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Cheers to New Beginnings: LOVE TANESHA

Well, I've been here for the last two years, and it's been amazing!!! I've thought about my purpose for blogging, and I've decided it's time for me to switch it up...and that includes my name. Raising Rigor and Readers was the birth child of imitation. I created it because I was trying to be like other bloggers, and lost myself. I want to continue sharing my thoughts on teaching and so much more. If you are interested in following along I'll be at WWW.LOVETANESHA.COM

Positivity & Praise for Big Kids

Teaching middle school is hard. Really hard. There are emotions, hormones, strong opinions, relationships, feelings, and so much more. Below are a few strategies I use to keep it positive in the land of the MIDDLE. 

Positivity and Praise
Posi-texts - This gem involves the families of my students. It's a low lift/high impact activity. When I catch students making great decisions, I snap it, jazz it up with a photo editor (optional), and send it to parents. Imagine being a parent and receiving a text that shows your child being awesome in school!  On the other end of this imagine being a student not knowing your teacher has "caught" and shared this moment with someone you love. 

Posi-notes The sister to the posi-text is the posi-note. No better way to spread the love than with words. My students really appreciated receiving cards/notes that celebrate something they've done. It's kind of like getting mail. They are a low lift/high impact way of celebrating students. I simply write something about students on cardstock, post it note, piece of paper, or even it type it out and place it on the desk of a student. It's the ultimate surprise when they realize its for them (not their parents) and is celebratory.

100 Club - There are weekly opportunities for students to join "100 Club," which connects to the daily learning output. I would rate this as a medium lift/medium impact largely because it takes some motivation to get students invested in top quality work. While there are my top flyers who are always down for perfection, I've had to work on motivating students who haven't always experienced academic success. In execution, I grade student exit tickets (which is sometimes uber time consuming) and then pass out little coupons that say "100 Club." When students collect five they can grab a "You Pick" card (see below). 

Specific Praise- This is something I love. When students make positive choices, I give very specific praise and recognize. Instead of saying "good job," I am specific "when you kept asking questions to better understand, it led to a better classroom conversation, and your exit ticket demonstrated..." When appropriate I give the praise publicly so that other students know the actions that are leading to growth and recognition. 

Raffle Tickets - This is an oldie, but a goodie! It's one of my favorites not only because it's a low lift, but also because the kids love the idea of randomization. There have even been times when someone who struggles wins and the students are so happy that they won. This melts my heart. EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. The key that I've found is to mix up your raffle tickets! I love a raffle ticket that doubles as a note home (example)! Winning! 

Unlock the Magic - This idea was taken from the fabulous Hope King. I love it, but it was certainly a high lift with a medium-ish impact. For clarity I'll walk you through the steps and what it is. There's lost of room for teacher agency, but I'm going to share how I set it up in my room. The idea is that students earn keys that go do locks. I have nine locks, and 90 keys. There's only ONE key that unlocks each of the locks so the more keys students earn, the more chances they have of unlocking one of the locks. 

  1. Purchase 9 nine locks from Lowes, or Home Depot. Depending on your classroom, you can decide how many locks you have. I decided to have 9 because I found a cute key container from Home Goods that could be spray painted to match the color of the locks, and it had nine drawers. 
  2. Make copies of lock keys. I bought nine locks with the same key code, and one had a different key code. It's crazy, but the locks came in packets of four, and all the packs had the same code (on the back of the lock packet). I then bought a one pack that had a different code. I used this one to create the "trick keys" that didn't unlock the locks. The most difficult part is getting the keys made. I suggest starting with the key that is one that will unlock each of the locks. I had 9 locks so I made 9 copies of this key. Next I made 81 copies of the "dummy" key. 
  3. Place a ribbon on each of the keys that matches the color of the bin they will be in. I went to JoAnn fabrics and grabbed ribbon for about $2/each. 
  4. *Creating the keys was financial and time commitment. Therefore, I had to make sure that I didn't give them to students and risk losing them. I created a bulletin board that matched the colors of the keys. Each time a student earned a key, I wrote their name on the key, and gave them a PAPER copy of the key. On the "reveal" day, students were given the actual key. 
  5. Purchase/Create lock holder (from Michaels). You can find them here, here, and here
  6. Invest students in it!  
Nothing beats the sound when students finally "Unlock the Magic!"


