MiddleWeb Guest Articles Index

Complete Guide to Our Guest Articles

Here’s a complete one-page guide to guest articles on the MiddleWeb site. It’s epic, we know, but easy to scroll! Or try a page search for keywords. To view our articles visually and by posting order, visit our articles category.

In addition to guest authors, we host a group of regular bloggers and publish reviews of professional books, contributed by classroom teachers, school leaders and other educators.

Woman with books and ipad touchAlso see:
Our Topical Resource Collections
Our Reviews of Books about Teaching & Learning
Write for MiddleWeb

And Our MiddleWeb Blogs:
STEM By Design (Anne Jolly – STEM best practices)
Two Teachers in the Room (Elizabeth Stein – co-teaching)
Future of History (Sarah Cooper, Jody Passanisi & more – history/ss)
Kids on the Cusp (Mary Tarashuk – upper elementary)
Working Draft (Kevin Hodgson – English language arts/digital tools)
It’s Not Easy Being Tween (Cheryl Mizerny – teaching in middle school)
Meaningful Math (Michelle Russell – teaching ideas)
The Flexible Classroom (Amber Chandler – student-centered teaching)
Class Apps (Curtis Chandler – classroom tech integration)
Close Reading the Media (Frank W. Baker – media literacy)

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MiddleWeb Guest Articles

5 Ways to Strengthen Student Resilience
Resilience is the ability to effectively handle pressure and to overcome failure. It’s a characteristic that many of our struggling students do not bring to the classroom, yet it is one that we can teach. Barbara Blackburn shares five strategies that can help.

Seasonal Teacher Fatigue: Regroup & Recharge!
When spring fever rises and summer still seems far away, newbie and veteran teachers alike may feel they’re losing their focus and their students are drifting. Check out Elyse Scott’s five regrouping and re-energizing strategies and “do what’s right for the kids.”

How Instructional Rounds Can Lead to Equity and Engagement
Using observer-centered Instructional Rounds, teachers at Mrachek Middle School in Aurora CO are focused on finding the personalized methods to engage every student equitably and effectively. After two years, the effort is producing solid results and some epiphanies.

“Happy B’day, Ponyboy.” Why Kids Still Love The Outsiders
If bibliotherapy is an effective way to ease the growing pains of adolescents, writes 7th grade teacher Laurie Lichtenstein, The Outsiders is “the gold standard of therapy in middle grades literature.” It’s the only whole class novel she teaches each year.

Kids Teaching Kids Leads to Healthy Lessons
Students’ teaching and learning recently came together in Allison Fink’s health classes. Working in groups to decide lesson goal, content and presentation, her students also helped develop rubrics and reflected on their work. A project for your classroom?

5 Ways to Assure Quality Exposure to New Words
What’s one of the best things a school day can offer? Exposure to newly learned words – provided that exposure is in context, well-timed, multisensory, and question-based. Literacy expert Amy Benjamin suggests five ways to achieve these “durable learning” goals.

Introducing Music to All – In All of Our Schools
Frank Buck remembers the joy of playing the Tonette with 4th grade classmates. Today, any teacher with access to a set of iPads and a free app can introduce all students to elements of music, enjoy the kids’ hands-on sound experiments, and build engagement and a more vibrant classroom culture.

8 Ways Middle Schools Can Build College/Career Readiness
Explaining that middle school is “the unspoken linchpin in establishing a positive trajectory for career and college success,” Principal Robert Messia shares eight tested strategies for helping students understand and begin to prepare for the possibilities ahead.

Why Teachers & School Librarians Should Unite!
MS librarian Rachel Grover’s favorite role is instructional partner, working with teachers across disciplines to extend and enhance the curriculum. Using examples from her practice, Grover describes how skilled librarians can boost student (and teacher) learning.

First Aid for Burnout: Avoid Toxic Traps
Teachers have lots of justifiable reasons to complain about their jobs, says author-educator Jenny Rankin. But “loving your work and experiencing peace and success on a daily basis are certainly within your reach.” Attitude isn’t everything, she says, but it helps to avoid toxic thinking.

5 Ideas to Make Writing More Fun to Teach
Consultant Jen Serravallo often hears teachers say they’re uncomfortable teaching writing. Her solution: promote student engagement and independence. As kids become more excited, she says, “that enthusiasm will spill over to you.” Here are five ideas to get started.

Helping Students Track Their Own Progress
Tracking progress toward a larger goal helps us build a sense of achievement and the courage to keep going. “That’s the same cycle you want to build in your students,” says Barbara Blackburn, who shares ways to help kids see their growth and recall their victories.

Problem-based Science for the Common Good
Problem-based Science encourages students to develop a love of scientific thinking, math, and the creative use of technology as they learn through invention, design thinking, fixing and tinkering. Teacher-author Christa Flores demonstrates her hands-on PbS model.

Media Literacy: Learning from the Oscars
It’s Oscar season and media literacy consultant Frank W. Baker has ideas about leveraging student interest in movies to teach visual literacy skills and learn about cool careers. Lots of resources, including teacher tools at the Oscars website.

Are We Covering or Are Students Discovering?
Rather than “covering” a curriculum with instruction that’s driven by the chapters in a textbook, Diana Fenton and Nancy Van Erp advocate student centered standards-based lesson planning, relying on frameworks like Understanding by Design and concept-based teaching.

Students Learn from Inquiry, Not Interrogation
Jackie Walsh shares resources and strategies teachers can use to partner with students and create new roles and responsibilities in classroom questioning. Replace traditional “interrogation” with methods of inquiry that reveal understanding and strengthen learning.

Are Your Meetings Productive or Time Wasters?
With thoughtful planning and implementation, principals can make sure meetings are both collaborative and productive. School leadership consultants Ron Williamson and Barbara Blackburn share essential questions and tips about norms, purposes, and decision making.

How to Help Young Writers Find the Force
Teachers should be Jedi Masters, called to be believers in our students and promoters of their ability to take charge of their own learning. ELA teacher and author Vicki Kahlenberg shares four writing strategies that foster autonomy through emulation and publication.

Teach Media Literacy with Super Bowl Ads
Many millions of people who tune in to the 2017 Super Bowl will be there to watch the pricey, high-engagement commercials. Media literacy consultant Frank Baker explains how to teach about these “super ads,” approaching them as informational text worthy of close scrutiny and analysis.

Energize Your Classroom with Quality Questions
Quality questions are the “bait” that can hook students into deeper discussions and learning that sticks. Questioning expert Jackie Walsh shares a pair of videos and several templates that will help teachers plan a questioning process that pulls all students in.

Helping Students Develop Logical Reasoning
Consultant Tammy L. Jones proposes a three-prong approach to support students in their daily journey through content: effective questioning, authentic daily writing, and a bridging structure as they encounter new situations where critical thinking is required.

How Do We Assess Student Listening Skills?
Recognizing the need for a reliable, research-based method to test listening comprehension skills, Monica Brady-Myerov at Listenwise has worked to bring an easy-to-use method to the classroom, drawing on curated NPR content to engage students with important stories.

Helping Students Pursue Dreams of Success
Helping students believe in themselves is a critical part of teaching. Consultant Barbara Blackburn shares strategies to help encourage students to reach beyond the limitations they sometimes feel and pursue their dreams. One idea: Write a personal “theme song.”

Use Multimedia Writing to Change the Game
When students blend multimedia elements into their writing projects, interest and engagement can zoom up, writes teacher-author Sean Ruday. Ruday highlights a five-step process he uses in PD workshops to help teachers make the tech meaningful and not maddening.

A 5-Tray Filing System Every Teacher Needs
Now that the blizzard of late semester papers has (probably) diminished, do you feel the need for a quick fix to your class organization regimen? Author/educator Roxanna Elden avoids excessive precision in structuring a practical 5-tray process to get you started.

MiddleWeb’s Top 16 of 2016
During 2016, each of these featured MiddleWeb posts enjoyed at least 10,000 reads by middle grades educators. Some were visited by as many as 60,000. We’re sure you’ll find something useful here as you “learn forward” and prepare yourself for the new year.

Laura Robb: Democracy Relies on Creative Readers
Before middle school students can become lovers of stories and savvy assessors of fake news and false claims, they must be creative readers who comprehend texts at high levels and empathize with characters and people, says literacy expert and advocate Laura Robb.

17 Ideas to Help Combat Learned Helplessness
Some teaching practices help strengthen students’ self-efficacy, motivation and confidence, while others create learned helplessness. Author-consultant Sarah Tantillo identifies 17 common teaching actions that lead to student inertia and offers better alternatives.

Teaching Students How Big Media Shapes the News They See
As news organizations are increasingly folded into fewer and fewer media conglomerates, writes media literacy expert Frank Baker, their independence is left in doubt. He urges teachers to involve students in studies of “Big Media” as part of their civic education.

How I Learned to Love Middle School Geometry
Christopher Danielson used to hate teaching geometry. Now he sees it as a playground of mathematical ideas for middle schoolers, with opportunities for exploration, wonder, and smart conversations. Here Danielson shares ideas and images teachers can use to begin the fun.

Limited Funding Doesn’t Have to Limit You
No school or district is immune from a future defined by declining resources. Leadership consultants Ron Williamson and Barbara Blackburn share four research-based strategies to help educators make the most of a challenging financial climate and serve all kids.

An Activity to Help Kids Learn Civil Discourse
Middle schoolers are “notorious sponges” who soak up the emotional energy around them, says teacher Elyse Scott. In the wake of a divisive election, she recommends an activity that can help kids build collaborative skills, empathy and acceptance of other viewpoints.

Here Come the Toy Ads: 2016
Toy commercials, so pervasive on TV during the holidays, are a great way to jump-start media literacy discussions with students. Expert Frank Baker has lesson ideas.

Students Need Our Help Detecting Fake News
Given social media’s popularity as a news source, consultant Frank Baker says students must gain both the knowledge and the analytical skills to distinguish fact from fiction. Baker highlights the pervasive rise of fake news and shares teaching resources.

Better Student Writing – 10 MiddleWeb Favorites
We love to share writing about student writing! Here, in no particular order, are 10 of our readers’ favorite articles. You’ll find a range of posts by teachers, authors and writing coaches. And there’s a bonus for teachers who love to help students fuse words and images.

Tools to Teach Writers to Distinguish Evidence
Using evidence to support arguments is challenging for many young writers. As Sarah Tantillo continues her search for ways to teach this critical skill, she shares a tool to help students distinguish between perfect and imperfect evidence and learn to use both.

How to Help Kids Be Active Video Viewers
Movies and video in the classroom can help boost media literacy and strengthen critical thinking, listening and viewing skills. The challenge is to get students to view moving images actively and critically. Here’s some help from author and media lit consultant Frank W. Baker.

Make Writing a Daily Ritual in Every Subject
Students who write in class every day become more skillful at expressing what they feel and what they are learning, says NBCT Mary Tedrow. Using prompts that connect content and personal experience helps students “write their way to an understanding of curricula.”

How I Became a Better Teacher in Macedonia
During her 27 months teaching English in a Macedonian village school, Peace Corps volunteer Jordan Lucas learned a lot about the relationship between culture and learning – insights that will help her be a better language educator. It all began with a kombi ride.

How to Get School Projects and Tasks “Unstuck”
In the busy world of school our well-intentioned plans grow dust. Loose ends are too numerous to count, and nothing seems to be moving forward. Welcome to Stuck Valley, says organizational expert Dr. Frank Buck. But take heart – he’s here to get you back on track.

Helping Students Thrive in “Cultures of Dignity”
Owning Up, a 6-9 SEL curriculum developed by Rosalind Wiseman in partnership with AMLE, can give young people the capacity to understand their individual development in relation to their peers and the skills to be competent in the social conflicts they experience.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Good Homework Policy
If teaching time in school is used effectively, not much homework needs to be given, writes MS teacher Cheryl Mizerny. “When I do give homework, I make every effort to make it engaging, meaningful, and brief.” Read the do’s and don’ts underlying her homework policy.

How to Succeed as a Cooperating Teacher
Author and veteran teacher educator Ann Weber outlines 3 key supervisory steps – preparation, coaching and evaluation – that can help cooperating teachers shine in their advisory roles and assure new teachers are ready to launch their careers in the middle grades.

Help Digital Kids Build Social-Emotional Skills
In a culture where we’re always connected, writes digital citizenship consultant Devorah Heitner, the challenges of adolescence are intensified in ways that adults and kids themselves don’t always fully grasp. Tweens and teens need a special brand of mentorship.

Class Podcasts: Listening to Student Writers
Last year 8th grade teacher Brian Kelley began podcasting conversations with his student writers. Through conferring, he says, teachers let adolescents know that their voices matter “and their explanations can make us better teachers.” Kelley shares three samples.

Your Students’ Eyeballs Are Worth A Bundle
We know students love to watch television, even if that “watching” is not in front of an actual TV. As the new TV season starts, Frank W. Baker shares media literacy ideas than can help students understand their role in shaping ad prices & entertainment choices.

Why Media Literacy Week Matters So Much
With slanted news, social media and “reality” TV ceaselessly attracting the attention of young people, literacy consultant Frank W. Baker underscores the importance of Media Literacy Week, urging all educators to teach students how to analyze media “as text.”

Modeling: What Students See Is What They Get
In the classroom, writes author and teaching expert Barbara Blackburn, students are influenced by three things they observe: the teacher as role model; the physical environment; and other role models teachers introduce. Good tips for new and preservice educators.

With Flexible Grouping We Can Reach Every Kid
When students are busy learning, staying in a single group is stifling. The solution for teacher-author Amber Chandler is a “flexible classroom” where students rotate through strategic groupings to meet differentiated needs at various stages of the learning process.

Nonfiction Writing: How to Build a Quote Sandwich
As they compose non-fiction paragraphs or essays, students must frame selected quotes (evidence) with appropriate context and explanation, says literacy consultant Sarah Tantillo. But they often struggle to compile these “quote sandwiches.” Try some of her solutions.

