Sunday, March 20, 2016

Accountability Talk

With all this talk of high stakes testing and teacher accountability, is it possible to have fun teaching?  If you visited my classroom this year, the answer is an absolute YES you can!  I was almost giddy with excitement as I listened to my students' conversation about their discovery, learning, and problem-solving. 

In order to process new knowledge or information, students must have peer interaction.  Discourse among students helps extend their understanding.  This idea was one of Lev Vygotsky’s contributions to the world of education. Although educators know that peers can scaffold new learning effectively through active educational discourse, we (as teachers) are reluctant to allow collaborative discussions.  Why?  We are afraid of losing control and losing valuable instructional time.

Accountable talk (or Math Talk) is student-centered academic classroom talk that includes a variety of cognitive functions that help students explain their thinking. During “Accountable Talk”, students are accountable to their learning community, to the knowledge, and to rigorous thinking.  Students are accountable to their learning community by listening, summarizing, adding on to peer’s statements, or directing attention to the importance of a peer’s statement.  Students are accountable to the knowledge by checking understanding, explaining how he/she arrived at the answer, giving examples and support, or linking new knowledge to previous knowledge.  Finally, students are accountable to rigorous thinking by defending their reasoning and asking their peer to explain or provide evidence.


I model how to use "Accountable Talk" beginning the first week of school. In order for students to use Accountable Talk fluently and with fidelity, it takes modeling and practice! Each student receives a bookmark with conversation starters as well as a reference sheet with these same conversation starters that is kept in their interactive notebook.


To see my bookmarks and posters, please click HERE!

"Accountability Talk" in my classroom takes on many forms.  From "Reciprocal Teaching" to "Response Chaining" my students converse with each other academically.  This discourse is respectful and purposeful!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

BloomBoard - A Place for Educators!

As busy educators (wow, that's an understatement), we are always searching for resources.  We spend endless hours searching for strategies, activities, websites, etc.  This takes time, time that we just don't have!  Let me introduce to you a time saver, BloomBoard!  BloomBoard is a place where educators can learn, share, and discuss the best teaching ideas and strategies to solve everyday classroom challenges and improve their practice.  BloomBoard offers easy access to high-quality, personalized content curated by experienced educators.  The BEST part is it's FREE!  As my son always says, "If it's FREE it's for ME"!  

Throughout the month of February, over 20 education bloggers (including myself) will be sharing collections of learning resources on our blogs and writing about how that collection powers our practice.  The collections will either be ones we have curated ourselves around a topic of interest or just a favorite of ours from the new BloomBoard.  You can check the BloomBoard Blog every Monday in February for the week's schedule of bloggers and follow along daily on BloomBoard's Facebook and Twitter pages.

My BloomBoard Collection

One of the collections I curated is "How to Make Cooperative Learning Work in Your Classroom". Recently (well, about five years ago) I was introduced to Kagan Structures!  Kagan Structures are cooperative learning structures that engage ALL students! Cooperative learning is NOT just group work.  Cooperative learning maximizes learning because ALL students participate. One of my favorite cooperative learning structures is Rally Coach. Students work in pairs, Student A and Student B.  The activity (usually a practice paper) is placed in the middle of the pair. Student A explains the process he will take when completing the question or task.  Student B will either agree or disagree and coach where needed.  Roles reverse.  This 'RALLY" will continue until the allotted time expires.  

With the help of Bloomboard, I have been able to create a collection of resources that will help teachers in the area of Cooperative Learning as well as collections that can help with other classroom routines and needs.  

I would now like to introduce the next featured blogger in this campaign.  National Writing Project is a network of sites anchored at colleges and universities and serving teachers across disciplines and at all levels, early childhood through university.  They provide professional development, develop resources, generate research, and act on knowledge to improve the teaching of writing and learning in schools and communities.  The NWP focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation's educators on sustained efforts to improve writing nad learning for all learners.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Change the things I can!

Friday afternoon, 4:30 p.m., I drag myself through the front door of my home, put on a small pot of coffee then collapse on the sofa.  What a day, what a week!  The aroma of the brewing coffee soothes my soul and invigorates me at the same time.  I quickly go to the kitchen, pour me a cup of coffee then slowly meander to my computer.  After reading my mail, I log onto Facebook and peruse status updates of friends and family.  A story runs across my newsfeed.  It seems another veteran teacher resigns and ends her career.  This happens much too often.  Why?  Could it be the frustrations over common core standards and high-stake testing?  How about the endless hours of planning, preparing, grading, making phone calls?    I begin to reflect on my teaching, my students, my school, my district, and my state. 

Yes, there seems to be more pressure put on teachers and administrators, pressure coming from the district, but ultimately from the state. Teachers feel as if their hands are tied as if they can’t teach the way they want, the way that’s best for students.  When did this happen?  How did this happen?  Through all this bureaucracy, we’ve lost sight of the students.  Yes, I could throw up my hands and say, “I’ve had it!”  But I choose not too!  There are some things we can change right now and some things we can’t.  I focus on what I can change.   

