Monthly Archives: September 2013

Starting the Year Off With A Little Bit of Problem Solving

I have had a great time getting to know my students in our first full week back to school. I’m pretty sure that I have lucked out this year! Ahh…the honeymoon period. I love it!

Anyhow, I had mentioned a book a little while ago that I’d read this summer (What’s Your Math Problem? Getting to the Heart of Teaching Problem Solving) and wanted to include in some capacity in my teaching this year. I just wanted to throw out a little update. 

It’s so practical! I’ve used 2 problems from the book, just this week, and the kids are enjoying the challenge (so far). 

The first problem I gave the students is pictured below. I gave them coins on their desks to manipulate and they had the solution in no time! I love when things work out the way I want them to!


brain teaser math problem


 How is your school year going so far?




Say What? Guest Blog Post – Accountable Talk in The Classroom

I think you’re going to love this guest blog post, written by expert teacher, Julie Faulkner. Julie has been teaching English in TN for over 10 years. She has taught 7-12 English as well as composition and literature at the college level.  Julie has worked this past year as a common core trainer in ELA for TN to train teachers to implement common core. 

Take it away , Julie! 

Do you ever wonder why some students are so quiet during classroom discussions? Could it be because…They don’t have a clue what to say? Maybe they don’t want to be judged by their peers? Or maybe they don’t see the point?  This summer I spent hours training and preparing for common core.  In doing so, I realized effective speaking and listening are hugely significant and tied directly to everything else.  It became very apparent that effective communication, though, goes way beyond common core and the classroom – it is critical for college and career readiness.

To elaborate a little there – a short story – my husband works for a major business corporation in the US and takes conference calls daily. Never did I realize until I was thinking about how to incorporate talk into my classroom, how this practice actually does fit the mold for “college and career readiness.”  I will also say here, that up until this point, I was actually struggling for rationale as to why I should even “waste” my precious class time with discussions.  So, this summer I overhead my husband using what we call in the academic world “accountable talk stems.” After I asked him about it, he elaborated that effective communication was critical – maybe even one of the most important things his job requires. Thus was born my entire pedagogical approach and rationale for implementing thoughtful and structured academic talk. 

To me accountable talk occurs two ways in the classroom – what the teacher says and what the students say.  Teachers usually talk a lot in the classroom setting. After all, we are responsible for covering material, questioning, checking for understanding, and managing class time, right? While the former is true, I realized quickly that what I said and how I said it in my classroom could actually make or break student growth.  As a result, I began to change my questioning patterns to use “smart talk stems” myself.  But that wasn’t all – WARNING – this next part might be painful.  I began to wait on students to answer me.  Yes, crickets and all. And in the beginning there were lots of crickets.  I was so used to throwing out a question, and if the student couldn’t answer right away, I’d answer for him/her for the sake of time or fear of it looking like I hadn’t explained the topic clearly enough.  I might even let another student bail him/her out.  Students are used to be nurtured in that way, and it became very apparent to me that I was guilty of giving students an easy way out to the point of actually crippling them from being able to struggle and articulate their own thoughts.  Secondly, I realized that I had been allowing students to only answer half-way or maybe even incorrectly.  If they answered with a correct one-word response, I would drop it and move on. If they answered partially wrong, I would reword it for them to make it correct.  Suddenly, I realized I was doing all of the questioning and answering.  In that regard, sadly I had no true measurement of their understanding. I began to slow down- to ask students to explain in their own words. I asked other more eager students to wait and then elaborate on the prior student to teach listening and feedback skills. 

Additionally, to truly be able to express a thought and to be productive, there must be justification.  Students must be able to say why or how they know with credible reasoning.  In my ELA classroom, it is easy to correct a comma in daily oral language and move on. Or, we can fix a subject-verb error “because it just didn’t sound right.” That type of justification doesn’t truly do students any good the next time they encounter that same mistake.  I wanted my students to learn how to not only have the answer, but to have the answer and be able to say why.

Once I began to model accountable talk practices with my students, speaking and listening came more naturally to them when it came time for them to host their own talk time. I didn’t start out eating the whole elephant here, either, with this second leg of accountable talk.  This type of practices takes a long time to develop.  I began to put students in pairs for a “turn and talk” or “pair/share” type activity. We practiced with topics that were easy to discuss. Then we moved to whole group discussions.  Each time, though, students come prepared to talk with something they have written first.  Afterwards, we also write again to sum up the discussion or for reflection.  The talking portion of class is tied to the text and the task. Ultimately, we have a triangle of talk-text-task (and not necessarily in that order every time).

