The Power of Autonomy

The Power of Autonomy

Autonomy: the power to be independent and free; freedom from external control or influence.

 

Increasing student autonomy in my classroom has led to

  1. Classroom management is easier
  2. The time I take to plan a lesson, or unit etc has decreased
  3. I develop stronger relationship with my students
  4. Teaching is easier
  5. Students learn and retain more

I know bold right…but it is true!!

People ask me all the time how I do it.  I teach full time, have three little kiddos at home, a husband I like spending time with, a TPT store, FB live…. etc.

Do I sleep? Yes when the baby lets me…lol

But as a teacher, I have time in my life for these things because I use inquiry and give my students more autonomy.  It’s not working harder it is working smarter.

Voice and Choice

Students don’t want to come to school and be told what to do every minute of every day.  They want to have a purpose and a choice in what they do.

Increasing voice and choice is the single most effective thing that reduces the time it takes to plan a lesson.

If they are doing it I don’t have too

I have my curriculum expectations, I know what needs to be covered.  I share this with them.  Then together in class, we brainstorm ways to do this to accomplish these goals.  I give some suggestions, I listen to their ideas, we refine our list then they do it.

What am I not doing? Planning 6 different differentiated assignments at home that I think they will enjoy.

I simply just ask them what they will enjoy.  We design it together, in class, then they do it.

Coach and GuideLearn why building in student autonomy can transform your classroom by cutting the amount of planning time, making classroom management easier, and increase student engagement and motivation ensuring they they will learn.

Imagine your classroom as a basketball court.  As the teacher where are you?

What is the role of the coach?

The coach gives the students time to practice, shows them different drills, teaches them the rules, all so that when it is game-time the students know how to play.

As a teacher, this is my role too

  • I guide students but I don’t do it with them or for them.  I try to avoid being a helicopter teacher.  Learning isn’t always easy and there are pitfalls and consequences.  Learning from mistakes is key to self-directed and self-motivated learners.
  • I don’t do all of the ‘heavy lifting’ in learning.  They get to help too.  Sometimes it is a matter of me just getting out of their way since I can over complicate things or make assumptions.
  • I leverage student questions and interest to guide what we do.
  • I give them meaningful choices and provide feedback.
  • I link what we do and why we do it.  Giving a purpose to what we are learning.

Classroom Management

Choice, freedom and control are not finite.  By the teacher giving up some control over the direction of learning does not mean that you cease to be the leader in your classroom.

Even a democracy needs a leader.

In fact, I think of my classroom as a sort of constitutional monarchy.  I am the head of the classroom but I simply just provide the framework and oversight to make sure things run smoothly.  I provide the rules but they decide how they will work within this system.  They have choices and ownership in what happens.  They have rights and responsibility.

When corrections happen or we lose our way I step in but they see why.  I hold them accountable for their choices.

As a teacher that gives autonomy in their classroom, I am still involved.  I am not giving anything away by asking them to share their ideas and opinions on how the classroom should be run.  My classroom belongs to my students just as much as it belongs to me (even though I will never let them decorate it)

  • Together we make goals about what we want to work on
  • We talk about ourselves as a team that needs to work together and support each other in order to be successful.
  • We understand that everyone brings different skills and value to the group so we don’t expect that same thing from the same people but we all play our part.
  • Everyone has a role and a purpose to help us be successful.

You can read more about my classroom management here

Social and Emotional

Our students deal with a lot

So when we increase the autonomy we also have to increase the support to prepare them for this.

This is why a classroom still needs to be predictable, structured and organized.  (they just get a say in what this looks like)

But the center of the classroom is not the teacher but it is the student learning.  We are all there to learn.  Together we work together to ensure learning, real learning, deep learning happens.

But this also means that we need to deal with the social and emotional issues that get in the way of learning.

  • bullying
  • self esteem
  • mental health
  • nutritional
  • physical

All of these have an impact on how our students learn.

As a teacher in an autonomous classroom, I am there to support, lead, build confidence, focus on goals and strengths, see the student as an individual, make a plan to compensate for deficits and needs.

I am even there to teach.  I still do a fair amount of teaching.

I teach by modelling different strategies, facilitation discussions, help them make connections between old and new information.

Overall giving my students more autonomy works!

