October 22

Small Group Instruction in the Secondary Classroom

Small group on the secondary level is unheard of! Today we discussed the “glue” we use to make learning stick in small group! In an effort incorporate what my teachers needed and to differentiate PD, I surveyed the teachers on what they wanted. Three themes emerged from teacher voice and input: Time Management Strategies, Strategies on how to manage the class that are not in small group, and strategies in general to use in small group.


Polling twitter and other peers, we were able to come up with a HUGE list of various strategies that are “go-to” strategies! One of my favorites, are “All Sorts of Sorts”. The mere act of sorting various words and phrases helps to get the metacognitive juices flowing in our students. Talking about why an item was sorted, multiple encounters with new vocabulary words or content vocabulary words, asking questions, and modeling think alouds are all part intertwined in “All Sorts of Sorts”. In today’s teacher academy, we had differentiated instruction at it’s finest through this activity. Each session was completely different and highlighted the needs/wants of the teachers present at that time. We had rigorous conversations on various topics. Teachers shared stories, learned some new strategies, and hopefully left with a clearer picture. 


Small group is all about ensuring what students know and how to either fill in the gap or accel them forward! Stay tuned in a for a strategies list of topics covered!

September 5

What’s a PLD?

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.10.22 PMWelcome back! We took a hiatus on the Teacher Academy blog over the summer! We wanted to start Teacher Academy off with a bang this year, modeling teaching strategies through small group instruction. Over the course of the next week or so, we will be highlighting the theme of each group. The first theme was the Performance Level Descriptors or PLD for short. These are rubrics published recently by the ACT Aspire.




AAEAAQAAAAAAAAN7AAAAJGU4YTVkZjM2LWQ4OTUtNDFiOC1iNmI2LWY1MTNmNWUzYWMzMASummative Assessments should not be a secret. The data from Summative Assessments, when coupled with appropriate Formative Assessments, should not be a mystery or a surprise. More times than many, when students take the ACT Aspire, the data can be a surprise. This causes much frustration for teachers under this new assessment model. Each year, the ACT Aspire gives morsels of information to aid teachers and students. Some of the information given is to focus on concepts rather than procedures by using the Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Wheel (in particular Levels 2 and 3) and that writing is valued, particularly in constructed responses. Recently the ACT Aspire released the Performance Level Descriptors. You can find them here for each grade tested on the ACT Aspire.


Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.00.42 PMWhat are the Performance Level Descriptors? This comes straight from the ACT Aspire: Performance Level Descriptors outline the knowledge, skills, and practices that students performing at any given level achieve in each content area at each grade level. They indicate if the students are academically prepared to engage successfully in further studies in each content area, the next grade’s material and, eventually at the high school level to verify that they are college and career ready.

How does the ACT Aspire suggest to use them? This comes straight from the ACT Aspire: “PLDs are essential in setting standards. Standard setting panelists use PLDs to determine the threshold expectations for students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills necessary to attain performance levels of “In Need of Support”, “Close”, “Ready”, and “Exceeding ”. PLDs are also used to inform item development, as each test needs questions that distinguish performance all along the continuum.

We encourage the use of the PLDs for a variety of purposes, such as:

  • Differentiating instruction to maximize individual student outcomes
  • Completing assessments to help identify target performance levels for individuals or groups of students
  • Tracking student growth along the proficiency continuum as described by the PLDs.”


If you haven’t checked out the PLD’s, do! I think it is a powerful plan for students and teachers to follow. Students can view the rubrics as a way to hold themselves accountable. Teachers can use the rubrics to develop stronger formative assessments in order to match the summative assessment that students will see at the end of the year.

November 24

Diagnosing Misconceptions and Closing Gaps

This blog entry was written by our Special Education Department Chair, Keri Camp.  She paved the way, along with Lead Teachers Jessica Mathis and Paige Brown, in guiding teachers to diagnose student misconceptions in order to close gaps in learning!


The focus of the Teacher Academy conducted on November 21, 2014, was RtI/Special Education and the students who receive those services.  Teachers were given a prerequisite assignment.  They were asked to go through their student rosters and focus on students receiving these services.  Then, each teacher was to think of their students in an individual capacity and diagnose the misconceptions that are holding the student back.  They were to determine these misconceptions based on their anecdotal notes from small group as well as their observations of the students in their classrooms.


To start off the meeting, teachers were given names of the students they teach receiving special education services.  An importance was placed on addressing a common misconception.  Just because a student receives special education services does not mean that he/she would be placed in the highest and most intensive tier when thinking of services from an RtI standpoint.  The teachers were asked to place these students in a tier without taking into account their special education placement and then to explain the selected tier. This brought about some great discussions on actual ability levels versus perceived ability levels of students receiving special education services.

After this opening activity was completed, the focus was placed on student misconceptions and how to address them in the classroom.  Students were brought up individually and their teachers were able to discuss where they felt each student has a misconception.  Some of the most common misconceptions recognized included reading and listening comprehension, attendance/truancy issues, lack of confidence, disruptive classroom behaviors, and below grade level reading skills.  As a group, the participants shared what was or had been helpful when trying to reach the student.  This data was collected, compiled, and shared with teachers through Google Docs as well as through email.  By sharing the information, our faculty can work together to help our students fix their misconceptions and close the gaps in learning.

November 14

Aiming to Increase Student Engagement

Winterboro High School attends the Secondary Powerful Conversations Network sponsored by the Alabama Best Practices Center.  At our previous meeting we were introduced to the book, Leaders of Their Own Learning by Ron Berger.  The highlight of this meeting was Learning Targets.  Members were tasked to relay this information to their faculty and staff in a way that was meaningful to their school.  What better venue then Teacher Academy?!?!?

On November 7, 2014, we met to discuss the difference between Objectives and Learning Targets.  Objectives are the verbose definitions given to teachers in a particular grade or content.  Ron Berger defines Learning Targets as “ goals for lessons, projects, units, and courses.”

We read the literature presented by Ron Berger. Some very insightful points were brought out and discussed in Teacher Academy based on Mr. Berger’s research.  They were:

-Learning Targets increase student motivation in the classroom

-Learning Targets “shift” the ownership from the teacher to more of a partnership with the teacher and the student.

After reading the literature, we analyzed objectives that we used in our classrooms from the previous week and discussed ways we could have altered the objectives to create learning targets.  . We practiced writing learning targets for our lesson plans for the upcoming week.

If you have not read Leaders of Their Own Learning by Ron Berger, I highly recommend this book.  It will allow you to easily assess your current lesson plans, impact daily instruction in your classroom, and impact your school culture to promote engaged learning! The next post we will discuss how we took Ron Berger’s literature to the next level in our all day staff development day!