Turn “I hate reading” into “I love reading”

Turn “I hate reading” into “I love reading”

Reading might be one of my favorite past times, but it’s not often a favorite activity for my students. At the start of every school year I hear at least one, but usually, many more than that, say, “I hate to read.” They like to really reiterate their point with follow up comments such as, “books are boring” or “reading makes me fall asleep.” For years I used to respond by informing them that they just hadn’t read their favorite book yet. This can sway a few kids, especially when a classmate does suddenly find a favorite, but ultimately my toughest haters of reading have been transformed by the authors of books. There is something special about hearing the behind-the-scenes secrets to a story.

Meeting author Suzanne Collins at the Hunger Games premiere party in Los Angles was a true fan girl moment for me. Walking into the massive tent felt exactly as I imagined walking into a Capitol party might feel like. Celebrities mingling about and here I was in awe of the decor and dedication to making it feel as if I’d stepped right into the book. An English teacher’s dream come true courtesy of my brother who was working for Lionsgate at the time. 

March 2012, one of my very first Instagram posts with my iPhone 4S.

The night introduced me to several of the actors and actresses where I learned their thoughts on playing particular characters. The young tribute actors felt like my people and we had great conversations about reading the books. About halfway through the night, we found ourselves standing in the center of a crowd, all trying to get a selfie with Taylor Lautner. That’s when I spotted her. Suzanne Collins was being ushered through the crowd. If I was going to meet her this was my only chance. I pushed past the few people standing between us and introduced myself. I remember telling her, “I’m a middle school teacher from Ohio and my students have loved reading the Hunger Games trilogy. Could I get a photo?” 

She was so gracious and let me take a quick photo before rushing off out of the party. To me, she was the greatest celebrity in the room. Meeting an author to thank them for sharing their talent and expressing the impact they have made on readers is part of what I love about my job. It’s not a requirement of course, but it’s a super cool part of being a teacher of readers. 

The experience of meeting or hearing an author talk about their work feels a lot like being at a concert. Hearing music played live adds new connection and emotion to the songs. Meeting author in person has always had the same effect for me. 

In 2010 I had the privilege of attending the NCTE conference where I was introduced to several of my favorite authors. Some of the authors I met were debuting their first novels at the time and they quickly became beloved authors for me. I’m reminded of my conversation with author Sarah Weeks. She shared her book So.Be.It. and her heart for people with disabilities. Her book was the first one I read from the pile of books collected from the conference. 

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After meeting all the authors that first day of the conference I wanted to devour every book they had ever written. I can remember specifically walking up to Laurie Halse Anderson and using every ounce of my energy to not lose it right there in front of her. Another major fan girl moment for me. I had read her book Speak several years before and it’s definitely in my top ten reads. Meeting her in person made me want to read every book, short story, and poem she had ever written. Laurie sat at her table signing my book and casually talking with me about life. After that conversation I was convinced if we lived near each other we would be best friends. At least the invention of social media now lets me pretend to be friends with my favorite authors. 

All of these encounters have convinced me that everyone needs to meet their favorite author or any author. As an English teacher, these have been some of my favorite experiences. Events, where I have been able to meet an author, help me feel a stronger connection to a favorite story or introduces me to their new novels. Sometimes it’s a new introduction altogether. 

Sharing opportunities to meet authors is even more fun when given the chance to introduce students. Authors can feel like untouchable celebrities to the voracious reader. But the truth is like any celebrity they are human. In fact, they often do their own marketing which includes book signings or meet and greets. If meeting an author can make a reading impact on me it’s possible to have the same effect on students. 

Follow a Local Library

Libraries often invite authors to talk about their books or share a writing workshop. I’ve made it a habit of checking nearby library calendars for author events. Some even have an email subscription that will send events to your inbox. Another great way to stay on top of these events would be following them on Facebook or Instagram. 

My first student group to meet an author was an hour’s drive to a major city south of us. My colleagues thought I was crazy, but my students had just finished Brandon Mull’s latest book Fablehaven. Several of them mentioned never loving to read until reading that book. When I learned that Brandon would be at a nearby library I began making plans to take students. The hour drive seemed completely worth the time if students could meet the author who helped them identify themselves as readers. 

We drove down on a school bus immediately after school let out with about 12 kids, one parent and myself. Brandon talked about his experience with writing Fablehaven, answering all the questions from kids who asked where he got such funny ideas and interesting characters. He signed copies of books and other swag for the kids. Some of my kids had never owned their own book, let alone a signed copy. After this experience, many of the kids who went ended up finishing the seven-book series. 

Book Stores

Another great place to meet authors, especially local authors, would be your local bookstore. Our small town doesn’t have a bookstore so we have to keep in touch with stores from nearby cities, but like libraries, they usually have website calendars, social media, and email lists. 

My favorite local bookstore, Main St. Books, often brings authors to share and sign books. One April they had invited my co-teacher’s favorite Ohio YA author, Mindy McGinnis. My co-teacher raved about her novels and often shared them with our classes. At the time I had not read any of her books but of course, I was up for an evening out to go hear her share about her latest book, Heroine

Mindy talked about how she collects ideas for stories and some of her process for writing those stories. Many in the audience had specific questions about her books and they all made me want to rush out to read anything she’d written. I bought two of her books that night! 

We struck up a conversation about teaching, Mindy is a former school librarian and exchanged emails. That night was the start of a very long conversation about how I could bring her in to meet my students. Almost a full year later we are finally making that a reality. 

Grant Opportunities

Thanks to a grant through the Buckeye Book Fair that helps teachers and librarians bring Ohio authors to their schools we are able to host Mindy for a full day. In anticipation of her visit, our English department has planned a special giveaway each month.  

Thanks to my fully funded Donors Choose project my students now have copies of Not a Drop to Drink, which we will read as a whole class, and five copies of her other novels for our monthly reading assignment. If you’ve never tried Donors Choose I highly recommend creating a project. Use this link to get started and possibly snag a boost to your project. They are always working to find donors that want to help with different projects. You never know what supplies or events might get funded. Did you know you can now ask for funding to attend professional development or field trips? 

If you are looking for a way to engage students with reading or help them make connections to the stories you read in class talking to authors in real life is a great place to start. Sharing student quotes or projects with authors through Twitter is another great way to connect. Some authors are willing to video conference with classes as well. Bringing the story to life by learning how it was written and the background about its inception can turn kids on to books. 

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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 community 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.

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.

The book, Shake Up Learning, was just the beginning of what Kasey has created for helping teachers turn those static lesson plans into dynamic learning for their students. She now hosts a Shake Up Learning podcast that drops new episodes every Tuesday. Have a listen to my favorite episode, the one where Kasey coaches me through a lesson that was a struggle for me. I enjoyed the collaboration and push she gave me in order to transform this idea.

Another free opportunity Kasey offers is the online book study. She hosts a self-paced and community collaborative book study in her Facebook group. Grab a copy of the book and join the next book study that begins February 13, 2020.

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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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