Erica & Kara: A Partnership in Learning

The story of how one simple idea from an AEA 267 speech-language pathologist created big results by encouraging learning development and building confidence amongst two students.

Posted in Area Education Agency | Tagged | Leave a comment

West Branch participates in Transformation Phase One

During the 2013-14, 10% of Iowa elementary schools were identified for Phase 1 of Iowa’s Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) initiative. The story below highlights the experience of a Phase 1 school in the Grant Wood AEA area.

c4kHoover Elementary in West Branch is one of the schools in the Grant Wood AEA service area selected to participate in MTSS Transformation Phase One to improve literacy. The West Branch School District joins Clear Creek Amana’s three elementaries and the Center Point-Urbana, College Community, and Monticello school districts.

Hoover Elementary’s Jessica Burger, principal, and Erin McFarland, a kindergarten teacher, shared their experiences participating in the Transformation Phase One process. “The addition of the universal screeners has been a nice tool for us,” Burger said. “This is the most consistent building-wide piece of data that we have collected on a regular basis. It is helpful to have building-wide data available with that level of frequency.”

“We’ve learned that the work that we are doing ties to the professional learning communities (PLC) work that we started during the previous school years,” Burger continued. “The two have have been very connected.”

McFarland explained that the work provides support for students at different academic levels. “Our work takes a deeper look at what students need and strategies that will help them,” she continued. “Our team works together to build a bank of strategies, so that teachers can provide additional supports and increase communication in grade level teams as well as grade to grade.”

Burger continued, “We are a building that has had a lot of supplemental intervention support” she continued. “One of the things that we’ve learned is to rethink the design of those supports and take a few steps back to dig deeper into our core instruction. You can’t intervene your way out of weak core instruction. This work has allowed us to shift the focus to not always think that the intervention will provide the fix. A solid, consistent core is key.”

“What this really means is breaking down the definition of what our core reading block will and won’t include,” Burger said. “We’re working as a building to have scheduling discussions and brainstorming ways to protect instructional time and ensure all students are provided grade level core instruction.”

westbranch“Our daily schedule discussions really focus on the amount of time we have with our students to make sure that everyone is involved,” McFarland continued. “We make sure that we have constant communication and share with each other what we are working on during the week. The conversations help us to bridge our different strategies/styles so that all students are receiving solid core instruction.”

As a building, Hoover Elementary has been working with the Daily 5 framework. Burger shared that this framework is helping the school deliver a highly effective core instruction block.

“The Daily 5 framework is great for all students because they are more involved in their own learning and taking ownership for their reading,” McFarland said. “We use a variety of texts, word work activities, listening to reading,  and other activities to make the Daily 5 framework happen.”

“Our students are aware of their strengths,” McFarland continued. “They know how to help themselves through the daily five rounds, such as read to self independently. They are aware of their strengths, weaknesses and understand the focus they need to practice those skills/strategies. Data notebooks are used to track their progress as they work toward an individual goal.  It makes it more powerful because it is their own goal.”

Burger continued, “As a building, we are also working to incorporate student personal goal setting and progress monitoring through use of data notebooks and public displays of the data.”

Myrissa Gingerich, GWAEA curriculum consultant, is providing support to district staff for the process. “It has been wonderful having her support,” Burger added. “She has been a very present and active part of our team, joining us for professional development and helping our leadership team with the roll out. Myrissa helps us deliver accurate and consistent information to staff.”

“As an administrator, I can’t say enough about the importance of the leadership team in this work,” Burger said. “These people continue to put in extra time and effort in the role of supporting teachers with implementation, planning and delivering professional development, and ensuring the overall continued success of the work.”
“Having teachers involved is important,” McFarland added. “I feel very privileged to be a part of the leadership team with teachers who share the same passion for their work. Understanding RTI/MTSS will help us to dig deeper in the years to come. Our staff enjoys doing this work. It’s part of our day and it is just what we do here at Hoover Elementary.”

Collaborating for Iowa’s Kids (C4K) is a delivery system for statewide work and includes the Area Education Agencies (AEAs), the Iowa Department of Education (DE) and local school districts (LEA). The intent of C4K is to work more effectively and efficiently as a full educational system to accomplish agreed-upon priorities. The current focus of C4K is  early literacy chosen because of the integral role that literacy has in the success of all other academic a
nd social areas.

Posted in Area Education Agency | Tagged | Leave a comment

College Community: Building a vision during Transformation Phase 1

During the 2013-14, 10% of Iowa elementary schools were identified for Phase 1 of Iowa’s Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) initiative. The story below highlights the experience of a Phase 1 school in the Grant Wood AEA area.

c4kEngaging staff has been an integral aspect of Transformation Phase 1 for the College Community Schools.

