Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#BCTLT Model Teachers Study Differentiated Instruction Misconceptions!

Contributors:  Laurie Donald, Samantha Happel, Jennifer Hasenmiller, Cynda Mehlert, Emily O’Connell, Michelle Smith, Dawn Stokes, Jeremy Suiter, Andrea Townsley

Members of the #BCTLT have been studying differentiation since the start of this school year.  We have compiled our research to share with stakeholders.  This post will help you answer the following questions:  

What is differentiation? Why is it beneficial to my students? How do I get started?

Misconception #1:  If traditional schooling worked for me, it should work for my students.
Our students are continually changing and the society they need to be able to contribute to is ever evolving, so we cannot continue to teach the same way that we’ve always taught in the past.
  • Did Traditional Schooling really work for us? - We were able to be successful, but was that a quality of the school system, or was that a personality trait? What could our school experience have been for us if it had been differentiated?  
  • Technology - Exponential growth is occurring in technology and our students don’t need teachers to be the expert in the room anymore.  Today’s students need to be able to decide what information is relevant and determine how to use it.  They need to be able to make decisions in and contribute to a global economy.
  • Personalized Learning - When students can take information and apply it to their life, they can create lifelong meaning.  Through differentiation, personalization allows students to find the content, the process, or the product that works for them.  

Misconception #2:  Differentiation equals individualization.
Differentiation does not mean that all instruction has to be individualized.  This would be unrealistic to expect teachers to individualize every lesson for every student.  Instead, teachers can differentiate their instruction in four different ways based on readiness, interests, or learning profiles:
Content—What the student needs to learn or how the student will get access to the information;
Process—Activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of/or master the content;
Products—Culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, or extend what he or she has learned in a unit;
Learning Environment—The way the classroom looks and feels.

There are ways to differentiate that do not include individualization

To get started teachers can use formative assessment data or learning styles to group students.

Misconception #3:  Differentiation is a lot of work and it takes a lot of time.  

When we think about differentiating for our students, it can become overwhelming. You know you want to make changes to the way you structure your classroom to meet your students’ needs.  You have an idea in your head, but then there is the dilemma of time.  Here is a hint:  you are probably already differentiating and you aren’t even aware of it!

Our advice for getting started:
  • Stop and reflect on current practices
  • Start small - offer choices to students
  • Know your resources (outlined below)
  • Observe other teachers who are differentiating
  • Invite colleagues proficient in differentiation into your classroom for feedback
  • Avoid the misconceptions outlined in this post

Don’t attempt to make changes to your entire day right off the bat.  Start small and offer some choice to your students.  Focus on differentiating content, process, or product of one lesson or unit.  There are many resources available to support you in this process.  The teacher leaders at Benton Community have been studying this approach to student learning and we would be happy to help out.

Many resources are available to help you get a start! 
  • #BCTLT - start up a coaching cycle with an Instructional Coach on ways to incorporate more differentiation strategies into your day.  Seek out a Model Teacher for additional ideas and support.
  • Visit the #BCTLT Differentiated Instruction Symbaloo!
  • Follow an edChat on Twitter and look for ways other teachers are differentiating to meet students’ needs.  Examples include - #differentiation #iaedchat 
  • Members of #BCTLT presented a breakout session in our November PD.  Visit this link for resources they shared.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Model Teachers share technology learning

