transparent during the process.”
“I think that process gave credibility,” added Alex Olson, instructional coach at the elementary level and former fourth grade teacher.
The application process was a hybrid of resources used from the Center for Teaching Quality and the New Teacher Center, Prusha said.
“There was a very well-planned rubric on what these positions needed,” Donald said. “A lot of us bring different things to the table.”
Lois Deerberg, a middle and high school instructional coach and former English teacher, said she jumped at the chance to apply.
“When this opportunity came up, there was nowhere else to go in my career,” she said. “This is so invigorating. It is an opportunity to do more by taking your work from the classroom and do something even more to help others.”
Her coworkers agreed.
“I don’t have a desire to become an administrator at all, but this was a way for me to be a leader for teachers without having to take the step into the administration,” Mehlert said. “I think it keeps me in education longer.”
“I see myself as a lifetime teacher, so it really hasn’t kept me in education longer,” Donald said. “But the new career path gives me a renewed spirit.”
As with any change, transitioning a district to include a teacher leadership program is not without its challenges.
“There have been bumps along the road,” said Andrea Townsley, the curriculum and professional development leader at the elementary level and former fourth grade teacher. “We have to make sure we don’t overwhelm teachers in the classroom. We were worried about how we would be perceived. But more and more, teachers are reaching out more than we thought initially.”
Mehlert had experience in coaching at another school district before joining Benton Community.
“You have to make it very clear that you are an equal with teachers,” she said. “Ultimately, you develop a relationship in which they view you as more approachable than the principal, who could be perceived as evaluative. I have found that just through conversations, teachers start realizing they can make improvements with the constant goal, ‘Is this making a difference on student achievement?’”
At the high school level, in which classrooms are historically more independent, there has been perhaps even more reluctance to embrace an outsider’s help.
“The high school still is very locked into being self sufficient,” Deerberg said. “It has been a challenge to break into that. But it also has been a challenge to us to say ‘I’m going into the classroom and ask those hard questions in a nice way.’”
“It’s always a challenge talking to teachers about entertaining doing something differently,” Donald said. “We first need to build the relationships. Now we have some teachers truly contemplating change.”
Those relationships are built, in part, through trust.
“Confidentiality between a coach and teacher and a coach and administrator is really key,” Mehlert said. “When we talk to administration, we talk in general terms rather than a specific teacher.”
“Teachers are appreciating our voice,” Townsley said. “There is plenty of feedback both ways. Our goal is to make sure we all look through the same lens.”
The increased communication has also had a direct impact on professional development, said Mark Kenny, an instructional coach at the middle and high school level and former middle school science teacher.
“We used to confine professional development opportunities to the individual buildings,” he said. “Now, K through 12, we are all together, and we collaborate together for professional development opportunities.”
Perhaps most important is that teachers in the district are liking the teacher leadership program. In a school survey, one elementary teacher reflected:
"It has been very beneficial for me to reflect on my teaching. Having someone to ask questions of me and help me to think of teaching in a new way has been very helpful. I appreciate when we are talking that there is always a positive atmosphere in which to discuss. I feel free to share areas that I feel are weaknesses because I feel there will be a positive approach to helping those areas to become strengths. My coach has opened my thoughts to new ways of looking at teaching. She is helping me become an out-of-the-rut teacher. She listens to my failures as well as my victories."
Benton Community School District’s Superintendent Gary Zittergruen says the key to ensuring ongoing statewide success is a dedicated funding stream for the teacher leadership program.
Superintendent Zittergruen hopes to see the program continue indefinitely in the state. But continued state funding is critical to its success.
“We hope there is sustainability to the program and it continues to be funded,” he said.

In the meantime, the leadership team continues to dig into their newfound work.
“We still have teacher hats, we know what it is like,” Townsley said. “We have come a lot farther than I thought we would have. We are going at a really good pace serving the teachers.”
“When you talk about serving – that was a big part of the teacher leader application process,” Prusha added. “Service is huge part of the job. That’s what we do.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thankful for Jonathan Wylie

As you think about what you are grateful for during this season of thankfulness, please know that you are someone that others are thankful for.  We wanted to share a quick note to remind us that the work we do to inspire learners (both students and peers) helps us tap into the best of our skills and knowledge -- to date -- and there is much more to learn to create those spaces that ignite the desire to know and do more in others.  

One person who is helping us in these learning spaces (when it comes to iPad technology) is Jonathan Wylie, one of our Technology Consultants from Grant Wood AEA.  He's created a learning site for Benton Community and we appreciate him inspiring our work to increase our skills and knowledge with technology infusion!  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Benchmark Literacy Board Presentation

Benchmark Literacy is the PK-6 literacy program we have implemented this year at Benton Community.

