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Posts tagged ‘Team Collaboration’

Keeping Up With What’s New in the Digital World!

I’m always amazed at the knowledge of colleagues and wonder, How did they learn about that app or this site!?! Digital tools and trends are growing exponentially, however their quality and usefulness are not all created equal! It’s a real challenge to keep up!

How can a team of teachers stay abreast of new developments in the digital world in order to incorporate great instructional tools that will engage and empower their students?  Chances are there is a wide range of knowledge and skill with digital tools on a team.  However, all teachers must embrace the digital world if they want to remain relevant to their students whose lives often center on the variety of opportunities presented by the web. This chart from the Pew Internet and American  Life Project shows the degree that teenagers are using the internet.

Chart showing 88% of teenagrs are using the internet

Teams with common planning time can develop their own professional learning experiences around the use of digital tools when they

  • designate one team member as the “scout” who finds new sites and apps and shares them with teammates
  • use two or three meetings a month to explore together one or two of the scout’s discoveries
  • commit to using one new digital tool each marking period across all of your classes
  • recruit a team of students who will help you with your digital plan
  • reflect with students about the usefulness of the new tool.

Team teachers must take responsibility for developing their own expertise in digital learning.

Here’s great resource for keeping up with what’s new and helping you identify useful digital instructional strategies.  I found it because I  follow a couple tech integrators on Facebook who are always posting useful links.  A post from Shawn Kimball, a technology integration specialist at Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine led me to Scoop.it! Into the Driver’s Seat “Building the independence of learners through thoughtful uses of technology”– it’s an online magazine.  With just a click you can follow it and receive the “Scoop of the Day” via email!

Some of the articles online right now are:

  • National STEM Video Challenge: Student Video Game Design Challenge
  • 12 Educational Trends to Watch in 2012
  • QuadBlogging “In terms of young children developing as writers, this is the most interesting development in 20 years.”
  • How to create a collaborative class eBook
  • Download and Convert Web Video from the 100 Best Video Sharing Sites

There are other sites out there that will help teams stay current.  What are your favorites?

Collaborate to Help Students Master Note Taking

Note taking–whether from print or digital sources–is a valuable skill to master.  However it is not a favorite classroom activity.  Students gripe as they struggle to figure out what is important to note and what they can leave out.  They  also often resist following formats that are complicated or tedious.  Some teachers hope that someone else has taught the skills and too often precede with assignments assuming students can successfully take notes.

A masterful middle grades team, however, realizes that if they collaborate on teaching and reinforcing this skill, their students will benefit.  Also by taking the time to teach/reinforce this skill early in the year, the teachers know that lessons will go more smoothly in the future.  Any lost time to teaching note taking will be made up later as students develop a certain level of automaticity with the process.

There are a variety of note taking protocols to choose from: Harvard outline, Cornell double column, webbing, etc. I came across the Tree Map approach through Stenhouse’s website that links to  http://www.screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cXQiFr0q2

The speaker is using a model for a Tree Map similar to the one below.

As you watch the video you will notice several things about the instructional process:

  • The nonfiction text she is using is a literature textbook.
  • She has already done some preteaching about headings and subheadings in a text book.
  • She is modeling the thinking that goes along with the note taking process.
  • She is using a gradual release of responsibility model–turning the thinking and writing over to the students after she has modeled the process.

Tree Map note taking will work in any subject.  Below are two other examples–one for Social Studies and one for Math.  The text I used was from Wikipedia, but it could be a traditional textbook.

Let’s watch from afar how Team Penobscot manages the process of teaching Tree Mapping:

  • The Language Arts teacher  introduces Tree Mapping to the team’s students in a very controlled lesson and follows up with an additional lesson or two.
  • Then the Social Studies teacher reinforces the note taking strategy in his class. By putting some of the information in the template the teacher uses  a think-aloud approach about what would be important to note and then turns the rest of the note taking activity into a guided practice.  The class continues to practice throughout the unit on the pre-revolutionary era.

