Empowering Students One Phase at a Time — Innovative Teaching Academy

When I was a student in middle school and high school, life was simple: go to class, write down the assignment, complete the warm up, listen to the teacher, take notes, read the assigned passages, answer the questions, turn in your work, and repeat tomorrow.

Was every class like this? Didn’t any class use other methods of teaching? Well, yes…

  • My 6th grade history teacher had us research someone from history and told us to dress up as that person to give our presentation from that perspective.
  • My 7th grade science teacher was slightly obsessed with Bill Nye the Science Guy, so we experimented with science often after watching his shows.
  • My 9th grade algebra teacher used Gumby the cartoon character in many of her lessons to help us visualize the different strategies.
  • My 10th grade physics teacher constantly had us working on projects either on our own or with a partner in order to learn how things worked.

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These teachers stand out. They made learning engaging, and in a few cases empowering for me. These teachers were innovative. These teachers made me want to teach, too (although I didn’t realize it at the time).

What is innovation and why does it matter to me?

Why were those teachers innovative? What made them different? Easy: they stood out, they made sure each student was learning, and they tried new things. I didn’t experience that a often when I was in school, so the times when I did are especially meaningful.

Earlier this school year, I was asked (by our curriculum director, Melissa Bosley) to take part in an Innovative Teaching Academy through our region’s education service center, Region 12 which covers Central Texas. This program is broken down into three phases, which will help today’s teachers better connect and empower the students of this generation. It will help today’s teachers make learning meaningful to their students.

Innovation in teaching is about reaching every student.

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I immediately jumped at the chance to improve as a teacher. I have since completed phase one, Learn, of the program, and I’m on to phase two!

I have to pause right here and thank the wonderful leaders of this Academy: Cory CampAndi McNair, and Josh Essary. They have made this experience exciting, enriching, and empowering — I truly enjoy this program and value everything I’ve learned in it.

Phase One

During the first phase of the training, teachers participate in “learning experiences. These are professional development training with hands-on outside learning opportunities (O.L.O.) to learn through doing.

To “graduate” from this step, we need to take part in at least 30 hours of training. The best part is that we get choices! There are numerous learning experiences available, but we only need to choose the ones we’re interested in, which will in turn help us choose our focus for the next two phases.

My focus: empowering students. 

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my phase one learning experiences

Every major project or undertaking should have a significant question (we even teach that to students before they start research), so I figured out mine…

How can I empower students to learn without me leading them?

Each of these classes helped me answer that question, but I’ll narrow it down to my two favorites (although that’s not quite fair since we’re in the middle of the book study).

Designing Meaningful Learning Experiences and Student Choice and Voice — State standards mandate what we have to teach, and many schools follow a YAG (year at a glance) to show when they have to teach it. If we’re lucky, we get a choice in how we teach these lessons. Therefore, why shouldn’t students receive choices, too (especially when they impact the students on a deeper level)?

In order to incorporate more meaningful experiences into our classroom, I wanted help from my students, and they wanted to help create their own choices. We keep writer’s notebooks, and every student has personal writing goals each grading period within these notebooks. One major problem they faced: what do I write about when I get stuck?

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These bingo ideas are from my students!

BINGO! That’s it! I asked the students to create bingo ideas that would help us create Writing Bingo. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I was blown away by their creativity in this task. Not only that, but they’re actually getting Bingo and achieving their goals!

Even though quite a few students have completed a Bingo, they are reluctant to share their voice on our class blog. However, I managed to talk one student into sharing hers today, so she’ll work on that and have a post up next week!

(Update 2/19/18 — Hers is up today! Check it out here!)

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The badges I’ve earned in phase one!

Phase Two

The Innovative Teaching Academy seems a bit more complicated now that I’m in phase two. However, these classes have shown me ways to make phase two possible.

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I already participate regularly in Twitter chats for writing and education, so continuing to do so isn’t a problem. I can sometimes even be found out-of-state! (These are listed using Central time since that’s the timezone I’m in.)

