Branching Minds (BRM) is honored to have a guest post from Marie Stapleton, Lead Title Teacher at Painesville City Local Schools (PCLS) in Ohio. We began our partnership with PCLS in April 2019, and in this experience spotlight, Ms. Stapleton shares her experience using the BRM platform and reflects on how utilizing an MTSS technology has supported both students and teachers in her school. Special thanks to Marie Stapleton for sharing her valued perspective with us. 💙
Painesville City Local Schools (PCLS) purchased Branching Minds to support the MTSS/RTI structures with its six building, 2,700 student school district. PCLS trained my elementary building on the Branching Minds platform in March 2020. Prior to this, our teachers on the RTI team were selected to pilot the program and then be coaches for the official rollout.
I was in the group training in the March of 2020, just prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, so I wasn’t able to put the training to use until the August of 2020.
Teaching through a pandemic and learning a new program was challenging. However, I quickly saw the benefits of the program and started to progress monitor several of my kindergarten students using the platform. I have since moved into a Lead Title Teacher role, and since then, I’ve learned a lot more about the program and its benefits.
Using Technology to Facilitate MTSS
While teaching kindergarten during the 2020/21 school year, I quickly realized the pandemic's impact on our younger students. After our initial screening and a few formative assessments, I was able to see who needed further interventions.
Our district administrator uploaded the data from our screeners and manually tiered our students within BRM. We use the national norms to tier our students against our screeners. Through this, we were able to see that most of the students needed interventions, even if just for a short time. The program made it much easier to organize and track who needed what.
Progress monitoring with MTSS technology
I worked with my Response to Intervention coach, and we used the Branching Minds (BRM) program to make groups of students with similar needs, add goals, decide on appropriate intervention tools/strategies and decide what progress monitoring tool we would use.
I entered progress monitoring scores weekly and monitored how they progressed using the graphs BRM provides. This made it very easy to see progress or lack thereof. I didn't need to wait for the next diagnostic assessment to see if my interventions were working.
Some students continued receiving their current intervention because it was working. Other students showed the interventions were not working, so I was able to change interventions. At the same time, others showed adequate growth and were able to move away from weekly progress monitoring and interventions. I closely watched the students who met their goals early to ensure the Tier 1 curriculum was working for them.
After a semester of interventions, we administered a second diagnostic assessment. This assessment helped to tier the students again. I again looked at the tiers and then at each student demonstrating a need for Tier 2 or Tier 3 support. I was able to use BRM to group the students faster than I would have been able to. I then used the data to see where each child struggled and made groups based on needs. I created groups in BRM around each skill. Then I added the students' goals and progress monitoring.
While adding the progress monitoring, I was able to select which weeks I wanted to administer it. Finally, I was able to add the intervention and support. BRM offers a long list of support in all subject areas. As a classroom teacher, I enjoyed the simplicity and convenience of BRM. It simplifies the tiering process.
As a Lead Title Teacher, I am responsible for training and monitoring teacher implementation of BRM and monitoring my own groups of students. This new position has allowed me to further my knowledge of BRM. When a question arises about the system that I cannot answer, I am able to go into the FAQs offered on the platform. If I cannot find the answer there, BRM offers a live chat. I have been able to have questions answered quickly using that service. In a post-pandemic teaching world, it’s nice to have help available when it’s needed and not wait for answers. Our students' needs are intense, and every minute counts!
Our general workflow and methodology when using MTSS technology
Our district gives an initial assessment every fall. When the data is uploaded into BRM, I look at students demonstrating the need for Tier 2 and Tier 3 support based upon assessment data. I then sit down with the teachers I coach, and we look at each student individually. If the teachers do not agree with the tier the student was assigned, we look at classroom data. If we need to change a tier it is simple to do. If we agree with the tier they are assigned, we then go into their data to see where their weaknesses are.
We then group students according to their deficits. Then we can put students into groups on the platform and start to add goals and progress monitoring. As a school coach, I have access to all of the groups created in BRM within our school. I can see which teachers are struggling with putting groups in or struggling to add goals and progress monitoring. I can also see the data for individual students to monitor if they are making progress on their current goals.
BRM also offers insight surveys. This is an observational-based survey filled out by teachers who implement the students' core instruction and their interventions. The RTI team will send these out to teachers when a student continues to struggle even with intense interventions in place. The survey helps us pinpoint the specific academic or behavioral domain the child is struggling with.
Along with looking for struggling students, we can see those who are performing above grade level. We have a gifted and talented teacher who then assists teachers with goals and enrichment activities for those students.
Aligning Strategic Planning With MTSS Technology
Painesville City Local Schools (PCLS) has a strategic plan in place. It states we will “Provide a comprehensible instructional program which meets the needs of all students.” More specifically, objective two of that strategic plan says we will “Create and provide effective supports and interventions to decrease negative behavior and accelerate student academic growth.” While we have always provided interventions and progress monitored our struggling students, BRM has made this process much easier.
BRM is a filing cabinet for student data. This program should eliminate the need for folders of student data. Students will be able to take all of their data with them when moving schools, districts, or even grade levels. This should eliminate students “falling through the cracks” and being left behind.
Next school year, our district will be offering more specific BRM training. Staff will get to choose whether they attend a “novice” training or a “master's” training. I will be encouraging the teacher I coach to attend the novice training. At this training, teachers will see the full process of tiering students, setting goals and interventions, monitoring progress, and examining data for effectiveness. I have coached them through this but feel it’s beneficial for them to hear it from the BRM representative. I will be attending the master's course. I’m excited to see all the components or “tricks” of the platform. I hope to leave the training with more expertise to take back to the teachers I coach.
Looking forward, I am hopeful all PCLS staff will be able to effectively implement and have a better understanding of why BRM is beneficial for them and their students. We started this work back in 2019 and were interrupted by extreme circumstances no one has faced in over 100 years.
In an equity-based MTSS practice, universal screening assessments create a systematic process of identifying at-risk students who do not meet grade-level expectations and “fall through the cracks.” Join Branching Minds for our webinar on best practices for tiering in a system of MTSS, and how the process in which schools tier directly impacts their ability to implement an equity-based foundation for education.
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Branching Minds offers a variety of professional learning opportunities for states, districts, and schools to ensure instructional leaders, specialists, coaches, and teachers are able to implement RTI/MTSS as well as the BRM platform with fidelity and maximizes educators’ efforts to accelerate learning for all students.
Marie Stapleton is currently the Lead Title Teacher at Chestnut Elementary in the Painesville City Local School district in Painesville, Ohio. She has been teaching for 17 years and has her masters in Teacher Leadership and a reading endorsement for grades K-12 from Ashland University. She is trained in Phonics in Motion, Heggerty, Flyleaf decodables, and several other reading interventions.
Marie is very interested in how children learn to read. Learning about the Science of Reading and implementing new strategies into the small group work for her students has been very beneficial, seeing improvement in all of her students. Marie feels lucky to be teaching at such an important time in reading development research. It excites her when to implement something new and see the strategies working.