  • They have choice
  • They have a say
  • They feel heard
  • They take ownership and responsibility
  • They develop as individuals with a unique set of strengths and goals

 

To read more about this topic including the research sources used in this blog post

Barbara McCombs: Developing Responsible and Autonomous Learners: A Key to Motivating Students

6 Strategies for Promoting Student Autonomy

Strategies for Helping Students Motivate Themselves

 

 

6 Guiding Principals for Working With Special Education Students in a Regular Class

6 Guiding Principals for Working With Special Education Students in a Regular Class

In a regular classroom sometimes it is hard to meet all the needs of every students.  Use these 6 guiding principals that help to shape how you teach in your classroom.  These principals will guide your planning, teaching and assessment practices in your classroom.  The reality is in today’s classrooms is that we all have students with special education needs.  But this also means that the needs of these students fall squarely on the shoulders of the classroom teacher.

This ability for a classroom teacher to plan for those that are working at, above, or below grade level all need programming that helps them learn, grow, and fill gaps in their education.

Sometimes this is a contentious issue among teachers, parents, and administrators.

How do we meet the needs of those students who are not working at grade level while also meeting the needs of the students that are?

I have some rules for myself that I follow that help guide the decisions about how I support, plan and work with students with special education needs.

Need more support implementing inquiry.  You choose how you learn something new.  Check out the Teaching With Inquiry Show!

  1. No one is excluded from learning
  2. Learning difficulties do not mean ‘YOU CAN’T’,  it means YOU CAN but differently
  3. Students working on different learning expectations are hidden in plain sight
  4. Every student has strengths that you can build upon
  5. Leverage digital whenever possible
  6. Students with special education needs don’t get a pass from working hard

No one is excluded from learning

This is one of my rules that is sometimes hard to achieve.  I do not want to leave students out of the opportunity to learn.  Putting students in a corner or on a computer because the work is ‘too hard’ for them does not happen in my classroom if I can avoid it.

Everyone engages in the learning in class and that might mean that I have to provide multiple entry points or plan for scaffolded support in class.  Sometimes this means that I can

  • let students take notes or pictures of the lesson
  • provide them with notes prior to the lesson
  • reteach concepts
  • use peer tutors
  • use assistive technology

Learning difficulties do not mean ‘YOU CAN’T’,  it means YOU CAN but differently

For me, there are no exceptions to this rule.  Every student can learn and it is important to understand how they learn so that they can be successful.

I’m trying to avoid the assumption that a student who is reading at a grade one level is also cognitively working at a grade one level.  This discounts the students potential given the right supports.

I think as teachers we need to be very careful with the assumption that reading level equals cognitive ability.

“I have a student at a grade one level”

Unless there are both cognitive and learning deficits. This widely used and popular statement is false and can do harm to the student.  It can limit the teacher’s beliefs that the student has more potential.

The challenge becomes in how to modify for the student that respects their learning strengths.

Some of my favourites include

  • repetitive practice
  • using technology
  • varying the presentation
  • getting to know the student’s strengths and interests
  • chunking

 

Students working on different learning expectations are hidden in plain sight

“ok everyone I want you to complete question 1-5 in your textbook.” Then the teacher walks over to a student and hands them a textbook clearly labelled with a lower grade level and hands it to them. While every student in your class notices this.”

I don’t know about you but if I were that students I would be mortified.  There might not be anything more embarrassing than having this happen to me and it certainly wouldn’t motivate me to try.

In fact, it would probably make me want to try and fail the hard work I can’t do just to fit in.

Most students just want to blend in and at this age, social pressure and conformity are a big deal to many students.

So to combat this I make differentiating for all but necessary for some a strategy.  Really it is increasing choice and flexibility in my room so that those who do work differently don’t stick out.

  • Choice boards for writing and reading
  • Inquiry for science and social studies
  • Differentiated daily math

Every student has strengths that you can build uponIn a regular classroom sometimes it is hard to meet all the needs of every students.  Use these 6 guiding principals that help to shape how you teach in your classroom.  These principals will guide your planning, teaching and assessment practices in your classroom.

Getting to know your students help to identify their strengths.  Conferencing with them and telling them what you admire about their work helps the focus on their strengths.

Highlighting your strengths and weaknesses and ways you compensate is also an easy tool.