  • Sunday
    • #sunchat ~8am
    • #TXeduchat ~ 8pm
    • #BCedchat ~ 9pm
  •  Monday
    • #teachwrite (on the first Monday of each month) ~ 6:30pm
    • #NYedchat ~ 7pm
    • KSedchat ~ 8pm
    • #ALedchat ~ 9pm
  • Tuesday
    • #5thchat ~ 7pm
    • #2ndaryELA ~ 7pm
    • #MTedchat ~ 9pm
  • Wednesday
    • #OHedchat ~ 8pm
    • #WeirdEd ~ 9pm
  • Thursday
    • #whatisschool ~ 5pm
    • #eduAR ~ 8:30pm
  • Friday
    • #engagechat ~ 7pm
  • Saturday
    • #EduGladiators ~ 10:30am

I’m working on connecting my class with outside experts. One expert will be a writer from our local writer’s group (after we meet again to discuss it). My students want an author to come speak to them in order to talk about the writing process and their struggles and successes with it.

One of my students in the Teen Leadership elective that I teach wanted to talk to a football player. We are working on a face-to-face talk with former NFL player Quan Cosby, but in the meantime my student was able to research Quan and conduct an email interview. (Talk about a meaningful experience!)

Phase Three

The great thing about phase three is you don’t have to wait until you’re done with phase two to start it! This blog post helps count toward phase three for me, and so does my post about Bingo in the classroom.

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I submitted a proposal yesterday to present at the TransformED Conference. While I wait to hear from them, I’m also working with Melissa (our curriculum director) to see what I can do as far as campus leadership goes.

Reflection

One of the many tools I’ve gained from the ITA is reflection. I’m a firm believer in self-reflection, but I wasn’t holding my students to this to the same degree. We were introduced to this reflection tool, and my students love it! They’ve even started making up their own reflection questions at the end of class.

As far as my reflection thus far on the ITA, I simply have to see how far I’ve come in answering my question from above: How can I empower students to learn without me leading them?

I’ve learned that my students love to do things on their own. They make suggestions for our class in our Anonymous Suggestion Box (one of the ITA ideas). They create amazing things in their writer’s notebook by using the writing process. They take research into their own hands.

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from our Anonymous Suggestion Box — who are these kids?

They are EMPOWERED! I simply have to make sure to keep moving in that direction as I continue through this process and beyond.

Proof of Empowerment

Last grading period one student wrote an acrostic poem about herself in her writer’s notebook. She is a quiet student in a large class. She is often overshadowed by others, and she doesn’t share her writing often.

However, I commented in the “Teacher Feedback” section of her writing goals when she turned it in that her poem was beautiful and that I would love to see her enhance it through the writing process. We all know that many students ignore teacher comments.

She didn’t.

Yesterday, she requested a writing conference. She was excited to show me that she had taken her acrostic poem through the writing process. She showed me where she added similes, imagery, and where she had changed capitalization for emphasis.

I hope you get as many goosebumps as I did after reading this incredibly powerful poem from a 7th grade girl.

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used with permission

Your Turn…

Have I mentioned anything you want to try? How do you empower your students? Please feel free to share with me in the comments.

B-I-N-G-O… in the classroom?

I don’t know about you, but one problem for writers is a blank page.

What do I write about?

This question pops up all too often, and it can keep students from achieving their personal writing goals. Students have loved writing bingo in the past, so I created a Google Form for them to submit their own ideas for bingo cards.

I was not disappointed. To be completely honest, I was awestruck by the amount of ideas they generated!

The ideas!

After gathering all their ideas, I created lists of them in Google Docs. The lists make it easier to input the ideas onto the bingo card at Print Bingo.

Each set I input creates 10 cards — all different. My amazing 7th grade students gave me enough ideas for five sets, which equal 50 different cards!

Here are a couple from each set for you to see what their creative minds came up with!

Expectations…

Bingo is by no means a requirement. Students can complete a bingo at any time in their writer’s notebook for a reward, or they can simply use he cards for inspiration. (I have a collection of pens and pencils for them to choose from for rewards.)

The question is, can I expect them to write if I don’t? Can I expect them to complete a bingo if I don’t even try?

My answer is — that depends on the example I, as a teacher, want to set.

I choose to set a positive and encouraging example to the young writers I encounter every school day.

Without further ado, here is my Bingo, and I hope it encourages my students to publish theirs on our class blog when they’re done, too!

BINGO!