Technology Blog
Our group consisted of Erika Hass, Kim Lynch, Miranda Sonka, Mike Embretson, Carolyn Spading, Jen Bange, Julie Lindke, and Kim Fisher.  Members joined this team for different reasons.  Some felt very confident with technology implementation, some felt very uncomfortable with technology, some just wanted to lurk and find more resources.  With these different motivations, we tried to hit all angles and domains when looking at technology.  There are a multitude of apps/websites that were shared that we will not be addressing within this blog, so please reference Mike Embretson’s Google Doc HERE!
One take-away that we had this year during our conversations at Model Teacher meetings was to show others the importance and ease of blogging. Blogging can be open to so many different needs.  You can send messages, share pictures and videos of your classroom to parents digitally instead of paper copies. This gives an opportunity to reflect on your teaching, or you can brand your school by sharing your blog via different social media outlets. Blogging can be as complex or simple as you see fit.  Decide your audience, your purpose, and your commitment. Make it work for you!
Different blog sites that you could sign up for would be (but not limited to)
  • Blogger (this can be used mostly for teachers)
  • Edublogs (this can be used for teachers and/or students)
  • Kidblog (this can be used with student blogs)
We challenge you to set up your blog and make two entries by the end of the school year. (See the screencast below for directions on setting up a Blogger site.) This can be as simple as a few sentences to your parents about a specific lesson, upcoming dates, pictures/videos of what is going on in your class, or a reflection for yourself. If you would like to see how other people within @BentonCSD are blogging, check out this link! Feel free to see how they are using blogs and even ask them for help. If you are on Twitter, make sure and share your blog and attach the #BCBlogChallenge so we can follow and celebrate our progress.

Link to the screencast (please embed video on the blog) https://youtu.be/BgAYPM-bZLI
IMG_1270.JPGModel Teachers Technology learning

Friday, May 8, 2015

Leaving a Legacy: Theresa Thompson

Over the last several years, I have enjoyed learning, celebrating, and growing with the amazing teachers at Benton Community.  At the end of this school year, we will be saying good-bye to 5 retiring teachers that are icons in our district.  Please enjoy these reflections from myself, staff and students.  Thanks for the memories!

Give Me Your Best

Do you remember the teacher that pushed you the most growing up?  The teacher that set the bar high and motivated you to sore beyond your expectations.  This teacher held you accountable and won't let you get by with good, when GREAT was possible.  This teacher saw something inside you that you didn't even know was there and found a way to bring it out in the classroom.  Mrs. Thompson is this teacher.  In 7th grade Language Arts, Mrs. Thompson challenges students to give her their best.  She is organized, prepared, and knows just how to help her students succeed.  Don't think Mrs. Thompson is all business!  She likes to have fun and isn't afraid to look a little silly to help students loosen up.  She strikes the perfect balance of humor and hard work in her classroom and students respond.

Mrs. Thompson's dedication to her students didn't use to end at the classroom door.  Earlier in her career, Coach Thompson helped students sore on the volleyball court and excel on the softball field.  It was here that I got to know Theresa the best.  Watching her coach is very similar to watching her teach.  She tells the students what she needs, she shows them how to do it, they set their goals, and she checks to see how they perform.  Just like on the volleyball court, if things don't go so well, she readjusts the game plan and you try again.  You are never alone when Mrs. Thompson is around.  Her kindness and compassion sets her apart.  She makes you smile, she lifts yours spirits, and she cares about you as a person, not just a co-worker or a student.  She wants for you to achieve your goals and she will do whatever it takes to help you get there.  The reason she makes students work so hard in her classroom is because she cares about her students more than they will ever know.

What do other teachers think about Mrs. Thompson?

What do our students say about Mrs. Thompson?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Leaving a Legacy: Lois Deerberg

I have been so blessed to work with some great teachers at Benton Community.  Over the years, the staff has formed a bond that brings us together as a team.  Five members of our team will be retiring at the end of this school year.  They will be missed by staff, students, and myself.  Here is our tribute to their legacy!

Breaking the Scale:  A Total Six!

In education, some people believe it is all about the scale.  How do you measure the effectiveness of a teacher?  What scale do you use to judge the teachers you have had over the years?  If you value kindness, mixed with a high level of expectations, and an encouraging smile that tells you it's OK to take a chance, Mrs. Deerberg breaks the scale.  In her classroom, there was never a dull moment, never a time without some crazy story that would get you engaged, or a wacky phrase that she blurted out in class.  She always kept her students guessing, what will she do next?  She found a way to make learning crazy and fun!  She saw the person inside the students she taught.  She knew there was a little bit of SPARKLE inside everyone.  It was her job to bring that SPARKLE out!  