Scaffolding a Tree Map for Boston Tea Party Note Taking

  • The Math teacher picks up two weeks later, still modeling the process, but leaving more and more blanks for the students to handle on their own,

  • Now  Team Penbscot is interested to find out how well the students can use Tree Mapping independently.  The Science teacher agrees to  use the technique as she begins a new unit and chapter in the science text. It will be a formative assessment of the students’ progress in acquiring this skill. She reminds  the students about the importance of headings and subheadings in a Tree Map.  She asks them to take notes on the first several pages of the chapter in the Tree Map format.
  •  She takes these notes to the next team meeting where the team looks at them and quickly sorts them into two piles: students who have demonstrated that they can do Tree Mapping independently and those who can’t.  Then they take a closer look at the the latter pile and identify 3 problem areas:
  1. About 5 students just haven’t internalized the process at all.
  2. About 10 are just copying every single detail into their notes–they can’t decipher what is important and what is not.
  3. About 7 students have too little information–they also have trouble figuring out what is important and what is not.

The team looks at their calendar and decides to use the upcoming study hall  to address the needs of  the students who are still having problems with Tree Mapping.

  • The Language Arts teacher is going to pull the five students who are really struggling aside during that time to reteach.  He is going to ask the special ed teacher to help him plan and implement the new lesson, thinking that the special ed teacher’s expertise in learning differences might give him a new perspective to develop a more effective lesson plan for these students.
  • The Social Studies teacher will take the 17 students who have trouble identifying what is important and what is not.  He will work with them using think-alouds and guided practices. The students really need to see the process modeled several more times.
  • The math and science teacher will carry on with the rest of the students in a quiet study hall.  Both have students in that group that need some additional attention.
  • The team teachers then agree that a follow-up formative assessment will be necessary to see whether or not the identified students are now able to apply Tree Mapping as a note taking strategy independently in their classes.

Teams in the middle grades have a tremendous opportunity to help their students succeed academically by collaborating and building scaffolded instructional plans that span the content areas–multiple practices and varied contexts. ACT’s report, “Forgotten in the Middle” stresses the importance of skills, attitudes, and habits internalized in the middle grades–they have more influence on students’ future academic success than anything that happens in high school.

Other note taking protocols that teams could teach in a collaborative fashion:

Cornell Style Notes: http://coe.jmu.edu/LearningToolbox/cornellnotes.html  and   http://www.solida.net/notes/

Topic and Concept Cards: http://www.muskingum.edu/~cal/database/general/notetaking3.html

Five Notetaking Methods: http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:57qHoBsoz1cJ:www.redlands.edu/docs/StudentLife/1Five_Methods_of_Notetaking.docx_UPDATED_7-09.pdf+five+notetaking+methods&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESgS17CnoF8BxKpKbyJp4UHzR7py1TQr1Yj-UG2F8Xw9spSMwMcsx-PxkRsSg3Ixk37GBf61w4taVe7VDt1rLRk8j42DmmmNDHGqF8fsMeHj5NBVIWohzktUXAScwf1YMOnkIy8z&sig=AHIEtbQEiqiJlWunxYVxcRG-bHSbs-PtGA

Free Literacy Strategies Resource

Many middle schools have a mandate to incorporate literacy strategies across their curriculum.  Quite often there is no professional development to go along with this mandate, and many middle grades teachers have no background in literacy acquisition.  Hence a huge disconnect occurs between the mandate and reality.

Middle grades teams have an advantage in that they can choose to use some of the their common planning time to work together to figure out how to approach literacy in the content areas.  They recognize that this type of planning is critical to the success of their students because:

  • The middle grades curriculum and now the Common Core Standards require that students read and write more complex material.
  • Many reading/writing skills are common across the curriculum and providing students multiple guided experiences in a variety of contexts will improve their skills.
  • It is impossible for one teacher to provide all-inclusive instruction and practice in the myriad of reading and writing skills that young adolescents need. (Spencer,J. (2010) Teaming Rocks! Collaborate in Powerful Ways to Ensure Student Success. Westerville, OH: NMSA.)