My Bingo card is from set 3:

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“Write how you feel about winter” — I chose to use a list for this one.

Write a brainstorm in different colored pens” — I doubled up with this one by combining it with “create a character map about a frog.”

“Write about your favorite teacher” — I love poetry, so I chose that format to write about my most memorable teacher.

“Create a character map about a superhero you make up” — This was difficult for me, so I asked Twitter and Facebook for help!

“Write a poem about writing a poem” — Again, poetry is my favorite!

Reflection:

Reflecting on our process is an important part of our class. To emphasize that, I’ll reflect on this process.

I loved that students were excited to share all their writing ideas with me and each other. I can’t wait for them to start sharing their creativity with the world more by using their blog.

I loved creating a new superhero even though it was super difficult — thank you to those who gave me ideas! (Please note, the “stick man” idea is from Corbett Harrison who has a ton of amazing ideas for the classroom!)

In the future, I plan to incorporate a few of these ideas into stories. I also plan to try out some more bingo ideas (maybe even another bingo card)!

Comments

Please feel free to share with me your thoughts or questions in the section below. Also, if you use any of the ideas from the above Bingo cards, let us know!

Why I teach…

Why are we teaching? What keeps us teaching? What makes us come back after the break (especially after Christmas break)?

November is almost at an end, which means most teachers are counting down the days until Christmas break. I’ve decided to do a different kind of counting this year: I’ll be counting all the reasons to return to my profession after the new year…

One thing we need to think about during this holiday season is why we’re here in the first place. Why are we teaching? What keeps us teaching? What makes us come back after the break (especially after Christmas break)?

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I’m in my sixth year of teaching, and I still enjoy teaching as much as I did when I first started. I even like *whispers* Mondays!

What? It’s true!

For those of you who still enjoy teaching as much as you did on day one, I hope you keep the spirit alive during your holiday break. For those of you who are contemplating a career change, take a moment to reflect on all the reasons you became a teacher in the first place.

I look forward to Mondays…

I know I said it earlier, but it’s true. It’s also probably one of the top reasons I still enjoy teaching.

Mondays offer a new beginning, a fresh start. Weekends are often filled with ideas about what I can do differently (often only in my head), and I’m eager to try these new things in the classroom.

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The most difficult thing is having a great idea on Friday afternoon and having to wait until Monday to try it, having to wait until Monday to see if it was truly a great idea or not.

Waiting isn’t easy, but it’s worth it (especially with those sparks of wonderful ideas).

I love to hear students say they love writing…

How many people can say they love to write? Now divide that in half (at least) and you’ll have the number of students who love to write.

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Written for me by student 23LM2-12.

We write a lot in my class. Students have personal writing goals that they work on for six weeks. They write anything they want as they work through the writing process in their notebooks.

Maybe they simply enjoy the freedom they have when they tell me that they finally love writing, but I’m hoping it’s more than that. I’m hoping they’re finding themselves a bit as they write, which is all any writer can ask for.

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Students’ writer’s notebooks — they get to decorate them any way they want in order to personalize them and encourage more writing.

I enjoy trying new things…

Similar to my love of Mondays, I love to try new things in the classroom. I’ve learned about several new things via Twitter chats, Facebook teaching groups, and Region 12 workshops.

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Our “Writing Process” board to help students (and me) visualize their progress on our class assignment — an idea given to me from a workshop.
  • Writer’s Workshop — I adapted this method that I found on Twitter to fit my classroom.
  • Anonymous Suggestion Box — This idea came from a workshop in Student Voice. Suggestions have included: more time to write in class, adding a daily warm-up, play more classical music, and more writing prompts.
  • Interactive Presentation — I started using Pear Deck after experiencing it in a workshop. My students love it!
  • Interactive Videos — I started using Edpuzzle after encountering it in a workshop. My students like that they can answer questions and hear explanations we’ve learned in class.
  • Blog — Although we’re still getting used to having one, my students love updating their blog: CMS Cubs Write, an idea I gained from many sources.

I don’t enjoy failing, but I do love to learn from my mistakes…

After several years of teaching, I’m still failing. I learned about my biggest failure this year: greeting students at the door. This seems like such a small thing, insignificant, but it’s definitely not.

