Category Archives: Culturally Resonate Teaching

Stranger Things Classroom Set Up

This year I wanted to set up my classroom with a Stranger Things theme. I found great items on Etsy, Amazon, and inspiration photos on Pinterest. Here is a tour of my classroom with links to the items purchased. Please note I am not being paid for any of these endorsements.

Let’s start with the blank wall where my co-teacher’s desk used to be. Since she has changed classrooms and I am sharing my classroom with my colleague who does not use a teacher desk like myself, we have a blank wall which I hung this photo backdrop purchased on Amazon. Add some fairy lights and it brings ambiance to the room. We are looking for a donated couch or inexpensive couch to place against the wall.

I have two large bulletin boards in the classroom. One I use to hang exemplar student work so I used black bulletin board paper to cover all the boards and then found these Stranger Things wall decals on Amazon to add some character elements from the show. I also love these Stranger Things grammar posters from the PIY Shop on Etsy for the back bulletin board. The PIY Shop has awesome posters and displays that I have used in the past like the Marvel grammar posters and diverse book middle school book characters.

I found this awesome antique cabinet that is perfect as a cell phone dock and picked up a new school supplies organizer at HomeGoods. I have a file folder for catch up work for students when absent. I keep all these items on a table by the door so that students can access what they need. I already have some Halloween decorations set up and the notebook is for a bathroom sign out.

The entire length of my classroom are bookshelves underneath the windows and this year I decided to arrange the books by color. We had a grant for books and I was able to order a dozen new titles to include with the units of study. Many have a humanities theme to parallel with the social studies curriculum.

You are probably wondering where all the desks are and how they are arranged. I have the desks arranged in a horse shoe and in the back two round high top tables and one high top table near the front.

More pictures coming soon.

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#GeniusHour, Curiosity Time, & Passion Projects

Passion driven learning is essential today. And it cannot just be the teacher’s passion. Students are at the heart of the classroom and in building a community in your classroom all member’s voices and interests must be taken into consideration. Passion driven learning includes student’s passion and interests. Genius Hour and passion projects are one introductory step in helping to cultivate a classroom where passion, curiosity, and creativity are at the front and center.

I was first introduced to Genius hour more than 8 years ago through the buzz that other teachers shared on social media and at edtech conferences. While offering genius hour and curiosity time for my students, I have seen my approach to active and student centered learning evolve in many ways. The end result has always been the same, for my students to know: “You matter, you have influence, you are a genius, you have a contribution to make” (Angela Maier, Classroom Habitudes)

Genius Hour Menu

If we look to the corporate world, Google recognized that workers were more intrinsically motivated and creative when they had more autonomy (freedom). Employees were allowed 20% of their work time to pursue “side-projects” that interested them but were not specifically part of their job description. So, if this works in the business world, why not try it in the classroom?

Would students be more intrinsically motivated to learn?

Would students be able to unleash their creativity and inherent drive to learn, solve problems, and create?

Genius hour and passion projects are all about igniting innovation in the classroom Genius hour allows students to take the reins of their own learning and explore the topics and subjects that are of interest to them. Teachers need to go beyond teaching a subject that they only know because of a test or just to pass the class. School shouldn’t only be about passing a test, but rather creating a culture of learning where students are engaged, making connections, and helping to solve problems that will make the world a better place.

How does one start or kick off genius hour? How does one sustain genius hour throughout the quarter or semester or even the entire school year? These are two questions that I hear often.

First, it is important to introduce survey your students about their own passions, interests, likes. Having students complete student questionnaires & interest surveys are great places to record preliminary project seed ideas. Additionally, I show videos to inspire students about young adult entrepreneurs and social activities. I also read aloud picture books that inspire creativity and growth mindset. Titles include:

The Most Magnificent Idea by Ashley Spires (2014)

What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada (2014)

It’s Never Too Late by Dallas Clayton (2014)

The North Star by Peter Reynolds (2009)

I have also curated genius hour resources on these past blog posts.