Pick a Prize - A really simple idea that students love! After collecting five "100 Club" tickets, or for a raffle, I allow students to pick their own prize. I found some cute envelopes on Amazon, and created the prizes. There's a ton of different selections such as:
  •  Phone Call Home
  •  Artsy Activity with the Teacher
  •  Game Day
  •  Blackboard Time 
  •  Prize Box
  • and more! 
Scholar Dollars - These can be passed out at will, and traded in for something special, determined by the teacher. My co-teacher uses these with the students and they are obsessed. The only issue she ran into is ensuring that students write their names on the dollars and determining the right prices for the prizes. At first she priced items too low, and found it hard to manage all the dollars students earned. 

TARGET! - The Target dollar spot has some amazing prizes for students that can be used to build your classroom treasure chest. 

These are a few of the things I am doing in my classroom, what additional suggestions do you have? I'd LOVE to know! Let's connect in the comments. 

Black History Month: Getting Beyond Dr. King

I Have a Dream -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 
Refused to give up her seat -- Rosa Parks 
The Problem We All Live With -- Ruby Bridges 
The Peanut Man -- George Washington Carver 
- Black History Month 
End Scene.

Black History Month is upon us, and I am reflecting on how to celebrate progress while engaging with key issues plaguing the African American community. Last year I jotted a few thoughts here, and I am back with a few bloggers sharing their opinions. I asked one of my 6th graders "What does BHM mean to you?" Her unfiltered thoughts: 

“When black history month comes around, what do we think of? Usually it’s always Rosa parks, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, etc. They are important, but this is a whole new generation. We appreciate all the things they have done for the black community, but we should start recognizing the young black men and boys that are killed on the streets everyday. This is a big issue in the African-American community and we need to start celebrating and recognizing that their lives matter. It started with Emmett Till who was killed with no justice, and it continues with other black boys. If we can prove to the world that this is important, maybe the injustice will stop. On the news there is always violence going on because of the pain people are feeling. These young boys should have statues, memorials because as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are important so is their memory.”
6th Grader & Thinker

From the mouth babes! Abiba's response reminded me that the children are watching! I certainly don't want to cultivate students who view black history month as praise for past heroes. I also don't want to use black history month as a history cram. I am fortunate to have a district curriculum that includes diverse perspectives and an opportunity to celebrate African American history throughout the year, but this hasn't always been the case, and isn't the case for teachers throughout the country. For any topic, especially this one, I think it's critical to share the past in relation to the present and future. It is my hope that students will not come to me tired of the(ir) past, but rather inspired and poised to have an impact.

The Past (Africa - 1970s):
The list to the left is by NO means all inclusive. Creating a "list" was difficult because there are so many ideas and pathways to celebrate the tremendous accomplishments of Africans and Americans(I purposefully separated the terms). I tried to pull out time periods, influential people, and events. To engage with topics, I've compiled some project ideas which include:
- Create mini-timelines for a time period.
- Provide biographical information about important people.
- Draw or paint portraits of important people and events and write a short bio
- Research the key contributions of Divine Nine fraternities and sororities.
- Create a mini-documentary about a time period. 
- Pick a decade in history and in addition to the music of that time period, research its significance to politics and culture, the social justice context of the music and the genre’s influence on dance and clothing styles.