An excellent resource for teams to use is a free download from the Internet! The Content Area Literacy Guide is from the CCSSO’s Adolescent Literacy Kit. You can find simply by googling “Content Area Literacy Guide”, and you will be directed to a downloadable PDF file. For a quick look, go to tiny.cc/literacystrategies  — there are over 20 strategies.

The Guide provides a description of each strategy and suggestions for how it might be used in Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. These strategies are certainly applicable in other content areas as well.

For example, one strategy is Cue Questions Based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Below you see examples of questions on two of the Taxonomy’s levels.

Here are suggestions from the Guide for using these cue questions in the content areas:

Check out this useful resource and work together to incorporate some of these strategies into your instruction.  Be sure to start small–one strategy at a time!

  • Choose one that will work for everyone.
  • Decide who will do the initial introductory instruction.
  • Brainstorm ideas on how to model and use this strategy in your different classes.
  • Plan out when the other teachers will use the strategy and reinforce it in their instructional plans.
  • Reflect as a team on how well the strategy is working:
  1. How has it been used?
  2. What is the students’ reaction? What problems, if any, are they having applying the strategy to their work?
  3. How might the team tweak the strategy to make it more effective?
  4. To what degree is the strategy improving the students’ understanding of their work?

Fantastic Summer Opportunity for Middle Level Teams!

Nancy Doda talks with participants at MLEI

There is never enough time for teams to accomplish all of their goals during the school year:

  • Create interdisciplinary units that address critical standards across the curriculum
  • Collaborate to teach necessary study skills
  • Create an effective plan to incorporate literacy, numeracy, and digital fluency across all of the classes
  • Refine the advisory program to include hot topics like cyber-citizenship and cyber-bullying
  • Spend time to build your capacity as a high-functioning team

The Middle Level Education Institute held at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine provides the opportunity and the atmosphere for reflection and fresh ideas.  It is an uniquely middle level event where everyone in attendance loves working with young adolescents and desires to develop learning experiences that address their cognitive, social, and physical needs. Furthermore, participants never have to explain to others why they enjoy working with this age group!!!

  • Participants’ questions and concerns drive the program.
  • Large chunks of time are set aside for teams to work on their own projects.
  • Each individual or team has a knowledgeable consultant as a coach and go-to person.
  • Sessions model exemplary middle level practice.  This is not a “sit and git” type of professional development.
  • Technology is integrated seamlessly with a lot of Individual help for attendees wanting to learn more.

Join us this summer, August 1-4 for a professional learning experience you will refer back to all next year.  Visit our website at http://mleimaine.net/  

3 Graduate Credits Available


Mikaela at campusevents@thomas.edu

Jill at jillspencer51@gmail.com

Come with a mission and  we’ll help you fulfill it!    Look who’s on board to work with  you!


1. Your Leadership Team wants to tackle a challenging school issue.

Chris Toy

  •  consults internationally on developing leadership capacity
  •  teaches graduate classes in leadership and school law
  •  received A+ Administrator Award from NELMS

Bill Zima

  •  helped his school develop effective behavior plan
  • experienced with proficiency and standards-based learning

Nancy Doda

  • works internationally in the area of school reform
  • acknowledged as an expert on young adolescents
  • received Lounsbury Award–NMSA’s most prestigious honor


2. Your team needs to develop its plan for implementing RTI (academic and behavior).

Cathie Tibodeau

  •  worked all over New England as NELMS Teacher in Resident
  •  presided as NMSA’s president 2009
  •  consults nationally on math instruction and differentiation