First, I still feel I can be creative in order to reach ALL of my students.  According to Dave Burgess in Teach Like a Pirate, creativity begins with the right questions?  What hook will grab my students’ attention?  What exciting text could I use to teach this standard?  I don’t feel my teaching has to be scripted by the common core.  I do, however, find myself spending more time searching for and researching best practices that will move my students forward. For example, standard LAFS.4.RI.2.5 requires students to describe the overall structure of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.  This standard lists four different structures: chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution.  First I look at the item specs and the "end of the unit" assessment.   I then search for any slide show or video I can use to teach this standard.  Once I find a slide show, I “revise” it to meet the needs of my students.  If I can’t find one, I will create one.  I then start perusing texts that I have, texts that have an obvious overall structure, texts I can match up to the eight different Thinking Maps.   Using Thinking Maps’ frame of reference takes student learning one step further.  There are three different frames of reference.  The “green” frame of reference requires the students to record the source of information (LAFS.4.W.3.8), the blue frame of reference requires the students to focus on a specific point of view (LAF.4.RL.2.6), and the red frame of reference requires students to explain their understanding about the information in their map and why this information is important (LAFS.4.RL.1.1, LAFS.4.RI.1.1).  

Students creating a One-Sided Cause and Effect map to record information about bananas!

Students adding a frame of reference to their Thinking Map! 

Is this time consuming? You bet!  However, it benefits my students, so in the end, it’s worth it!  Once this lesson is planned and typed up, I have it for next year!  Yes, this is only one standard, but I do follow the same protocol for all of the standards I teach.  Asking the right questions when planning helps me be creative, creative in a way that I’ve never been before!

Another frustration is the new teacher evaluation.  I don’t disagree with teacher evaluation; I disagree with using standardized test scores.  This is something I can’t change so I do what’s best for myself, and my students.  I take responsibility and learn everything I can about our evaluation system.  Our district’s framework is based on Marzano’s work.  The sixty elements are just best practices, practices that we should be using in the classroom.  This past summer I read Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov.  The author describes 62 Techniques that put students on the path to college. Each one of the techniques discussed in this book is an element found in our district’s framework.  Imagine that!

This brings me to the frustration of time (or lack of time).  There doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day!  Unfortunately, this is something that I can’t change.  Personalizing my professional development using twitter, TED talk, Teaching Channel, etc. take time.  Reading books such as Teach Like a Pirate takes time!  Planning, preparing, grading papers, all take time.  So, if I can’t add hours to my day, how do I adapt and keep my sanity?  There has to be a balance between our personal and professional lives; the happiness one finds when striking the perfect balance between work and play.  To achieve this balance I have to carve out some time for myself.  This begins at 4:30 in the morning with my “quiet time”, time to drink my coffee, read my bible, and pray.  This positively begins my day.  My workday ends with 30 – 45 minutes of exercise.  I either work in a P90X3 routine or I go for a 3-mile jog.  After a nice dinner with my family, I carve out about an hour or two for schoolwork.  (This is easier for me now that my children are grown and pretty much out of the house.  When my children were younger, this time waited until they were in bed).  Around 8:00 in the evening schoolwork is put away and time with family continues, either with a movie or a football game!  Although I complete some school work over the weekend, the majority of my weekend is reserved for family and FUN!

So, my heart breaks when I read about another teacher resigning out of frustration, yet another group of students missing out on effective instruction.  This is an issue that must be addressed.  Until then, I will choose to continue on.  Change what I can, beginning with my attitude. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015


Many teachers are constantly personalizing their Professional Development by searching for, and reading research-based strategies that can help students think and learn.  With technology, this research is just several clicks away.  I recently discovered Twitter chats!  Professional Development right at your fingertips!!!  

One of my favorites is TMChats (Thinking Map Chats) which meet Sunday evenings at 10:00 p.m.  About two months ago, the topic we discussed was Question Formulation Technique. Because I've never heard of QFT before, I researched information prior to the chat.  I was amazed by the information and the research!  

Although research shows student achievement can improve dramatically when students create their own effective questions, students are not deliberately taught how to do this. There are so many on-line resources that can help teachers use QFT in their classrooms.  Here is how I use it:

The first thing we do is go over the four rules with the students.  
*  Rule #1  Ask as many questions as you can.
*  Rule #2  Do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer any        questions.
*  Rule #3  Write down every question exactly as it is stated.
*  Rule #4  Change any statement into a question.

Once the rules are established and discussed, I show a focus point.  I have used pictures and a short snip of a video (nothing longer than 20 seconds).  If I use a snip of a video, I show it about 3 or 4 times. 