Modelling for students that we all have things that make us great and goals we need to work on makes a difference.

In the same breath, dispelling the stigma that there is something wrong with struggling with aspects of the school is also important.

Students with special education needs don’t get a pass from working hard

In fact, most special education students need to work harder.  Because I truly believe they have potential Is expected that the students worked just as hard as any other student in my classroom.  They may not be doing the same work But they are required to put forth the same amount of effort.

I also want them to know that as a teacher I invested a tremendous amount of time to support their learning and learning other classmates and in return, I expect that they put forth just as much effort.

Together we make goals and work hard to achieve them.  We track our progress, celebrate her successes and make new goals.

Now, this does not mean that every student is successful some aren’t ready to be.  For various reasons perhaps previous experience they just aren’t ready.  In this case, sometimes it’s just providing them opportunities and believing in them when they don’t believe in themselves.  Perhaps the belief you have in them will one they translate into the belief they haven’t themselves.

Leverage digital whenever possible

I’m a big supporter of using technology in the classroom.  Primarily because I strongly feel that students with special education needs Required technology in order to be successful.

So because I like to hide my special education students in plain sight if some are using technology then all are using technology.

I have become a digital classroom in an effort to better support my special education students

Application such as

  • Read Write Google
  • Explain everything
  • Google classroom
  • Pic Collage
  • Camera and video support
  • YouTube tutorials and videos
  • And many more

 

Teaching Strategies That Go Beyond Think-Pair-Share

Teaching Strategies That Go Beyond Think-Pair-Share

Add these 10 teaching strategies to your teaching toolkit to help you plan amazing inquiry-based learning lessons.

Every teacher needs a teaching tool kit.  A bunch of go to teaching strategies that they can use to carry out their amazing lessons. If you are beginning with inquiry you may need to refill your teacher bag of tricks with some new ideas.

Because sometimes we get stuck in a rut and forget that there is more than the think-pair-share strategy that will help us teach.

Remember back to a time when you were a fresh-faced university student just entering teachers college with hopes, dreams, a mountain of debt and this naive notion that you could change the world one read aloud at a time?

Then you start teacher’s college and you are suddenly hit with ‘NO FREE TIME’ the work overload, and you are hit with all of these ideas for teaching strategies but with no real idea how or why they would be used.

but the only one you do remember is that easy think-pair-share activity.

So you take that and for the last few years have relied on that one strategy more than any others.

or all of that could just be me ?!?!

There are so many great teaching strategies that help support inquiry-based learning in the classroom.

This is what we talked about during EP31 on Teaching with Inquiry Live

Watch It – Listen To It – Read the Transcript here

Here are some strategies that you may want to incorporate into your daily instruction.

Think-Pair-Share

This is a three stage questioning activity.  First, you pose a question to your classYou give them time to process and think in silence.  Then you have them share and work out their ideas with a partner.  Finally, students share their thinking with the whole group

Think-Puzzle-Explore

A great idea from Visible Thinking is think-puzzle-explore.  This is an activity to help students identify background knowledge, begin to question, then make a plan to find answers.  It is perfect to use as a provocation during the engage stage of inquiry.

W5

This is a teaching strategy that I use with my students to help them dig deeper and ask more meaningful questions, arrive at deeper conclusions, make connections with what they are learning.  After students share you ask them to explain their thinking with phrases like ‘why might it be that way’ ‘why do you think that’.  Asking them to share-clarify-share-clarify 3-5 times helps students to come to much more meaningful conclusions and go beyond the surface.

Question Sort Matrix

If you are looking for a ‘now what’ after you have finished your wonder wall.  This strategy will help you and your students to sort through those questions and evaluate which ones are worth exploring.  In a graph you first evaluate the type of question on a horizontal line then you evaluate the questions on how interesting and appropriate they are to dig deeper with.

Connect – Extend – Challenge

When students are in the midst of learning sometimes you need them to focus on what it all means.  Using this teaching strategy will help your students to connect new ideas to old ideas.  Students connect what they are learning to previous learning, identify how their understanding has changed and explore ideas they still have questions about.

2 Stars and a Wish

Providing students with feedback is important but keeping it focused and manageable is important.  Using this teaching strategy has helped me to frame how I provide either oral or written feedback for students.  Presented in a compliment sandwich students can learn what they did well and what one next step they need to focus on next.