Through the genius hour models and mentors and completing questionnaires and surveys students might begin to choose a project they want to dedicate some time to. Students then begin researching, creating, and collecting information and inspiration for their own curiosity project. On the Genius Hour menu posted above, you will notice that each project is 10 weeks long and students try a different passion project every quarter. Some students use the same topic in all four projects where as other students like these opportunities to switch things up every few weeks. After four-five weeks of researching and curating, students begin reflecting and thinking how they might share their learning with others. Sharing is an important part of the genius hour process.

Showcasing Passion Projects is an important part of the process, students are going to present their research and findings to a wider and authentic audience. I have had students create blogs about their process and complete an Elevator Pitch. Students have showcased their work in a gallery or expo to the larger school community. Students can create a TED Talk or Masterclass about their project.

After students go through the genius hour or passion project cycle, reflection is a major piece. Reflection can be in the form of a Google Form or Flipgrid video reflection. You might want to have students reflect weekly rather than wait to the very end of the project to divulge their process and final product.

Looking for even more resources, check out these links:

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Picture the Dream: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Picture Books at the New York Historical Society

Bryan Collier (American, born 1967), UntitledAll Because You Matter, 2020, written by Tami Charles, collage. Collection of the artist.

The poignant installation “Picture the Dream: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Picture Books at the New York Historical Society explores the events, people, and themes of the civil rights movement through the children’s picture book.

Picture books are compelling forms of visual expression not just for young children. This exhibition showcases 80 artworks from picture book artists who interweave art and storytelling, history and now. Looking at the excerpts from many pictures books around the themes of the civil rights movement provides depth, diverse voices, and powerful meanings. The stories presented inspire young people and viewers to speak up and speak out as agents of transformation and social change. The exhibit tells important stories about the movement’s icons, including Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Congressman John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scenes are presented of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Ruby Bridges integrating her New Orleans elementary school, and the Black students who catalyzed the sit-in movement at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Some of the many highlighted illustrators and authors include Faith Ringgold, Brian Pinkney, Nadir Nelson, Jacqueline Woodson, and many more.

Picture the Dream is an open invitation to start important discussions with children, friends, and family about race, equity and social justice. Take a look at a list of all the books in the show and here is the family discussion guide created by High Museum of Art in Georgia. You can also find lesson plans and a powerpoint of 19 key images from the exhibit in this teacher resource kit.

Here are some ways I use picture books with my middle school students to present key themes and scaffold complex ideas.

  1. Read Alouds – Don’t just leave read aloud to elementary school teachers, in secondary education reading aloud picture books help to create a classroom community and build multimodal comprehension skills. Images and words work side by side to communicate a message. Read aloud can be used to hook students into a lesson or even useful as a teaching point during a mini-lesson.
  2. Gallery Walks – Images are powerful storytelling tools. Just like in a museum exhibit, hanging up the images from the picture books can allow students to read closely, infer the dialogue, and convey meaning from the visual text.
  3. Small Group Work – I often during station work leave a collection of picture books at one station for students to read, evaluate, and analyze to pull out key details and draw connections. Scaffolding guiding questions help students look closer at the images and text and the story presented. I might ask students what do they see, what does it say, what do I think, and continue with sentence frames or specific questions to climb the ladder of critical thinking.
  4. Jigsaws – Each student reads a different picture book along the same theme or topic and then shared the powerful elements of the story with the small group. Students put their heads together to make connections and draw conclusions about the bigger questions presented in the texts.

 

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Literacy Tools & Strategies to Support SEL with ISTE U

Made with Padlet

I’m presenting on Literacy Tools and Strategies to Support Social Emotional Learning at ISTE U’s Summer Learning Academy 2022. This professional learning opportunity allows educators to learn at their own pace about the topics we all care about, now through Oct. 14. For $64 you have can access to amazing professional development. More at iste.org/sla.