This year, I have had the unbelievable opportunity to work with Lois in her new role as instructional coach.  I always knew that Mrs. Deerberg was a great English teacher, but I never realized what an amazing mentor she could be.  This year, she has been my rock!  She has encouraged, challenged and nurtured me in our new roles.  She has helped me learn to question in a way that makes others want to do better.  She has helped me realize that everyone appreciates a heart-felt compliment and in education we don't do that enough.  She pushes me each day by asking, "What's holding you back?" or "What's your vision?"  She makes me believe that I have the potential to do anything.  She see the person inside the teachers she collaborates with and she makes them SPARKLE, just like her students.  She is so good at what she does, and she doesn't even realize it.  She breaks the instructional coach scale everyday and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from her.  She will be missed by me and so many other teachers next year.  Thank you for leading the way this year, taking a chance on something new, and making everyone around you better in the process.  It's your turn to SPARKLE now.

What do other teachers think about Mrs. Deerberg?

What do our students say about Mrs. Deerberg?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Leaving a Legacy: Marty Thomae

 We have been blessed with many great teachers at Benton Community.  There are five special teachers retiring this year that in many ways define the values that our community holds dear.  For Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to take a moment to highlight these teachers and share the influence they have had on our students, staff, and myself.

A Lifetime of Learning

 At Benton Community our mission statement is "A quality education for a lifetime of learning".  There are many teachers at Benton that do their best to have this mission statement visible in their classrooms.  Mr. Marty Thomae is a teacher that lives this mission statement in his daily life.  As a teacher and a coach, Mr. Thomae is a lifetime learner.  He is always looking for new and different techniques to use both in his classroom or with his athletes.  He is constantly networking with other professionals to learn and grow.  Walking through the halls at Benton, you will find Mr. Thomae talking to students and staff, checking in to see what they know or how they feel.  Mr. Thomae is a Bobcat.   

Beyond the classroom, Mr. Thomae's influence stretches to the athletes he coaches.  His passion for running is undeniable.  He shares this love with his cross country and track athletes and inspires them to never give up.  He is a true motivator that preaches hard work, commitment, and dedication to the team.  This passion extends beyond the track and onto the field and court.  Mr. Thomae has been a basketball coach and a long time softball coach.  In late spring, you might catch Coach Thomae running from track practice to softball practice and putting in the extra hours to show his athletes what it means to be a member of a team.  No one works harder than Coach Thomae!  He works so hard, because he cares so much about the students and athletes he teaches.  He wants the quality of the education they receive to be the absolute best.  He does whatever it takes to make this happen.  On a Sunday afternoon, you might find Mr. Thomae up at the school planning for the week ahead.  He wants to be prepared to deliver on the promise, "A quality education for a lifetime of learning".

What do other teachers think about Mr. Thomae?  

What do our students say about Mr. Thomae?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Leaving a Legacy: Denise Nottger

Appreciating our teachers is an important piece of the education puzzle that often gets overlooked.  Hearing how teachers have impacted the students they teach everyday, helps inspire them to keep going.  For over 181 years, 5 teachers at Benton Community have inspired their students to reach higher, become better, push further than they could imagine.  Today, we want to highlight another teacher to say "Thank You" from students, staff, and myself for everything you have done to make us better!

"People will forget what you said,
People will forget what you did,
But people will never forget how you made them feel."
-Maya Angelou

As a teacher, you often hope your students will listen to every word you say and remember all the great lessons you taught.  Unfortunately, few students remember the amazing homework assignment you created or the perfect lecture you gave in class.  Instead, they remember the way you made them feel.  In eighth grade Language Arts, Mrs. Nottger makes each student feel like they are the most important person in the room.  What sets her apart from other teachers is her positive attitude that helps her finds the good in every student.  She is easy to talk with yet helps students dream big and set their goals high.  She is not just their teacher, but she is their friend.  She cares about their success long after they leave her classroom.  You can often find high school students wandering down to check in with Mrs. Nottger.  She is a role model for both students and teachers.  She has helped remind me to slow down and listen with the heart when students talk.  

