Teacher Innovation #8: “True Collaboration: The Magic of Planning, Designing, and Teaching Alongside Colleagues”

Adobe Spark (8)

The 8th post of my Summer Teacher Innovation Series comes from another ELA colleague, mentor, and friend, Nadine Bell. Nadine has been teaching nearly 30 years and shows zero signs of slowing down! I had the pleasure of working closely with her the last two years, working alongside her on the 9th grade ELA course team and as regular collaborator for academy-related planning. Nadine is everything you would want from a veteran teacher–knowledgeable, collaborative, wise, and reflective. She also breaks all the negative stereotypes often unfairly lobbed at veteran educators. As you will read in today’s post, she hates the idea of her practice being left to stagnate, so when you come to her with a harebrained scheme of how to start changing a few teaching paradigms in your school building, well, she says ‘yes!’ The practice Nadine shares today is hopefully the shape of what is to come in our schoolhouse where teachers bring classes together to co-teach content based on those teachers’ strengths. I am very excited to share this post. Enjoy!

Previous Series Entries: Part 1 // Part 2 // Part 3 // Part 4 // Part 5 // Part 6 // Part 7

by Nadine Bell

Jeff Spence is the former COO and president of Innovolt, a specialty company who patented intelligent electronics management technology, and current CEO of NexDefense, and is an expert on facilitating collaboration as a business model in the corporate sector. As I listened to Spence share his partnering with Gwinnett County Public Schools to introduce this model into the classroom, I couldn’t help but think this is what should be happening in the co-taught setting (the least restrictive environment for a special education student where the general education teacher works with a special education resource teacher to meet the needs of a student(s) Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). However, anyone who has been in the classroom for any length of time and had the opportunity to have a co-taught class knows that typically, at least at the high school level, the general education teacher provides the instruction and the special education teacher is often simply a behavior monitor at least and at best a teacher who will initiate small group instruction as a form of remediation or ensure compliance with small group testing.  Of course there are exceptions, but generally speaking, seldom is the co-taught classroom one of true collaboration. Continue reading


Teaching Argument Through Debate and Romeo & Juliet


GCTE was a blast! I am always glad I attend and present. I particularly enjoyed presenting with my buddy, Taylor Cross at Decatur High School. I met some really great teachers from all over the state again, and got some great takeaways that I’ll share later. Today’s post is really about combining argument with difficult literature. I’ll preface that I teach on an 85 minutes block and that my students are considered honors/gifted. Still, I was really excited to see how my recent lesson evolved and was taken up by my students. I’ll share some ways I’ll tweak it for the future too. Continue reading

Shakespeare: The Biography

In an attempt to rev up my personal reading, my wife and I have decided to start using our local public library on at least a bimonthly basis and start expanding our reading repertoire. I’m a big fan of owning books, but that gets down right expensive and really limits what one might read otherwise. We started this little journey yesterday.

I grabbed three books: Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd, The Narnian by Alan Jacobs (a biography on C.S. Lewis), and First Meetings by Orson Scott Card.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the quickest of readers. I actually appreciate this fact about myself as I feel it makes me more in-tune to my students who despise reading in part due to their inability to read a page quickly. My wife, on the other hand, can devour a book in day two leaving no morsel of a word behind. All that being said, I picked those three to read in three weeks and my wife chose five.

I’m starting, as the title of this post suggests, with Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: The Biography. I’ve always wanted to read a full biography about the man who over time has won me over as an avid fan and believer in his unquestionable reign as the greatest English writer of all time. In college, I took a Shakepeare course where we read several plays and analyzed them; we even read a book focused on the design of his staging and how plays translated to his audience, but never have I read more about the man than besides a few pages of curtailed information on the man. I’m only partially into reading the book, but already I’m fascinated by his lineage and childhood. Ackroyd tries very early on to convince the reader that those who detract from Shakespeare being the true author of his plays are foolish to believe such as their is just too much evidence to the contrary. There are times already I find myself thinking that Ackroyd is reaching with a few of his conclusions, but admittedly there are more than enough clear facts to support Shakespeare’s education and his clear familial connection with his own plays.