Check out the Padlet of curated resources related to my presentation on SEL with teaching tools, strategies and related research.

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The Game Box

I love playing games in my classroom. I create games as well as use board games and dice games to create engaging learning experiences for my students. When I started presenting workshops on gamification in the classroom, I found this great carry-all storage box to hold all the gaming paraphernalia from classroom to workshop space. Here is a similar one at Michaels and it is under twenty dollars.

Now, the contents:

Dice – Dice are great for think-dots activities, random rolls, story cubes, roll and tell, dice breakers. I have foam dice, Rory’s Story Cubes for writing prompts, and metaphor dice for poetry and figurative language review. I keep extra dice from board games like the ones pictured above from Legends of Hidden Temple which have pictures of animals on the dice.

Play Dough – Looking for a quick do-now for your students to showcase their thinking or an idea, use play dough. It is perfect for students with sensory and kinesthetic needs. Students can recreate a scene from their reading using play dough or create a sculpture of a symbol that represents the text. Edutopia has an article with fifteen ways to use play dough in secondary classrooms. I like giving students their own individual play dough and then having a gallery walk after they make their sculpture individually or in small groups.

Lego Mini-Figures – Legos are also great for building representations or showcasing a scene from a book students are reading. I carry around a small tackle box filled with mini figure parts for building avatars. Avatars are often a game mechanic to allow personalization in a game, you can choose the gender and adapt it’s appearance, from skin and hair color to dress code typically. I provide students with an opportunity to create and design their own avatar and then write the backstory of the avatar: who are they, where are they from, what are their strengths and weaknesses?

Hot Potato – The hot potato was something that I had to have because it is perfect for passing around the classroom or in small groups to share ideas and thinking. This toy shakes after a certain period of time and when it shakes, the student who is holding the potato is the speaker. I often have sentence or question starters for students when in small groups to select who will share next.

Stickers – Stickers can be used as rewards or badges when playing a game. I have been using Sticker Mule the past few years to personalize stickers for my classroom. The stickers that are on the top of the game box are from the television game show Legends of Hidden Temple. The image is of Olmec. Outside of Legends of Hidden Temple, the Olmec colossal heads are the most famous artifacts left behind by the Olmec civilization. The Olmec people are believed to have occupied a large part of modern-day Southern Mexico. Olmec was part of Legends of Hidden Temple and the sticker, personalized on Sticker Mule is a “The Pendant of Life.” If a student wins the pendant of life, they can use it for a free pass on an assignment.

If I could fit more into the game box, I probably would. I do have all my board games and card games in a different bin. I will save my favorite board games and card games for another blog post. For now, stock up and get some of these gaming elements to bring some fun and friendly competition into your own classroom.

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Identity Choice Novels & Playlist

Students are reading books with themes of identity as our last unit this school year. Student outcomes include

  • Recognize how people and characters define themselves as individuals through multiple complex factors, including culture, family, peers, and environment, and that defining oneself is a complex process
  • Read texts of various lengths to analyze content and structure, and cite evidence
  • Respond to texts (orally and in writing) coherently and thoughtfully
  • Develop and support claims with textual information
  • Participate in small-group and whole-class discussions

Students selected from five (5) choice novels:

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson – Newbery Honor

Acclaimed author Renee Watson offers a powerful story about a girl striving for success in a world that too often seems like it’s trying to break her. Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way, which Jade has. Every day she rides the bus away from her friends to the private school where she feels like an outsider. She’s tired of being singled out as someone who needs help or someone who people want to fix.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Nevin

Libby and Jack get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both angry, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel.

Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – A National Book Award Winner. 

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world.  Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. She has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy. (Some mature topics throughout the book.)

The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor – National Book Award Finalist

Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason’s learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason’s best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family’s orchard.  An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can’t understand why Lieutenant Baird won’t believe the story Mason has told about that day.

Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri – 2021 Michael Printz Award

An autobiographical novel, middle-schooler Daniel, formerly Khosrou, tells his unimpressed and at times cruel classmates about his experience as an Iranian refugee.  Modeling his storytelling on Scheherazade and not beholden to a western mode, Daniel Nayeri writes a patchwork of memory and anecdote.  He layers stories upon stories to create a complex, hilarious, and devastating understanding of memory, family, and perspective. This book is a complex read due to the interweaving of stories in past and present and suggested for advanced readers. 

I created this identity playlist to help student meet learning targets and draw connections text to self, text to text, and text to world.

This is just a highlight of some of the slides. To get a copy of this playlist you can access HERE.

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One Pagers for Deeper Reading Comprehension

The One-Pager is a single-page response that shows a student’s understanding of the text. It is a way of making representation of one’s individual, unique understanding. It is a way to be creative and experimental and respond to reading imaginatively and honestly. The one pager assignment is a perfect summative assessment for students to showcase comprehension, synthesis, analysis, and evaluation skills. 

The requirements for the one pager are up to the teacher. I try to change up the one pager requirements with each assignment. Students complete two one-pager assignments in my class during the school year, I do not want to assign more than that because it loses it luster. Below are some examples of what students can include in their one pager. Also note the different one pager assignments I have shared in this blog post. 

Elements of the One Pager:

Write the title and author so that it stands out on the page.

Answer three (3) of the response questions from the question bank (see back) citing textual evidence to support your claims. – Sometimes I provide a question bank with higher level thinking questions for students to respond to where as if I am assigning the one pager later in the school year, I might have students create their own question and provide a short response answering the question. 

Pull out two (2) “notable quotes” or phrases that jump out at you, make you think or wonder, or remind you of something. 

The quotes must pertain to an aspect of the central idea/theme in the text. The quotes must emphasize key points to be remembered or used to explain the major concept. Write them down anywhere on your page.

Use different colors and/or writing styles to individualize each “quote” or phrase.

Include a visual image or illustration, which creates a visual focus; these images need to illustrate what pictures you have in your mind from reading.

Make a personal statement about what you have read–what does it mean to you personally? What is your opinion, final thought, big question or personal connection?

FILL THE PAPER UP with your words, images, and symbols. 

What Not to Do 

• Don’t merely summarize–you’re not retelling the story.

• Use unlined paper only, to keep from being restricted by lines.

• Don’t think half a page will do. Make it rich with “quotes” and images. 

Want More  . . . check out this blog post on NCTE providing more description and samples. My co-teacher provides specific students with PDF templates and checklists to help students with the visual layout of a one pager and also break down the assignment into smaller parts. 

Can one pagers be digital for your students who do not like or think they have artistic abilities, of course. Additionally, I have even had students work in groups to make collaborative one pagers for chapter notes when we are reading an whole class novel like Animal Farm. Working together helps break down the assignment into smaller pieces and also encourages discussion about the key elements of the reading and assignment. 

One pagers can be meaningful as an assessment tool, creative response to literature, and or check for understanding. One pagers are a powerful way to ask students to reflect upon what they have read. ISTE Standards for Students require students to be creative communicators as well as literate humans. One pagers are an invitation for teachers and students to consider alternative formats and opportunities to be creative communicators and design thinkers while at the same time, foster literacy learning in both a traditional and a blended learning environment

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Organizing A Day of Service for Middle School Students

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

WHAT?

My colleague and I are organizing be a day of service for our 8th grade students the last day of school. We want to end the year taking some time focusing on helping others and make a difference in the community. 

Day Of Service Activities At A Glance

Walk-a-thon: Walk and raise money for World Central Kitchen. WCK is first to the frontlines, providing meals in response to humanitarian, climate, and community crises. 

Brook & Nature Center Clean-Up: Join others to keep trash our of the brook and Rye Nature Center.

Dog Toys for Animal Shelters: Braid pull toys for animal shelter dogs at Humane Society of Westchester.

