Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The power of student voice

Today our school community had the pleasure of seeing the positive power students have.

Several BC students nominated one of their teachers for the KCRG A+ for Education award.  As Kai O'Mara shared this morning, our teacher winner had the most votes of any teacher for this award this year.  This was all part of our students collaborating and making this happen and our teachers making a difference in the lives of our students so they want to make an impact on the lives of others.   

There are so many things I could say about our Benton Community student body, but the one thing that comes to mind consistently is we have "great students and great families" to work for and with!

Congrats to Jeff ZittergruenKCRG A+ for Education winner and a huge thank you to our students for caring to make a difference!  Below are a few pictures from the presentation.

Photos from Gary Zittergruen

We have also have a student being recognized as a finalist in the KCRG Student of the Month.  

Carl Gerhold IV

18-year-old Carl Gerhold IV is a senior at Benton Community High School. He is active in our FFA Chapter and serves as the president.  He also is part of the Atkins Watermelon Days, where he co-chairs the Food Committee.  He is also working towards completing his CNA through BC's joint program with Kirkwood Community College.  He also volunteers to help his neighbors by mowing their lawns.

Both of these young men reinforce to me the power we all have to make a difference in the lives of others by doing what is right and not always what is easy.  Thank you to Jeff and Carl for making a difference.

We also have a student athlete up for KCRG's Athlete of the week.  Patrick Michael had 9 goals and 3 assists in 2 soccer games.  Vote here for him.

Picture sources:  http://www.communitynewspapergroup.com/vinton_newspapers/sports/mount-vernon-upsets-no-benton-community/article_881735ca-00b4-11e6-9a20-fb09e9d99020.html

As always -- it's a great day to be a Bobcat!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services & Mobile Gardes

(These stories are in the Iowa School Leader Update April 2017)

Two schools are teaching students to dream. And those dreams served up at Forest City and Charles City high schools in northern Iowa are virtually at the students’ fingertips.

Thanks to an initiative through the Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS), the schools enable students with special needs the ability to virtually learn about good-paying jobs they never knew existed. Through the use of software, the schools have created a virtual learning environment, offering students a front seat in interacting with simulated objects, from a car engine to the human heart.

The hands-on exploration supplements classroom instruction, and opens the doors for the students to a work world they never knew existed. It gives them, firsthand, a chance to try on different career options. Read more.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Uncle Earl & BC Learning Update April 2017

I have written before how I have been blessed with many great role models in my life.  This past week I had the pleasure of spending time with two of them.

I was recently asked by Kris Donnelly Program Services Director at GrantWood AEA, to participate in a panel for the Iowa AEA Board of Directors meeting to share thoughts on how Iowa AEA's have supported Teacher Leadership within our state and school districts.

Kris Donnelly is one of those people in my life that every time I get an opportunity to soak up her knowledge -- I DO!  She has helped me re-shape how I reflect and ask questions.  She has helped me think about impact and how this impact needs to be focused in the lens of our students.  She has helped me persevere when I was stuck.  I appreciate her investment in me and the time I was able to spend with her traveling on Highway 30 as we took classes together at ISU.

On Thursday, March 30, 2017, I was part of a group of passionate educators who shared their insights into how are AEA's are continuing to help propel districts forward by supporting our needs, at times even before we may have them identified.  The other panel participants were:  Lisa Clayberg of Ames School District, Heather Gould of AEA 267, Scott Moran of Denison School District and Dr. Julie Davies of AEA 267.

Kris Donnelly, myself, Heather Gould, Lisa Clayberg, Scott Moran, Julie Davies

The time reinforced to me that we are all working to ensure Teacher Leadership is having a positive impact on student learning within our systems by focusing on teacher effectiveness.  But, I have to admit the highlight of my day was seeing my Uncle Earl.

My Uncle Earl has been on the Heartland AEA Board of Directors for 21 years.  He is a former administrator in the Des Moines School District.   He also teaches for Viterbo University. (I'm sure he has done many other things I have not shared here as well -- including learning how to play tennis and the guitar in his later years!)

He is an inspiration to me on a daily basis.  He has always encouraged me and is full of compliments when we take the opportunity to converse.  Over my lifetime he subtly encouraged me to complete my Ph.D. and continue to be a learner.  He reshaped my parents perspective when they were frustrated with my "stubborn nature" as one of "a determined young lady!".  

