Professional Development Anytime, Anywhere

Professional Development Anytime, Anywhere

My first years as a teacher I loved going to professional development meetings. I have always loved to learn new things. Probably why I became a teacher. In that first year, I discovered a workshop called What’s New in Young Adult Literature? and it changed my world. I became addicted to conferences and all things professional development.

The year I traveled to Pittsburgh for the NCTE conference is hands down the best conference I’ve ever attended to date. I shook hands with Walter Dean Myers and intently listened while he shared about his own visit to Egypt. Lois Lowry was such a quiet, reserved woman that I could say nothing but a simple thank you and quietly walk away in awe. Laurie Halse Anderson held up her line to chat with me like we’d been friends for years. Sarah Weeks was a new author at the time and I’ve been a raging fan ever since. Jon Sonnenblick, also new at the time, was super funny in spite of having written a book about childhood cancer.  To me, this was a “red carpet” experience! Authors are the English teacher’s celebrity.

The next school year I immediately completed the appropriate paperwork requesting to attend NCTE again. However, that request was met with budget cuts and the opportunity to attend amazing conferences dwindled as the years went by. Working towards my Master’s degree was about all the professional development I was taking in and it wasn’t much fun any longer.

Then came the technology boom.

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In my career, I have gone from walking students to a computer lab filled with desktop computers to a Chromebook for every student. Learning how to utilize that technology in the classroom has been a major teaching overhaul for most of us in this profession. Some of us have embraced it while others prefer the traditional days of handwritten papers. Learning to use technology effectively has not been easy, so I understand the teachers who hesitate to bring it on board. However, technology is not going away anytime soon! We would be doing our students a disservice if we did not help them to navigate the world of technology.

Our building is not a one-to-one just yet, I believe it’s in the works. We did change over to a Google school and this has completely transformed my teaching and any kind of workflow I use for creating. In the beginning, I had no idea what being a Google school even meant. Then I was introduced to Kasey Bell, the author of Shake Up Learning.

My very helpful media specialist printed me a copy of Kasey’s free Google Cheat Sheet. After reading this I immediately wanted more! I went to the website signed up for her email updates and printed nearly every free resource she offers. I had to stop once I realized how much free stuff she actually has available.

One of my favorite resources was the teacher challenge. This helped me to learn so much I didn’t know existed in the world of technology for the classroom. Learning from Kasey has catapulted a domino effect in my life personally and professionally.

For starters, I am now a blogger. My students are bloggers. Which gave me the idea to help other teachers create bloggers out of their students. My world has opened up to the many possibilities that technology provides.

One of which happens to be a new way of gaining professional development without needing to travel or take a day off of school.

Webinars and online courses are the new waves in learning. In any profession, not just teaching.

Online learning provides a few things that in-person conferences can not. For starters, you can learn anywhere, anytime. If you have a device and WiFi you can learn something new. The other great part about online learning is the community built around it. Nearly every course out there also provides a Facebook group where people who have taken the course can share ideas or ask questions. The Shake Up Learning group is a wonderful place to get answers quickly or learn new ideas or teacher hacks.

The latest from Shake Up Learning is a Google Slide Master Class. Kasey often refers to Google Slides as the “Swiss Army Knife of the G Suite tools” because it is so much more than just another presentation tool. Her course is for any K-12 educator looking for new and dynamic ways to use Google Slides in the classroom. If you know how to find the Slides app and start a blank presentation this course will teach you the rest. On the other hand, if you’ve been using Slides, like I have, for a number of years you are still going to learn new and innovative ways to incorporate Slides into your classroom.

If you are looking to seriously step up your G Suite game check out the bundle option! You can purchase both the Google Slides Master Class and the Google Classroom Master Class at a discount.

In the Slides Master Class, you’ll also learn three bonus lessons.

BONUS 1: Stop Motion Animation

Save yourself valuable instructional time and that oh so elusive teacher sanity by packaging your assignments so that students have EVERYTHING they need in one place.

BONUS 2: How to Create Magnetic Poetry with Slides and Drawings

This bonus is one of the most requested resources! In this bonus, you will learn how to create interactive lessons like magnetic poetry with Google Slides AND Google Drawings.

BONUS 3: 50 Google Slides Lesson and Project Ideas

This bonus lesson is loaded with 50 ideas for using Google Slides in your classroom. There are ideas for every grade level and every skill level. Use the skills from this course to design lessons and projects for your students.