Letters of Hope: Create works of art that share messages of hope, show compassion and promote healing for children in the Ukraine. 

WHY?

Numerous studies report the benefit of community service among teens. One study that analyzed data from the National Education Longitudinal Study found that students who are more civically engaged tend to perform better in school subjects such as reading, history, science and mathematics and are more apt to complete high school. Researchers also found that community service enhanced students’ problem-solving skills, improved their ability to work within a team and enabled them to plan more effectively.

Volunteering helps the teens gain new skills necessary for the job market such as leadership, communication skills, dependability, time management, and decision making.

HOW YOU CAN SET UP YOUR OWN DAY OF SERVICE

Consider ways that students can actively be involved in helping others. Students can pick up trash around the school, create a mural to inspire the community, or work with community based organizations. For examples, we wanted to plan activities that were low or no cost.

Students, teachers, and even the parent organization can meet to brainstorm project ideas. The following criteria should be considered in selecting projects:

  • Location: Convenience and proximity are important.
  • Money/resources/equipment required: Make sure that you have the necessary money, resources, and equipment before confirming a project.
  • Visibility in the community: Think about whether you want to work only for “well-known” agencies, those less known, or the neediest.
  • Constituency mix: Consider whether you want to concentrate on helping one segment of the community or offer a wide range of project types.
  • Number and size of projects: Consider your student population, you might want to organize several smaller projects. Keep in mind that too many volunteers for a project can lead to people standing around with nothing to do, and this will not be a good experience for them. We are going to have students complete a Google Form to sign up for projects of their choice and also cap certain projects.

Want to include remote volunteer opportunities? This article from We Are Teachers with ten virtual volunteer opportunities for teens.

Have more ideas, share in the Comments section on this blog.

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Assessment Speed Dating

Formative Assessment is a constantly occurring process, a verb, a series of events in action, not a single tool or a static noun. — from Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction (NCTE, 2013) 

Assessment is an integral part of instruction determining whether or not the goals of education are being met. It is used to measure the current knowledge that a student has. It is through assessment that teachers are continually asking:

“Am I teaching what I think I’m teaching?”

“Are students learning what they are suppose to be learning?”

A test, quiz, or assessment project is not just a grade to evaluate the students at the end of a unit but an ongoing evaluative tool for the teacher.  Teachers are engaged in assessment every minute that they are in the classroom. As teachers we are always observing, noting, and evaluating. There are three types of feedback and goal setting assessment tools that teachers need throughout a unit of inquiry:

Pre Assessment (Finding Out) – Pretests, inventories, KWL, checklists, observations, self-evaluations, questioning, mind mapping, anticipation guides

Pre Assessment allows student to demonstrate what they already know about what is being planned and what further instruction opportunities are needed or what requires reteaching or enhancement. Teachers can not just begin a lesson without taking a “temperature” of what the students know in the beginning.

Formative Assessment (Keeping Track and Checking Up) – Conferences, peer evaluations, observations, talkaround, questioning, exit cards, quiz, journal entry, self-evaluations

Formative assessment occurs concurrently with instruction and provides feedback to teachers and learners. Formative assessment can be formal and informal to frame meaningful performance goals.

Summative Assessment (Making Sure) – Unit Test, performance task, product and exhibition, demonstrations, portfolio review

Summative assessment shows what students have learned at the conclusion of an instructional unit and is evaluative.

For reliability and validity teachers should use a variety of assessments to provide enough helpful feedback to improve performance. Assessment should be used for guiding, self-reflection, instruction, nurturing, and used over multiple activities. In addition, students should be involved in daily or weekly evaluation of their progress. Rubrics and other scoring tools help evaluate understanding of content and skills that are used by both the teacher and the student for both specific tasks and long term progress. I never handout to students an assessment without also giving them the evaluation rubric at the same time so they know exactly what I am looking for when I evaluate their projects and assessments. Here are four criteria of quality feedback as defined by Grant Wiggins (1998): 

1. It must be timely.

2. It must be specific.

3. It must be understandable to the receiver.

4. It must allow the student to act on the feedback (refine, revise, practice, and retry).

It is easy to give tests and quizzes but in actuality, they are not always the most accurate evaluation tools. Teachers want to use a variety of assessments or data sources and teacher data mechanisms to help gain a more accurate picture of students knowledge and understanding.