During our November Board Meeting, three of our teacher leaders will be presenting a video they have created with help from our elementary staff.  You can view that video here.  

There has been much work put into implementing Benchmark with fidelity across our district. Our district has been fortunate that our well-articulated plan was developed with a diverse team and strong leadership who shared a vision of what effective elementary literacy teaching and learning can and should loook like.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

How do we know students are understanding?

As a parent, I remember a conversation I had with our oldest daughter when she was in 8th grade.  We were having a discussion about "stepping up and being a leader" in regards to making good choices, even when some of her peers were not.  Imagine my surprise when my daughter turned around and said to me, "I don't know what you mean by that!"  I calmly responded, "By what?"  In her 14 year old way she responded back, "Being a leader -- I don't know what you mean!"

Parenting Reality Check #1007:  How could our daughter not know what a "leader" was?  Hadn't we taught her?  Hadn't we modeled for her?  Hadn't we lectured to her?  

As I look back on it now, I find it funny how those adolescent years provide many of those "reality checks" for us as parents.  But, I also recall when we were in the midst of parenting our adolescent daughters -- I don't remember finding anything funny about our daughters not understanding what we wanted them to understand.  It's a lot more fun to share these moments now, then it was to live them!

Speaking of sharing, two of our elementary staff and one of our high school staff recently shared some information with our #BCTLT.  Sherrie Collins (a 5th grade teacher at Norway Elementary) shared a blog on how we as educators can check for our students understanding in a variety of ways.  Sara Hartman (a 4th grade teacher at Atkins Elementary) shared results of her students on FAST and Progress Monitoring.  Take a look at the growth students in her class are making.  

Kory Winsor (a High School Social Studies teacher learned about blogging from Anna Upah (a 1st grade teacher at Van Horne Elementary) during our PD on November 5.  Check out what both of them are doing with blogging in their classrooms and promoting understanding with their students and parents of students.  

One more plug for this post:  "How about those UNI Panthers!!!!!!"  What a great win this last weekend and BC has two great connections to UNI Panther Athletics.  Robert Rathje (@PapaRathje72 is starting center) and Tommy Zittergruen (@TZProductions8 is on the camera crew) are both BC Grads!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Nov.3, 2014 #BCTLT update

As always, if we can be of any support -- please let us know.  Contact us by emailing:  BCTLT@benton.k12.ia.us

Should we tailor difficulty of a school text to child’s comfort level or make them sweat?