A few weeks ago he attended the ASCD Annual Conference in California and some of my Iowa ASCD friends (Sara Oswald, Lou Howell, Kym Stein) found him and sent me the picture below:

I only hope that I can have a tenth of the impact on others in my life that my Uncle Earl has had in his.  I am more than proud to share with people he is my Uncle and the response I get back is a few minutes of how Earl has impacted their life in a positive way.  What a legacy!

Here is the BC Learning Update for April 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Volunteers Needed for Financial Literacy Fair

We’re looking for volunteers to help students. No experience necessary! 

From May 8-198th graders will participate in the Financial Literacy Fair at the Kirkwood Linn County Regional Center in Hiawatha during the mornings. In class, students learn about life decisions that affect financial well-being. Based on their interests, they select a career, and determine gross and net salaries.  Then they attend The Fair to face the reality of their financial decisions.

Join the Fun! 
A quick 30 minute volunteer training is given before students arrive.  We need over 400 volunteers to serve over 3,000 students!

To volunteer, click on this link: https://www.kirkwood.edu/site/index.php?p=36111


·         Monday, May 8                    8:45 am-12:15 pm               Center Point-Urbana, North Linn & Vinton-Shellsburg
·         Tuesday, May 9                    8:45 am-12:15 pm               LaSalle & Oak Ridge
·         Wednesday, May 10           8:45 am-11:45 am               Excelsior
·         Thursday, May 11               8:45 am-12:05 pm               Cedar Valley Christian, Central City, Isaac Newton,                                                                                                                Lisbon, Regis,  Springville & St. Joseph
·         Friday, May 12                      8:45 am-12:05 pm               Alburnett, Marion Home School, Midland & Vernon

·         Monday, May 15                  8:45 am-11:45 am               Harding
·         Tuesday, May 16                 8:45 am-12:00 pm               Franklin & Wilson
·         Wednesday, May 17           8:45 am-12:00 pm               McKinley & Taft
·         Thursday, May 18                8:45 am-12:00 pm               Benton Community & Roosevelt
·         Friday, May 19                      8:45 am-12:15 pm               Prairie Point

It’s a great way to be involved and see how area schools partner with
Workplace Learning Connection to help prepare students for their future!

Contact me or Cheryl Valenta at 319.398.4825 or cheryl.valenta@kirkwood.edu for more information.

WLC Logo.JPGRobin Henessee
Workplace Learning Connection
Kirkwood Linn County Regional Center
319-398-1040 main line

Work.  Learn.  Connect. 
Connecting today’s students to tomorrow’s careers.

Benton Art Show & Spring Play

Has your bracket been busted like mine?  Do you need something to do this weekend?  You can attend two events for the price of one...

Here's an idea to see some incredibly talented students and their work this weekend:

Benton Community Spring Play "Leaving Iowa"

Tickets are on sale now for the Benton Community Spring Play “Leaving Iowa”. 
The play is this Friday, March 24 and Saturday, March 25 at 7:00 pm. 
Tickets are $5 per person. -- WHAT A STEAL FOR A GREAT SHOW!
If you would like to purchase tickets please call the MS/HS office at 228-8701 ext 357.

To learn about "Leaving Iowa" visit this website.

The Annual Benton Art Show

The Benton Art Show is this Friday and Saturday 
at the MS/HS prior to the Spring Play! 
Stop by the Student Center and take a look at the hundreds of art works 
that have been created this past year. 
Congratulations to the talented students sharing their work!

Here are some of the incredible work you will experience at the art show.

Pop Artwork by Kortney Jones

Landscape by Olivia Zahrt
Watercolor by Hannah Brecht

Acrylic Landscape by Dianna Handley-McCain

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Student reading levels are being impacted

This is a news release from the Iowa Department of Education

Iowa schools’ reading efforts are making progress

New brief shows more students on track to be proficient readers by the end of third grade

DES MOINES – A statewide effort by Iowa schools to catch and correct reading problems in students early on is showing progress, according to a new policy brief released today by the Iowa Department of Education.
Nearly 9,000 students in kindergarten through third grade who had fallen short of benchmarks in reading in the fall of 2015 met or surpassed benchmarks by the spring of 2016, an increase of 4.2 percentage points. Increases in the highest-growth school districts ranged from 19.5 to 32.2 percentage points.
Iowa Department of Education leaders today announced the results of the policy brief and celebrated the growth and progress in early literacy statewide. They were joined by Jane Lindaman, superintendent of the Waterloo Community School District, Tynne Sulser, a third-grade teacher in the Centerville Community School District, and Mark Crady, who represented Iowa’s area education agencies.
“Iowa’s schools are focused on preparing students for success in high school and beyond, and that success begins with developing strong reading skills,” Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise said. “These findings show Iowa schools are making strides in their work to ensure all students are proficient readers by the end of third grade. This type of steady growth over time will translate into thousands of students getting on track in reading.”
While the ability to read is important at all levels, research shows third grade is an important gateway grade, when children transition from “learning to read” and begin “reading to learn.” Early reading difficulties have been linked to long-term consequences, such as dropping out of school.