Chuck Saufler & Stan Davis

  •  work across Maine and the country with schools to improve school climate
  •  acknowledged experts in bullying prevention and restorative justice
  •  help schools address cyber-bullying issues

Jill Spencer, Carol Duffy, Barbara Greenstone, & Nancy Doda

  •  over 100 years of combined experience with both print and digital literacy


3. Your team desires to reinvigorate your curriculum in order to engage your students.

Phil Brookhouse & Barbara Greenstone

  •  help teachers across Maine integrate technology  (MLTI)
  •  teach practitioners the basics of inquiry and challenge based learning
  •  are up-to-date in the latest innovations in digital learning

Mark Springer

  •  presents nationally on integrative curriculum and the democratic classroom
  •  coaches schools as they revise their curriculum and improve their instruction
  •  writes highly popular books on curriculum and instruction Watershed & Soundings

The MLEI Team would appreciate your help in spreading the word about MLEI–Please share with your social network via Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Thanks!!!!

Recalcitrant Teammates–What To Do!?!

Being on middle grades team can be the best of times or, unfortunately, the worst of times.  When teammates click and are both congenial and collegial (Read Roland Barth’s article on this topic),  a team is unstoppable in helping their students learn.  However, when one teammate is unwilling or unable to work collaboratively,  the enthusiasm and effectiveness of the other members of the team is often eroded.   Collaboration slowly grinds to a halt and students suffer.

Build healthy relationships with teammates just as you would with students.  It takes time and a genuine interest in order to forge these relationships.  Taking a few minutes to check in with each other at the beginning of common planning time is well worth the time.

Assume positive intentions on everyone’s part. Sometimes a conversation can clear up underlying issues.  You might try this activity as a team (I think I first heard about this strategy from Chris Stevenson, a middle level guru.):

  • Gather everyone together in a neutral space–off campus if possible–snacks and libations make for a relaxed and non-threatening situation.
  • Ask each team member to list 3 behaviors they would really appreciate from their teammates.
  • Then ask them to list one non-negotiable item about team work–that one thing that really annoys them.  For example, I used to hate it when teammates brought work to correct to common planning time.  It was obvious that we didn’t have their full attention for team matters.  I especially hated hearing sarcasm about kids or a teammate’s ideas.
  • Compare the the lists of 3 behaviors and look for commonalities.  Write those items down and agree to use them as your working conditions.
  • Then look at your non-negotiables together.  It is important that folks remain very respectful during this conversation.  Practice your paraphrasing skills and ask your teammates to “please tell me a little bit more about your thinking” !
  • The combination of the non-negotiables and common behaviors identified from the lists of 3 become your best working conditions (BWC).
  • Revisit and reflect on how you are doing as a team in adhering to your BWC regularly.  I observed a leadership team that took time at the end of each meeting to reflect on how they did.  They were one of the highest functioning teams I have ever seen because they paid attention to their process. They made sure everyone had voice, was treated respectfully, and that each decision was made in a thoughtful manner.

Six Types of Difficult People

Sometimes, unfortunately, conversations do not solve the problem. Relationships on middle grades teams can be tricky, especially for the team leader. Often our colleagues are also our personal friends outside of school. Collaboration can stress these friendships.  Turning to  experts in the field of dynamics in the workplace is helpful.  One of my favorite sites is BlueSuitMom.com.  One of the pages on this site is entitled Dealing With Difficult People” by Laura Benjamin. She identifies 6 types of difficult people and offers sage advice on how to deal with them:

The Bully–Hostile/Aggressive

  • Don’t back down, but be respectful.  I disagree and here’s why…. You may have to rehearse find a friend who will play the bully and practice what you might say.
  • Do something unexpected which disrupts the rhythm of the conversation. Knock a stack of papers waiting to be corrected over or go get a drink of water. Disrupting the flow of the conversation with an unexpected act makes redirecting  the discussion easier.
  • Don’t hold a grudge–as soon the person shows respect, put forth a friendly comment.