My students recently completed the Vision Board lesson idea. I taught them how to add Unspalsh photos, use text over photos, and how to download the slide as a .jpg so they could add it to their blog. I love how easy this was and what I love it, even more, is that their parents can see them and comment on them.

If you’ve never visited Shake Up Learning at the website or through Facebook I encourage you to go there now! You can also visit or tune in to the Google Teacher Tribe Podcast that Kasey co-hosts with Matt Miller from Ditch That Textbook. Free PD every Monday afternoon!

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Grammarly is for Everyone

Grammarly is for Everyone

Let me confess. My grammar is sub-par.

That’s right. I’m an English teacher with sub-par grammar skills. In fact, I recently applied for a position with NoRedInk and did not make the cut, by two points, on their grammar exam. Was this a surprise to me? Not really. I’ve always struggled to remember all the grammar rules of the English language. This is why I’ve been ecstatic to learn about the app Grammarly.

Teachers, students and bloggers should be using the Grammarly chrome extension. Help your students learn their most common mistakes quicker. Double check your own writing so your audience is not distracted by grammatical mistakes.

Why teachers, students and bloggers need to be using the Grammarly app
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Time is incredibly valuable when you’re a working mom of toddlers. I don’t always have the luxury of extra time to look up a grammar rule or ask someone to spend their precious time proofreading my work. Using an app like Grammarly can provide me with the answers I need quickly and allows my writing to be polished.

Using an app like Grammarly can provide me with the answers I need quickly and allows my writing to be polished. Click To Tweet

This morning I read a Facebook post by another teacher who was asking for advice about her principal’s incorrect word usage. She mentioned that he was continuously misspelling a word that gave the context new meaning, incorrect meaning. She wanted to know if she should correct him. Most people shared that they have also had a similar situation and if they had a close enough relationship they corrected them. Someone commented that friends tell friends when there is spinach in their teeth, therefore, pointing out a grammatical mistake is the nice thing to do. Many also commented that she should subtly use the word correctly or during a teaching observation. A majority of comments simply said do nothing. My advice was to casually share the Grammarly app. This is what I shared as a way to let a colleague know they were not always composing grammatically correct emails to our staff.

Plenty of people working in leadership positions didn’t get there because their grammar was perfect. However, these leaders often write for a large audience. That audience can lose faith in their leader when simple grammar errors become consistent. Back in my single days I once told a guy we’d never date because he couldn’t properly punctuate a sentence. He was completely offended, but so was I. Grammarly would have helped him get a date. Although it would not have helped his face to face conversation.

I’m constantly telling my 8th graders that we now live in a world of written communication. Text messages, emails, status updates, Tweets, Instagram and Snapchat captions. A large audience will see all of these types of written communication. If part of that audience wants to hire you someday they may be paying attention to your grammar and spelling. What you write represents you, and that means it’s important to put your best foot forward. This also goes for adults.

Using the Grammarly app will help save you time and allow your writing to be polished. Educators may want to look into their education options because it also includes a plagiarism checker. Sharing this app with students could give them added confidence in their writing and help provide them with a new writing resource. I always tell my students to use the available resources when searching for an answer. Digital dictionaries, spell checker and Grammarly can all help students increase their writing skills. I know that after only a few weeks of using the app myself, I began to correct my most common mistakes before typing them.

Try the app for yourself! I think you’ll find it saves you time and possibly some embarrassment.

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BreakoutEDU in the Classroom

BreakoutEDU in the Classroom

When it’s test-taking season and the kids have worked so hard, they need a day to use that knowledge for fun! Rather than more practice with multiple choice questions, try a BreakoutEDU session.

What is a BreakoutEDU?

The best way to describe it is to compare it to an Escape Room activity. In a similar fashion, students are working to determine the code that will help them unlock the box. Creativity is the name of this game! The purchased kits come with a box, multiple kinds of locks, a hasp (for adding multiple locks to one box), Hint cards, a deck of reflection cards, invisible ink pen, UV flashlight, red lens viewer, and a blank USB. With all of those options, there are a bazillion ways to create tasks for students to discover a code to unlock a lock. For the ELA teachers, this would go great in a mystery unit, for Science teachers may be a forensic unit. Honestly, there are endless possibilities here.