My students sit in groups of four.  Each student has a different colored pencil, crayon, or marker.  I place a piece of chart paper in the middle of each group.  Students then start recording their questions.  I allow about 3 minutes.

Once my students have a list of questions we distinguish between closed-ended (questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no" or with one word) and open-ended questions (questions that require a longer response).   Students then identify the closed-ended questions with a “C” and the open-ended with an “O.”  

The first few QFT sessions, we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each type of question. I want students to see that there is value in asking both types of questions. 

Students then practice changing questions from one type to another. I usually begin with changing closed-ended questions into open questions.

I then have my students choose three questions that interest them, consider to be the most important, or will help them design a research project.

Finally, each group will work with their team members to choose the BEST question.  Justification must be presented when choosing questions.

My class was recently videotaped  during a QFT lesson. We transitioned to a Close Reading lesson!

Here are some wonderful and helpful websites:

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Making Classroom Life Easier

WOW! I can't believe we are three weeks into the 2015-2016 school year! Every school year I try to implement something that will help me stay organized, something that will help our classroom run a bit more smoothly.  In this post, I would like to share a few organizational and classroom management tips and techniques that I use in my classroom with my students.


One of my "pet peeves" is sharpening pencils throughout the entire day! I've tried everything! Last year I gave each student a pencil pouch with 8 pencils and an eraser.  Every Friday I would collect these pouches, sharpen their pencils, and check to see if all eight pencils were still there AND in good shape.  If students had all 8 pencils, they would receive a "prize". This became more work for me, AND a few months into the school year students lost their pouches.  This year I'm trying something different.  I have two containers marked "Pencils that need sharpening" and "Sharpened Pencils".  I keep a supply of sharpened pencils in one container.  These pencils are marked to indicate "teacher's pencils".   Students sharpen their pencils before 9:00 a.m.  At 9:01 a.m. I unplug the pencil sharpener.  If students' pencils break or become dull they trade it in with a sharpened pencil. The broken or dull pencil is placed in the "Pencils that need sharpening" container.  At the end of the day "teacher's pencils" are returned to the container.   A designated student sharpens all pencils and places them in the "Sharpened Pencils" container.  Students' pencils are returned.   It's only been three weeks, but it seems to be working beautifully!  I don't have students sharpening pencils throughout the day.   If students need to replace their pencils they do so quietly.  No interruptions! Teaching and learning continue!

Click here to get these signs for your classroom!

Our Daily Schedule!

Having our class schedule displayed in the classroom keeps my students (and myself) focused!  I love color and clip art, so I created these signs using "free clip art" and formatting in Microsoft Word.  I have used posted schedules before, but these are large enough for ALL to see.  In fact, I see students looking at the schedule when finishing up one subject then prepare for the next one WITHOUT me prompting.  This saves time, time I can use to faciliate learning!

Click here to have access to these signs!

The Daily Five and our READING NOOKS!

I started using the Daily Five with my students about five years ago.  Daily Five is a "Readers Workshop" type of reading block. While I work with a small group or conference with individual students, the rest of the students choose Read to Self, Read to Someone, Work on Writing, Word Work,  or Listen to Reading (Computers).    I like to have my students comfortable when they read AND I do have many "comfortable" areas.  I created our "Reading Nooks" that my students rotate through.  Each student's name is on a clothespin.  Every morning as students enter class they will find their clothespin next to their reading nook for the day.  I NEVER have arguments over my various reading nooks!  

I found these wonderful signs here!  I took the blank signs and added my reading nooks!


It didn't take me long to realize that many student's misbehaviors occur because I wasn't clear with my expectations!  WOW!  What a revelation!  CHAMPS allow me to make my expectations clear when it comes to voice level, seeking help, the activity, movement, and what participation should look like.  Once I implemented CHAMPs in my classroom the students knew what my expectations were and uninterrupted instruction took place.  Before any instruction or activity, I make my expectations clear by displaying signs.  C stands for conversation level.  Before an activity I would tell my students what I expected, 0 means no voices, 1 means students need to whisper, 2 stands for quiet voice, 3 stands for "teacher" voice.  I would then tell students what they need to do if they need help.  A is for activity, this tells students the activity they will participate in.  M is for movement.  This tells students if they can get water, go to the restroom, or if there is no movement. P stands for participation.  What should it look like?  If all expectations are followed then we will have success!  

With expectations established at the beginning of a lesson or activity, learning takes place as misbehaviors diminish!  If a student raises his or her hand to get water, I just quietly point to the expectation of movement.  His or her hand goes down, no interruption takes place, learning continues!  What a concept!

My CHAMPS posted in the front of the room!

Growth Mindset

After reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, I realized many students shut down academically because of a fixed mindset.  Many students give up due to fear of failure.   In a fixed mindset, students (people) believe their intelligence or talent are fixed traits.  Instead of developing their intelligence or talent, they spend time "documenting" them.  In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication.  They view intelligence and talent as the starting point.  "Growth Mindset" creates a love of learning!