5 Promises Instructional Coaches Need to Keep
Rose-colored glasses are a key accessory for instructional coaches, writes Rita Platt in her first article for MiddleWeb. Platt shares five promises that she makes to herself and her collaborating teachers to keep things positive, appreciative and ever-improving.

Writing: How We Can Achieve a State of Flow
Writing flow, says author and principal Matt Renfrew, is achieved through the habits one builds by regularly participating in the experience. He offers suggestions on how teacher and student writers can establish writing rhythms and find flow in their craft.

Rick Wormeli: The Right Way to Do Redos
In a successfully differentiated class, writes middle grades learning expert Rick Wormeli, “we often allow students to redo work and assessments for full credit.” Several stipulations and protocols make it less demanding on teachers and more helpful to students.

Sustaining School Innovation Year After Year
Innovation efforts never cease in today’s high-stakes school environment. But effort isn’t enough, say leadership experts Ron Williamson & Barbara Blackburn. Lasting change requires leaders to share ownership and invest long-term in professional learning support.

Mindful Teaching Leads Us to Great Artistry
Mindful living leads to effective teaching and even artistry. After a career in education, Linda Mancia has realized that obstacles can be overcome with the simple faith in what we can learn – from our students, from each other, and especially from ourselves.

Media Literacy: How to Watch the Debates
The presidential debates offer a unique portal to explore topics that are critically important in developing students’ media literacy skills and preparing them for responsible citizenship. Experts Frank W. Baker and Karen Zill provide an in-depth teaching guide.

Modeling: What Students See Is What They Get
In the classroom, writes author and teaching expert Barbara Blackburn, students are influenced by three things they observe: the teacher as role model; the physical environment; and other role models teachers introduce. Good tips for new and preservice educators.

With Flexible Grouping We Can Reach Every Kid
When students are busy learning, staying in a single group is stifling. The solution for teacher-author Amber Chandler is a “flexible classroom” where students rotate through strategic groupings to meet differentiated needs at various stages of the learning process.

Nonfiction Writing: How to Build a Quote Sandwich
As they compose non-fiction paragraphs or essays, students must frame selected quotes (evidence) with appropriate context and explanation, says literacy consultant Sarah Tantillo. But they often struggle to compile these “quote sandwiches.” Try some of her solutions.

5 Promises Instructional Coaches Need to Keep
Rose-colored glasses are a key accessory for instructional coaches, writes Rita Platt in her first article for MiddleWeb. Platt shares five promises that she makes to herself and her collaborating teachers to keep things positive, appreciative and ever-improving.

Writing: How We Can Achieve a State of Flow
Writing flow, says author and principal Matt Renfrew, is achieved through the habits one builds by regularly participating in the experience. He offers suggestions on how teacher and student writers can establish writing rhythms and find flow in their craft.

Rick Wormeli: The Right Way to Do Redos
In a successfully differentiated class, writes middle grades learning expert Rick Wormeli, “we often allow students to redo work and assessments for full credit.” Several stipulations and protocols make it less demanding on teachers and more helpful to students.

Sustaining School Innovation Year After Year
Innovation efforts never cease in today’s high-stakes school environment. But effort isn’t enough, say leadership experts Ron Williamson & Barbara Blackburn. Lasting change requires leaders to share ownership and invest long-term in professional learning support.

Mindful Teaching Leads Us to Great Artistry
Mindful living leads to effective teaching and even artistry. After a career in education, Linda Mancia has realized that obstacles can be overcome with the simple faith in what we can learn – from our students, from each other, and especially from ourselves.

Don’t Break the Ice, Build Your Community
After years of using the same “icebreaker” activities to get tweens and teens talking to each other and the teacher, ESL educator Walton Burns had an epiphany – icebreakers needed to give way to community building events, tailored specifically for adolescents.

3 Ways to Encourage Ownership of Learning
Ultimately, teachers have the final say in the classroom. But when they share some ownership with students, they create a true community of learners and reap benefits for themselves. Expert Barbara Blackburn shares three ideas about building student ownership.

A New Teacher’s Big List of All the Little Things
Every school has unique procedures, traditions, and personalities. What if new and transitioning teachers, starting fresh in an unfamiliar space, had a checklist to make induction easy and systematic? Veteran educator and consultant Frank Buck supplies that tool!

Are You Applying the ABC’s of Deeper Instruction?
Middle school is SO spontaneous. How can teachers ensure opportunities to help students think critically, collaborate, and engage in the scholarly discourse we put in the lesson plan? Libby Woodfin shares 3 “ABCs of deeper instruction” that can help. EL Education videos demonstrate each strategy.

Make This the Year You Launch Genius Hour
For teachers who have considered implementing a Genius Hour program but haven’t quite made it to launch, passion-based learning experts and #geniushour chat leaders Gallit Zvi and Denise Krebs have organized a wealth of tips and resources to get you started.

Leaders — Make Listening a ‘New School Year’ Resolution
Transformational leaders know how to invite conversation and listen deeply, writes middle school assistant principal Mike Janatovich. They use this skill to grasp and understand a school culture, building trust and helping shape a successful school community.

PPT: Teach Students about Writer’s Notebook
Middle grades writers can learn about the writer’s notebook used by many professional writers and get tips about creating a notebook of their own in this Powerpoint slide set developed for teachers by literacy coach Juli Kendall.

Paraphrasing Is Key to Deeper Comprehension
Paraphrasing is the first step on Sarah Tantillo’s “stairway” to deep reading comprehension and needs to be deliberately taught early in the school year. She shares a two-step process that can help students paraphrase strategically and offers a tool for student practice.

On the Very First Day (Be the Best You Can Be)
It’s the first day of school and your middle level students are acting like, well, adolescents. You’ve got to hook them quick, says teacher Elyse Scott. Forget the pre-tests and paperwork. Jump in and let them know how exciting your classroom universe is going to be.

This Year, Control Your Day the Easy Way
Make no mistake says productivity expert Frank Buck, how well we bring our vision for the school year to fruition rests upon the things we do on a daily basis. Getting organized by going digital is the overwhelmed educator’s best hope. Buck recommends Toodledo.

Laura Robb’s Back to School Tips for Newbies
When you walk into your own classroom for the first time, options (and stressors) abound. Keying in on essentials and asking for help can help new teachers build a vibrant learning space. Veteran teacher trainer Laura Robb shares newbie tips to use or adapt.

School Leadership: Finding the Right People
First, effective school leaders have to hire the right people. Leadership experts and former principals Ron Williamson and Barbara Blackburn share tips about generational characteristics, interview protocols, and the kinds of questions principals shouldn’t ask.

6 Ways Teachers Can Stay Inspired This Year
Taking care of ourselves means finding time to rest, getting enough exercise, and having balance in our lives. It also means being inspired about who we are and what we do. Barbara Blackburn shares six ways she has incorporated inspiration into her teaching life.

Media Literacy in Today’s Social Studies Class
The NCSS revised Position Statement on Media Literacy supports engaging students in inquiry and analysis as well as developing their understanding of media and propaganda. Frank W. Baker shows how students can evaluate the flood of fake news and the Fall election.

What’s It Like to Be an International Teacher?
Imagine yourself on a plane, about to start a new chapter of your life as an international teacher in another country and culture. With 30 years teaching abroad in North and South America, Elisa Waingort knows both the joys and challenges. Ready for take off?

A Junk-Rich Middle School Science Curriculum
Due Monday: Bring in 3 pieces of junk to demonstrate Newton’s 3rd Law. That’s a science homework assignment that supports a growth mindset, says science educator Mike Janatovich. Find out why useful junk can engage middle schoolers better than the packaged kits.

Tips & Tools for Writing Good STEM Lessons
STEM expert Anne Jolly shares the 9-step process she uses to write a quality lesson that includes some or all of the elements found in the Engineering Design Process (EDP). Included: free downloads of six STEM lesson-writing tools she developed for her new book.

Do We Really Know How to Teach Argument?
Many teachers are not well equipped to teach “argument” and prepare students for assessments that require them to build an effective claim. Author and consultant Erik Palmer deconstructs current efforts to teach persuasive writing and offers better solutions.

10 Lessons about Life, Literacy and Learning
Literacy consultant Regie Routman’s determination to interact meaningfully with her teen granddaughter led her to take up tennis again. Her 10 takeaways apply to life on the court and in the classroom, including the value of joy and the necessity for follow-through.

Campaign Advertising: The Image Is Everything
If there is one thing that will influence voters more than anything else during Campaign 2016, it is the image. More than ever, what the voters see, not what they hear, has become paramount in getting elected. Frank Baker shares ad techniques students need to know.

Using PBL to Role-Play in the Real World
We always hear about the “real world” vs. the world in school. Project Based Learning helps to break down that barrier and better merges the two. It’s also undeniably engaging and lures kids into rigorous learning, as in Heather Wolpert-Gawron’s “Invention Unit.”

Repairing Student and Co-Worker Relationships
Educators are going to make mistakes, write Todd Whitaker and teacher-daughters Madeline and Katherine. Whether it’s a misstep with students, friction with a colleague, or a faux pas with admin, quickly admitting faults is part of being a classroom professional.

Leader as Coach: 5 Tips Help Schools Get Organized
Even well-organized leaders have trouble keeping schools running smoothly when team members fail to adequately manage busy schedules or make poor choices about priorities. Expert Maia Heyck-Merlin recommends five coaching techniques that can turn things around.

What We Risk When We Jump to Conclusions
Troublemakers. Forgetters. The Clingers. The Confused. Barbara Blackburn looks at how we often jump to conclusions and miss chances to build trust, explore the needs behind the behaviors, and help students grow. Once we jump, she warns, it’s hard to jump back.

Four Summer Strategies for School Leaders
Summer offers a rare opportunity for principals to devote ample time to their own professional learning, say Ron Williamson and Barbara Blackburn. The leadership consultants offer four summer strategies to help assure continuous growth as an effective leader.

Have a Summer of Fun Reading & Writing with Kids
Mike Fisher, a middle grades teacher turned literacy and tech integration consultant, suggests ways parents can involve their kids in reading and writing throughout the summer months, on their own and with family members. At his house, it’s Harry Potter time!

Why Becoming an NBCT May Be Right for You
NBCT Amber Chandler looks at three factors that might be holding teachers back from pursuing National Board Certification – finding time, covering the cost, or “already being a good teacher” – and offers her reasons why you should move beyond all three obstacles.

12 Daily Touchstones Can Improve Our Teaching
Bryan Goodwin & Elizabeth Ross Hubbell make a compelling argument that teachers can improve their impact on student learning by using a “do-confirm” checklist based on 12 essential daily touchstones that represent current research on what works best. Pilots do!

Media Literacy: Learning about Product Placement
As product placement ads invade more of our visual space, educators can use the trend as a hook to engage students in critical thinking about what it means to be media literate. Expert Frank Baker uses the NBA’s 2016-17 plans for jersey advertising as an example.

Looking for Authentic PBL? Try Middle School Hydroponics
Believing that real-world student projects are “essential for deeper learning and investigation,” MS lead teacher Sandy Wisneski secured funding for a sustainable hydroponics program. Learn about the development process and the PBL activity’s first-year results.

Improve the Way Your School Uses Email
Rethinking how we construct our emails and how email fits into school culture can lead to time-saving and clearer communication. Organizational expert Dr. Frank Buck offers simple strategies to improve the way educators exchange vital and not-so-vital information.

How to Build a Tight-Knit Classroom Community
Students who feel a strong connection to their classmates and teachers are much more likely to persist and achieve shared goals, learn respect, and develop communication skills. Teaching expert Julia Thompson offers strategies to help build positive communities.

In Search of More Student Voice & Agency
Bill Ivey, teacher and middle school dean at independent Stoneleigh-Burnham School for girls, is on a quest to increase the student voice, choice and agency in his 7th grade classroom. In this end-of-year reflection, Ivey shares some next steps he’s considering.

School Leadership: How to Team with Families
Every principal needs to lead a coordinated schoolwide effort to interact with families in ways that support students, the school and the larger community. Former principals Ron Williamson and Barbara Blackburn offer a rich set of strategies to accomplish this goal.

Explore Easy to Use Teaching Tools This Summer
For teachers who like to grow their skills during the break, Curtis Chandler has a shortlist of online resources to check out – including nonfiction goldmines, video filters and easy production ideas, and simple apps to supercharge reports & projects. All free!

Media Literacy: Middle School Kids Love Parody
Adolescents have a strong attraction to parody, says media literacy expert Frank Baker. Luckily the Common Core includes parody as a genre worthy of study. Baker shares resources and ideas to involve middle graders in some fun as they learn important skills.

Stress-Free Email: How to Keep Your Inbox Empty
“We hate email,” says productivity expert and former principal Frank Buck, “because every time we check it, someone is adding to our already-crowded schedule.” In the 5th post in his Productivity Suite series, Buck shows educators how to keep your inbox empty.

How I Finally Figured Out Collaborative Writing
Despite her strong commitment to 21st century collaborative learning, Amber Chandler admits she’d “always held back from allowing my students to work together on their writing.” Would everyone be engaged? Could it be graded? Then her kids showed her the way.

Using Global Feedback to Build Growth Mindset
Can supportive feedback from a diverse internet audience help students grasp the benefits of a growth mindset? History teacher Tim Kramer believes the answer is yes, after weighing his 6th graders’ work during a project-driven, tech-infused Ancient Egypt unit.

Help Students Read & Think Like Scientists
To learn science deeply, students need the trifecta of instruction: experiments; exploration of a complex text; and teaching that’s both challenging and empowering. Deeper learning expert Libby Woodfin shares how this works in Peter Hill’s 8th grade classroom.

End-of-Year Learning Can Be Meaningful & Fun
The last weeks of school are a time when a little hard work and lots of organization can pay big dividends in a learning experience that is smooth, structured, and fun for all, says middle grades educator Elyse Scott, who shares a dozen end-of-year activities.

When Puzzled Teacher Meets Troubled Kid
Figuring out what’s going on with a child emotionally and behaviorally is the practice of counselors and therapists. But the classroom teacher often sees problems first. Psychotherapist Noah Kempler suggests things to consider when a student’s behavior shifts.