Iowa’s reading scores on state and national assessments have stagnated for years, and nearly one in four third-grade students is not proficient in reading.
The Iowa Legislature passed a law in 2012 that focuses on making sure all students are reading at grade level by the end of third grade. A key part of the law is an early warning system to help educators identify and intervene with students in kindergarten through third grade who are at risk for reading failure. Through the system, schools screen students in kindergarten through third grade three times a year – fall, winter and spring – to identify children at risk, to provide additional reading instruction and to monitor their progress.
Iowa’s early warning system was implemented through a partnership between the Iowa Department of Education, area education agencies, and school districts.
Of 398 public school districts and nonpublic schools using the early warning system, 60.8 percent (242) saw an increase in the percentage of students in kindergarten through third grade at or above benchmark from fall 2015 to spring 2016. Fifty-three school districts showed double-digit percentage increases in results from fall to spring.
Of Iowa’s urban school districts, the Waterloo Community School District demonstrated the largest growth, with a 14.6 percentage-point increase from fall 2015 to spring 2016.
“We are now better equipped than at any point in time to identify which students are on track and which ones aren’t, and we have tools to spring into action with instruction that works,” Lindaman said. “Knowledge is power, and when we know what students need, we are much more effective at providing the right interventions.”
The growth and progress from Iowa’s screening assessments are expected to translate to large-scale standardized tests in reading, such as the state assessment or the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), once all students have taken them.
Only about a quarter of students who have been screened through the early warning system have also taken the state assessment, which is administered to students for the first time in third grade. NAEP is taken for the first time in fourth grade.
For more information about Iowa’s early literacy law, visit the Iowa Department of Education’s website.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Statewide TLC survey to begin on March 6, 2017

Starting the week of March 6, all Iowa public school teachers and administrators will have the chance to provide feedback on opportunities for collaboration, professional development, career advancement, and perceived quality and effectiveness of Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC). 

Survey links will be emailed directly to superintendents and principals for distribution. The findings from the survey will allow the Iowa Department of Education to determine if TLC is making progress toward achieving its intended goals. In addition, the feedback will be used by the Commission on Educator Leadership and Compensation and the Statewide TLC Support Group to determine support for districts and to make recommendations on the system as a whole. 

Finally, the results of the survey, along with the results of the Department’s other TLC evaluation efforts, will be shared with stakeholders throughout the state to communicate the impact of TLC. 

Participation in the survey is voluntary, but highly encouraged. Weekly prize drawings will be held and districts with at least a 50 percent teacher response rate will receive a district level-report. 

During the 2015-16 school year, a similar survey was given to Iowa educators.  Results from can be found here.

This study is being conducted by the American Institutesfor Research (AIR), an independent, nonpartisan, non-profit research organization. This survey is anonymous with no way to track the responses back to individuals who complete the survey. More information can be found here

Conferences for our Middle/High School Families

We are trying something new for MS/HS Conferences at Benton Community.

Conferences will be held next Wednesday, March 8 from 2:00-7:30.  This year families can schedule a time with the teachers online.  Families should have received an email with their child(ren)’s information.

If you have any questions please call 319-228-8701 and we would be glad to provide any support needed.  

Click here to sign up!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Incredible Team of People

I am so incredibly blessed.  

I have the opportunity everyday to serve some of the most dedicated and forward thinking people I have encountered in my professional life.

Photo submitted by Stacy Behmer
This is group of BC staff who attended the Iowa EdCamp this past Saturday.   The day was spent learning from other passionate educators in Iowa who are making a difference in their classrooms to meet the needs of their students.  

As we move into planning for our fourth year of teacher leadership here at #BentonCSD, we are in the midst of having people share their reflections on their roles within our District.  We also ask our entire staff give feedback to our system about the people in the teacher leadership roles within the District.  