I.D.E.A.S

This is a strategy that I talked about in EP26 of Teaching with inquiry live (Watch It – Listen To It – Read The Transcript).  Students need to be explicitly taught how to contribute to a discussion and IDEAS is a strategy that you can use to help them remember the ways they can contribute.

Add these 10 teaching strategies to your teaching toolkit to help you plan amazing inquiry based learning lessons.

Graffiti Write

Sometimes you just don’t want to see another sticky note.  I get it!! So sometimes I use a graffiti write instead.  Students write their ideas all over the paper to answer a question, share their thoughts, or engage in a new concept.  When students are done you have a paper that is full of student ideas going any direction possible.

Jigsaw

This is one of those popular teaching strategies from teachers college.  It is a great way to cover a lot of information in a shorter amount of time.  This is especially important when you want students exposed to lots of different ideas but perhaps they don’t need expert knowledge in all areas.  I often use this strategy when looking at habitats, energy sources, or physical regions.  This activity requires a high degree of accountability on all students.  Sometimes this isn’t always possible and some students need more support.  Hear about how I handle this issue in ep31 of Teaching With Inquiry Live.

Learning Journals

This is a great teaching strategy tool that was popularized by this great resource and amazing teacher Jennifer Runde.  She uses learning journals in her interactive math journal resource on TPT.  This idea of getting students to reflect on their learning is an important task that I include in my student conferences as well as my science and social studies units.  Students identify the learning goal, and what they know about it before learning.  After some new knowledge has been gained students reflect on what they have learned and show that they have learned it through this journal.

Do you want more details on the teaching strategies listed here? These slides and more are in my inquiry teaching library.

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Ready, Set, Go  Get Started with Differentiated Instruction

Ready, Set, Go Get Started with Differentiated Instruction

Understand why differentiation is important, but not sure where to start? Click through to learn how to get started with differentiated instruction! differentiation | elementary | ontario | teachers | student

So if you understand the concept and benefits of differentiated instruction for the students in your classroom but are not sure where to start then hopefully this post will help you to set the stage and get started with differentiation.

My biggest motivation for differentiated instruction is my students with different learning needs.  This started with teaching ELL students and continues within my classroom walls.  In my time as an ELL teacher going into others classrooms there were many times that the DRA assessment would level the ELL student and then all other materials would be given to the student at that level.  This was always a problem for me as a teacher.  These students were not cognitively working at a grade one level and many of them were at grade level in their home language just not in English.

They knew what time it was but couldn’t communicate that understanding to you in English.  That didn’t mean that they needed to learn how to tell time.

I watched too many students disengage with work or pretend or hide that they didn’t know what to do in a classroom because they didn’t want to look stupid in front of their peers.

For me as a teach this is my main motivation for differentiation.  To allow the students who need the modifications or accommodations to get them without making them feel dumb or stupid or lose face in front of their peers.

If we really want differentiation to work we need to understand that in some way we need to set up routines, and a culture in our classroom where students understand that everyone is working on a different level and that there is more than one way to meet a goal.

Set the tone

In your classroom you need to model that there are many pathways to success.  Showing students multiple ways to do things is critical.

Don’t Judge a Kid by His Reading Level

There are many many times where a student may struggle with reading but have amazing potential and cognitive abilities.  Learning to access these is a key component to differentiation.  We need to stop associating a students ability to read with their ability to think.  By building on the strengths of the student we can help them access far more material. Reading is a complex task involving many skills, understanding which part of reading will help you to better differentiate.  But if your task assesses other subject areas how can you accommodate for the weakness in reading?

 

Routines

If you have multiple students doing multiple tasks at once in your classroom then you need to have solid routines set in place that describe how students function and work within your classroom.  It makes in much more difficult to just make it up as you go if you don’t have a structure or a framework to rely on.  At the beginning of each year or again later in the year when I feel that some of my routines may be slipping I revisit this list I made.  I use this every year to remind myself of how I want my classroom to run.  Check out my free routines pack here 

Classroom Management

This is another important skill that needs to be firmly established before you begin to differentiate your instruction.  There is no way that I could have 30+ kids all doing different types of tasks without good classroom management strategies.  Incorporating ideas from growth mindset, whole brain teaching, brag tags and many more classroom management tools I began using this past year.  Many different strategies will work but whatever strategy you use for classroom management you need to be confident, consistant and firm.  I may be open to a variety of learning opportunities.