Use Text Sets to Spark Unstoppable Learning
Thematic text sets that tap into the social worlds and narrative driven lives of adolescents can spark “unstoppable learning,” say literacy educators Katie and Chris Cunningham, who share several text-set examples and a 10-step process for building your own.

Leading Teams: How to Avoid “Groupthink”
“Groupthink” can happen if team members are afraid of the consequences of sharing their real thoughts and feelings. When divergent thinking is left of of the school improvement discussion, writes leadership coach Elena Aguilar, positive and lasting change isn’t likely to occur.

Principals: Teaming with Families & Community
Involving parents and families in a partnership with schools has a positive impact on students. What can principals do to ensure the partnership is sustained, vibrant and diverse? Ron Williamson and Barbara Blackburn suggest strategies to build connections.

Teach Students to Write Strong Paragraphs
When students struggle to write coherent essays or can’t explain their evidence well enough, it often boils down to this: they need help learning to build strong paragraphs. Literacy expert Sarah Tantillo takes us step by step through her construction process.

Use Political Covers to Teach Media Literacy
Paid ads and social media give lots of exposure to Presidential candidates. They also get free visibility from magazines, though they don’t always like what they see. Frank Baker offers a magazine-cover activity to help students build media literacy skills.

Mastering Test Anxiety: Student & Teacher Tips
Spring’s promise of renewal is just ahead. But for many educators, spring is also the season of testing anxiety. Curtis Chandler shares research and wisdom from fellow educators that can help turn angst into achievement for students and for their teachers.

10 “Big” Motivators to Promote Playful Learning
Laura Robb believes play is essential to success. Her “Big 10 Student Motivators” can help encourage collaboration, playful learning, innovative thinking, and student engagement in reading, writing, researching, discussing, and analyzing across all subjects.

The Five Critical School Leadership Practices
Education leaders Ruth Ash and Pat Hodge examine how middle level principals, working with teachers and students, are creating high performing learning cultures using five key leadership practices. It’s not magic, they say, but method, logic, perseverance, and heart.

10 Cool Ways to Teach with Word Clouds
Wordles are everywhere, in every color and size. Middle grades teacher and Scholastic author Marilyn Pryle shows 10 ways word clouds made with Wordle and Tagxedo can be crafted into powerful literacy teaching tools, using the right prompts and directions.

Tools to Help Writers Explain Good Evidence
Literacy expert Sarah Tantillo shares teacher Jamison Fort’s engaging multi-day lesson that helps student writers sort through multiple claims in the case of Sandra the Orangutan and identify the best evidence to support arguments. Graphic organizer included!

How to Scaffold Skills for Student Discussions
Meaningful academic conversation makes for sticky learning, but most students don’t bring a high proficiency in the needed skills to the classroom. Expert Jackie Walsh describes a step-by-step process that can help teachers cultivate deep student discussions.

Get Students Working Effectively in Groups
Effective group work sparks student engagement and builds communication skills for the future. But how do teachers structure teamwork activities so kids are cooperative and everyone learns? Instructional expert Barbara Blackburn offers a step-by-step blueprint.

Get Organized: Max Out Your Contacts App
Make the most of your digital Contacts app. In Part 3 of a productivity series for school leaders, organization consultant and former principal Frank Buck explains how to maximize such useful resources as contact notes, special ringtones, syncing, and more.

5 Trends Impacting Middle Grades Leaders
Being a school leader is incredibly demanding, requiring principals to stay current on education trends while managing day to day operations. Williamson and Blackburn share five actionable trends they’ve observed in their work with middle grades leaders.

Help Student Writers Find the Best Evidence
Teaching students to write effective arguments supported by reliable evidence is one of the notable “stretch goals” of the common core. Expert Sarah Tantillo has added a critical new step to her own strategy in an effort to help more students reach the goal.

Teaching Propaganda Using Political Ads
As the 2016 Presidential Campaign heats up, media literacy expert Frank W. Baker brings the political races to the classroom with standards-based activities to help students understand the persuasive power of plentiful and often misleading political ads.

Idea Starters for the Genius Hour Classroom
Genius Hour gives students the opportunity to be autonomous in their learning. Sometimes, though, they need a little start-up help. Experts Gallit Zvi and Denise Krebs share lots of starter ideas for students and classrooms and urge readers to add their own.

How Feedback Can Be More Kid-Friendly
Rubrics are important tools, says author and veteran MS educator Elyse Scott, but teachers need a more whole-student approach to formative assessment and feedback — one that attends “to that most basic need of young adolescents: one-on-one communication.”

Triptiks Can Rev Up Student-Driven Learning
Remember AAA’s Triptiks – the travel resource kits put together for members? If so, you have some inkling of consultant Mike Fisher’s idea to rev up mid-grades curriculum across content areas by having students create their own project-specific learning journeys.

Rigor Made Easy: 3 Ways to Go Deeper
Raising the level of rigor in your classroom does not have to be difficult or require a separate lesson, says author and learning consultant Barbara Blackburn. She lays out three engaging teaching strategies that can push students to higher levels of thinking.

How To Become an NGSS Superhero
Vermont science coordinator Kathy Renfrew shares her vision of how middle grades teachers and coaches can be leaders in developing science classrooms that are student-driven and focused on teaching scientific subjects in ways that relate to the real world.

Mastering Your To-Do List: The Magnificent 7
Frank Buck is back with Part Two in his series for school leaders on developing a digital productivity suite. Keeping up with plans on a digital calendar or a smartphone Notes app is frustrating. Buck outlines what a full featured task app needs to do and suggests a free option.

Writing About the History in Your Own Backyard
Four educators explain how the Western Massachusetts Writing Project joined forces with the National Park Service to help middle school teachers and students explore and write about a major history resource right in their backyard – the Springfield Armory museum. DIY tips included!

Help Tweens Learn Better Social Skills
Cheryl Mizerny considers the “soft” skills of social interaction to be as essential to success as the ELA skills she teaches. To help fill students’ wide social skill gaps, she’s identified problem behaviors and resources she’ll use to build a mini-curriculum.

Teach Media Literacy with Super Bowl Ads
Many millions of people who tune in to the 2016 Super Bowl will be there to watch the pricey, high-engagement commercials. Media literacy consultant Frank Baker explains how to teach about these “super ads,” approaching them as informational text worthy of close scrutiny and analysis.

How We Can Make Peer Feedback Effective
To move from a classroom culture of grading to one of feedback, teachers first need to help students learn to critique each other in non-threatening ways. Popular author and 6th grade teacher Bill Ferriter suggests emphasizing observation, not evaluation.

A Beginner’s Guide to Education Conferences
Conferences are valuable ways to grow professionally. Consultant Anne Anderson, who attended many such events as a teacher, shares ideas for getting buy-in and funding, prepping for the trip, getting the most from talks and exhibits, and bringing it all home.

10 Surefire Ideas to Remove Writing Roadblocks
Literacy expert Regie Routman takes teachers for a ride and demonstrates how to avoid roadblocks that make writing less than doable, effective and gratifying. The destination? Classrooms where students routinely write to think, problem solve, create and explore.

Help New Students Feel Truly Welcome
Too often students get little more than a schedule and a friendly pat as they enter new schools. Counselor Dana Worden is changing all that at Travis Ranch MS where student volunteers not only welcome newbies but buddy with them until they fully blend in.

Make a Fresh Start after Winter Break
The first days back after the holiday are a perfect time to strengthen behavior and culture in active classrooms. Libby Woodfin shares text and video tips that teachers can use to make the transition smooth and set the tone for the rest of the school year.

All the Vocabulary Help You’re Likely to Need
Under the canopy of the Common Core, student knowledge of academic vocabulary matters more than ever, across all the content areas. As assessment season approaches, MiddleWeb has gathered together our five most popular and helpful articles about word study.

How to Become an Organized School Leader
Annual resolutions to “get organized” usually fade quickly, despite ready access to smart devices and clever management apps. What we need, writes organizing expert Frank Buck, is some good advice. He begins his 5-part series with the digital calendar.

What’s Missing from That Media Message?
It seems, with the holidays upon us, that some companies have decided it’s a good idea to acknowledge underrepresented groups in their marketing, advertising, and media coverage. But consultant Frank W. Baker is wondering: What took them so long? He shares tips to raise student awareness.

Four Social Media Strategies for Principals
Principals can use social media to improve communication, provide information during school safety situations, increase collaboration, and enhance professional development. Ron Williamson and Barbara Blackburn argue, in fact, that social media is a leadership essential today.

Students Can Battle the Longhorned Beetle
Help middle graders take the next step in environmental studies & awareness. Using USDA resource materials, students can join the effort to uncover and eradicate the invasive Asian Longhorned Beetle which threatens 70% of the tree canopy in the United States.

3 Brainy Strategies Boost Student Learning
Like many other teachers, Curtis Chandler is trying to uncover all he can about learning and cognition to better understand and serve his students. Here he shares 3 brain-savvy teaching principles – beginning with the primacy-recency effect – drawn from recent research.

BYOD in the Classroom: Necessary or Nice?
How can we judge the effectiveness of students bringing their own electronic devices to class? Matt Renwick’s checklist looks at whether devices meet all students’ needs, how they are involved in choosing devices, and whether they’re able to collaborate in class and beyond.

The 6 Characteristics of Effective Praise
Most educators use praise in their classrooms. However, students can interpret praise positively or negatively and teachers need to know the difference. Author and consultant Barbara Blackburn looks at six characteristics of effective praise that can motivate students to strive and thrive.

Some Old-School Ideas for Today’s Classrooms
A class full of middle schoolers are ready to learn. But supplies are low, technology is sparse, and you have already spent too much of your own money for the classroom. Educational consultant Anne Anderson repurposes 3 classroom staples you’re sure to have.

A Teacher Observation Self-Defense Strategy
Can one period of observation reveal a teacher’s skills and accomplishment? In Amber Chandler’s district, which uses the Danielson rubric, it’s 50% of her evaluation. How to defend yourself? She suggests a well planned pre-conference and serious portfolio building.

4 Fun Virtual Field Trips to Try This Winter
No funding for field trips? Concerns about travel safety? Consider taking your students on a virtual adventure instead. Teacher-authors Billy Krakower, Jerry Blumengarten, and Paula Naugle share four of their favorites and offer plenty of other ideas!

Six Ways to Look at a Middle Grades Kid
Thanksgiving is a good time to express our affection for those great and goofy middle grades kids and the special breed of educators who relish teaching them. Here are six MiddleWeb posts pinpointing their unique qualities and ways we can support them as they grow.

Analyzing the Media Through Docudramas

Do your students know that when they watch docudramas, they’re not watching history as it actually happened? Do they understand movie makers’ “artistic license” for condensing history into 2-hour films? Frank W. Baker suggests media-oriented films and teaching strategies.

Media Literacy: Here Come the Toy Ads
Toy commercials, so pervasive on TV during the holidays, are a great way to jump-start media literacy discussions with students. Expert Frank Baker has lesson ideas.

Are You Ready for a Genius Hour Classroom?
Genius Hour is an inquiry-driven, passion-based strategy designed to excite and engage students around the unrestrained joy of learning. Teachers Denise Krebs and Gallit Zvi make a case for the weekly time investment and share tips for getting started.

How Leaders Grow a Positive School Culture
Because of the powerful way school culture shapes the activity of students, teachers, and administrators, it’s worth investing the effort to assure it sends a positive message. Ron Williamson and Barbara Blackburn suggest leadership actions to build values.

Some Smart Ways to Simplify PBL Lessons
Heather Wolpert-Gawron’s passion for PBL goes back to her elementary years. Nowadays she builds units for middle schoolers to encourage their journeys through learning. Here she shares a structure to support students while simplifying teachers’ preparation.

What We Can Do When Kids Don’t Write Clearly
The difficulty students have in writing clearly can be traced to many factors, says literacy consultant Sarah Tantillo, from muddled pre-CCSS standards to weak teaching practices. Here she offers concrete suggestions to correct persistent writing problems in the secondary grades.

The 5 Craziest Times of the School Year
You know those times where the kids are so spun up that you suspect nothing you say will be remembered tomorrow? You ask yourself, “Why am I even trying to teach today?!” Veteran educator Patti Grayson casts her votes for the most inattentive days of the year.

Speaking & Listening Are Core Skills Today
Our students are not successful oral communicators, says author-consultant Erik Palmer. Yet the rise of connected learning, podcasts, Face Time and Skype make speaking and listening skills essential. Read (and watch) Palmer’s compelling case for change.

3 Strategies for Building Tween Resilience
Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” Education author and consultant Barbara Blackburn looks at ways teachers can help young adolescents follow Churchill’s advice and become resilient.

Why Media Literacy Week Matters So Much
With slanted news, social media and “reality” TV ceaselessly attracting the attention of young people, literacy consultant Frank W. Baker underscores the importance of Media Literacy Week, urging all educators to teach students how to analyze media “as text.”

Interpreting Six Common Teacher Nightmares
Teacher-author Roxanna Elden has prepared “a completely unscientific, non-research-based guide” to six common teacher nightmares. They may sound all too familiar to fellow educators. See if she’s analyzed a dream you recognize and share another of your own.

How to Teach Memoir in the Middle Grades
Educators may be reluctant to try memoir writing with middle grades students, but the rewards are considerable, says 8th grade teacher-author Jake Wizner. He shares three insights that can help guide teachers as they enrich the student writing experience.

Middle Grades Kids Need Field Trips
Field trips don’t have to be elaborate, says middle grades leader Mike Janatovich, but they are important for young adolescents who are still making connections between academic content and the real world. He shares ideas and tips to plan an outing this fall.

The Gr-2 ELA Standard You May Need to Teach
For literacy consultant Sarah Tantillo, Reading Informational Text (RIT) Standard 2.1 is both essential and easy to learn. Yet she suspects many students well beyond Grade 2 haven’t mastered it. She shares a quick technique to teach this high-leverage skill in middle grades.