The Constant Complainer

  • Ask for specifics. You’re saying that Sally and Joey never do their homework and are impossible to work with.  Well, let’s assemble some statistics on their missing assignments in all of their classes.
  • Direct the conversation to problem solving. OK, we have the information on Sally and Joey.  Now let’s look for patterns–are there specific types of assignments that don’t come in like writing or texts based? Then we can narrow the problem down to something specific.
  • Don’t agree with them just to get them to stop complaining–that will only validate their behavior.  Go back to asking for specifics and suggestions for how the team can work to resolve the problem.

Ms./Mr. Silent/Unresponsive

  • Use the same open ended questioning techniques you use with students–why? how?
  • Use wait time (again just like with students) — don’t fill the void with your chatter or solutions.
  • Be direct about how your are interpreting his/her silence. You seem upset with the direction we are headed….
  • When s/he does contribute, be attentive.

The Over Promiser, but I Never Deliver–Super-Agreeable

  • Build a genuine relationship with this person so s/he feels valued.
  • Be sure the team divides the work up evenly; don’t let this person over commit.

Princes or Princesses of Negativity

  • Avoid win/lose battles with them.
  • Appoint them the team’s reality checkers.  This is an important role if it helps the team attend to details it might miss otherwise.
  • Ask them to give specific examples rather than just making BIG statements.
  • Take time as a team to celebrate little successes (with yourselves and with the students).

The Expert–Know-It All

  • Do your research–estimates will only feed this person’s belief that everyone else is incompetent.
  • Help them consider other alternatives with statements that begin  I wonder if or We’ve looked at the issue from this perspective, what if we looked at it from the students’ or parents’ point of view?
  • Be respectful of his/her points and paraphrase to make sure you understand.  Help me understand exactly what you mean when you say..
  • Share your information, but avoid one-upping the person.

Be sure to read the entire article.  Benjamin offers more ideas and insights: http://www.bluesuitmom.com/career/management/difficultpeople.html

Other sites you might find helpful:

Dealing With Difficult People: 27 Secrets & Strategies  You Can Apply Today

5 Types of Difficult Co-Workers and How To Deal With Them

4 Types of Difficult Coworkers and How To Deal With Them

Help Your Students Master Proper Language Usage

Being able to communicate well is important.  Fair or not, we all are judged by our command of language whether it be spoken or written — print or digital.  When you read comments on blogs and they are full of spelling and/or grammatical errors, do you take them less seriously?  If you see a glaring error splashed across a ten foot screen in a PowerPoint presentation, do you get a bit judgmental? Someone says, “Him and me brung it the store.”  Do you cringe?

Many of our students do not come to school speaking and writing well.  We must help them develop that internal ear for proper usage.  Teams can work together on this process. “Whoa!” some of you are saying. “I’m a math teacher, not a grammar teacher.”  Fair enough.  However, what if there were a short list of usage errors that really labeled a person as stupid or uneducated or ignorant?  Wouldn’t everyone on the team be willing to look for ways to help their students learn to correct these errors?

There is such a list. Constance Weaver in her book Teaching Grammar in Context sites a study that identified the 30 most grating usage errors. That’s too many for a team to take on, but 4 of them are labeled as “status marking”.  Here they are:

  • Nonstandard verb forms in the past tense or past participle   brung instead of brought or had went instead of had gone
  • Lack of subject-verb agreement:  We was instead of we were or Freddy don’t live there instead of Freddy doesn’t…
  • Double negatives: I don’t have no…   There never has been no reason to…
  • Objective pronoun (me, him, her, them) as the subject of the sentence.  Him and I are going to camp.

Weaver, C. (1996). Teaching grammar in context. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.p. 112.