Build Independence

This is another area that may take some time to establish.  It is the number one excuse for why teachers cannot embrace inquiry and cannot do centers and therefore cannot differentiate.  All most all students can gain some independence skills.  I set the expectation that students should be able to work independently we work together to establish the routines and the expectations that will allow them to be successful.  For example, in a writing conference, I ask students to identify when they feel their writing will be done.  We negotiate a reasonable time line for completion.  Then they are trusted to complete their work.  But guess what some of them don’t do anything and complete nothing.  Well, building this skill often requires that student experience safe failure.

Create opportunities for Safe Failure.

Safe failure is an important feature for my students.  I set reasonable expectations for my students and prepare an environment for them to work independently.  However, then I need to trust them to do what I have asked them to do.  However, some of them need to learn that when they do not use their time wisely they will fail to meet the deadlines.
This is a failure.
Yes, they fail, acknowledge they fail but make them reflect on this failure and identify why they failed and make a plan to not fail again.  Students don’t learn from failure they learn when they are helped to bounce back after failure
Tweet: Students don’t learn from failure they learn when they are helped to bounce back after failureFor some students this may take a few times and you may need to reset and realign their goals.  For these students it is baby steps but when they experience success after this failure then they will see that success feels better and is achievable.  When you trust that your students are capable of learning, being independent and letting them fail safely then you have a recipe for great differentiated instruction.
Remember this is a hard one for parents to swallow it is probably a good idea to let parents in on this shift in your approach that you are setting expectations and that together your job is allowing them to fail safely and to coach them through it.  Knowing that failure at the beginning will help prevent failure at the end because failure is a part of learning that should be embraced.
This one is a little tricky. You need to trust that your students want to be good.  For this to work you need to

 

 

 

12 Reasons Why I Differentiate

12 Reasons Why I Differentiate

 Why should we differentiate?
Beyond the obvious that is we have kids in our room that
would not be successful if we did not differentiate then there are many other
reason why we should do it too.
1.
Every student is different
2.
Engagement leads to success
3.
Helps our most vulnerable students
4.
Sets students up for the  21st learning environment
5.
Flexiblity is more valuable than rigidity

Here is why I differentiate

Well in all reality I have to.  In the past five years I have yet to have a
classroom where the majoirity of my students were working at the same
level.  Differentiation does not mean
that I only do this for regular stream vs special education stream students. It
mean to do it for all students.
In a combined great classroom that has more than 50% of boys
spanning over to grades.   With an
average of one third requiring special education needs  not including a variety of mental health
issues, differentiation becomes very important.

Why I differentiate

I differentiate
because it makes my life easier.
When I differentiate I have less classroom management issues,  more work is completed,  student like learning,  and I can reach more students easily without
planning multiple activities for the same learning task.
I differentiate because it lets me watch a student who is completely
disengaged with writing who refuses to write become one of my most creative
writers.
I differentiate because it allows me to see the student
hiding in the corner for who she really is a fun creative and engaging kid who
has a lot of value to add but in her own way.
I differentiate because boys learn differently than girls
and to not understand this means alienating more than 50% of my class.
I differentiate because I teach two grades at once so I need to understand that all of the students in my class are starting from a different starting point.  Not doing this would mean pulling my hair out.  I don’t have time to plan 2-6 different seperate lesson for each period to meet the needs of all my students so instead I plan one and make it open ended with multiple entry points so that it is accessible for all of my students.  Plan once, flexible delivery, multiple entry and exit points, everyone learning.
I differentiate because when kids are bored they act out. They’re smart, why would they want to do something if it doesn’t somehow connect
with what they’re supposed be learning.
They can see through busywork and they need a purpose for learning.
I differentiate because in the world that we are living in
collaboration, communication, creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and
more are essential skills the students need to develop in order to be
successful in their future world
I differentiate because the parents of my lowest achieving
students just want what’s best for their kids and they cry when their kids are
labeled with special education needs.
By differentiating I can show them the special-education diagnosis is
not a life sentence
.   Their children can
and will achieve when given the correct supports in the classroom.
I differentiate because I like to see students become
confident
in their ability. And accept that they may learn differently but can
still learn.  
It is a powerful door that is opened for their potential.  Recognizing that all students can achieve is a core belief that is essential when working
with students.  Although I may not be
able to breakthrough all barriers that inhibit student success,  and I may not be the person to do this for
every student, I try. And with some success I am able to make a difference for
those that are ready.
I differentiate because I want to show students how they can
differentiate  for themselves to advocate
for their own learning.   When a student
understands how they learn, you make it possible to advocate for themselves.  They can then better access what is
being presented to them independently.  This makes the student’s life the life of their future
teachers easier.
I differentiate because being flexible and accommodating is
actually much easier than being rigid and inflexible. The simple act of being flexible
in the classroom, although difficult at first to shift to this mindset in the
classroom, in practice makes teaching, planning and learning easier.  Inquiry is an amazing approach to teaching
and learning and I would encourage you to walk through the fire and see what
amazing things can happen when you give it a try.
I differentiate because it makes a difference.  I make a difference.  It helps my students make a difference.  And this is essentially why I became a
teacher.  Differentiation makes me a
better teacher. 