Tie TV Advertising to Media Literacy Lessons
Knowing how television programming is funded can help students understand what is available to view. Media literacy expert Frank W. Baker links to sources of advertising data and suggests activities to build student savvy about the genres that fill their screens.

School Leaders: Gain from the ‘October Oasis’
As a school leader, consultant Frank Buck’s experience was that “if I wanted to launch something new, re-tool something old, or do some course correction, October was my best shot.” Here, Buck suggests several organizational ideas to pursue during the October Oasis.

3 Vocabulary Strategies Help Students Decipher Unknown Words
Vocabulary knowledge is the heart of reading comprehension and academic achievement, says literacy consultant Brenda Overturf, “and it means way more than just learning words.” Students must have the tools to decipher unknown academic words. She shares three of the best.

Can We Talk About Sustained Silent Reading?
ELA teacher Amber Chandler is in a quandary. She wants to give her students time each week to “read for enjoyment” but knows the research on Sustained Silent Reading reveals little impact on fluency. Can she bridge these muddied waters? All ideas welcomed!

4 Steps to Put School Data to Good Use
School and student data can be confusing and challenging to collect and use effectively. Ronald Williamson and Barbara Blackburn offer a four-step process to help educators and administrators collect and analyze data and support better teaching and student learning.

Propaganda Isn’t History – It’s Current Events
Most educators who teach propaganda use examples from the World Wars, says media literacy expert Frank Baker. “But propaganda is happening today—all around us.” Baker introduces a new resource that can help teachers and students exert their “minds over media.”

How to Fill Your Class with Joyful Learning
Students experience deep, joyful learning in classrooms where there is an ongoing cycle of responsive teaching, says literacy expert Regie Routman. The ultimate goal is to grow passionate learners who self-monitor, self-direct, and set their own worthwhile goals.

12 Ways to Get Students Speaking & Listening
Sarah Tantillo is back with 12 techniques that mid-grades teachers across the curriculum can use to help their students develop the habits of speaking and listening that most contribute to learning. One idea: “Treat students as sleuths out to solve a mystery.”

Unlock Learning by Improving Oral Fluency
Of all the ways educators can improve learning in their classrooms, “the Number 1 way is to strengthen students’ speaking and listening skills and habits,” writes teaching coach and literacy expert Sarah Tantillo. Oral fluency deepens understanding dramatically.

Why Argument Writing Is Important to Teach
Knowing how to respond to counterclaims while developing their own claims in argumentative writing helps students in school and beyond. Educators Leslie Skantz-Hodgson and Jamilla Jones report on their summer studying “They Say/I Say” with teacher colleagues.

Use The Emmy Awards to Teach Media Literacy
As the Emmys return to celebrate the art and craft of television in September, how can we encourage students to view programing actively, with “the thinking parts of their brains turned on”? Frank W. Baker helps pull back the curtain on the production process.

Using Dystopian Fiction to Explore Citizenship
In his ELA classroom, David Sebek focuses on four aspects of what it means to be a “good citizen” – truthfulness, justice, equality and responsibility – and uses whistleblower stories and dystopian fiction to explore the elusive definition of citizenship.

Teach Climate Change Through Positive Action
Middle school science teacher and Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow Joshua Sneideman and energy education specialist Erin Twamley share seven ways that teachers and schools can involve students in climate change studies. Included: Project ideas.

Sorting Teacher Bias and “High Expectations”
“High expectations” shouldn’t be about teaching obedience or expecting cookie-cutter work from all students. Middle school educator Cheryl Mizerny offers her take on teacher attitudes and practices that help or hinder student efforts to achieve their very best.

The 5 Best Times to Use Technology in Class
Much of the ISTE discussion this year focused on the best ways to use technology effectively, says MS teacher and tech enthusiast Patti Grayson. To celebrate, Grayson offers 5 examples from her own classroom of the best times to bring out the digital tools.

Teacher Favorites: 20 MiddleWeb ELA Articles
Each of these 20 English Language Arts-oriented articles (dating back to 2012) has enjoyed thousands of reads since it was first published at MiddleWeb. From closer reading to better writing, we hope you find some helpful ideas and inspiration for the new school year!

Creating a Vision for the School Year
Holding a clear sense of vision and purpose for the school is important for the principal. Ronald Williamson and Barbara Blackburn share leadership tools to help develop a personal vision and then work collaboratively with the school community to develop a shared vision.

Scaffolding: How Not to Learn to Ride a Bike
Teacher-consultant Terry Thompson, author of The Construction Zone, defines four elements of good instructional scaffolding and uses the example of teaching a kid to ride a bicycle to demonstrate why a clear focus on learning targets is a critical first step.

3 Perspectives Improve Peer-to-Peer Response about Writing
A three-perspective approach to reading response (as a reader, a writer and a human being) has been a helpful resource for Sarah Donovan and for her students as they respond to writing by their peers. Donovan includes several model activities and examples.

Vocabulary: How to Rock Greek & Latin Roots
When you think of Greek and Latin roots, you think high student engagement, right? No? ELA teacher Amber Chandler plans to make all those old roots rock this fall as she introduces the concepts of language development and acquisition to her students.

Media Literacy: The POTUS Primary Debates
Plans for Republican and Democratic primary debates are well underway. Media literacy expert Frank W. Baker is ready with guidelines for engaging students in classroom research and discussion. Baker’s first focus: the very crowded GOP debates scheduled for this fall.

Do We Really Have High Expectations for All?
When it comes to high expectations, learning consultant Barbara Blackburn says actions speak louder than beliefs. Using her own classroom mistakes as a backdrop, she points out the teacher behaviors that signal struggling learners whether we mean what we say.

Expanding Our Approach to Reading Strategies
When reading strategies include a series of actionable steps, students can follow them as they learn to master skills. Using the teaching of tying shoes as an analogy, literacy expert Jennifer Serravallo offers examples of the kinds of supports teachers can offer learners as they travel the path to automaticity.

Four Tools to Help Gamify Your Classroom
The first step toward gamifying your classroom can be as simple as taking the “ew” out of “review” with these helpful game-oriented apps, selected and described by tech integration expert Curtis Chandler. Included: Quizizz, Kahoot, Classcraft and Class Dojo.

Nurturing a Culture of Teacher Inquiry
Kevin Hodgson joins two middle level colleagues to share a cross-school collaboration supported by the National Writing Project that engaged teachers in investigating how to use writing strategies and inquiry learning with students in all content areas.

3 Organizing Tips for a Great School Year
Author and former middle level school leader Frank Buck spends his professional life helping fellow educators manage themselves and their work in ways that maximize performance and benefit students. Buck shares three practical ideas to organize the new school year.

Connected Educators Should Strive To Be ‘Genius Makers’
For co-authors Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul and Jimmy Casas, a “connected educator” is a teacher or school leader who not only brings what they know to the conversation but encourages and values the sharing of everyone’s expertise through online learning networks.

How to Excel as a New Middle Level Principal
New principals can fall prey to “task overload.” What’s more, the transition from working with teachers as peers to working as a supervisor can be disorienting. Experts Ron Williamson & Barbara Blackburn share advice in six critical areas of the new job.

5 Reading Response Activities to Invite Higher Thinking
You’ve taught students to read closely, to annotate, to discuss – now what? Teacher/writer Marilyn Pryle shares five reader-response activities she uses to help students interact with texts in creative ways, inviting higher levels of thinking & understanding.

One Middle School’s 12-Step Plan for Academic Coaching
After years of trying to cope with the flow of struggling readers coming into their school, teachers at Ericsson Middle banded together to create a academic coaching program that provides reading and writing support for students across the literacy spectrum.

Powerful Iconic Images Can Educate & Inform
Iconic images from popular culture can raise consciousness about issues, many of them tied to health and gender awareness, writes media literacy consultant Frank W. Baker. He offers memorable examples and ties this phenomenon to teaching visual literacy.

How to Become a Tween-Centered Teacher
Young adolescents need classrooms designed to meet their unique physical, intellectual and social-emotional needs, says middle school veteran Cheryl Mizerny. Her spot-on advice can help educators develop a teaching style that maximizes tween achievement.

Mathematical Fiction: A Novel Look at Numbers
Children’s writer and systems engineer Robert Black, who is finishing his third mathematical novel for middle schoolers, describes the challenges of making math stories engaging and offers tips for students and teachers interested in the new fiction genre.

Teachers Really Need to Work with Families
Relationships are built when children know that caring adults are on their side. If teachers team up with parents and families, they can help create success for even the most difficult students. Amber Chandler shares the strategies that work in her MS classroom.

A Good Learning Model for New Teachers
Author and literacy consultant Regie Routman is a passionate cook who loves to make fresh fruit tarts. Here she draws connections between learning to bake and learning to teach, using her Optimal Learning Model as a framework. Fruit tart recipe included!

Making Our Classrooms More Playful and Fun
School technology coach Josh Burker offers eight reasons why classroom making is not only playful and fun but also an effective strategy to build organizational, problem-solving and leadership skills. Included: A MaKey MaKey musical instruments project.

21 of MiddleWeb’s Best New Teacher Resources
MiddleWeb is filled to the brim with resources and helpful ideas that new teachers will find valuable. We’ve selected 21 articles that might be especially useful to newbies before they greet their students at the classroom door for the first time.

Sarah Tweaks Her Socratic Seminar Recipe
Sarah Tantillo’s MiddleWeb post Socratic Seminars in the Middle has racked up tens of thousands of visits. Now Sarah, author of The Literacy Cookbook, is back with a tweak to her recipe, suggested by colleague Jamison Fort. See his students in action.

Use Number Talks to Boost Math Reasoning
Many students don’t expect math to make sense and learn to disengage their reasoning and even distrust it. Teacher-experts Cathy Humphreys & Ruth Parker highlight an 8-step “Number Talks” process that can promote deeper discussions about how numbers work.

Take Charge of Your Own PL This Summer!
Herding educators together for one-size-fits-all professional development often misses the mark of teachers’ real work, says Emily Vickery. Teachers now have tools to tailor their own professional learning “to maximize our growth.” Helpful resources included!

Three Questions New Teachers Always Ask
We asked teaching consultant Annette Breaux to write about three of the most pressing questions new teachers have in the weeks (and months) before they open their classroom doors to students for the first time. Here’s her advice on discipline, classroom management, and daily procedures.

5 Gleanings from My First Middle School Year
After a decade teaching third and fourth graders, Patti Grayson ventured into middle school this past year. She has come away from her first year in the middle with several gleanings about the most effective ways to work with unpredictable, sensitive tweens.

7 Tech Tools for Fast Formative Assessment
Formative assessment is good practice, as every teacher knows, says tech consultant Curtis Chandler, but finding time to measure individual student understanding is challenging. Chandler offers seven apps that can make the practice both routine and engaging.

Leaders: Avoid the May “Overwhelm” Next Year
As the year comes to a close, wouldn’t you actually like to be able to savor it? Frank Buck has 3 suggestions that can help leaders overcome May stress through organization. Try them now; implement for years to come. You and your school will be glad you did.

The Glories of a Year-Round Calendar
Since his fast-growing district shifted to a year round schedule, teacher and PD consultant Bill Ferriter finds himself “more focused and productive as a practitioner,” more rested, and more able to pursue professional opportunities beyond the classroom.

Don’t Let Class Tech Be Just a Garnish
Teacher Cheryl Mizerny is not anti-tech, just anti-bad pedagogy – the kind that crops up when the garnish of tech overshadows the deep learning that can happen when teaching is “brain based, not screen-based.” Make the app fit the lesson, she says, not the other way around.

4 Ways to Motivate Kids to Tackle Complex Text
Seventh grade teacher Kami Spampinato uses four kid-savvy strategies to get her students to “buy in” to reading complex texts. In this post, former MS educator Anne Vilen of Expeditionary Learning summarizes each technique and shares supporting EL videos.

Help Students Close Read Iconic Images
Every day news images flood our print publications, digital spaces and social media apps. Why do some become iconic and unforgettable? Media literacy expert Frank Baker suggests ways that students can explore this question through close reading & research.

Advice for Teachers Itching to Write Books
Kate Messner was a veteran middle grades teacher when she began to write books for children and often shared work in progress with students as part her teaching process. This article includes advice from her new book for educators who want to be authors.

Virtual Field Trips Spice Up Learning
In today’s budget-conscious and time-stressed schools, virtual field trips are a great way to excite students without leaving the classroom. Teaching expert Barbara Blackburn shares a sample lesson idea and some good places to hunt for relevant field trips.

Media-Visual Literacy and Presidential Politics
Media literacy educator Frank Baker wants “to help today’s media-saturated students realize the lengths that political consultants will go to get (and keep) our attention.” As the “polioptic” presidential race begins, Baker shares insights and lesson ideas.

Build Your Own Utopia: ‘The Giver’ PBL Unit
Amber Chandler describes a PBL unit, built around the dystopian novel The Giver, that takes students deep into the book’s ideas by having them create and debate their own ideal communities and explore unintended consequences. Tips and handouts included.

5 Essential Tech Tools Keep Teachers Learning
Web-browsing teachers must not only harvest the ideas of others but curate what’s valuable and create opportunities online to stretch and grow, says former Kansas Teacher of the Year Curtis Chandler. He shares five digital tools to help make that happen.

Gallagher: Students Need Worthy Writing Models
Kelly Gallagher’s “In the Best Interest of Students” considers both the strengths and shortcomings of the Common Core ELA anchor standards. In this excerpt, Gallagher stresses the need for students to have “worthy models” at every stage of the writing process.

Using Games to Teach Core Science Concepts
Faced with students struggling to learn complex science ideas in traditional ways, middle school teacher John Coveyou turned to classroom gaming as a solution. His colorful card games teach core concepts like ion-bonding, DNA principles and protein building.

Misconceptions about Mindset, Rigor, and Grit
Using Mindset, Rigor, and Grit as examples, veteran teacher Cheryl Mizerny weighs the potential value of trendy pedagogical ideas while pointing out how easily they can be misinterpreted or poorly implemented by educators, to the detriment of students.