Before this year, students had assigned seating in my class. I thought it would help with classroom management and peer tutoring (I was not disappointed).

However, I learned about flexible seating this summer and wanted to give it a try. I don’t have all the fancy seating, but I did manage to group desks to make it a bit flexible: groups of three, pairs of two, and single seating. Students come in every day and choose the seat where they are most comfortable learning.

I had one major problem (other than possible behavior issues) that I could foresee: learning student names.

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Everyone, including me, made name plates to put on our desk the first week or so of school. This was great for learning names during class, but it was terrible for taking role.

I had to come up with a way to take roll without wasting class time.

The idea of greeting students at the door isn’t a new idea. I’ve seen it on Twitter, Facebook, blog posts, and education articles for quite some time. Regardless, I gave it a try: students couldn’t enter the room until I said their name and checked them off my tangible role sheet.

By the end of the first week of school, I had every student’s name memorized, even the two sets of twins!

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Yay! I’m as smart as a pig! Wait…

This wasn’t my big lesson. Well, it was a little since I learned names faster, but it wasn’t a real lesson until today, the first day back to school after Thanksgiving break.

I was greeting students at the door as per usual (no role sheet needed for quite some time), and one student smiled at me. Our short conversation that followed will always stay with me:

“You remembered!” she exclaimed.

“Of course I remembered your name,” I answered. “It’s only been a week.”

“Yeah, but most teachers forget about me.”

“I will never forget about you ____.”

Another smile.

Lesson learned and accepted. Students care. It might seem like an easy way to take roll, but they don’t see it that way. They enjoy hearing their names as you look them in the eyes and greet them before they walk into the classroom. Isn’t that true of us all — don’t we all enjoy being seen?

All that to say…

I am thankful for teaching. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, the students I’ve taught, and the ideas I’ve tried (failed or not). I enjoy Mondays, and I look forward to my future as an educator.

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What about you?

Share with me in comments. If you’re a teacher, tell me what you enjoy about teaching. If you’re not a teacher, tell me one of you favorite memories of a teacher.  I’d love to hear from you.

Why I Write…

People write for all sorts of reasons every single day: send a text or email, leave or make a note, finish something for work or school, jot down a recipe, send a letter, balance a checkbook, make a grocery list, etc.

I, too, write America. As a writer and teacher of writing, I’m also excited about the National Day of Writing, which was created by the National Council of Teachers of English and adopted by the Senate every year on October 20th since 2009.

While following #TeachWrite on Twitter for their first Monday of the month chat this week, I saw Margaret Simon’s challenge to share #WhyIWrite.

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1. I write because I enjoy it.

I have so many reasons to write, but this is my number one reason: I enjoy writing. Yes, I’m a writing teacher. Yes, I’m in the middle of writing my first book (revising, actually). Yes, I sometimes have to write.

However, I wouldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t truly enjoy writing.

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I keep a writer’s notebook, and I fill it with my ideas. I love to write in it, and I love the feeling of needing a new one when I’ve filled the current one up!

I enjoy the feel of a colorful pen in my hand, and the gentle sound it makes when it touches the page.

2. I write because I have ideas.

“Where did that idea come from?”

“What are your sources of inspiration?”

There are countless others that writers are asked, but those are probably the top two. The great thing about writing is that ideas can come from anywhere. You can look at a blank page sometimes and start writing.

Some places I search for ideas:

  • past brainstorms
  • songs
  • poems
  • gifs
  • photos
  • life events
  • writing prompts
  • first line prompts
  • quotes

The photo below is from a prompt that said to use a song as inspiration. #FlashFicHive is a month-long flash fiction writing workshop hosted by Anjela Curtis on Twitter. I’ve used her prompts to inspire several pieces of flash fiction, and she has an event all this month!

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3. I write because I read.

It’s true. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand (ask any writer).

Writing about the books you read often help inspire others to read those books, too. I don’t write book reviews often, but I should! I outline them first in my notebook, which helps me show my process when I’m helping my students.

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For the final copy of this outlined review, click the following link: Book Review: Chasing Eveline. Maybe my writing will inspire you to read Leslie’s novel and write a review, too!

4. I write to help and inspire my students.

Speaking of helping my students, I also write with them. We recently worked on a personal narrative, so I wrote one in order to show them how to incorporate the skills we talked about.