To help my pre-service English teachers consider the various aspects of assessment, I created this Assessment Speed Dating Hyperdoc that walks teachers through various literacy based assessments in the English language Arts classroom and more.

The hyperdoc and speed dating template was inspired and adapted from Amanda Sandoval @historysandoval.

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Literature Circles: A Trusted Book Club Reading Strategy

I first learned about Literature Circles back in the day when I was studying to be a teacher. Literature circles are a form of book group that engage students by allowing them to respond to the text in a variety of ways and practice using reading comprehension strategies as identified by Harvey Daniels.

In literature circles the teacher chooses books that will interest students. Currently students are participating in an interdisciplinary unit on WW2 so they have a choice of six historical fiction and non fiction books about WW2, the Holocaust, and Japanese Internment to choose. Students selected the book they would like to read and were then organized into small groups of four to five for their book clubs and literature circles. During ELA class, students meet twice a week in book groups to discuss their reading. In order to hold each other accountable and encourage a productive book discussion student choose a given a role for the day. Rather than the teacher assigning the roles, the students select new roles for each book club meeting. The purpose for assigning students a role is to have each student engaged in a conversation about the section read. Students are the discussion leaders and respond to the text in a variety of ways and practice using reading comprehension strategies.

The Literature circle model is partly based on Piaget’s constructivist theory, and on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Piaget believed that learners construct knowledge through experiences. Building on Piaget’s initial theories, constructivists also believe that a child is an active learner and thinker, or a sense maker who is constructing his or her own knowledge by interacting with objects and ideas (Constructivist Education, n.d.). In literature circles there is specific role for each student and students must draw upon past experiences. Vygotsky’s theory of ZPD suggests that if children practice a new skill with the help of an adult or a slightly more capable peer then they gradually develop the ability to perform the skill without help or assistance. Literature circles engage students in active sense making and involve them in peer interactions like those expressed in the theory of ZPD.

When I first learned about Literature Circles student’s roles required them to complete an actual task or assignment and turn in to the teacher. Then a decade later, the tasked roles were removed and were said to deter students from reading engagement rather, it makes the reading assignment task oriented. Moving ahead with literature circles now, I find it important for students to complete the role requirements in their Reader’s Notebook. This scaffolding helps middle school students work on their reading comprehension and also have artifacts to bring to their weekly book discussions. The goal for a teacher is to help students become independent and self-regulated learners (Scharlach, 2008). Providing scaffolds and gradual release of responsibility helps students become independent and self-regulated learners.

I have created this slide deck for my students are you are free to get your own copy HERE. Each slide has a description of the different group roles and the tasks needed to complete for their preparation of the book club/literature circle meeting. There are five different roles and students do not repeat the roles but are to take on a new role with each book club meeting. I am also having each group submit their work on a Padlet to curate the group’s discussion reflections and group tasks to house all their work in one place and access for writing assignments and assessments.

Lee Araoz, the District Coordinator of Instructional Technology for Lawrence Public Schools in New York describes many ways to infuse technology into Literature Circles. He uses Padlet, Flipgrid, students create their own Quizizz, and Google Suite. The key is choice. Students choose their books, their group roles, and a technology platform to showcase their reading.

If you also use literature circles in your classroom I would love to know how it is going and what you have found woks well to support your students as readers and independent thinkers. Do you use role sheets and or infuse technology? What are the different roles you have found most successful for middle school students? You can share in the comments section of this blog.

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