Characters Drive This Summer Reading Activity
Plan now for summer reading assignments with the Character Analysis Organizers developed by Sarah Tantillo. Students evaluate two main characters in a selected book by answering questions and then developing paragraphs. More reading, less torture, and a place to start in the fall.

Three Tools to Support ELL Students
Teaching consultant Barbara Blackburn offers 3 simple, effective tools to support English Language Learners as they work with nonfiction text. The strategies, easily adapted to any classroom, include use of visuals, use of language, and layering meaning.

How to Integrate Tech Without Losing Your Mind
Veteran teacher-educator Jennifer Gonzalez knows the anxiety and frustration associated with learning to teach with technology. In this excerpt from her new book, Jenn shares her 7-step framework for adding more digital prowess to your teaching practice.

5 Ways to Make Kids Hate Your Class
Veteran educator Cheryl Mizerny is surrounded by committed teachers, but she knows that even the most well-intentioned can fall into bad habits that may make some students dread coming to their class. She shares the warning signs of five problem behaviors.

How Dialogue Circles Promote Student Growth
Dialogue circles can facilitate brain function and help “increase generosity, trust, intrinsic motivation, social connection, and cooperation so students can work together for a common purpose,” writes inner-city middle school principal David Palank.

Help Your Students Get Into the Learning Flow
Students in a state of “flow” learn faster, are more focused, enjoy learning, and often choose to increase the level of challenge. Teacher-author Larry Ferlazzo distills the research and shares teaching strategies that can help students achieve flow regularly in class.

History PD: The Joys of Being a Student Again
Teacher and instructional leader Sarah Cooper leaves her middle school classroom behind for a few hours in the evenings to experience life as a history student again. Her online course proves calming and stimulating, challenging and refreshing. She sees how revisiting the “stuff” of history can strengthen her classroom practice.

Shuffle Up! Invite Storytelling in Your Class
Kevin Hodgson is always on the look out for different ways to engage his 6th graders as storytellers. Recently he introduced Storyteller Cards, a Kickstarter project, and asked them how each card’s character, setting & action might enliven their writing.

PARCC Prep: Student Failure Can Help Us Focus
Initial failures can produce big breakthroughs, as ELA consultant Sarah Tantillo found when students she was supporting failed to translate PARCC practice prompts into viable essays. Check out the tools Tantillo, teachers & tutors used to solve the problem.

CommonLit’s Free Texts Help Explore Big Ideas
CommonLit.Org is a nonprofit organization building a growing collection of supplemental texts, curated by teachers, for teachers, writes founder Michelle Brown. The free and open resource is cross-curricular, organized around themes and essential questions.

Build a Rowboat Culture: 3 Tips for School Leaders
Culture building is a powerful method for shaping the behavior of those who work in a school because it helps establish important values and underlying assumptions about learning. Ron Williamson and Barbara Blackburn offer 3 tips for middle grades leaders.

Students Make a Difference Through Passion Projects
When Cheryl Mizerny invited her 6th graders to pursue a “passion project” of their own choosing, she included the option to help someone in need. The results surprised her. “I greatly underestimated my students’ capacity for wanting to make a difference.”

The Rise and Fall of Grammar Bootcamp
For years Amber Chandler has marched her middle school students through Grammar Bootcamp, believing that grammatically correct language is essential to be college and career ready. Now this year’s 7th graders have convinced her there might be a better way.

Creating Cross-Curricular Text Sets for the Middle Grades
Teachers can help students explore important connections across different genres and subjects using “text sets” – collections of books and other media with a common theme. In this MiddleWeb article, teacher educator Amanda Wall details an assignment creating text sets for ELA and math.

Crazy Love: 6 Reasons Why I Teach in the Middle
In her valentine “to those volatile adolescents and the educators who cherish them,” veteran middle level teacher Beth Morrow highlights six good reasons to spend your days with “the wonderfully rough and resilient gems that are middle school students.”

A Daily Comic Strip Chronicles Middle School Teaching
Florida teacher David Finkle chronicles middle grades life in a daily comic strip for the Daytona Beach (FL) News-Journal. Here he shares the 15-year story of “Mr. Fitz,” including four sample strips guaranteed to draw chuckles and knowing nods from teachers everywhere.

Talking about Terror with Middle Schoolers
Like many history teachers, Sarah Cooper begins her classes with a current events discussion. Sometimes it can be harrowing, “especially when acts of terror occupy the stage.” She reflects on ways teachers can help students cope through positive action.

Black History: The Visions of Gordon Parks
Media literacy expert Frank Baker offers a fresh idea for Black History Month – exploring the life, career and creativity of photographer, writer and director Gordon Parks, whose powerful images from the Segregation Era serve as iconic primary sources.

STEM Face Off: Which Lesson Makes the Grade?
What makes a lesson or unit STEM-worthy? Expert Anne Jolly evaluates two actual lessons that have been given the STEM label. Each incorporates science, math, group work and technology, but one fails the ultimate STEM test. She details the reasons why in this insightful article.

The Eight Essentials of Good Student Feedback
Quality feedback – written and oral – is crucial for students to continuously improve their work. Author-consultant Barbara Blackburn summarizes eight characteristics of good feedback that she believes “are essential practices for effective teaching.”

How Wonder and Sticky Notes Built Character
Fourth grade teacher Mary Tarashuk describes how lines from the musical In the Woods, the new Julian chapter of RJ Palacio’s Wonder, and a chance encounter with an anti-bullying article came together to spark some memorable student wisdom about character.

Keep Parents Connected in the Middle Grades
Middle schoolers push parents away with one hand, says 6th grade teacher Cheryl Mizerny, while wanting their other hand to be held. Mizerny shares a variety of strategies she uses to help keep parents and kids connected as they navigate adolescence, including the Million Words activity.

Teach Media Literacy with Super Bowl Ads
Many millions of people who tune in to the 2015 Super Bowl will be there to watch the pricey, high-engagement commercials. Media literacy consultant Frank Baker explains how to teach about these “super ads,” approaching them as informational text worthy of close scrutiny and analysis.

Teaching Vocabulary in Word-Rich Classrooms
Students can learn difficult vocabulary when they are immersed in a rich array of words, says reading expert Janet Allen. In this excerpt from her new book of vocabulary teaching tools, Allen describes ways to create a word-rich environment. Includes reproducibles.

8 Things I Know for Sure about Middle School Kids
Middle school students are a unique breed, says educator and consultant Jennifer Gonzalez, and they need teachers who are tuned in to the intense dichotomies of adolescent life and learning. She offers teachers new to the middle level eight helpful tips.

Tackling Debate in the Middle Level Classroom
This fall at her students’ instigation, Amber Chandler decided to give debate a try. She describes her process, her inclusive approach, and several lessons learned during a positive experience that also supported common core standards. Videos included!

Classroom Storytelling: Time to Play Again!
What happened to classroom play and activities like dramatic storytelling? How do we bring it back? Kevin Hodgson finds answers in Kevin Cordi’s lively book Playing with Stories, which suggests ways to use storytelling as literacy and speaking practice.

Teaching Film Literacy Without the Film
Film literacy is an important skill in an increasingly visual world. It’s in the ELA standards for grades 7 & 8. But how do we teach it if we don’t have access to films in the classroom? Expert Frank Baker helps bring film alive without a DVD in sight.

Hanging Out Online with a Real Comics Author
When Sandy Wisneski engaged middle graders in a comic book project that combined writing, art and social studies, she wanted a whiz-bang culminating activity. She struck virtual gold when she found professional comics illustrator and author Alex Simmons.

PARCC Prep: A Better Way to Teach Compare & Contrast
Common Core tests require students to analyze two literary texts and compare & contrast themes or points of view. Literacy consultant Sarah Tantillo shares a better tool to help students organize these essays. Included: Links to all her PARCC Prep articles.

Helping Students Summarize Information
Summarizing may seem simple to adults, says teacher/author Heather Wolpert-Gawron, but it’s a cross content skill that many adolescents struggle with. TweenTeacher shares techniques from her classroom, including asking students to create ‘executive summaries’ of information & research.

Supporting History Claims: Post it, Place it, Prove it
The Common Core expects students will support claims with evidence from a text. History teacher Aaron Brock shares an innovative technique he created to help weak readers in his under-resourced urban school develop an understanding of this process.

PARCC Prep: Literary Analysis Writing Task
Are your students ready for Common Core ELA assessments? Using the PARCC as a springboard, literacy consultant Sarah Tantillo details a 6-day strategy to prep for the Literary Analysis Writing Task and links to other preps at her blog. Teachers in non-PARCC states may also find the ideas helpful.

10 Ways to Sabotage Your Classroom Management
Even with all the usual basics in place, the small things novice teachers do could be wreaking havoc on your whole classroom management system. Middle school veteran Jennifer Gonzalez identifies unproductive habits, along with more effective alternatives.

Students Often Prefer Low Tech Learning
Today’s students have never known a time when computers didn’t exist. Many are surrounded by digital options in school as well as at home. But teacher Cheryl Mizerny has noticed her 6th graders are often drawn to low-tech learning experiences. She looks at why that might be.

Fireside Reads: 20 Favorite MiddleWeb Posts
With the winter “read by the fire” season in full force, we offer a selection of 20 MiddleWeb posts that have garnered thousands of views apiece. They represent the wisdom & expertise of middle grades educators with a wide range of teaching experiences.

Use Public Radio with the Listening Standard
With listening now included among the CCSS anchor skills, how can educators help students become more adept at tuning in? Veteran public radio reporter Monica Brady-Myerov heads Listen Current, a service offering teachers free content and lessons plans.

Teachers Really Can Engage All Our Students
Student disengagement is a major challenge for middle school teachers, says NSF-funded researcher Jennifer A. Fredricks, who offers strategies to build community and craft learning opportunities that encourage students to actively participate and succeed.

Grammar Really Matters in a Community of Writers
The best way to help students learn to appreciate grammar, say authors Lynne Dorfman & Diane Dougherty, is by teaching it seamlessly within the workshop model. The Writing Project veterans share secrets for sustaining a writers community in your classroom.

Writing Good Objectives: Purpose Is Paramount
Sarah Tantillo offers more sage advice on how to write lesson objectives that get students’ brains racing. In this post, the literacy consultant explains why objectives must always have a compelling purpose – offering two stories from her own classroom observations.

Using Toy Ads to Build Media Literacy Skills
Expert Frank W. Baker wants to convince teachers that toy advertisements are a great media literacy teaching tool. Video clips and colorful ‘print’ ads abound on the Internet and are sure to engage students. Baker provides some good discussion questions & lesson ideas to get started.

Descriptive Writing: Just Right for Science and Other Core Classes
Narrative writing and figurative language are not just for English class anymore, says teacher-author Heather Wolpert-Gawron. “Narrative strategies infuse content with creativity and with an added layer of student personality that aids in ownership.” She shares a science example.

How Teachers Can Restore Our Students’ Right to Wonder
When teachers ask all the questions and then rush to supply the answers, “the result is a cognitive disconnect,” says author Nanci Werner-Burke. Stop usurping the “right to wonder” by teaching students to ask deep, Bloom’s-friendly questions of their own.

How to Avoid Kidnapping Your Students
Teachers who begin lessons without telling students “what we’re doing and where we’re going” are kidnappers, says Sarah Tantillo. Don’t take your middle graders on a mystery ride. Use the RPM strategy to write rigorous, purposeful, measurable objectives in any subject. Cheatsheet included!

Our Students Often Learn Better Together
For ELA teacher Cheryl Mizerny, the most effective learning strategy often begins with students working collaboratively in small groups. Mizerny shows how this works during a Grammar, Usage & Mechanics lesson and another on the characteristics of personal narrative.

Are We Really Data-Driven If We Ignore Half the Data?
Principal Matt Renwick says our definition of data has to broaden substantially if we expect to paint a complete picture of student learning. Renwick describes how two middle grades teachers are using technology to help meet the qualitative assessment challenge.

PAIRing with Parents to Improve Student Learning
Want to improve relationships between families and school? Teachers benefit when learning is reinforced and supported from home. Consultant Barbara Blackburn has tips on how to PAIR with parents and avoid school-side mistakes that weaken engagement.

Annotation in History: Reviving the 5 W’s
Reading comprehension is a primary goal in Aaron Brock’s middle school history classroom. Building on last year’s annotation experiments, Brock has adapted the familiar 5 W’s strategy to help students pay closer attention to the meaning behind the words. It’s working.

Campaign Ads: Helping Students Find the Truth
If politicians have a “license to lie” in campaign advertising, how are our students going to know who and what to believe? Critical thinking skills are paramount, says media literacy consultant Frank Baker, who shares insights and resources tied to Common Core and social studies standards.

We Must Have STEM for All Our Students
Disadvantaged students and minorities face battles on many fronts. Access to STEM education should not be one of them. Anne Jolly describes the problem, the students’ proven potential, and what she believes is needed to create equitable access.

Aha Moments on the Road to Better Teaching
Often what stands in the way of teacher change is a lack of awareness about what needs to improve. Sharing some aha moments, ‘Smarter Grading’ author Myron Dueck tells how he changed the way he tests and assesses students and manages project learning.

A Critical Look at the Close Reading Standard
ELA consultant Mike Fisher urges educators to not be distracted by the so-called “close reading” anchor standard in the Common Core. “Close reading is not a thing. It is not a skill. It is not a big idea.” The true objective, he says, is reading comprehension.

How Do We Close the Coding Opportunity Gap?
Learning to code is an important new literacy. But how, wonders edtech coach Emily Vickery, do we close the opportunity gap between those who have access to coding instruction and those who don’t? Vickery suggests some resources that can help less advantaged students cross the divide.

Writing 6-Word Memoirs With a Comics Twist
Kevin Hodgson assumed his students would enjoy writing Six Word Memoirs, particularly within a comic site. What he didn’t expect was the level of enthusiasm, as even struggling writers dove into the concept, creating a wide range of (very) short stories.