I am reminded of a country music song lyric (not surprising given my TN home) that says, “It’s all talk, talk, talk- talking in the wind.”  Unfortunately, a lot of times that can be true. We talk in circles; some talk too much, and others don’t speak up at all.  Some comments are useful and some derail the main point.  I think having a goal and modeling is crucial for the success of the discussion.  Students must be learning not only what is an effective way to listen and speak to each other, but they also must be gaining subject-area content knowledge.   And, I think that’s the ticket – this is just yet another tool in our deep and wide toolbox to help us prepare our students for the world in which they must eventually enter and be productive citizens.

 –Julie Faulkner


 Follow Julie at her TPT store

Free Smart Talk Stems Poster 

 Discussions Implementation Bundle for Middle and High School Levels (priced)



Figment – An online collaborative writing tool for students

It takes no time to get into the swing of things, huh? I have only had two days with my new grade 7’s (and I’m aware that it’s still the honeymoon period) but they are simply a lovely bunch of kids and I’m really looking forward to my year with them! That being said, I found a cool new writing tool over the summer that I plan to try out with them and so I thought I’d also share it here. So, just to be clear it’s brand new to me and I haven’t used it with a class yet – but it looks REALLY cool!

The site is called “Figment” and it’s  a site where your students can write, collaborate with each other and ultimately publish their finished pieces online for either the whole class or the entire Figment community to comment on and/or review.

 figment pic

Here’s how I plan to use Figment in my room – hopefully in first term!

One of the first major writing assignments that my students will have this year is to write a Memoir. My plan is to have them type these memoirs into the (simple) template on Figment – basically a word processor. Educators also have the option to “create groups” which means I’ll have all of my students in a private group. I hope that some initial sharing, giving of feedback, revisions and edits will occur in this group. When the pieces are ready, I plan for my students to publish to the Figment community! It’s very fulfilling when you become a “published author”. Using this site, all students will be able to label themselves in this way – which I love.

There is a special spot on Figment for educators to create those private groups, so if you’re interested, be sure to check it out. You have to send off an email request to have access to the private groups and so it’s not immediate. You kind of have to plan ahead, if you want to use this as an option. From what I can tell, though, I can start a thread in the group, asking students to work on a really strong lead today. Perhaps next class, I’ll ask students in a new thread to replace three of their verbs with more precise, active verbs. Students can also start threads, asking for advice and feedback. I’m very excited about this site and I think it has amazing potential.

I’ll be sure to post again after we actually get started with it, to let you know how it’s working in “real life” with real kids.

I also have my plan laid out for my students to blog again this year. I’m excited to begin that process with them this month and I already have two teachers (one in Pakistan and one in USA) who my class will be collaborating with – we’re going to be audiences for each other! Lots of plans! Don’t you love September? Everything seems possible and exciting. I have lots of energy and I just can’t wait to get started!

Side note: If you were interested in blogging with your students this year, I started a Google Doc a while back to help us find each other around the globe and to make collaboration a little bit more structured. Feel free to have a look and add your info if you’re interested and be sure to contact any teachers on the list who have a class that matches yours!

Please, share your goals for writing with your students this year! Cool sites, blog plans – I’d love to hear what you’ve got going on!


Back to School With a Smile

My first day with students will be tomorrow. There is so much build up to the first day of school! I always look forward to it, but I am also happy when it’s over. The ice is broken, introductions have been made and I can start to get to know the young people in front of me.

I am just about ready to go, but still have a few preparations left to make. It’s an exciting year for me, for a few reasons. This will be the first year that all teachers have SMART Boards in our rooms. Also, my school is in transition. We will be coming together with our high school in the fall of 2014, and become a K-12 facility. Construction is well underway, as they are renovating the high school and it will become our new home. Lots of changes! A new administrator at our school, being another. She actually began our day on Tuesday with this funny little video and so I thought I’d share it with you!

We all know that teaching can be hard (as you’ll see in the video). You may get stressed, feel over worked and isolated… At those times, when you’re not sure if you can go on, just remember that at least you’re doing a better job than the teacher in the video! On that note, wish me luck tomorrow! I hope that they like the Banana Chocolate Chip cake that I made for their break time! (Hard not to respect someone who feeds you cake, fruit and juice on the first day – wouldn’t you agree? Wink  Well – it can’t hurt!)