To help cultivate a growth mindset in my students, I created a bulletin board entitled "Change your words, Change your Mindset"!   

If you would like these posters for your classroom, click here
I recently "revised" and updated these posters.  Please check them out!

In fact, just last week one of my students made a comment during math (we were working on rounding).  She said, "This is too hard, I can't "do" math"!  I quickly went to the mindset board and explain, "YES, you can"!  Instead of saying "This is too hard, I can't do math", let's say "This is going to take some time and I'm going to use some strategies to get this".  She smiled and agreed.

Also, to help create a growth mindset, I have this poster outside my classroom. 

If you would like to have this outside your classroom, please click here!
I am so excited for this school year!  I love to learn new things and implement them right away!  Stay tuned for learning strategies I'm implementing this year!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The First Day of School

It's Sunday night, the night before the first day of school.  Lunches packed, clothes organized and school supplies ready for another year of learning.  Nope, not for my children.  My two boys are grown and finished with public school.  Tomorrow begins my 18th year of teaching, it's my 18th first day of school.  I still get excited, I still get butterflies, and tonight will be no different than the last 18 years; I won't be able to sleep.  I will lie there, my mind racing, wondering if I remembered to label that homework notebook, did I remember to purchase those clothespins for my "Daily Five" board, or did I remember to post my schedule.  Then my mind will go to my 22 students.  What do I want to accomplish this school year? What are my goals? 

I will instill a growth mindset in all 22 of my students.  My goal is to get my students to feel as if they can do anything, to do and be the best they can be!  I want them to take risks, get out of their comfort zone. I don't want them to be afraid to try new things.   Instead of saying "This is hard, I can't do this",  they will say "yes, this is hard so I'm going to use strategies to figure this out" or "It may take time and effort, but I will get this."  Having a growth mindset will enable my students to do anything and become anything.   I will also praise their effort and the processes they used in reaching their goal. According to Dr. Dweck, praising students effort will actually raise their IQ!  Having a growth mindset will propel my students to grow academically.  

Most importantly, my students will feel safe and loved!  Learning can not take place if students do not feel safe or if they feel the adult in charge does not care.  With 22 students, from 22 different households, I can not control what goes on outside of my classroom or school.  I can control what goes on in my classroom.  The moment my students walk through my door I want them to know they are important to me, that they matter.  A smile, a kind word, a gentle touch on the shoulder can change the course of a young student.  Nothing makes my heart smile more than when a student periodically says (in the middle of class) "I love you Mrs. Routten." I respond with, "I love you too!" 

Of course, I want my students to grow academically, but if my students adopt a growth mindset, if they feel safe, and loved, then the academics will take care of itself.

So, as I wind down on this night before the first day of school, I can't help but get excited thinking of the opportunities that will arise over the next 180 days and thinking about the 22 lives entrusted to me.  What a responsibility and what an awesome opportunity to make a difference!  

To all teachers, educators, and school staff, have an amazing and blessed school year!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Getting organized with chair pockets!

It's that time of year again...time to get my classroom ready! One of my favorite times of the year, because I have the opportunity to "tweak" things from last year and try new organizational ideas.  Today I spent about 3 1/2 hours just arranging desks and bookcases.  I ended my day by placing freshly washed chair pockets on the backs of my students' chairs.  Last summer I took on one of my favorite yet time-consuming projects.  As with most student desks, there isn't enough room for everything students need. That's when I decided to make chair pockets for each of my students.  These pockets slip over the backs of student chairs and include two pockets.  The small pocket hold students' library books, water bottles, pencil pouches, etc.  The larger pocket holds notebooks and workbooks.  

If you would like to attempt these pockets, follow the steps below.  Following the steps is an eight-minute video.  

I used 12 yards of fabric to make 21 chair pockets. First cut strips 18 1/2 inches wide from Salvage end to salvage end. Each strip is then cut into a 30-inch piece, a 13-inch piece, and a 10-inch piece.

Next, pin the smaller pieces to the 30-inch piece. Front side to the back side.

Stitch pieces together.

After the smaller pieces are stitched, it's now time to turn and finish the edges.

End of the smaller pocket turned.

End of the larger pocket turned.

Once the edges are turned, pull the top over and stitch the sides. This will create the "pocket" that will slip over the back of the chair.

Stitch the sides then turn it inside out. Your pocket is finished.

Finished chair pockets!

This is what it looks like on the backs of the chairs.  While measuring, I allowed a little extra in the width as I can always tighten it up.  Please keep this in mind when making your pockets.


This is an eight-minute video of how to make the chair pockets.

Please keep visiting my blog over the next month as I will continue posting additional organizational tips and "beginning of the year" classroom ideas.