10 Actions to Reverse Our National Creativity Crisis
Literacy expert Laura Robb offers her research-based argument for refocusing American school reform on strategies to strengthen support for teachers and promote opportunities for all children to become creative, divergent thinkers and problem solvers.

10 Secrets of Successful Inservice Presentations
Whether you’re a principal, staff developer or teacher leader, you’ll find ideas to convey your PD message effectively in this checklist adapted from “The Ten-Minute Inservice” by experts Todd Whitaker and Annette Breaux. One tip: Walk your talk.

How to Create Fruitful Co-Teaching Partnerships
Elizabeth Stein believes Jim Knight’s instructional partnership approach to coaching can also benefit co-teachers as they build a relationship. Stein describes how Knight’s seven core principles point the way to a dynamic co-taught learning community.

Five Ideas to Improve Parent Conferences
Amber Chandler has participated on both sides of the Parent Teacher Conference. Here she offers novice teachers five strategies they can use to establish productive relationships, address parent concerns, and find ways to help parents “do something” for their children.

Costume Design: Visual Literacy & the Language of Film
As teachers help their students meet Common Core standards through close reading of the movies, they may want to include costume design in their lesson plans, says Frank Baker. In many movies, director Martin Scorsese has noted, “costume is character.”

Five Fun Ways to Spark Self-Discovery in Youth
When youth in the middle know their “sparks” – their inner energizing interests – they’re more likely to stay engaged in school and develop a sense of purpose. Expert Susan Ragsdale shares motivational research & activities to help uncover those sparks.

Three Tips for Effective Grading
One hallmark of rigor in the classroom is an effective grading system, says PD consultant Barbara Blackburn. Teachers with ineffective practices often overvalue simple tasks and need to be clear about the “what, why and how” behind their grades. She analyzes a weak social studies grading rubric.

A Teacher-Author & Her Readers Collaborate Online
When ELA teacher Ariel Sacks wrote a book tying the teaching of novels to student empowerment, her hopes for reader interaction were modest. Now she’s become part of a community of connected educators, digging deep into everyone’s ideas.

Student Health: Five Things Teachers Should Know
The spectrum of health issues our students face is mind-boggling, but our response to their needs shouldn’t be. With forethought and guidance from school personnel, worries about children with health conditions can be reduced, says teacher Beth Morrow.

As #Ferguson Fades from Our Twitter Feeds
Even though the tragedy in Ferguson is fading from the headlines and our twitter feeds, the issues and social dynamics that led to it remain firmly in place and schools need to address them, says middle school dean Bill Ivey. He suggests an “incredible resource.”

Have You Tried Making Common Core Lemonade?
The Common Core experience may leave a sour taste on some educators’ palates, middle school ELA teacher Amber Chandler concedes. But she and her colleagues are coping with new challenges and limited resources by making their own brand of CCSS lemonade.

Lesson Idea: Using Technology to Teach Sentence Combining
Technology allows us to record and reflect on the writing process in ways that pencil and paper could not, says digital writing expert Troy Hicks. The MS teacher turned college prof demonstrates with a video demo’ing how we might teach sentence combining.

Use Writing Activities to Bond with New Students
“One of the most important factors in student achievement is a positive connection with the teacher,” says teaching consultant Barbara Blackburn. “An easy way to bond with kids is through writing.” She suggests two activities students will enjoy and you will learn from.

New Teachers: Creating a Shiny, Happy Classroom
Your first year? Now’s your opportunity to create a welcoming classroom where students will feel secure, valued and successful in the days ahead. Veteran teacher Cheryl Mizerny shares ideas that have helped her realize a “shiny, happy” place to learn.

10 Steps to Closer Student Reading
What do your students need to succeed in close reading? Literacy consultant Nancy Boyles outlines 10 steps in this article, drawn from her recent Corwin book “Closer Reading.” She also includes five questions to consider before students get started.

Smart Homework: How to Manage & Assess It
In his final article on smart homework, middle grades teaching expert Rick Wormeli suggests ways to assess take-home assignments and manage the steady flow of “product” that homework requirements generate. Bonus idea: Homework extension certificates.

Are You Hacking Your School’s Learning Spaces?
What happens, wonders teacher & technology coach Emily Vickery, when schools rethink the use of space – “shifting from traditional approaches to an emphasis on participatory spaces that take advantage of learning research and digital technologies?”

How to Create an Effective Teaching Plan
The most effective teachers know that if you want to have a great lesson, you need to plan a great lesson, say experts Todd Whitaker and Annette Breaux. Novice teachers will appreciate their handy planning checklist. Bonus download: How to overplan!

Teaching Media as Text: The Emmy Awards
Movies and television are recognized in the Common Core standards as forms of “text” that deserve serious study. Media literacy expert Frank W. Baker suggests ways that the Emmy Awards might serve as a way to engage students around familiar media.

How to Close-Read the Language of Film
When students are challenged to “close read” a movie, they must not only learn how to deconstruct the story, they must also understand the many techniques that are used by filmmakers to create the total effect, says expert Frank Baker.

Smart Homework: 13 Ways to Make It Meaningful
“I’ve been accumulating guiding principles for creating highly motivating homework assignments for many years,” writes expert Rick Wormeli. “Here are a baker’s dozen. Choose the ones most appropriate for students’ learning goals and your curriculum.”

Courageous Hearts: Teachers Write about Their Work
Editors from The Center for Courage & Renewal introduce four short essays from a new book, Teaching with Heart, each written by an educator who reflects on an inspirational poem. Re-energize yourself as you begin to prepare for the new school year!

Secrets of Instruction: How to Teach for Real Life
Teaching experts Annette Breaux & Todd Whitaker are back with more teaching ideas from the 2nd edition of Seven Simple Secrets. This time it’s advice on keeping instruction real for today’s students. Read the classroom tales of Teacher A & Teacher B.

10 Things I Learned Sitting in a Classroom
A week of sitting in a teaching seminar has left Sarah Cooper inspired but also thoughtful about how students experience daily classroom life. “I felt new empathy for having to follow teachers’ instructions all day long.” Read her 10 takeaways that will help her improve her own classroom.

Digital Student Portfolios: A Whole-School Approach
In principal Matt Renwick’s school, digital portfolios are comprehensive collections of student work that teachers and their students curate and reflect upon on a regular basis. Here, Renwick offers a close-up look at the portfolio process.

Smart Homework: Can We Get Real?
Homework can be one of the most renewing and exciting aspects of teaching middle school, says teaching expert Rick Wormeli, but we have to be smart about its structure, assignment, and assessment. Included: Ideas to make homework more engaging.

Close Reading of Advertising Promotes Critical Thinking
Advertising: it’s everywhere. As media literacy educators work to engage students in conversations about commercial marketing, we have to consider the close reading of print and video ads. Frank Baker provides starting points and resources for teachers.

How Do We Select Books Students MUST Read?
While we want students to fall in love with reading through text choices that excite them, says literacy consultant Sarah Tantillo, teachers must also address challenging skills and content and make sure students grow their background knowledge base. Tantillo shares ideas about finding the balance.

What an Effective Teacher’s Classroom Looks Like
Teaching experts Annette Breaux & Todd Whitaker contrast the typical characteristics of effective and ineffective classrooms using two simple but compelling bullet lists. Excerpted from the 2nd edition of their bestselling book Seven Simple Secrets with new teachers especially in mind.

Close Reading: Visual Literacy through Photography
While most students understand how to operate smart phones, they understand far less about what they see on their digital devices. Learning visual literacy in school is a vital skill today, says Frank W. Baker.

How to Recruit & Retain Middle School Volunteers
In this helpful how-to article Judith Wencel, founder of SUCCESS in the Middle, distills 20 years of experience effectively recruiting and preparing community tutors and mentors – dispelling the myth that “nobody will volunteer in middle schools.”

Some Favorite Posts We Shared at ISTE 2014
During the ISTE 2014 Conference in Atlanta GA, we posted a sampler of tech-oriented MiddleWeb articles, blog posts and reviews that we believe might add a little something to your digital toolbox. Passionate learning? Connected students? We got it!

The 10-Minute Vocabulary Lesson
Brief encounters with academic vocabulary can add hundreds of words to a student’s collection every year. How to find the time for those short lessons in a busy school day? Marilee Sprenger shares ten possibilities in this guest article.

Close Reading and What It Means for Media Literacy
Close reading isn’t just for printed texts anymore. To help students meet Common Core standards related to close observation and effective questioning, media literacy consultant Frank Baker suggests ways to engage them with a range of visual content.

Creating a Digital Book Club in Our School
Bringing online conversations around books into the schoolhouse can prepare our students for what reading looks like today and tomorrow, says K-5 principal Matt Renwick. He highlights the development of his school’s first student digital book club.

Complex Texts: Let Readers Make Their Meaning First
Standards-driven reading lessons often force students to “take” rather than “make” meaning from complex texts, says educator Dorothy Barnhouse. To deepen understanding, she recommends letting students first “notice” and think about the textual layers.

How to Be a Successful Middle School Teacher
In our lives beyond school we expect understanding, trust, and a sense of fair play. We want our concerns validated and taken seriously, and we want our voices to be heard. Our students are entitled to the same, says veteran teacher Elyse S. Scott.

Tap ShareMyLesson’s Great Teaching Ideas
Looking for lessons to support a Common Core standard? Want to see what other teachers have crafted in your grade or content area? Amber Chandler recommends AFT’s vast ShareMyLesson website to meet these needs and connect with fellow educators.

Kick Off Your Summer with a Good Professional Read
Summer is upon us (in the western hemisphere), and we hope you’ll soon be able to settle in with that stack of books you’ve been looking forward to reading. Some fiction perhaps? And then a couple of books to grow on. Here are a dozen books for educators that we’ve selected from among our MiddleWeb reviews of the past year.

Four Ideas To Deepen Student Math Discussions
Teaching children how to meaningfully participate in math conversations can be daunting, say educators Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz. The authors of Intentional Talk share four principles to help teachers lead deeper, more productive discussions.

Poems To Sustain Our Teaching Hearts
The end of the school year has been difficult for Kevin Hodgson, as his 6th graders begin to abandon their collaborative community, looking ahead to summer and secondary school. He finds sustenance in a new book of poetry and teacher reflection.

Relating Text Complexity to Rigor in the Classroom
The Common Core standards expect students to read increasingly challenging texts across the curriculum. Barbara Blackburn, author of Rigor in Your Classroom, highlights key factors associated with text complexity that teachers need to consider.

How We Write Out Loud: Envisioning Hugo Cabret
Having helped her students visualize scenes and characters during read alouds, Mary Tarashuk tries the same idea with writing. She and her students “write aloud” as they create text to match the opening illustrations from The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Then they envision their own stories.

Too Many Topics?! Try the DBQ Approach to Research Papers
Teachers who let students choose their own research paper topics are often overwhelmed by all the activity and material – and end up with poor results. Consultant Sarah Tantillo suggests adapting the Document-Based Question (DBQ) Approach instead.

Why Lecture Has a Place in My History Classroom
While inner-city history teacher Aaron Brock agrees that lecture has been chronically abused in the middle grades, he uses short flexible lectures and image-heavy slides to help prepare students for deeper learning in his diverse classroom.

Cultivating Passionate Learners in Common Core Classrooms
Educators can create classrooms where students control their own learning and still meet the demands of a Common Core curriculum, says 5th grade teacher Pernille Ripp, author of “Passionate Learners: Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students.”

8 Ways to Make Middle School History More Meaningful
Middle level students want to know how their studies relate to their lives, writes teacher-author Sarah Cooper. “The history we teach reaches them best when it involves novelty, humor, meaning, a sense of self, and a connection to the real world.”

Student-Driven Classrooms: Keeping the Faith
In a 7th grade classroom where students are used to sharing ownership and know how to think on their feet, what does the teacher do when he asks a question and there’s absolute silence? Smile at all the parents in the room and trust the kids.

3 Quick Ways to Check for Students’ Prior Knowledge
We can’t support rigorous learning unless we make sure students are ready for the experience, says teaching consultant Barbara R. Blackburn. She suggests three quick ways to assess prior knowledge, including the LINK small/whole group strategy.

Guiding Student Writers as They Work with Digital Tools
If asking student writers to develop voice, stamina and range isn’t hard enough, says teacher educator Troy Hicks, we now have digital tools to contend with. Watch as Hicks helps his 6th grade daughter think through her creation of a book report video.

History What-Ifs Sharpen Students’ Critical Thinking
Can speculation about alternate history and “what-if” scenarios help students sharpen their critical thinking skills? Participants in a recent Twitter hashtag chat think so, as MiddleWeb history teachers Jody Passanisi and Shara Peters report.

Anchor Activities Help Us Go with the Learning Flow
Upper elementary teacher Mary Tarashuk – who has always viewed “teach” as an action verb – is learning to step back and let students pursue their interests and passions more often, with the help of laptops & content-specific anchor activities.

Close Reading Relief: Re-engage Students with Digital Microstories
Too much close reading is boring, say Mike Fisher & Danielle Hardt, as students comb through fiction, constantly analyzing lots of text. Ask them to read and write digital microstories. They’ll build evaluation & synthesis skills and have some fun.

Using Fiction to Excite Middle Grades Kids about Science
Blending fiction, mystery and scientific investigation can be an effective way to excite tweens and young teens about science topics, says former teacher and NSTA trade book award winner Gail Hedrick, who shares her own writing & publishing story.

How to Help Students Brainstorm an Essay
An essay without a thesis might have great ideas in it, but absent an organizing principle it doesn’t hold together. Literacy expert Sarah Tantillo shares tools for thesis brainstorming & organizing that can save students and teachers time and pain.

Our #1 Reading Problem: Persistent Inequalities
If persistent inequalities in urban and rural classrooms continue across the public system, reading expert Laura Robb says, it will be impossible for many children in poverty to achieve the deeper levels of learning anticipated by the Common Core.

