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Meet Inspiring Educator Allen Ashley from Lake Panasoffkee Elementary School in Florida

Meet Inspiring Educator Allen Ashley from Lake Panasoffkee Elementary School in Florida

When it came to state testing recently, Allen Ashley’s students weren’t worried. In fact, they were excited. That’s because, thanks to the Study Island Blue Ribbon Challenge Mr. Ashley helped organize at Lake Panasoffkee Elementary School, students have been working hard since March to earn Blue Ribbons while they review for the state test. And, as a reward for meeting their Blue Ribbon goal, they’re being treated to an ice cream social for all their hard work. 

Mr. Ashley, who teaches 4th and 5th grade math and science at Lake Panasoffkee Elementary School in Lake Panasoffkee, Florida, was recently recognized as one of Edmentum’s 2019 Inspiring Educators. He was distinguished for his innovative use of technology to drive learning in his classroom and his dedication to student success. We had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Ashley and learn more about how he uses Study Island to engage his students, how he encourages his students to work together, and how many from his class will be attending the ice cream social.

Tell me a little bit about when and why you decided that you wanted to become an educator.

When I was 15, my track coach in high school ran a camp for handicapped kids. So, for four years of high school, I went and helped out this camp. And, I just knew then that teaching would be a great job. I went in the Army right out of high school, and when I got out of the Army, used my G.I. Bill and got a degree in education. I've been teaching ever since. This is my 26th year. I started in special education for my first five years, but for the last 19 years, I've been at Lake Panasoffkee teaching 4th and 5th grade math and science.

You utilize technology in your classroom to drive learning, including Study Island’s Group Sessions feature. What are some of the way you are using Group Sessions in your classroom?

I use Study Island as a formative assessment tool to help me see how effective my teaching was or if I need to go back and remediate. Study Island has lessons aligned to the Florida standards and can tell me specific standards my students need to work on, so it's been a very good tool for me.

Study Island’s Group Sessions are a good remediation. If I notice that I didn't do that good a job on something or if just one area was a little low, we'll do a Group Session, and then, I'll say, ”Go back in and try that one again,” and that'll give the students a little more information. And, it also allows me a chance to do some teaching on the spot. I can tell from a Group Session if 23 kids answer a question and 7 kids got it right, then I'm missing something. I didn't get them the information they needed. So, I use that as a teachable moment. If 21 of the 23 got it right, I’ll move on.

There are times also that I use the Group Sessions as more of a game, and that's when my students like it the most. Study Island shows who scored in the top 10 within the subject, so when we are using Game Mode, the kids want to see their name show the top 10. They love that, it really motivates them.

Outside of Group Sessions, you’ve also been integral in creating a Blue Ribbon Challenge at your school, where students are challenged to earn a certain number of Blue Ribbons before the end of the year. Can you tell me a little more about the Blue Ribbon Challenge?

Earlier in the year, I was doing formative assessments with Study Island. Then, I went through and cleared all the students’ Blue Ribbons. So, it went from looking like they'd done all of their Study Island work for the year to doing no Study Island for the year from the students' perspective. We told the students around the 1st of March that now the state testing has come up, if they can earn all their Blue Ribbons again, then the principal is going to have an ice cream party for them. So, I got organized with my other science teachers and my other math teachers that we set this up.

So, next Friday, we'll all get together [and] have an ice cream social for the students who were able to complete all their Blue Ribbons. My 4th grade class has 16 kids, and as of today, 15 of the 16 kids made the party, so they're all super excited about it. They're not worried about the test tomorrow; they're excited about the ice cream next Friday.

During the challenge, we also recognized individual students each week, and we recognized all the classes each week to keep the kids motivated, to keep them on task, and hopefully get this goal. Because we know if they know the standards, they're going to do well on the state test. And, Study Island lets us know if they know the standards.

It sounds like you've done a really nice job of getting students really involved in their learning and their reviewing. You also have your students partner up and work with their peers from time to time. Tell me about that.

In any class, you've got the high, medium, and low kids. The high kids got the Blue Ribbons quickly, and on certain days, I will let them work with a lower kid to try to help them get that Blue Ribbon. Of course, you want the independent learning, but sometimes, students need a little extra help, so I try to give that to them, too.

The high kids are always looking for something else to do. And, the way we see it as teachers is—we know if a student can teach it, then they know how to do it. So, when a student is helping another student, they’re not getting a Blue Ribbon, but they're talking about the standard, which is great. And, the student who is getting help, they're getting one more point of view from their peer. They maybe even didn't get a Blue Ribbon in Study Island, but now they're doing it again with somebody who's going to give them specific assistance with the problem instead of sitting there with their hand up waiting for me to come to them. They've got somebody there one on one with them for 15 or 20 minutes to help them get that Blue Ribbon in the standard they're working on.

How do you support and inspire your students in your classroom?

One thing I do is I establish the expectation in my class that everyone can do it, and I let them know that when I assign something, I expect them to get it done. I don't care if you're the average kid or the below-average kid at this task. You can do it. You can learn. And, I can help you get there. So, as long as we maintain that mindset, the students seem to thrive.

We also play a game. It's a silly little game where you ball up a piece of paper, and you throw it around the room to each other. If you catch the ball, you'll stay in the game. If you make a bad throw or a bad catch, you are out of the game. I'll say everybody who gets a Blue Ribbon can go put their name on the board, and if we have 10 kids get a Blue Ribbon in the next 15 minutes, we'll play speed ball. It's just another little thing, a little motivating factor.

What's your favorite thing about being a teacher?

My first years as a teacher, when I was teaching special education, I taught a K through 2 class, and that was a really awesome feeling in that I was the one who taught them to read. When they get to me now, they know how to read, they know how to do math, but right now, my pride is 19 years of being an A school. Our school has been an A school for all 19 years that I’ve taught here. We push the kids to work hard, and we try to use the best tools we can, like Study Island, to get them what they need. The bulk of the school grade comes out of the 5th grade math and science testing. So, I just have a lot of pride in that I push the students to do well in those two areas, and I see the results.

I roll up with my students, too, so I get them in 4th grade and in 5th grade. When you have the same students for two years, there are a lot of positive benefits, but you really see the growth. So, I'm not the one who teaches them to read like I did earlier in my career, but now I can say, "I taught that kid. I know what they knew when they got to me, and two years later, I know they know what is expected of them going into 6th grade." I take a lot of pride in that. I'm still in this to teach kids and help them do the best that they can do.

Interested in learning more about Edmentum’s Educator of the Year Awards and this year’s Inspiring Educator honorees? Take a look at this blog post announcing all of this year’s winners, and read their amazing stories!

Here more from this educator and our other Educator of the Year Award Winners in our upcoming webinar on Thursday, July 25 at 10 AM CST. Register here!