A team could take on one type of error per month.  The Month of Duplicitous Double Negatives! Make that Subject and Verb Agree! The Case Against Bad Verb Form! Will the Correct Pronoun Please Stand Up! Have some fun with this exercise.  However, it’s very important to be up front with the kids and explain what the purpose of the various activities are and invite them to be active participants. Make it clear that there is a specific goal of stamping out a particular grammatical error over the next month. Things you might do as a  team…

  • Put posters up in every room. Remind students to refer to them when speaking and writing.
  • Have contests:
  1. Catch the teacher in a grammar error! (Teachers purposefully misspeak and students win points for their homeroom when they catch the teacher making a mistake; homerooms receive recognition for having the best grammar detectives.)
  2. Write raps or poems or song lyrics that explain the right and wrong way to say something.  Have a whole team meeting and let the students perform for one another.
  • Have student make podcasts on the proper usage and post to the school webpage. Check out the Princeton Review Vocab Minute for samples of quick podcasts. These are not grammar related, but they are a great model for a very focused podcast.
  • Declare a “No Double Negatives Zone” in the team area.  Have the students create big, bold images to delineate the area.  A strong, visual message will be seen by one and all.
  • Remind students when they are writing journal entries or open-ended responses in every class of the usage rule(s) the team is focused on that month and all previous months.
  • Celebrate growth in proper usage among your students.  Show them you are noticing small improvement.  Today we’re celebrating that I didn’t hear one double negative all week!  High fives everyone!

Make sure that you don’t inadvertently embarrass a child when s/he makes an error, especially if it’s in front of the class.  Find ways to gently correct, perhaps by asking them to restate what they just said as you stand under the poster with the grammar rule on it. Some standard English usage errors are deeply ingrained in communities, and any public correction may cause problems. Knowing your students well will help deflect any possible negative reactions.  These types of situations are good opportunities to talk about the importance of audience and purpose when speaking and writing.

Fair is fair and after the team has taken on grammar usage for a couple of months, take on another skill from another subject area–Algebra is all around us! Applying the scientific method to all of our critical thinking! How are we making history here and now?

Develop Study Habits With Students

Generations of teachers have reminded students to review their notes nightly. Generations of students have ignored that advice and crammed the night before the exam.  Is there a way to turn that behavior on its head? Perhaps.

Teachers send messages about what they value by the amount of time they spend on a topic or skills or procedure. If we want students to develop the habit of regularly reviewing class notes/work, then we ought take the time to teach them how to do that. The middle grades are an opportune time to help young adolescents develop study habits that will serve them well in high school, college, the military, or on the job.

Looking closely at the team schedule may reveal time where team teachers can build in guided reviews of class notes and materials.  Perhaps it’s during homeroom or the fifteen minutes before lunch that often gets frittered away. Set up a schedule–Tuesday is social studies, Wednesday is science, etc.  As a team come up with easy prompts to get the students talking about the material they are reviewing:

  • What are the 3 things you bet will be on your quiz on photosynthesis?
  • Think solving algebraic expressions–List 3 things you know so well you could could me who hasn’t studied algebra in 20 years, two things you still have questions about, and 1 thing you will do to answer your own questions.
  • Use this 3 x 5 index to card to write down everything important from your notes from the past two weeks.
  • Have students work together to create a visual representation of the big ideas they are studying.

    Big Kids!

By collaborating to build in regular study time, the team sends a strong message to their students and parents that they value regular and consistent review.  When you see results from this review, be sure to celebrate with your students.

Here are a couple of variations:

  • Overtime allow students to take control of the review.  Help them become responsible for building their own study habits.
  • Talk with other teams in your school and build a systematic approach 6-8.  Over the three years gradually release the responsibility for studying to the students so that by the last quarter of eighth grade, most of them are on their own.  Some may still need additional scaffolding.

Gradual Release of Responsibility Model


  • I do it  (Modeling)
  • We do it together  (Modeling)
  • You do with a partner  (Teacher coaching and giving descriptive feedback)
  • You do it independently (Students demonstrating what they have learned)

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