Kendra Hanzlik, instructional coach at Prairie Heights Elementary, and Linda Leggat, instructional coach at Prairie Ridge Elementary, explained that the district has worked to develop plans for engaging staff in this work.

Hanzlik explained that data driven work is common at College Community. “Data driven is not new as Prairie is a data driven district,” she explained. “While we have not had formal universal screenings up to this point, as a district, we do use data to make decisions. The process has given importance to the data for our teachers. It’s bigger than before.”

“The D2 Facilitation Guide, provided by the state, is meant to help us look more closely at our literacy instruction.” added Leggat. “The Facilitation Guide does not provide us with the answers. It aids us in digging deeper into our practice and structures. The answers to improving instruction are within our individual buildings.”

“Our district data from both fall and winter looked very similar,” Hanzlik continued. “Surprisingly, this doesn’t mean that our buildings can tackle issues the same. We have to go back and talk with teachers. This really isn’t a one size fits all. The process allows the flexibility to think about what this means for students.”

Ccsd_logo-1-Leggat shared that use of an electronic assessment process provides immediate data and feedback. “After completing the assessment, the students are able to ask, ‘How’s my score?’” As a district, we do a lot with data and not having to wait two weeks for results allows us to review the data in a timely manner, implement change, and be more responsive to student needs.”

“The other piece that we are starting to explore and learn more about is the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)/Response to Intervention,” she continued. “At Prairie Ridge Elementary, we are using the progress monitoring and intervention system that is a part of the TIER system. I like the fact that progress monitoring is included as a part of the TIER system.

Both Hanzlik and Leggat commented on the collaboration with the Iowa Department of Education. “The meetings in Des Moines allow us to connect with our DE representatives and helps us to feel closer to the work,” Leggat said. “They really do use our feedback to help make the system better.”

“The process also allows us to collaborate with Grant Wood AEA in another way,” Leggat continued. “We are able to collaborate with Josh Lyons, GWAEA regional administrator, to share a common focus on increasing student achievement.”

Hanzlik agreed. “It truly is Collaborating for Iowa’s Kids, and the title reflects the process and focus on students.”

Collaborating for Iowa’s Kids (C4K) is a delivery system for statewide work and includes the Area Education Agencies (AEAs), the Iowa Department of Education (DE) and local school districts (LEA). The intent of C4K is to work more effectively and efficiently as a full educational system to accomplish agreed-upon priorities. The current focus of C4K is  early literacy chosen because of the integral role that literacy has in the success of all other academic and social areas.

Posted in Area Education Agency | Tagged | Leave a comment

Adapted Cars Encourage Exploration and Curiosity in Kids With Disabilities

Anna Allison in her "Tow Mater" adapted vehicle

Anna Allison in her “Tow Mater” adapted vehicle

Exploring the world. Being curious. Learning cause and effect. Many people likely take for granted how important these skills and abilities are for infants as they transition into toddlers. For kids with special needs who have mobility delays, exploration and learning can also be delayed when a child isn’t able to move independently. Enter adapted cars.

Professors at the University of Delaware (UD) developed the concept of adapting regular toy store children’s ride-on cars so that kids with special needs could experience what it’s like to move on their own, just like their peers. The cars typically come with a small finger switch that a child has to continuously hold down in order for the car to move. This being too difficult for a child with special needs to maneuver, the small switch is removed and the car is rewired so that it will move forward by holding down a large round switch.

Kristi Allison, Heartland AEA physical therapist, and other AEA physical therapists from around the state learned about the UD’s “Go Baby Go” research at their annual conference a few years ago. “The point of the conference was that you should find a way to get kids who are delayed to move independently at the same time as their peers are moving,” Allison said. “The car can be used as a way to teach independent movement. Before kids can crawl and walk, they can explore.”

Ironically, in December 2012 Allison gave birth to her daughter, Anna, who has Down syndrome. Allison and her family adapted their own “Tow Mater” ride-on car, and Anna began driving when she was only 4-months-old.

“I sent the video of Anna driving to the Go Baby Go people, and they told me that they think she was their youngest driver yet,” Allison said. “She was rear facing and then turned around at 6-months-old. In September we took the seat (a special larger seat) off and just put her in the car. We added the frame recently, so she didn’t tumble out.”

Heartland AEA physical therapists came together this past fall to build adapted cars that children can borrow.

Heartland AEA physical therapists came together this past fall to build adapted cars that children can borrow.