Breakout sessions are all the rage for student engagement. At first they can seem intimidating, but they are super easy to create or use one created for you. Try a Breakout session in class tomorrow with these tips and ideas.

How did I do this?

After posting a series of photos and videos to Instagram, a number of teachers contacted me about how to do this. My first suggestion is to take a look at their website. If you’re completely new to this idea their website is the place to start. Fortunately for me, our librarian had all the tools and knowledge I needed to get started. She was able to provide me with the tools and some ideas for creating the session.

If you are choosing to create your own, start with the material. Decide what knowledge the students will need to know in order to complete a task. This works best for the end of unit review or test preparation. I had shared a test prep slideshow at the start of the week, which you can find in my Teachers Pay Teachers store bundled with a Jeopardy game.

Next, you will need to create the tasks associated with each lock. I chose to make this pretty challenging, so I had 6 total locks on each box. This is where you can get creative! Choose if you’d prefer tasks to open locks or have them moving around the room to find clues that will lead to opening a lock. If trying to figure this all out sounds daunting, it did to me at first, be sure to check out the website for complete session ideas. To organize myself, I laid out each lock and gave it a sheet of paper. We used 2 key locks, a 3 digit number lock, a 4 digit number lock, a 4 letter word lock, and a directional lock. I started with the number locks. Looking at my materials there were a few questions I could ask that created a number series. You can also use ciphers to translate letters into numbers. The key locks were made from the most complex material. I asked students to complete a task that needed to be checked by a teacher and if correct they were awarded the key. To add a little more fun to this you could also include a riddle that would lead them to a hidden key. The letter lock can be used as a four letter word answer or you can use multiple choice questions. Tackling the directional locks took some thinking, thankfully my co-teacher came up with a great idea.

Using BreakoutEDU in the middle school classroom

In order to make the directional locks work we had to create a series of directions by color coding answers. On the board, I had the directions written in the color that answers were highlighted with on a slide show. Students matched the right answer to the color and direction to create the correct series. For example, if the correct answer was highlighted with blue then students had to match that to the blue word UP that I had written on the board. I didn’t tell students what the words were for, they discovered this on their own. This is part of the critical thinking that students will need to use. Ask them to pay attention to their surroundings for finding answers.

Once they had all the locks opened the small box held a riddle that leads them to a key hidden behind one of my anchor charts. I did this so that there would be only one group to win the treasure chest of candy. My classes this year are very competitive, so it worked to my advantage to make only one winning group. Each of the small boxes could easily contain a “prize.”

Can I make my own?

Now, you may have already visited the website and noticed the price of one kit ($150). Most teachers don’t have the money to spend on one kit so let me suggest a few ideas for making this happen. First, you could always ask the team or grade level to split the cost. In our district, we are given a supply fund, but I know this is not the case for all districts. Our librarian used her book fair funds to purchase a school kit for our building to use. Then a second kit was purchased through Title I funding that we receive. If none of these are options for you, consider writing a grant. The uses of a kit such as this are endless and adaptable for any grade or subject. If you still aren’t able to purchase a name brand kit, I’m certain you could find locks and a box at any dollar store. The quality may not be that great, which makes the possibility of cheating greater. Start with a discussion on integrity and it should work well.

Whether you purchase a name brand BreakoutEDU kit or choose to create your own, you won’t regret bringing this fun activity into your classroom. Comment below and let us know how your Breakout session goes!

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Shake Up Learning book review

Shake Up Learning book review

Starting this blog has been the best professional development in my 15 years of teaching. Learning about the teacher tribe of social media that supports and encourages one another has been an incredible inspiration alone. I’ve also discovered other blogging teachers who share fantastic ideas and resources. The most important professional development has come from making professional connections to teachers around the world. One of those teachers is Kasey Bell from Shake Up Learning.

Reading this book was the best professional development. Practical, easy to use ideas that engage my students. Take your lessons to the next level with the ideas presented in Shake Up Learning.

Shake Up Learning is the kind of professional development book that truly transforms your classroom. Find practical ideas that you can implement with this book and all of the resources provided by the author.
Some of the links found in this post are affiliates. This means if you make a purchase after clicking through we will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support and please know that we only endorse products we use and love.