Mrs. Nottger's passion does not end with her students, but carries over to her subject matter.  Mrs. Nottger has an intense love for reading and writing.  She is passionate about her mythology and holocaust units and helps students uncover their passions as well.  She shares her love for her family and the New York Yankees with her students.  When students walk out of her classroom door for the final time in eighth grade, they feel like they really know Mrs. Nottger.  She has taken the time to get to know them and she has found a way to touch their hearts.  She makes Language Arts fun!  She is an amazing teacher, but an even better person.  I need to find a way to include a little more Mrs. Nottger in my teaching style.  I need to remember to help each student feel like they are someone special and take the time to get to know what they bring to the classroom.  People will never forget the way Mrs. Nottger made them feel in her classroom.  

What do other teachers think about Mrs. Nottger?

What do our students say about Mrs. Nottger?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Redefining the Norms of Teaching

The traditional norms of teaching—autonomy, egalitarianism, and seniority—exert a powerful and persistent influence on what happens in classrooms all across the world. These norms reinforce the silo mentality of the individuals classroom, limit the exchange of good ideas among colleagues, and suppress efforts to recognize expert teaching.

Thankfully, Benton Community set to redefine these norms by supporting teacher leaders in their work, so that every teacher's instructional capacity expands to meet our students' needs.  One way our teacher leaders have chosen to be solution finders is to 
research three different characteristics of effective instruction areas to help build their own teaching capacity and share their learning with others.  Our focus areas have been:  Formative Assessment, Technology Integration and Differentiated Instruction.  

Our first group to share their learning via this blog post focuses on Formative Assessment.  Thanks Ali, Dawn, Lois, Jeff, April, Dawn, Denise, Alex, Jacob and Krista for sharing your learning with us! 
Model Teachers:  Formative Assessment Update May 2015
Are your students passive in class? Are you searching for that little something to tweak your lesson?  Do you want your students to be more engaged in your lessons?  Are you wondering if your students learned anything today?  Formative assessments may be the answer you are looking for.


Throughout the 2014-2015 school year, the formative assessment team of Model Teachers identified, implemented, and reflected upon new formative assessment tools.  The team comprised of a wide diversity of content areas: mathematics, language arts, social studies, and physical education.  Members were challenged to research and try new formative assessments and then share successes with other team members.  Below is a brief overview of findings from each team member.  If you are interested in learning more about these strategies, feel free to contact the Model Teachers below.  They are more than happy to share their learning.  Enjoy!

