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.

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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!

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