Join the Conversation

Why do you differentiate.
Hop on over to my Facebook page and join in on the conversation by
finishing this sentence.

 

I differentiate because…

 

 

What is Differentiated Instruction?

What is Differentiated Instruction?

What is differentiated instruction? You've heard the term, but does it mean? Click through to find out what it is, and how it's like bowling!

If you teach in a classroom today than you are familiar with the term Differentiation.  And if you are like me you may have a love hate relationship with this term.

Classrooms today are complex and trying to teach to the individual instead of the group feels overwhelming. One of my of the realities of my teaching job depends on my ability to differentiated instruction.

What is differentiated instruction? You've heard the term, but does it mean? Click through to find out what it is, and how it's like bowling!

For the month of March I invite you to join me as I dig deeper into

  1. What differentiation means in the classroom
  2. How to do it effectively without pulling your hair out.

 

A bit about why

As a classroom teacher of a combined grade class with often a high proportion of students with special education needs I am no stranger to a difficult class that comes to me at all different levels.  Being that it is just me in the classroom with all of my students I have learned some tips and tricks to differentiate and hone my skills in order to survive.

As a result I have become one of those crazy teachers that actually enjoys teaching splits and this is primarily because it helps to support differentiated instruction.

What is differentiated instruction? You've heard the term, but does it mean? Click through to find out what it is, and how it's like bowling!

Differentiation and bowling?

In my research into digging deeper into differentiation I discovered a lot of connections between teaching and bowling.  I think when most people go out for a fun night of bowling they try to throw the ball right down the middle.

“Try to roll the ball down the middle and get most of the students.”

But if we bowl or teach like this then we are missing the point of differentiation.  Shelley Moore has looked into this further and when talking to pro bowlers she found that they don’t aim for the middle but aim for the pins that are hardest to knock down.  She has helped me to instead look at this comparison to bowling differently.

“Teaching is like bowling because in order to knock down all the pins you need try to knock down the hardest to hit pins first.”  – Adapted from Shelley Moore

So what does it mean?

Differentiation is good for all but necessary for some and this is why when planning you should plan with the hardest to reach students first and understand that some of the things you might do to teach these hard to reach students will work for all kids even the ones in the middle.

Ways to differentiate

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson. There are four ways that you can differentiate a learning task for your students.  You can differentiate
o the product
o the process
o the content
o the environment

Learn more

In my first video in my differentiated instruction series I outline what differentiation is and what key values are important for teacher to begin to differentiate.  We dig deeper into ways lessons or projects can be differentiated and factors that are important to consider when differentiation.  Also in this video series I have included a complimentary companion guide which gives a page overview of the four components to differentiate and a differentiated weekly planning page to help you keep your differentiation strategies in the front and center when you plan.

 

If you like this video please like it and share it with others via facebook, twitter, or pinterest.

Sign Up for More

Stay tuned for more differentiated instruction videos and blog posts all month here on my blog.  If you want to subscribe to get these great ideas delivered right to your email inbox please fill out your info below so I can send it to you.

What is differentiated instruction? You've heard the term, but does it mean? Click through to find out what it is, and how it's like bowling!

 

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