Below is a smattering of comments that exemplify the thoughts that have been shared:

  • I could not be more pleased with the way our data team is running this year.  The structure and specific focus has been a tremendous help.  This process allows leaders to emerge within the team by providing a role w/in our CL/DT.

  • Our DT Leader brings together the team (of very different personalities and styles) beautifully. She supports and leads the teachers.

  • Our DT Leader does a great job of using data to drive decisions based on data received from teachers.

  • Our team has experienced similar ups and downs throughout the year but I agree that as a staff, we are much better at analyzing and actually using our data to drive instruction and interventions.

  • Our DT Leader allows for new decisions to be made based on all our voices, along with data.

  • I am grateful to be part of this crucial work. I realize more than ever how important data is. Data enables an early warning system that helps us determine when students are falling off track in order to help them before it’s too late. It also allows us to identify what is working well for students. I will be the first  person to admit I have a lot to learn about this process, but I am excited to continue this work to provide the most meaningful learning experience for ALL students.

  • Our DT Leaders used data to drive and guide the decisions they make in their classroom.

  • Our DT Leader always looks for the bright side of a situation. She is willing to step outside of her comfort zone to try new things and share those things with staff whether it worked or not.

  • Our DT Leader has served our grade team effectively. He takes his role seriously!

  • She should definitely continue to be our data team leader!

  • Our DT Leader appreciates the perspective of all and models how to see other points of view.

  • I have taken a chance and have failed. But I have LEARNED so much because of doing both of these! This position has really connected the dots for me in regards to education. It's messy, it's not always clear, but when students are the center it makes wading through all the mud and crud worth it.

As we continue in this journey and have moments of learning, success and at times failure.  We use the following words & visuals as a driving force for continuing to meet the needs of our system and ultimately our students:

FAILURE - First Attempt In Learning Using Real Experiences


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Supporting Reading Comprehension

This information is shared from the Iowa Reading Research Center blog

The Journey Is the Treasure: Providing Just the Right Amount of Background Knowledge to Support Reading Comprehension

Road journey into mountains
The purpose of teaching background information and connecting it to a text is to set students off on a successful reading journey, being careful not to provide too much information and bypass the journey altogether.

Posted on: February 14, 2017
Simply put, background knowledge is what you already know or have learned about a topic. This information is stored in your brain and retrieved when necessary to make connections to the world around you, understand new experiences, and make reasoned decisions on a daily basis. Reading requires a great deal of background knowledge relevant to the text to help with interpreting, predicting, and connecting to what is being conveyed. Without this knowledge to draw upon, you may struggle to fully comprehend the text.
When good readers begin reading, various information about the topic in the text is stimulated in their brains. They begin to connect that existing knowledge with new knowledge they are encountering in the text, adding to or making new categories of information in the brain to be accessed in the future. When this happens, readers are able to increase their reading comprehension. With each new reading experience, readers can continue linking and growing their knowledge, thus increasing their ability to understand a wider variety of texts. As Duke, Pearson, Strachan, and Billman (2011) suggest, “knowledge begets comprehension, which begets knowledge” (p. 55).

Teaching Background Knowledge

The ways in which teachers engage students in activating and building background knowledge can positively or negatively influence students’ reading comprehension. Sometimes, teachers try to give as much information as they can, hoping that it will ease students’ load and make reading more enjoyable. Unfortunately, such extensive instruction may make reading unnecessary for students: “Why read when the teacher will tell me all I need to know beforehand?” This takes the journey out of the reading experience, and students begin to become dependent upon the teacher to supply them with the knowledge they will need—whether or not they ever read a given text for themselves.
Instead, teachers need to provide just enough background to set a purpose for reading and really entice students to read on, thus ensuring that they will learn more. It is also important that the information a teacher reveals is not something intended to be learned in the text or something the students would be likely to understand from reading the text themselves. Providing appropriate kinds of background knowledge instruction applies to reading both narrative fiction and informational passages, but the specific approaches may vary to suit the text type.

Building Background Knowledge for Reading Narrative Fiction

To entice students prior to reading a fictional passage, it is common to ask, “What do you know about [the topic].” However, that could encourage students to focus too much on general information that may not support understanding the particular text they will read. Similarly, prompting students to “Look at the illustrations and make a prediction about what you think is going to happen” may either give too much information away or establish an expectation for the events in the story that could be inconsistent with what actually happens. Instead, teachers might try one of the following:
  • Asking students to make a prediction based on the key ideas in the text.
  • Posing questions about the kinds of events and scenarios presented in the text, including questions that would help students make connections to other texts the students have read.
  • Discussing students’ beliefs about the topic or ideas in the text and then reading to confirm or amend their initial thinking.