As you can see, I purposefully added a lot of “to be” verbs (which is a lot harder than you think) as part of our lesson on incorporating better verbs. Unfortunately, not all of the changes were to stronger verbs, but we’re taking it one step at a time.

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Before we wrote our personal narratives, we created a “Treasure Map” of ideas. This map inspired students to try another narrative in their own writer’s notebook using a different “X” event.

Students are more likely to try something new when they have a model to use. They’re especially eager to try it when they see the teacher trying it, too!

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5. I write because I can.

What better reason to end this blog post? I write because I can. I am capable of writing, and sometimes it’s pretty good.

I can write stories for fun, narratives with my students, or poems because they help me cope with whatever it is I’m feeling.

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We gain freedom when we write, so why wouldn’t we want that?

Why do you write? What is your favorite form of writing? Share with me in the comments!

Resources

National Day of Writing — NCTE link

Join the #WhyIWrite Blog Hop — Margaret’s link

Writing Goals for the Classroom

We all know that goals are important in our lives; they give us a purpose. Students need that, too. They need a purpose in the classroom, one they choose.

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I’ve been incorporating writing goals in our class for the last couple years. They have changed significantly from when I started due to student feedback and my growth as an educator.

This year, these writing goals have changed again. This post is dedicated to sharing the beginning of this process, how it’s worked in the past, and how it will change this year.

“A long, long time ago…”

Okay, it wasn’t really a long time ago, but that song popped in my head when I moved on to this section.

What are writing goals? How does they look? Are these questions spinning in your mind right now?

When I first started using writing goals in the classroom, my purpose was to encourage a variety of writing. Students had six different sections on their goal sheet to work through.

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8th Grade student’s goal sheet from the first six weeks of school – 2015 school year

The top four sections (which can be modified for students who need modifications), were “free” in the sense that the teacher doesn’t choose the topics. The “Word Collector” part is based on Corbett Harrison’s Vocabulary Workshop.

The bottom two sections were assignments that students worked on in class, and they changed based on the unit we were in. Both of these sections encouraged the the writing process.

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Problem 1: As the school year progressed, I encountered the problem of students simply trying to fill up space without any cares toward the content or presentation of their writing. Paragraphs that should have had multiple sentences would be written in large print with only one sentence.

Problem 2: I also noticed that many students would wait until the last week of the grading period to complete their goals, which resulted in Problem 1 above.

Solution: In order to encourage students to take their time on pieces and use the entire grading period, I changed the goals again. Drastically.

“Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes/Turn and face the strange…”

I decided to keep with the musical headings. Music helps me through planning, so it fits, right?

At the end of that school year, I asked for student feedback about the writing goals. I already knew the things I wanted to change, but I wanted their insight, too.

  • “There were too many entries.”
  • “I never felt like I had enough time to finish what I started.”
  • “I didn’t like the limit in how many poems I could write.”
  • “We should get to choose how many entries we want.”

These insights helped show me how to change their goal sheets. Along with many other comments, students showed me the things that worked and didn’t work from their perspective.

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7th grade writing goals for the 4th six weeks — 2016 school year

As you can see, the format of the goal sheet completely changed. The calendar at the top served as not only a visual reminder of writing days, but it also served to help students keep track of their stamina over the grading period.

Each section of this new goal sheet was differentiated per each student’s needs and modifications.

  1. Stamina – dedicated to improving handwriting and writing daily (or semi-daily).
  2. Craft – dedicated to improving grammatical errors, which depends on skills each student needs to work on.
  3. Format – dedicated to improvement using the writing process. (The STAAR writing process I teach excludes the 2nd draft.)

Problem 1: Students wrote fewer stories, essays, and longer pieces.

Problem 2: Some students still waited until the last week to complete their goals.

Problem 3: I did not conduct regular student-teacher conferences to address progress in the craft section.

Solution: I again reached out to students, researched better ways to incorporate goals, and looked back at what did and didn’t work from my end. These wonderful goals have once again changed. I changed the goals a few times during the school year, which changed the goal sheet slightly throughout the year.