  • April Lange (First Grade) - Through MTSS, we have grouped students in first grade and kindergarten according to their needs based on a common formative assessment.  After two to three weeks of small group specialized instruction, we use a quick task card as our formative assessment.  With five nonsense words, five real words, sentence reading, and dictation, students are then assessed and re-evaluated and re-grouped based on needs.
  • Dawn Arnold (High School Mathematics) - One of the formative assessments I found and have used from time to time is Back to Back. Students sit back to back to each other so that cannot see what each other may be writing on paper. They try to talk their way through solving a problem with each other. It is very apparent as I would listen to student conversations who was able to do the work on paper but could not explain their thought process or use correct mathematical language. Other students were not able to rely on what they were seeing another student do. I have also done a three part assessment where students start by trying a problem on their own in pencil. Then they get their notes out and add more to it in pen. Finally, they partner up with someone and add anything else to it in another pen. It is very clear for students and the teacher to see the progression of understanding for the student.
  • Jacob Halter (High School Language Arts) - I had success adapting an activity we learned about at a Grant Wood AEA training called "my favorite mistake".  A math teacher shared a technique where she asked each student to answer one simple question on a notecard at the beginning of class, and analyzed incorrect answers, anonymously, with the class, as a way to review previous content and identify misconceptions. It was easily adapted into a high school language arts classroom, and I intend to continue using it.
  • Denise Nottger (Middle School Language Arts) -  I introduced a writing activity by asking each student to come up with ten key words to describe the book each was going to review.  I explained that by being able to only use ten words, they had to choose each word very carefully,  We talked about the denotative and connotative meanings of words and to take those into consideration.  The result was a fantastic lesson in vocabulary, as well as an exercise in getting straight to the point and “flavor” of a book.  I was totally and pleasantly surprised at the higher level vocabulary words the students used and at how quickly they arrived at the main points of the books.
  • Ali Galbraith (High School Physical Education) - I really like having my students do peer reviews/evaluations, especially in the world of Physical Education.  It requires each student to understand the steps/process by either performing them or evaluating.  The conversations that follow during the explanations of  the evaluation are often the most beneficial part.  Students used iPads to video their partners so that they could see themselves during the reflective conversations.  The feedback is immediate and specific, and the discussion on how to improve gets students excited for their future performances.  
  • Jeff Zittergruen (High School Mathematics) - My favorite strategy that I have started implementing in my class this year is called "Find the Fumble." Typically I will use this as a beginning of class activity where students will analyze some completed problems on the board and do error analysis on the problems in groups. Students have to carefully analyze work, communicate what they are seeing and any mistakes that occur, and then work as a group to fix the mistake. I like how it has students critically think about the work they are seeing and communicate with their peers what they need to do as next steps within the problem solving process
  • Krista Olen (Middle School Social Studies) - I learned about a formative assessment strategy called “ten key words”. After reading an article, students choose ten key words that represent the meaning of the reading. I found it very useful especially when students read primary sources that contain antiquated language. Students are forced to understand the essential meaning of the source when they must identify a limited number of words to describe the content. I have also extended this assessment strategy by having students create a paragraph using the key words. In addition, students also created word clouds/wordles with the words and we examined them as class to reflect on the meaning of the source.

The Benton Community Teacher Leader Team is here to help you with new ideas, strategies, and formative assessment ideas.  If you need more ideas, take a look at our meeting notes or ask a TLT member.  Remember, we are better together, and all you have to do is ask!

Leaving a Legacy: Howard Conrad

For Teacher Appreciation Week, I thought it would be fitting to show my appreciation for just a few Benton Community teachers that have made a big impact on our school.  For years, Benton has been blessed with several great teachers.  This year, we find our school in a unique situation because we will be saying good-bye to 5 teachers that have spent over 181 years of combined service in education.  Each day this week, I will be highlighting a different teacher to share how they have impacted me personally, other teachers at our school, and most importantly our students.

Over the last several years, Benton Community students have been able to work with many outstanding teachers.  Each teacher brings their own personality and style of teaching that helps students in their learning.  Students in American History class believe that Mr. Howard Conrad brings the perfect combination of humor and hard work that make them want to achieve.  Each day in his class is "another day in paradise" that students bring their positive attitudes to help them get better.  Mr. Conrad sets expectations high for both his students in the classroom and his athletes in the gym or on the course.  It is this quality that I admire most about Mr. Conrad.

Master teachers are the teachers that seem to have it all.  They brings a unique quality that other teachers admire and try to emulate in their classroom.  Mr. Conrad is a master teacher that knows how to bring out the best in his students.  He is not afraid to set the bar high and challenges his students to become better than they think they can be.  He teaches them more than just history, he teaches them life lessons.  Lessons like working your hardest, never giving up, not taking things for granted, and always trying to be the best you can be.  These are the lessons of a Bobcat.  These are the qualities that Bobcats possess and what sets us apart from others.  Mr. Conrad holds all his students to the expectations of Bobcats.  He teaches them the "Bobcat Way" and asks them to pass it on to future generations of Bobcats.  It is this quality that I will miss most when Mr. Conrad walks out his classroom door for the final time this year.  The best way we can honor Mr. Conrad and his legacy to Benton Community is to #beaboBCat everyday.

What do other teachers think about Mr. Conrad?

What do our students say about Mr. Conrad?