Allison sent Anna’s driving videos to the other Heartland AEA physical therapists and showed them Anna’s car, and an idea was sparked—to build cars that would be available to any child in the Agency’s service area who could benefit from using one. This past fall, the therapists came together for a day and built three cars that area families can try out for themselves. An additional car was added to the inventory, so four cars are now available for families to checkout for at least six weeks at a time.

One family who has benefited from using a car is the Pommrehns, who adapted a Tow Mater for their son, Aedyn, 3, after he responded positively to the one he borrowed from the AEA. Aedyn has Emanual syndrome, a rare chromosome imbalance that includes multiple medical issues and global developmental delay.

“Aedyn loves his Mater,” Cindy Pommrehn says. “He doesn’t crawl, so finding ways for him to be mobile and independent are challenging.”

Aedyn Pommrehn

Aedyn Pommrehn

Besides the smiles and giggles that Aedyn has shown, Pommrehn says she has seen progress in her son’s cognition, balance and sitting. “We see him consistently activate the switch (when early-on he didn’t realize the switch made the car go),” Pommrehn said. “Now he wants to activate the switch before we even have him all the way fastened in. He loves to go round and round in the house and also loves to use it outside. We’ve found that his time in Mater is almost therapeutic for him, as he’s also done quite a bit better with balance and sitting.”

Tabitha Meyers’ daughter, Sabrina, has also driven one of the Agency’s Tow Mater cars. Meyers reports that the car has helped Sabrina become more comfortable being outside. “She loves to go outside now,” Meyers said. “She has never been a fan of the outdoors, but now she is able to go as she pleases and see the world from the view she should be seeing it.”

Meyers is also thankful that Sabrina has gotten the chance to use this special type of car. “(I’m) very thankful (that’s she’s gotten to use the car),” she said. “I want her to be as independent as she can. She doesn’t have the muscle strength yet to crawl or walk, so having the car allows her to stop and go and to be in control.”

“Anybody who you know is going to have a delay in their mobility would benefit from being able to drive a car,” Allison concludes. “Besides just exploring and learning, kids realize ‘I can move and get around by myself.’ There’s the cause and effect and there’s the processing of being in a car that’s moving. Those are all things that you don’t get when you’re immobile.”

In the Media

The adapted cars recently caught the attention of WHO-TV 13 and the Des Moines Register, which both featured stories about the benefits of the cars for kids with disabilities. Click the graphics to see and read those stories.

Posted in Area Education Agency | Tagged | 1 Comment

Transformed Teaching through AEA Collaboration

Written and submitted by Jessica Todd, 4th Grade Teacher, Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn CSD.

Students performing a close reading exercise about Laura Ingalls Wilder

Students performing a close reading exercise about Laura Ingalls Wilder

Looking back on grade school social studies brings memories of round robin textbook reading and corresponding worksheets. It was an endless cycle of read the text and scavenger hunt for the answers throughout your book. Anyone who could do look and find activities would be considered successful. Sitting by the window in the classroom, with the warm and tempting afternoon sun shining on my face, I counted the paragraphs left before it would be my predicted time to read. Five students ahead of me in the rows of desks meant five paragraphs of daydreams where I completely spaced off and thought of my after school outdoor plans. When the student next to me was done reading, I took my turn and then returned to my dreamy state.  I was good at appearing that I was paying attention, but really all I got out of the lessons was fluency practice for reading and little comprehension about how this mattered in real life.

Years later as a teacher, I look at my social studies textbook for my fourth grade students and I am reminded of my wasted learning opportunity in which I was disengaged and disconnected from the curriculum. Students have a drive to learn about the world around them. If we as teachers can’t find a way to reach them individually and answer the ultimate question of  “When will I use this in LIFE?” We need to reflect on the question, “ Are we doing our job to prepare them for the real world?”

Remote textbook reading and regurgitating answers back on paper proves that a student is good at memorizing and the search and find game, but what is it teaching them about life? Through the use of non-fiction (real life) text, a teacher can not only give students examples of where curriculum will show up in life, but can also help the student to become connected in a more personal way to life situations that will affect them. If we are to learn from history, why not go about it from real examples. I realize now I need to make the learning more authentic for my students.

With instructional coaching through the AEA, I have been provided with current research and strategies to use while teaching my students about social studies.  Jody Still Herbold has helped me revise my lesson plans from a textbook focus to a non-fiction focus on reading and writing. The lessons that I created my first year were textbook based and involved taking many notes.  The test resembled a traditional multiple choice, matching, and fill in the blank format. She has helped me make social studies relevant and more engaging for my students.

As my coaching has continued over these last few years, my lessons have developed into more activities through the use of the Promethean board, non-fiction books, and interactive websites. Students are doing more authentic research and analysis of information, current events, forming opinions and putting these opinions into writings. Tests have changed from how much can the student regurgitate back to me, to reflecting how much the student understands about the issue at hand through their own explanations in the form of short writings and discussions. All in all my students achievement has increased, students are more engaged, and I am more engaged!