Building Background Knowledge for Reading Informational Text

As when reading fictional narratives, it is common to entice students prior to reading an informational passage by asking a broad “what do you know?” question and getting a variety of answers that may or may not be useful to supporting comprehension. Instead, teachers could help focus the students’ background knowledge by asking a targeted question to set a purpose for students’ learning. Below is an example of how a teacher might use targeted activation of background knowledge about the frog in preparation for reading and talking about the life cycle of the frog, including the changes the frog makes over its lifetime.
Think of a time when you saw a frog. It might have been at the pond, in your yard, at the zoo, in a book, or on television. Picture in your mind what you saw. What did the frog look like? Picture its skin, eyes, toes, and how it eats its food. Now that you have that picture in your mind, write what you are seeing and thinking so you can use it to help when we read about frogs.
[The teacher and students co-create a list of characteristics of frogs.]
As we read today, we are going to think about the things we know about frogs that we have on our list. We want to relate those to the new things we are learning to help us understand about the life of the frog.
The ability to activate and build knowledge prior to reading will help students reference what they know as they confirm, clarify, or augment the information with what is presented in the text, thus improving reading comprehension (Shanahan et al., 2010).  
Another option is to use targeted activation of background knowledge during reading, rather than prior to beginning the text. For example, instead of providing so much information about the moon that students do not really need to read The Moon by Seymour Simon (2003), the teacher could provide stopping points in the text to pose targeted questions. When reading about the phases of the moon, the teacher could have students stop and explain to a partner what the moon looks like at different times during the month and why they think it looks that way. Then, students can continue reading with the purpose of looking for information to confirm or refine the knowledge they just shared with their partners.
Finally, strategic use of short, informative videos can build a deeper and more targeted understanding of a concept than a simple picture walk (paging through a book, using the illustrations to talk about what might be happening before reading) of an informational book. Before reading Aliki’s (1992) Milk: From Cow to Carton or Gibbons’ (1987) The Milk Makers, the teacher would establish the purpose of the lesson: understanding where milk comes from and what happens to it before it gets to the store. Next, students would watch a short video on milking a cow. If done quickly and purposefully, students will be primed to build or use the information from the video to comprehend what they read, eager to learn more and enjoying the journey.

Final Thoughts about Building Background Knowledge

“Children are natural knowledge seekers” (Pinkham, Kaefer, & Neuman, 2012, p. xiii), so the goal of building background knowledge is to take advantage of that curiosity and channel it to support students’ reading comprehension. Revealing all the information to them prior to reading cuts the journey short. But giving students enough to get them started will facilitate building knowledge, learning new things, and enjoying the process of reading.


Aliki (1992). Milk: From Cow to Carton. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Duke, N. K., Pearson, P. D., Strachan, S. L., & Billman, A. K. (2011). Essential elements of fostering and teaching reading comprehension. In. S. J. Samuels & A. E. Farstrup (Eds.), What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction (4th ed.) (51-93). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Gibbons, G. (1985). The Milk Makers. New York, NY: Aladdin.
Pinkham, A. M., Kaefer, T., & Neuman, S. B. (2012). Knowledge development in early childhood: A not-so-trivial pursuit. In A. M. Pinkham, T. Kaefer & S. B. Neuman (Eds.), Knowledge development in early childhood: Sources of learning and classroom implications (pp. ix-xiii). New York, NY: The Guilford Press
Shanahan, T., Callison, K., Carriere, C., Duke, N. K., Pearson, P. D., Schatschneider, C., & Torgesen, J. (2010). Improving reading comprehension in kindergarten through 3rd grade: A practice guide (NCEE 2010-4038). Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education | Full text
Simon, S. (2003). The Moon. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Sample Lesson Plans

Now that you are familiar with how best to teach background knowledge to increase comprehension of a given text, you may wish to utilize the following sample lesson plans with your class, or review them to get a better sense of how to implement these instructional strategies in the classroom.
PDF iconActivating Background Knowledge Elementary School Example Lesson Plan: Contains lesson on Frogs by Gail Gibbons and semantic web graphic organizers for teacher and students.
PDF iconActivating Background Knowledge Middle School Example Lesson Plan: Contains lesson on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech and t-chart graphic organizers for teacher and students.