“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone/I can see all obstacles in my way…”

Okay, maybe I’m having a bit too much fun with the songs in my head… And I definitely can’t see every obstacle I could encounter, but I do know what I hope will happen.

Student feedback at the end of last school year helped me focus on what needed to be better.

  • “The stamina goal didn’t help me. I felt like I was just writing a sentence sometimes to get my day.”
  • “I didn’t like doing just one skill for the whole six weeks.”
  • “I liked the format goal, but some people chose easier ones than I did.”
  • “The revising and editing on the rubric should be part of the goals.”

I started researching different methods earlier in the year when students first started having issues with their writing goals. During this research, I came across Jeff Goins and his 3-Bucket Writing System.

Each bucket represented a different part of the writing process, and I wanted to see if I could incorporate this into writing goals since students wanted the revising and editing to be a part of their goals.

I added a bucket to his system and created a foldable that will help students identify which step of the writing process they’re on.

front and back

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Writing Ideas list to put under the foldable

As a writing teacher, I know students are constantly making lists or creating idea banks for when they don’t know what to write. The list above helps students take those ideas and write something with them.

I’ve used a version of this list every year, and students find it quite helpful. In Google Classroom, there is a student-created prompt list to help with generating ideas, too.

What can they do with these buckets, and how do they relate to this year’s writing goals?

I’m not sure why they look like different colors, but this document is front and back (I always use the back for the rubric to encourage responsibility). Click here for a Google Doc Copy of Goal Sheet.

On the front, you can see the incorporation of the bucket system. These sections are differentiated per student by allowing students to choose their own goal. Buckets 1 and 2 allow for us to focus on whichever skills we’re currently learning in class as well as the skills students already know.

There are still lines to fill in, which was a problem the first time around. The difference here is that every single line does not need to be filled.

For example: If a student chooses ‘7’ for their Bucket 1 goal, then they only need to complete seven different planning tasks. I would encourage them to leave the other lines there (instead of marking them out) in case they plan a lot more than expected.

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These goals also follow the S.M.A.R.T. Goals format. They are a bit ambiguous when it comes to the ‘what,’ but that is where student choice comes in.

  • Specific – Who: each student; What: differentiated per student, each section tells what is needed; Where: may work on in or out of class; Why: to improve writing skills; Which: minimum is the set goal, and maximum is more.
  • Measurable – Students can visually see when they’ve reached their goals, and there is a rubric with it.
  • Attainable – Each section must be reachable; there is no point setting a goal you’re not ready to reach.
  • Relevant – All skills are needed for class and writing in the real world.
  • Timely – Work on throughout the grading period, and due at the end. Students may need to set short-term weekly goals to complete their long-term six weeks goals.

“In the future when all’s well…”

School starts here next Monday (8/28), and we’ll set up our writer’s notebooks before we talk about goals.

The first few weeks —  During the first few weeks, we’ll work on different assignments in class that will help students complete items for each bucket. They will learn how to add it to their notebook and their goal sheet.

Student-Teacher Conferences —  One of my most successful years of teaching involved one-on-one conferencing. Students have what Corbett Harrison calls Sacred Writing Time. Students will meet with me during that time once or twice every two weeks in order to conference about their writing.

photo from Corbett Harrison’s website

Students should complete pre-conferencing before their day. During pre-conferencing, they will answer a few questions and find examples of each answer in their writer’s notebook.

  1. What are two things I’m doing well?
  2. Where have I worked on my “conference” skill, and how am I progressing with it?
  3. What is one thing that I don’t understand?
  4. Do I have any other questions?

Foreseeable Problems —  Not taking time to do the best work possible or waiting until the last week to complete goals.

Possible prevention for those problems — Since we are working on most of these as class assignments this six weeks, students will hopefully feel the need to do their best from the start. This will also keep them from waiting until the last minute. I’ll walk them through setting short-term goals to see how much they need to accomplish each week, which will also help encourage “timely” completion.

All in all, I’m looking forward to this new format, and I’m hoping that it goes well! I’ll definitely post an update sometime next grading period.

What are your tips and tricks for writing goals and writing in the classroom? Which resources do you use? Share with me in the comments.

Resources

I’ve already added the links above, but I’ll create a comprehensive list here in case you need it.

Corbett Harrison

Jeff Goins

Other Sites