I’ll give an update once I’ve finished the book, but in the meantime trust me when I say it really is a fascinating read.

Here’s for reading more books this year!

Language in Any Other Tongue Would Sound as Sweet

I’m a HUGE fan of Shakespeare. I know what you might be thinking, “Well of course you’re a Shakespeare fan; you’re an English teacher; it’s like a prerequisite.” Maybe you’re right, but I know plenty of fellow English teachers who don’t like nor enjoy Billy-Bob’s work. As someone who enjoys writing poetry and someone who sees words as being powerful tools, I seemingly fell in love the long-dead playwright by the time I was in second year of college. In high school, I thought about his words fleetingly, and with little recognition except to identify that “Leonardo DiCaprio was a terrible actor who would never amount to anything” after watching Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo (plus sign) Juliet. I might have been wrong about Leo, and I was certainly wrong to ignore Shakespeare as I did when I was a youth.

The truth is that the man really did change the landscape of the English language, and poetic form for that matter, forever. His ability to manipulate words, create turns of phrase, and permeate cultures with his memorable words and wit still to the this day is testament to his importance to who we are now.

Convincing my students of this approximation is a whole other matter, however. One way I do get my students to see Shakespeare’s talent is by finding new forms of media that demonstrate how is mastery of word choice and placement are still unmatched. When recently demonstrating the power of Shakespeare’s use of iambic pentameter, the metrical beat inherent in his word structure formed by using unstressed followed by stressed syllables in five poetic, metrical feet, I found a delightful video of a Scotsman demonstrating a monologue from Much Ado About Nothing. The young man on the video does a brilliant job of jumping to various accents from around the world while never breaking his stride in reciting the monologue. I found this to be a perfect demonstration for students how Shakespeare’s use of iambic pentameter still sounds good to our ears even after all these years and in any accent you can imagine.

Enjoy the video below:

Shakespeare’s Workshop

One of the more fascinating practices I learned from this previous year developing a PBL program is workshopping. As I type the word ‘workshopping,’ there is a red squiggly line reminding me that it is not  word–yet. Many of you probably understand what a workshop is meant to do. Dictionary.com defines a workshop as “a seminar, discussion group, or the like, that emphasizes exchange of ideas and the demonstration and application of techniques, skills, etc.” There are plenty of workshops out there too. The Home Depot holds them all the time to teach participants how to tile a bathroom, build  a birdhouse, etc, and people gladly go to these workshops because they want to know. And there is the crux of one of our greatest educational issues–the want or desire to know. I found out for myself just how powerful the word workshopping really is in the classroom.

One of the challenges that faced me and my colleagues as we developed our PBL classroom was how to get supplemental material to the students that might not be covered in a project. We originally used what we deemed the ‘coffee chat’ to get ideas to students. I realized, however, that there was some material that would take more than just one mini-lesson to cover, so I decided to develop a workshop. This first workshop I labeled the Shakespeare workshop as I spent two and half weeks presenting interactive mini-lessons to the students that revolved around Shakespeare and his play The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. It was an immediate success.

I have no hard data to use as evidence, but just by using the word ‘workshop’ rather than lesson, lecture, or discussion, my students were immediately engaged in learning about Shakespeare. I’ve always had students who enjoy Shakespeare in a regular class setting, but this was the first that I had the attention of almost the entire class for over half a month.

The key was making each workshop simple, short, and interactive. We never spent more than thirty minutes on any lesson, and I used handouts, video, audio, and images rather than a text book to present the playwright, his life, and one of his classic tragedies. Some students used the workshop as a spring board for exploring Shakespeare more closely. A handful even read several of his other plays. Others discovered there was nothing to be frightened of in concern to his words and works, while even more students used his poetic style to create poetic work of their own.

By workshopping Shakespeare rather than lecturing him, I captured student attention and more of them enjoyed encountering the famous playwright. It is amazing what simply using a different word and using a slightly different approach can do for encouraging students want to learn.