After attending my first EdCamp, the information I learned from Kasey’s blog was invaluable to my classroom. You see I didn’t have the time to drive half an hour on specific days to attend training in order to learn how to better use Google Classroom with my students. Instead, I read every blog post and resource Kasey had posted on the topic and taught myself in the convenience of my own home, and usually in my jammies. There was so much she had to teach me, so when her email swooshed into my inbox asking for book reviewers I immediately responded. Reading the book, Shake Up Learning, opened my eyes to a number of new ideas, but also validated so much of how I already teach.

Change is inevitable

“Learning has changed, and it will continue to change. Before we can tackle all the technological changes in our classrooms, we must first take a step back and redefine what learning is and what it looks like in the twenty-first century.”

YES! Change is inevitable. We can either let it break us or we can learn to find ways to turn it into an advantage. We’ve all probably heard much of this before and been made to feel like we have to change the way we do things in our classroom tomorrow. However, this is not Kasey’s approach to adapting lessons in our classrooms. At the end of each chapter, Kasey very clearly lays out action steps. This provides teachers a plan of attack for accomplishing the transformation to our lessons that students need. I remember attending a technology conference in the first few years of teaching and the lead speaker said that 80% of our students are in school training for a job that doesn’t exist yet. Now I have no idea if that percentage is currently accurate, but I can’t imagine in a decade this has decreased. Either way, this idea has stuck with me and encouraged me to create the kind of lessons Kasey describes in her book.

The second part of this book goes into detail about the attributes of a dynamic lesson. Kasey begins by stating, “…it’s going to be uncomfortable.” Teachers are possessive creatures. We take pride in our classrooms, we attach ourselves to students and it takes a lot of blood sweat and tears to pull off a successful unit. So when someone tells us we need to make changes it can sometimes sting. Teachers are also passionate about learning, whether it’s their own or their students’. This is why we should be willing to learn new ways of bringing content to our classrooms.

Teachers are no longer the gatekeepers of content. It is free and readily accessible from just about any device, around the clock. @ShakeUpLearning Click To Tweet

A dynamic learning experience is about empowering students to take a lead in their own learning. It’s like I’m always telling my writers, show them don’t tell them.

The last part of this book walks you through the steps it takes to produce a truly dynamic learning experience for your students. Starting with the planning process and even sharing a few sample units. In the online resources available there is a template to help as well. With all of the online resources for each chapter and Kasey’s self-paced workshop, I’m looking forward to some curriculum planning this summer.

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Co-teaching: Some thoughts on making it work.

Co-teaching: Some thoughts on making it work.

Co-teaching can be stress-inducing or stress relieving. How YOU choose to approach it will make all the difference. Many teachers treat their classrooms in the same way a dog would treat his backyard. We set it up just the way we like it, keeping all the important pieces in an organized system that is often only understood by the creator. So when someone steps onto our turf we can be a little possessive. When it comes to co-teaching this mindset will not be productive.

Co-teaching with an intervention specialist has been one of my most positive experiences as a teacher. But co-teaching isn't always easy. It can be difficult to share a classroom. Use these strategies to help communicate with a co-teacher and make the best of your time together.

How to make co-teaching work well in your classroom.

In my second year of teaching, they scheduled me with a co-teacher. I was already feeling very green as an educator, and to have another teacher in my classroom every day who would judge my teaching only made those insecurities flare. However, this was not the actual experience. My co-teacher never treated me in a way that made me feel like I didn’t know what I was doing. The truth was I didn’t always know what I was doing. She was good at helping me find ways to help all the students in our class. She became a teacher to me, as well, that year. Thankfully that first experience helped me to keep an open mind about the co-teaching model.

Ways to make co-teaching run smoothly

It was a decade before I would see another co-teaching experience in my classroom. Not that this was my choice, it just didn’t work out for me to be scheduled with one. Co-teaching is now a regularly scheduled course for me. When this change was made I wasn’t aware of who my co-teacher would be until those first work days before students arrived. This is not an ideal situation. If it’s possible to have more than a few days to coordinate I suggest taking the time to do so. This can really save a lot of time later.

When meeting your new partner it’s best, to be honest about your feelings or past experiences with this model of teaching. If you’ve had a negative experience previously be upfront about it. However, keep in mind this is not the same person you once worked with so don’t punish them for someone else’s crimes. Start the conversation by sharing your philosophy and systems used in the classroom. Then give them an opportunity to critique those ideas with a special educator’s lens. The systems I’ve put in place work for me, they were created by me and I get them, this is not always the case for students. I need to be flexible in the way I organize. A student’s main deficiency might overlap with a way I’ve decided to organize.  There can still be an organized system, it may just need some tweaks for the students we serve.