The 5 Rules of Student Engagement
Teachers who fail to actively involve students in learning experiences are mired in mediocrity, says educator Barbara Blackburn. The author of Rigor Is Not a 4-Letter Word shares five rules for student engagement she’s discovered, with examples from her own teaching and consulting.

Classroom Tinkers and Inventors
The authors of “Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom” share an exciting guest post at Anne Jolly’s STEM Imagineering blog. The tools and ethos of the maker revolution offer insight and hope for middle schools and for science and math studies, they say. “The breadth of options and the ‘can-do’ attitude is exactly what students need.”

The 5 Rules of Student Engagement
Teachers who fail to actively involve students in learning experiences are mired in mediocrity, says educator Barbara Blackburn. The author of Rigor Is Not a 4-Letter Word shares five rules for student engagement she’s discovered, with examples from her own teaching and consulting.

History vs. Hollywood: Who Gets the Story Right?
Numerous historical adaptions have been nominated for Academy Awards in recent years. Media literacy expert Frank W. Baker offers ideas and resources to help students examine the historical accuracy of popular movies and address a middle-level Common Core standard.

Ha! Ha! Building Serious Skills Using Stand-Up Comedy
Former principal Sue Stephenson describes how she and a team of teachers recently helped seventh graders prepare and perform standup comedy routines, all the while learning serious writing, speaking and personal living skills. Video link included!

Four Myths about Parent Involvement in Middle School
By debunking four myths about parent involvement at the middle level, educators can increase engagement and spark student motivation and performance, says middle school teacher & doctoral student Katie Wester-Neal, who shares some helpful strategies.

Invite Your Students to Create, Compose and Connect
Middle grades educator Jeremy Hyler & college professor Troy Hicks introduce some key ideas from their new book about reading, writing and student-driven digital learning – including several ways to use Schoology in the classroom.

Curriculum Brainstorming: Help Transform This ELA Lesson!
Education consultant Mike Fisher invited readers to be active participants in a Curriculum Brainstorm, using popular music and a song’s associated music video as a way to engage close reading of text, comparative analysis & use of digital tools. Check out the CCSS-based lesson plan.

Seven Simple Steps to Better Student Writing
Good writing instruction doesn’t have to be complicated, says literacy consultant Sarah Tantillo. No matter what genre you’re teaching – a paragraph, a timed essay or a full-blown research paper – she recommends these 7 basic steps. Rubric included!

Supporting Rigor for Students with Special Needs
Students with learning disabilities can meet high expectations and thrive in Common Core classrooms with the right teacher supports, say “rigor” experts Barbara Blackburn and Bradley Witzel. They recommend several proven scaffolding strategies.

Media Literacy: Making Sure Your (Brand) Name Is Out There
Introducing the concept of product placement, using pop culture images and sporting events, is a great way to jump-start students’ critical viewing and grow their media literacy skills, says expert Frank Baker. Key questions for analysis included.

Taking the Struggle Out of Group Work
Most teachers know the value of collaborative projects, but students often struggle over who does the work. Social studies teachers Jody Passanisi & Shara Peters offer some ideas about turning groups into teams and (equally important) getting each student to carry a fair share of the load.

Teach Kids to Build Their Own Prior Knowledge
Many teachers are frustrated by Common Core directions to ignore prior knowledge when teaching students to analyze texts, says literacy coach Laura Robb. She recommends a proactive approach: show students how to do it for themselves. Tips included!

Handy Tools to Unpack the ELA Common Core standards
Author and literacy consultant Sarah Tantillo shares six tips and a simple, user-friendly graphic organizer that can guide middle grades teachers as they unpack the ELA Common Core standards and create objectives & activities to help students meet them. Get an advance look at material from Tantillo’s upcoming book, Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, 2014).

Media Literacy: Learning from the Oscars
It’s Oscar season and media literacy consultant Frank W. Baker has ideas about leveraging student interest in movies to teach visual literacy skills and learn about cool careers. Lots of resources, including teacher tools at the Oscars website.

Individualizing Group Reading Using Adaptive Digital Books
Former middle grades teacher Daniel Fountenberry says his experiences struggling to organize group reading sessions among students with varied reading skills led him to develop adaptive technology that tailors the “same” book to different readers.

Managing Multiple Writing Conferences
In Part 2 of her article on conferencing with student writers, teacher-author Marilyn Pryle tells how she manages multiple conferences with each student during a class period. The key: give students small manageable tasks they can do on their own.

Writing Conferences: Praise & Focus Critical
In the first of two articles about conferencing with middle grades writers, teacher-author Marilyn Pryle identifies a pair of critical elements that need to be present in early conversations: (1) praise; and (2) a focus on meaning – not grammar.

Five Myths about Rigor and the Common Core
Moving beyond the five myths of rigor to incorporate true instructional rigor in the classroom is critical in light of the Common Core, says expert Barbara Blackburn, who advocates scaffolding and differentiation to help all students achieve more.

Storytelling: Games, Coding and Student Writing
Mark Gerl, a school-based technology coordinator in Atlanta GA, reflects on the key role of language arts & storytelling in successful video games — something he & his students have learned in chats with a team of Canadian adventure game designers.

Skimming: The Overlooked Close Reading Skill
Although skimming might seem to be the opposite of close reading, it is a crucial Common Core skill for pulling information out of a text – and one that’s often overlooked by teachers, says consultant Sarah Tantillo, author of The Literacy Cookbook.

The New Year’s flood of diet ads offers teachable moments
What does the annual avalanche of diet advertising mean to the classroom teacher? It’s a teachable moment, says media literacy expert Frank Baker — an opportunity to sharpen visual literacy and critical thinking skills, and perhaps bring the Common Core standard for argument writing into play.

Why we should make room for poetry in Common Core classrooms
How often do you share poetry with students? Reading interventionist and literacy coach Gwen Flaskamp shows how increasing students’ experience with poetry can build literacy, analytical and social-emotional skills and help meet Common Core standards.

Teaching in High Gear: The Classroom Coach
In her new book Teaching in High Gear: My Shift Toward a Student-Driven, Inquiry-Based Science Classroom, middle school teacher Marsha Ratzel reflects on a transformational journey marked by a gradual shift toward student-driven learning — and energized by a global network of collaborators who shared her vision. In this excerpt, Marsha describes how her development of a “coaching mode” helped students become more self-reliant learners.

Updating Our Recipes for Learning
Whether it’s Grandma’s biscotti recipe or a lesson plan, adding new ingredients (like digital tools) shouldn’t distract from the end result you seek, says teacher and technology consultant Mike Fisher. “The modern mindset is really about willingness, not digital knowledge. It’s about trying new things and exploring new tools and avenues for instruction WITH the students rather than FOR the students.”

Can teachers and students be friends?
Teachers can and should be friendly with students, but they need to avoid adult-style friendships, say Larry Ferlazzo and Rick Wormeli in this excerpt from the new book Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching. Wormeli, an award-winning educator turned full-time consultant on teaching in the middle grades, details why it’s important that “teachers and students recognize clear boundaries rightfully established in successful teaching-learning relationships.”

The #1 close reading skill: It’s all about the questions
Literacy expert Sarah Tantillo has been reading lots of potentially useful advice about teaching students to become close readers. But what she’s not seeing much, Tantillo says, is the most important strategy of all: teaching students how to ask good questions. In a new MiddleWeb guest article, Tantillo shares an indepth strategy to achieve this essential step in the comprehension process, with help from Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

Reflections on STEM, STEAM and the media arts
Media literacy consultant Frank W. Baker is a proponent of adding the ‘A’ (for Arts) into STEM “because I see many STEAM connections in what I teach.” In this article, Baker, a recipient of the 2013 Jessie McCanse Award for contributions to media education, notes that “math and science, like media literacy, encourage problem-solving, inquiry and critical thinking. So do the arts.” Baker offers several ideas to connect STEM subjects to movies & popular culture.

Make Me or Break Me: A poem for first-year teachers
Roxanna Elden, a National Board certified teacher and author of the newly revised book Meet Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, is not known for her “chicken soup for the soul” approach to counseling novice educators. Yet in this poem about the gritty realities of first-year teaching, she somehow manages to put forth hope. Or at least vacation.

Lessons from Llamas: How to teach difficult vocabulary
What does llama wrangling have in common with teaching difficult vocabulary to students? Florida teacher Lee Ann Spillane has done both successfully. Here’s what she says: “On the trail, multi-purpose tools are handy (and) in the classroom, we use digital tools that have multiple functions or purposes to study vocabulary.” For word learning, she says, free apps “do more and do it differently than flashcards or other traditional word learning activities.”

Student Voices: “5 Ways Teachers Can Help Us Do Our Best”
What do students in the middle grades most need from their teachers? For more than a dozen years, the leaders of the non-profit What Kids Can Do have been listening to and gathering answers from middle schoolers nationwide. Barbara Cervone, Kathleen Cushman and Laura Rogers share a collection of students’ comments highlighting five actions young adolescents wish teachers would take to help them.

How to Achieve Thematic Teaching in Middle School
Middle level advocates have long championed an integrated curriculum and thematic teaching but have seldom achieved them in practice, say middle school consultants Nancy Doda and Mark Springer. Here, the two AMLE award winners lay out the necessary steps to “to move from a legacy of powerful rhetoric to one of more powerful practice,” beginning with involving students in creating “powerful themes and provocative questions.”

10 Signs of a Together School
After visiting schools across the United States, Together Teacher author Maia Heyck-Merlin  highlights 10 characteristics of “together schools” that support teachers to work effectively on behalf of students and families. Among her findings: together schools are clear about the division of roles among members of the administrative team, have written expectations for communication and social media norms, and show a high respect for teachers’ non-teaching time.

5 Strategies for Teaching in the Tween Years
The developmental needs of tweens and young teens are unique, says popular professional development consultant Rick Wormeli, and flourishing as a middle grades teacher requires special skills. He offers five strategies tailored to young adolescent learners.

Involve Your Students in a Global Read Aloud
Each fall students involved in the internet-based Global Read Aloud activity listen to a book and talk about it with kids around the world. Teacher/creator Pernille Ripp tells how to join in.

Authentic Learning Experiences
Authentic learning experiences can be defined as “challenging investigations,” linked to either a community or career connection, says Buck Institute consultant Dayna Laur. They require students to solve a real-world problem or engage in tasks that are career focused and directly mirror the kind of interesting conundrums they might find in the professional world. In either instance, the open-ended nature of the investigation compels students to justify their work through deep research and testing methods.

Learning by Immersion
Veteran music teacher and Education Week blogger Nancy Flanagan shares the story of how a “solid bar band” taught her to be a better teacher by immersing her in the rhythm and flow. In many nations, students learn reading and math by being immersed in books, blocks and dramatic play, using tools of the disciplines to develop a solid base of experiential practice before delving deeper into “theory,” she says.

Strategies That Open the Door to Common Core Math
Common Core math experts Leslie Texas & Tammy Jones offer strategies to help students become mathematical thinkers. Included: free instructional resources.

Ramp Up the Learning During Field Trips
“Fieldwork” is a great way to extend and apply classroom knowledge and to provide out-of-the ordinary learning opportunities and real-world exposure for students, writes teacher educator Amanda Wall. She describes how she’s blended specific learning activities into class field trips and shares six tips to help teachers plan.

Six Fun Ways to Encourage Kids to Read More
Maddie Witter, teacher and author of Reading Without Limits, shares six kid-friendly strategies that can boost reading engagement in the middle grades. Here’s one: Have students create a “playlist” for a favorite book that includes related nonfiction, film, music, novels, etc.

Teach Visual & Media Literacy with Popular Magazines
Magazines about popular culture are an effective tool to teach media literacy and “a host of Common Core standards,” says expert Frank W. Baker.

What Teachers Should & Should Not Say about Student Work
Empty praise does not inspire students to develop into independent, self-motivated learners, writes teaching consultant Debbie Silver. The author of Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight: Teaching Kids to Succeed explores effective feedback, motivational praise, and the power inherent in the words teachers choose to say to kids about their work.

Film Project: Learning about Slavery in the U.S.
Filmmaker Kesa Kivel worked with middle school students in an after-school YWCA program to produce a short film about the slavery experience in the United States.

Empower History Students to Become Self-Reliant Learners
The greatest gift we can give our students is the confidence and know-how to teach themselves. Joseph Ball shares a history project that does just that.

How to Develop a Sense of Belonging in Students
When students feel they “belong” in school, they are more likely to thrive academically, socially & emotionally, says middle grades teacher educator Amanda Wall. In this in-depth article, Wall looks at the research around belonging and offers ideas and resources for schools and classrooms.

Help Students Discover & Cultivate Themes in Their Writing
Good writing has a theme. It’s the heartbeat of any essay or story. ELA teacher-author Marilyn Pryle shares her strategies to help students write more thematically by teaching them to search for what’s most important in their early drafts.

Why We Need Common Core Math Standards
MS math teacher Kathy Felt makes her case for the Common Core standards and the need for educators to “teach mathematics in deep and engaging ways.” Felt, a participant in standards development, points to resources that can help.

TweenTeacher’s Startup Tips: Establish a Classroom Culture
Amid all the exciting teaching plans for a new year, middle grades teacher-author Heather Wolpert-Gawron (aka, TweenTeacher) shares her list of must-do-firsts to establish a solid classroom culture.

What Culturally Responsive Teaching Looks Like
Julia G. Thompson, author of the 1st Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, considers what it means to have a culturally responsive classroom. Many tips & resources to help new and veteran teachers improve classroom culture.

Welcome to Teaching!
Veteran middle grades educator & National TOY finalist Cindi Rigsbee is eager to share her excitement about the profession with new teachers. We can pretty much guarantee you’ll be inspired. And we recommend re-reading it when times get tough.

Steal Like a Teacher
Middle grades teacher-leader Jose Vilson adapts some advice from the best selling book Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon to the teaching profession. It’s the age of the remix.

Using Socratic Seminars in the Middle Grades
Learn how Socratic Seminars can help students develop effective habits of discussion, explain their ideas, and support them with evidence. Sarah Tantillo, author of The Literacy Cookbook, offers step by step tips and resources.