“A man who traveled from Liberia to visit family members in Texas tested positive for Ebola on Tuesday, marking the outbreak’s first diagnosis outside of Africa, health officials said.”
That’s a pretty standard lead-in for a news story, pitched at the level of a newspaper-reading adult. But it’s a long, rather complex sentence, and a younger reader would likely find it easier to digest if it were broken into two parts. The lead would then start off: “A man who traveled from Liberia to visit family members in Texas tested positive for Ebola on Tuesday.”
A novice reader might still find it challenging to keep the beginning of this sentence in mind while reading to its end, so the lead could be simplified yet further: “A man in Texas has tested positive for Ebola.”
Of course, a less adept reader may not know what “tested positive” means, nor what “Ebola” is. And so: “A man in Texas has a deadly disease called Ebola.”
This example of leveling—adjusting the difficulty of text to suit the ability of the reader—comes courtesy of Newsela, an online reading program for students in grade three through high school that offers stories about current events “written to multiple levels of complexity.” Although Newsela went live less than 18 months ago, the notion of leveling students’ reading material goes back more than six decades. Today, technology is changing the nature of this long-established pedagogical practice. At the same time, proponents of the Common Core are raising new questions about the educational value of leveling, seconding the standards’ emphasis on having all students grapple with the same “complex texts.”
The notion of leveling was introduced by psychologist and reading specialist Emmett Betts in 1946. In a book published that year, Betts instructed teachers to select texts that students could read with relative ease, and to avoid assigning “frustration-level texts.” His approach has proved remarkably durable, as the shelves full of leveled-reader series like Step Into Reading and DK Readers in any school library demonstrate.
But digital programs like Newsela (the name is a combination of “news” and “ELA,” or English Language Arts) are shaking up the familiar world of the leveled reader. Dan Cogan-Drew, a cofounder of Newsela and its chief product officer, explained in an interview some of the novel features his program brings to leveling.
File photo.  (AP Photo/Joerg Sarbach)
File photo. (AP Photo/Joerg Sarbach)
First, new-generation leveling tools like Newsela allow every student to read the same story, albeit at varying levels of complexity. “This facilitates the social learning that happens when students engage in a shared discussion of the text,” Cogan-Drew notes.
Second, digital reading programs can make leveling more discreet, preventing students from being teased or stigmatized for reading at a lower level. Compared to the large numbers emblazoned on the covers of many leveled-reader print books, the computerized versions call far less attention to the degree of competency of their users.
At the same time, students using these programs are often given the option of dialing up or down their reading level themselves, supporting the development of their “metacognition,” or awareness of their own cognitive abilities. “You might think that kids would always make the stories as easy as possible to read, but that’s not what our data suggests is happening,” says Cogan-Drew, who notes that students often ratchet up their reading level in pursuit of more detail on an interesting story.
Newsela in particular takes advantage of the nimbleness and speed of the digital medium, offering students high-interest stories about the issues of the day, from the domestic abuse scandal involving NFL football player Ray Rice to the bungled efforts by the Secret Service to protect President Obama. The company licenses content from media companies like the Associated Press and Scientific American, then enlists its team of writers to reformulate each news story to suit four different ability levels, from beginning to advanced (Newsela also provides users with the original, unaltered news story.)
“New-generation leveling tools like Newsela allow every student to read the same story, albeit at varying levels of complexity.”
Like other digital reading programs, Newsela uses short online quizzes, taken by students after reading each article, to help evaluate students’ comprehension and adjust their reading level accordingly. Such “formative assessments” ensure that no student is unfairly labeled by an outdated evaluation—another potential advantage of computerized leveling over its paper-and-ink counterpart, which offers no automated way to monitor students’ increasing fluency.
Ironically, these digital improvements on traditional leveled reading arrive just as the practice of leveling itself is coming in for criticism. Commentators like Timothy Shanahan, an emeritus professor of urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, have recently argued that leveled reading programs provide students with too little challenge. Better than having each student read at his or her own level, they say, would be asking all students to tackle texts appropriate to their grade level, with teachers supplying help when necessary.
This is the approach advocated by the Common Core, the set of academic standards that has been adopted by most states. “Common Core asks teachers to think carefully about what children read and choose grade-level texts that use sophisticated language or make significant knowledge demands of the reader,” Pondiscio wrote last month on the Fordham Institute blog. The question teachers ask themselves, he added, should not be “Can the child read this?” but “Is this worth reading?”
The defenders of leveled reading and the champions of complex texts may share more common ground than they realize, however. Both agree that to become fluent readers, students must read a lot on their own—and such independent reading calls for not-too-easy, not-too-hard selections that look a lot like leveled reading. Meanwhile, both sides also concur that students should be asked to wrestle at times with more challenging texts—but in the classroom, where teachers are available to offer help and head off discouragement.
This mix of comfort and challenge, along with the exciting possibilities opened by digital reading programs like Newsela, can offer students the best of all worlds: one that’s been made both complexand comprehensible.
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Learning at BC

We are so fortunate...

BC Staff have the opportunity to learn from several different avenues -- all which align with our Action Plan.

Two of these learning opportunities our #BCTLT learned about this week and we want to share with you the opportunity for you to participate and learn for FREE -- that's right -- we said FREE.  Benton Community is part of the i3 Consortium with GWAEA and because of that relationship, we have the opportunity to be part of their learning community.  
  • The first course is entitled:  No-Nonsense Nurturer. This course is designed to advance understanding of the strategies that can be employed to increase student engagement, build constructive relationships with students, and establis the routines, procedures and structures need to improve student learning. To register for the course -- click here.  
  • The second learning opportunity is for educators to learn how to incorporate math and literacy standards into any content area. We just learned last week that NTC has partnered with Coursera to offer two new MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) for  free to any teacher anywhere.  
    • Common Core in Action: Literacy in the Content Areas - Exploring Literacy Design Collaborative Template Tasks
    • Common Core in Action: Math Classroom Challenges - Using Formative Assessment to Guide Instruction
These two courses are two of the five that will be offered this year through NTC and they start today (Oct. 20).    Here is the link in case you would like to check them out. As soon as we get more info about about the other three classes -- we'll let you know.

Common Formative Assessment (CFA)
Another advantage we have of being part of Grant Wood AEA is they are partnering with eight local school districts in offering CFA (Common Formative Assessment) workshops during the 2014-15 school year.

The purpose of the CFA workshops series are to provide teachers with similar content areas to work together to design evidence based common formative assessments and develop scoring guides, implement the assessment, review student evidence from the assessments, and consider instructional changes.  Below are some pictures from our work on Monday, Oct. 20, 2014.  Over 200 educators came together to work collaboratively on this process.

Iowa Core
Not only do we get the advantage of being in the GWAEA -- our state is also doing a great job of keeping us abreast of new developments.  The Iowa Core Website has been updated by the Iowa Department of Education.  This resource will be something we review in a future blog post.  But if you'd like to check it out -- there are great tools and resources for all content areas on this new site, as well as parent and community information.