Ideas for co-teaching lessons

Next comes the actual teaching part. This school year I noticed my co-teacher watch me a lot. At first, I was self-conscience, but then I realized she was just getting to know my style. We frequently checked in with each other as the lessons played out or during small breaks while students worked independently. It soon became a rhythm we were both beating. Co-teaching can take a few years to really feel comfortable with someone, but that’s the nature of education. Teaching, in general, takes trial and error to see what really works well. My co-teacher and I are always finding ways to revamp our lessons, but the key to making it work is honesty.

Honesty is always going to be the best policy when working with someone in such close proximity. It’s best to be direct in a loving manner. My co-teacher and I are both direct kind of people and this saves us a lot of time and frustration. None of us have the superpower to read minds (in a middle school classroom the thought makes me shudder) so be aware of the expectations you may have placed on your partner without their knowledge. If something seems to be off, openly discuss it. Your productivity and relationship will thank you.

Throughout the next school year, I hope to share some of the strategies that work best for our team. One idea that we have decided to try out for the school year is Guided Reading. We are also testing the idea of eliminating the whole class novel.  Our district brought in co-teaching guru Sonya Kunkel, who has been very helpful in giving us some very real advice, as well as, lesson ideas. Leave a comment and share how you are working well with your co-teacher.

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To Read or Not to Read, the Whole Class Novel?

To Read or Not to Read, the Whole Class Novel?

In the 15 years, I’ve been teaching so much has changed about how we teach kids to read and write. Many things have been the same since I left college, but how we teach books has definitely changed. Last summer I spent my sleepless nights feeding our newborn and reading all I could on teaching reading. I’ll admit when a colleague, much younger than myself, dropped the “I don’t teach whole class novels” bomb, I was flabbergasted. Wait? How can you get away with not teaching everyone the same book? Of course, Nancy Atwell has been saying this for years, but I didn’t personally know a teacher who listened to Atwell’s advice. Plus, this was not what I learned in college, which prepared me to be a great teacher. (I hope you just laughed with me!) Yes, college gave me a lot of head knowledge to do my job, but teaching is something that needs to be experienced. This is why they ask us to student teach. Figuring out how to organize every detail that needs to be addressed in the small amount of time you are spending with students per day takes a lot of practice. Then they throw a wrench in the system and change it all up on you. Atwell’s system has a lot of details to work out, and as hard as I’ve tried, the workshop model has been difficult to tackle.

Whole class novels are he latest debate among reading teachers. Find out what I learned in my classroom experiment. We spent the year without a single whole class novel.

Ohio is three years into the transition to Common Core standards. We have always had standards to teach and methods for which to teach these standards, but times have changed and research is shedding new light. The focus used to be teaching the book to kids. It was all about the book. The focus has now shifted, it’s all about the kid. Teach the kid how to read the book, any book actually. This makes so much more sense! Now I get why we don’t have to teach the same book to every kid. It’s about the skill of reading, not the experience of the book.

Every kid who says, “I don’t like to read,” will hear my standard response, “You just haven’t read your favorite book, yet.” I’ve actually said this to a few adults as well because it’s true. When you find that one book that really grabs hold of you, suddenly reading doesn’t seem so boring, or useless. For kids in middle school who have trouble reading have an even harder time finding their favorite book. Think about a student in middle school, they are probably 12 to 13 years old, much more interested in what their friends have to say, and usually, care a whole lot about their image. With this in mind consider the books they would have to choose from if they could only read at a third-grade level. Most of those options have main characters who are third graders. Most of the book covers make this very obvious. If you were a middle schooler would you want to carry around a book that most of your friends would identify as a “kid” book? Probably not, and here begins the vicious cycle of kids choosing not to practice their reading to become better readers. If they can’t read well, they won’t have books to read that they can truly enjoy, so they continue to hate reading, and never getting any better. Unless we step in as their teacher and teach them how to be better readers. The focus must shift to the kids and away from the book.

Next school year I plan to keep my whole class anchor or mentor texts to short stories or nonfiction. I’ve been converted. What do you think, is there still a place for whole class novels? Or should teachers let go of this traditional method?

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