Leadership: What Should Middle School Be?
As he contemplates his new role as middle level division leader, Charlie Gramatges considers the middle school essentials that best serve young adolescents.

School Culture Project: Students Reject Stereotypes
Our eighth-grade authors present a highly engaging video and describe the creation of their “I AM Wall” – part of a project on stereotyping that included reading S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.

New Literacies: Scriptwriting
The need to interpret and manipulate media has been identified as one of the “new literacies.” Media literacy consultant Frank Baker makes the case that students should be writing scripts and screenplays as part of their 21st century schoolwork.

Get Your Students Blogging!
Blogging is essential in Pernille Ripp’s middle grades classroom. “It’s a way to check their emotional temperature & for them to talk to the world.” Here’s her 10-step process that will help teachers create a safe and effective blogging program that can accelerate student learning.

Teachers Should Design Their Own Observations
When teachers design their own observations, colleagues can help them zero in on key questions and gather helpful data to improve practice. The authors of The Transparent Teacher describe why and how teacher-driven observation works.

The Best Classoom Library Fiction: History + Mystery!
Historical mysteries that lure reluctant readers & boost comprehension are great for classroom libraries, says teacher-author Elizabeth Varadon. Among her favorites: Dragonwings, The Golden Goblet, and Victorian YA mysteries like Newbery Honor winner Splendors and Glooms.

A “Wow” Factor App for Middle Grades Students
A new web tool, designed just for education, can help promote student creativity and innovative thinking, says education consultant & former middle grades teacher Mike Fisher, who recommends clever ways to use the Pinterest-like eduClipper in the classroom (it’s probably unblocked).

ELA Common Core Trajectory Analysis
You know you need to do it. Author and CCSS-ELA specialist Sarah Tantillo shares a tool to help teachers analyze the trajectory of ELA Common Core standards so they know what to expect – and what to accomplish.

Interview: MindShift’s Tina Barseghian
We interview Tina Barseghian, founder and editor of MindShift, the popular blog about the future of teaching and learning in the digital age.

Learn like Luke Skywalker
Paradigm-shifting professional development leader Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach tells a story about her toddler grandson to illustrate the power of passion-based learning across all grades and ages.

Who Are You to Tell Me What to Do?
Four years after becoming an instructional coach, Elena Aguilar once again found herself in front of a class of 8th graders, looking for ways to develop trusting relationships.

Visual Literacy & Politics
Media expert Frank Baker offers examples of political stagecraft at the highest levels and suggests several visual literacy lesson ideas. Of special interest during American election cycles (which is most of the time, these days!) Also see Baker’s MiddleWeb articles: Media Literacy & Politics (Help students understand how political messages are crafted so that they can see through the spin) and Watching Political Debates with Kids (tips & tools adaptable for future elections).

Private School Dean: “Thank You, Public Schools”
Independent middle school dean Bill Ivey acknowledges a deep debt to public schools for forging today’s “middle school model” for young adolescents.

Rick Wormeli: The Fundamentals of Middle Grades Teaching
It’s an exciting time to be a new middle grades educator, says expert Rick Wormeli, if you keep several fundamentals in mind as you work with young adolescents. Read about two here and two more in his companion article Good Feedback Equals Active Learning, where he urges new teachers not to become “slaves of the pacing guide.”

Don’t Put Kids on the Wrong Side of the Tracks
Award winning teacher and Ed Week blogger Nancy Flanagan reflects on how difficult it is to predict student potential and shares a story with MiddleWeb readers about some Title I kids who flew above the tracks.

Science: Raptors in the City!
The annual Raptors in the City project opens a web portal on peregrine falcons living in a skyscraper during spring nesting season. From Deborah Mathies: Engaging ideas for science classrooms!

Ethical & Effective Test Prep in Your Classroom
Can we find ways to prepare our students for standardized testing that are both ethical and effective? Larry Ferlazzo, a secondary teacher and the author of several books on student motivation, shares some ideas.

Math Apps & Tools for Teaching the Common Core
Learning consultant and former middle grades teacher Mike Fisher has lots of ideas for integrating technology & the Common Core. In this article he looks at digital tools that can deepen math learning.

3 Steps to Improved Student Behavior
Positive discipline is supported by brain research about adolescent learning, say the authors of U-Turn Teaching. It’s just not effective to shout, threaten and punish, say Rich Allen and Jenn Currie. Instead, demonstrate, facilitate and motivate.

Interview: The Goddess of Good Advice
Middle grades teacher Cossondra George has a knack for giving good teaching advice, found in high-readership articles across the Web. She gives us some in this frank and helpful conversation.

Media Careers: Learning More about the Movies
Oscar season is a perfect time to introduce students to film careers & examine the highly collaborative movie enterprise, says media literacy expert Frank Baker.

Interview: A Common Core ‘Teacherpreneur’
In our chat with middle grades “teacherpreneur” Sarah Henchey, the recent teacher-in-residence at the Center for Teaching Quality reflects on her school-based leadership role in developing integrated CCSS curriculum. And she helps us understand why she IS a teacherpreneur.

CCSS Secrets: How to Teach Argument vs. Evidence
One of the things students struggle with in just about every subject is distinguishing between argument and evidence. It’s a problem that manifests itself in both reading and writing, says Sarah Tantillo, author of The Literacy Cookbook. She shares six steps that can help students strengthen this important Common Core skill.

3 CCSS-Friendly Digital Tools to Help Upgrade Curriculum
Teaching consultant Mike Fisher, co-author of Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students (ASCD, 2012), hones in on two upgrades in this MiddleWeb article: technology integration and Common Core alignment. Included: info on the cool digital tools Picktochart, Smore and Yapp.

Using Movies & Storyboarding to Improve Literacy Skills
Students need the skills to read and discern messages in visual media, says media literacy consultant Frank Baker, who uses Wall-E and other movies to teach “the language of film.” Also: Involving students in writing and storyboarding addresses key Common Core standards.

Safety Drill S in Effect
New Jersey fourth grade teacher Mary Tarashuk shares a powerful reflection on tragedy and teachable moments, inspired in part by the Sandy Hook shootings.

The Walking Classroom: Listening & Learning Outside
In two MiddleWeb posts, teacher Mary Tarashuk shares podcasts from the non-profit group The Walking Classroom that make it easy to combine skills and goals that meet CCSS & other standards across multiple content areas. Part 2: Learning Step by Step

It’s the Holiday Season: Here Come the Toy Ads
Toy commercials, so pervasive on TV during the holidays, are a great way to jump-start media literacy discussions with students. Literacy consultant Frank W. Baker explicates several TV toy ads from the past and offers several lesson ideas.

Interview: The #Sugarkills Gang
We interview The #Sugarkills Gang, a group of sixth grade science students who are on a social media nutrition mission to sugar-shock the world. Learn how teacher-author Bill Ferriter’s students tackled project learning with a purpose.

Interview: Bill Ferriter, Tempered with an Edge
Bill Ferriter — master middle grades teacher, multiple-book author, PLC expert and Tempered Radical blogger — offers up his version of cold hard educational truth in a candid chat with MiddleWeb.

School Culture: Changing the Forecast
We must stand up for students even if it makes us unpopular, writes middle grades teacher Becky Bair. She shares some lessons learned  about pushing for a “climate shift” in a newly established intermediate (4-6) school. Includes links to two earlier posts.

Transitioning from My Teaching Resume to My Bucket List
In the last decade of her teaching career, NBCT Julie Dermody no longer thinks about her resumé. She’s working on her teaching bucket list. The middle grades literacy and ESL specialist shares some of her late-career goals and wonders – what’s on yours?

How to Build Happy Student Brains
Judy Willis, a neurologist & middle grades teacher, says we can help adolescents build happy, learning brains through interactive, interdependent group work. She includes five research-based tips for successful student collaboration in cooperative groups.

Educating the Connected Generation
The Internet is omnipresent, says middle school dean Bill Ivey, and  educators can’t look the other way. We have to help students (and ourselves) use technology productively and recognize both the benefits and risks of living the connected life, always waiting to see where the next hour takes us.

Interview: Where Are the Math Girls?
A single teacher in a school can be the decisive factor in getting girls excited about mathematics, says teacher-author Jessica Shumway in this MiddleWeb interview about increasing young women’s interest in a key STEM subject.

My 4th Grade Global Classroom
In fourth-grade teacher Patti Grayson’s self-contained but global classroom, her students learn from content experts and kids just like themselves in other places across the world. Learn how she assures that kids have authentic audiences for their work & sharpen 21st century skills.

The Together Classroom: How to Organize the Daily Flow
Maia Heyck-Merlin, author of The Together Teacher: Plan Ahead, Get Organized and Save Time, has organizational ideas for teachers in stationary and rotating classrooms — and for teachers who find it necessary to travel from room to room.

Interview: Anne Jolly & Hands-on Science
With support from the National Science Foundation, science educator Anne Jolly is helping colleagues in Mobile, Alabama develop hands-on STEM curriculum units for grades 6-8 that will fully integrate with national standards. (Jolly has since become MiddleWeb’s STEM blogger.)

Start of School: My No-Bunk Letter to Parents
Middle school teacher Marsha Ratzel wants parents to know exactly what their children can expect in her classroom: challenge, support and concern.

Interview: A Daring Middle Grades Librarian
Many teacher librarians struggle to explain their continued relevance to a skeptical audience. But Daring Librarian Gwyneth Jones has no problem explaining hers. We had a lot of fun interviewing this ISTE board member and prominent national teacher blogger. You’ll have fun reading it!

For Newbie Teachers: A Week with Rick Wormeli
In 2003 (when you were in the middle grades) we staged a 5-day chat with Rick Wormeli to discuss his book for newbies, Day One and Beyond: Practical Matters for New Middle-Level Teachers. Much of the chat among novice & veteran teachers was timeless, so we’ve posted a modified transcript here!

When You Engage, Your Students Behave
The secret to behavior is to have students fully engaged in the learning process, says fomer middle school educator and teacher coach Anthony Cody. It’s much more than rules and referrals.

The ASCEND Saga: Respect
For Elena Aguilar, her transformational journey began the day she asked 6th graders to use her first name. Read about a remarkable public school experiment in Oakland CA that continues today.

Middle Grades Teaching Essentials
National teacher leader Nancy Flanagan reveals the essence of excellent teaching in the middle grades by answering four questions she asks herself. Find out what she has to say about trusting relationships, an inviting classroom environment, meaningful curriculum, and credible assignments.

Actually, Graduates, You ARE Special
You might remember the brouhaha over a 2012 “You’re Not Special” graduation speech at Wellesley (MA) High School. Middle school dean Bill Ivey happened to be in the audience. While he had an initial positive response to the brief talk by a WHS teacher, upon reflection, Ivey writes here, students might be better served with the message: “Each of us is special.”

A Better Brand of Teaching
Her classroom has changed dramatically, says sixth grade science teacher Marsha Ratzel, since she began to find ways to put students in charge of their own learning. They are stronger, more confident and more willing to do “the hard stuff.”

Interview: ‘Tween Crayons & Curfews
TweenTeacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron taught in elementary and high school before opting for “Shakespeare and silliness” in the middle grades. We ask her about tips for new teachers and the teaching life.

Visual Media: A New Literacy
Engaging students in creating and analyzing images and films is a key step in developing an important 21st century skill, says media literacy consultant Frank Baker.

Advice for New Special Education Teachers
Special educators and co-teachers share many challenges all teachers face, says Elizabeth Stein, and the same guiding question: What can I do for each and every child?

Students Can Do Hard Things
What can our students possibly learn if we only give them easy tasks? How can we motivate them to accept a challenge if they doubt their own ability? Master teacher and coach Anthony Cody writes about “grit” before grit was cool.

Speaking and Presenting Are Important Life Skills
Education consultant Erik Palmer believes students must become well-spoken presenters and communicators to be successful in the digital future. The author of Well-Spoken and Digitally Speaking highlights a tool that can help teachers shift from traditional speech instruction to CCSS-friendly methods that are more relevant in a connected world.

The Homeroom Is a Home
In this excerpt from an upcoming book, educator, blogger and activist Jose Vilson recounts his memorable, and emotional, first year teaching in an inner city middle school in New York.

5 Ideas for Helping Students Develop Internet Identities
Teacher-librarian Jenny Luca explains her school’s commitment to helping students develop ePortfolios and good digital footprints.

Hungering for a Better World
Middle school dean Bill Ivey reflects on teaching and learning about racism, in the wake of racist comments about the casting for The Hunger Games.

Interview: Helping Girls Thrive
Through research and counseling, professor & author Lisa Hinkelman has learned what girls really want adults to know about their lives and how to help them thrive.

Interview: Larry Ferlazzo, Impresario
Larry Ferlazzo is the Internet’s impresario of education resources. He tells us the story behind Websites of the Day, his great act of curation, & more. If you don’t know about this man’s work, you need to!

Interview: Teaching ESL/ELL Students
California teacher Katie Hull Sypnieski, co-author of The ESL/ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide, shares some do’s & don’ts for all teachers who have ELL students in their classrooms.

Interview: Ms. Miller’s Wild Ride
Thanks to a popular blog and a book (The Book Whisperer) earning a 5-star Amazon rating, career teacher Donalyn Miller has become a national champion of Young Adult books and independent reading.

Middle School Students Have Natural Resilience
Middle school is full of real-life challenges. Fortunately, says school leader Charlie Gramatges, young adolescents “have resilience built into their programming” that teachers and school leaders can help surface.

Supporting Challenged Kids Goes Beyond Academics
This diary entry from MiddleWeb’s early years, written by a former National Middle Level Principal of the Year, reminds us that the work of K-12 educators encompasses much more than academics. Michelle Pedigo highlights the work of a school-based youth services center.

The Art of Connected Coaching
Connected coaches are social artists “immersed in collaboration in online spaces” says Lani Ritter Hall, an online facilitation expert and retired middle grades teacher who is also co-author of the Solution Tree best-seller The Connected Educator.