Through the use of non-fiction articles from reliable and creditable resources we can teach our kids through a variety of activities that get them involved and reflecting on the big picture. Textbooks are a tool to be used, but not in isolation.  How much more can we get across to our students through really engaging them in activities that will switch their reflections from,  “What am I doing after school today,” to  “How will this help me after school in life!”

Posted in Area Education Agency | Tagged | Leave a comment

Summer: Romping, reveling and…reading

This article has been posted with permission by the Iowa Department of Education. It appeared in the May 2014 edition of Each and Every Child, an e-newsletter by the Department’s Bureau of Student and Family Support Services.

Seven-year-old Alex Nimke works with a fellow student.

Seven-year-old Alex Nimke works with a fellow student.

An average student can backslide a full month on reading skills during the summer break. It may be even worse for some students on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

That’s not acceptable for Shaun Nimke. Her 7-year-old son Alex has come too far to lose a minute of his educational progress. That’s why Nimke was delighted to learn that her son’s school was having a 12-week summer literacy program.

Sponsored by Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency, Manson Northwest Webster Elementary School in the north central Iowa town of Barnum will host approximately 16 students with historically challenging backgrounds – those with IEPs or who qualify for Title I – in the summer reading program. The goal? To stem the “summer education slide,” the skills lost when school has dismissed for summer break.

The pilot program is being launched in one grade school in each of the five regions in Prairie Lakes AEA. The program is principally aimed at first graders and, as space allows, second graders. At each of the schools during the program, there will be a literacy consultant, and a special education consultant or speech language pathologist, depending on the individual school needs. Each school provides a teacher.

“We’ve been wanting to support schools in early literacy,” said Jill Siefken, a consultant for Prairie Lakes AEA. “Statewide, we know there’s a huge emphasis on literacy, and ensuring every child can read at grade level by the end of third grade. So creating this program just made sense.”

Elementary Principal Justin Daggett was eager to kick off the literacy program.

Elementary Principal Justin Daggett was eager to kick off the literacy program.

Principal Justin Daggett hopes to continue the pilot summer literacy program beyond this year.

“Those who have been chosen to participate have the biggest needs in literacy,” he said.

“They tend to lose the most in the summer. We want to maintain what they learned this year so that next year we can build upon it.”

The program uses various strategies to engage students in reading.

“There will be a good mix of big group, small group and independent reading,” Siefken said. “The No. 1 thing is to get books into kids’ hands – combining that with a balanced literacy program using teachers and comprehension strategies.”

Daggett said creating parental enthusiasm is important to the program.

“We sent out personalized invitations,” he said. “It’s important to involve the parents so that they become active partners in ensuring our work in the school is continued at home.”

There’s no question that Nimke is a top-drawer partner.

“We pick books that Alex likes to read, and then we read the same one for a week or so, then switch,” she said. “Repetition seems to work well for him. But liking the book – that’s important.”

Results of the summer efforts will be measured in the fall, but Daggett is hopeful (if not downright confident) it will continue.

“This program is building capacity in my teachers for literacy instruction,” he said. “I would like to get more teachers involved in this process. Though we’re limited to one classroom teacher this year, I want to expand that in the future.”

For Nimke and her son, they take a day-by-day approach on literacy instruction.

“The main thing is that we’ve made a lot of progress through the years, and so we don’t want to lose it,” she said. “The more he reads, the more his confidence builds. A week ago while we were reading, he said he wanted to take the book to school. He said he thought he could read it with another student to help him with the harder words, and I reminded him that he could do it himself.”

And he did.

Nimke said that reading is the foundation of all education. And it’s critical to get students up to snuff early on.

“It is so important to read and write, and this is the point you need to catch him ,” she said. “Reading is the base of everything, and if you don’t have that, it will make for a very tough life. They are your kids, you should want the best for them, and do anything to make their lives as good as possible.”

As for Alex, he is eager to pursue reading about his favorite topic: fire trucks. It’s not that he aspires to being a firefighter, he says with a sheepish grin.

“I like them because they go fast,” Alex said.

Posted in Area Education Agency | Tagged | Leave a comment

Building Confidence by Strengthening Voices

“Now people can hear me,” says 8-year-old Joe Mai. Joe radiates confidence after overcoming obstacles with the help of Keystone AEA Speech-Language Pathology services. AEA speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work with children who have a variety of communication needs related to articulation, language, voice, fluency and early literacy.

Posted in Area Education Agency | Tagged | Leave a comment