The Present (1980s- Today): 

- Compare and contrast the philosophies of people during a specific time period (e.g. Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B Dubois).
- Organize a black film festival for the school. Create a program and a schedule and show films throughout the month of February and beyond.
- Discuss bias and stereotypes in films and clips.
- Read articles about a topic (Black Lives Matter) with different view points and analyze which author presents a stronger argument
- Review census data, collect and analyze statistics and create graphs and infographics which illustrate housing patterns (Chicago is a great start).
Be the Change: 
I wholeheartedly know that our country has made tremendous progress. I know that I am standing on the shoulders of giants, and value their contributions to the movement to end inequity. That said, anyone who believes that we live in a post-racial period is not paying attention. If you're not paying attention, you're not learning. Regardless of the population that teachers serve, we must present multiple perspectives and expose students to current events. If not I wonder how we'll ever move forward, and get beyond Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The active participants in the Civil Rights Movement set the charge and got the ball rolling and we can't be passive. The list to the left provides ideas for taking an active approach during Black History Month so that students think about the world we live in. There is so much we can learn from that past to prevent history from repeating itself. Watching the news is a real testament to the need for more relevant ongoing conversations and reflections about race and class with our students. If not, I fear we will continue to see incidents like this, this, this and this.

Hit Reset After a Break...And a Giveaway

I am joining in with a few of my blogging friends from the Middle School Mob to share a few quick tips on resetting after break. We've all been there before! You know that point when you come back from an extended break well rested and ready to pick right up, but your students have other plans! Below are a few (quick) tips on how to hit reset and quickly build momentum with your class! 

1. Reestablish key Rules and Procedures: Simply put, I remind students of expectations and practice as necessary. It might be me, but there's something about practice that establishes the tone and sense of urgency around getting started right away. I give students strong rationale and try to get keep practice quick, positive, and lecture free. This means no, "you guys forgot the expectations so we are going to practice until we get it right!" Instead I say something to the tune of, "If you are like me you gave your full attention to the break! Let's make sure we are all on the same page with expectations. We might practice a few if we're rusty."

2. Change Seats - Nothing says reset like a good seat change, and one of the best times is after a break. I market it as a fresh start and a chance to get to know another teammate. 

3. Let them Share - Last, but not least, I advise giving students a change to share about their break. This doesn't have to be long, but sometimes students come back after having an AH-MAZING, or AW-FUL break. In either case, students sometimes just need a minute to vent/talk it out, and then move on. This can be done in the form of a turn and talk, or in small groups. In my experience when I just mowed on to the next topic without taking 5-10 minutes for students to chat, we lost time because I had to continually address students talking about their break. 

Well, that's all I have for now! I'd love to learn more strategies for resetting after break in the comments, and be sure to click the links below for more strategies and resources for the new year! 

In addition to our linky, we're giving away 12 of our best-selling resources. We've even included some products that are perfect for bringing in the New Year with your students! Make sure to enter using the Rafflecopter below.

Lit with Lyns - Argumentative Writing Process & Task Cards
EB Academic Camps - New Year's Unit & Activities for Middle School
Caffeine and Lesson Plans - PROBE Notebook: A Creative Yearlong ELA Research Project
Just Add Students - Poetry Analysis - "A Day" by Emily Dickinson
Raising Rigor and Readers - Winter Reading and Writing Activities
Anchored in Reading - ELA Text Dependent Analysis Questions - Author's Craft Task Cards
Teach Inspire Change - Student Behavior & Parent Communications Binder
Mrs. Spangler in the Middle - The Giver Reading Comprehension Games - Four in All!
Tori Gorosave: A Middle School English Teacher's Journey - Expository Close Reading: The History of New Year's
Edison Education - Multiplying and Dividing Integers
Koch's Odds 'N Ends - Student Worksheet for Self-Review / Analysis of Test Results
The Marvelous Middle - Looking Back Looking Forward New Year's Activity

a Rafflecopter giveaway 


Winter Activities for the Middle Grades and a FREEBIE

I just moved from Florida to Connecticut and am (kinda) looking forward to a real winter for the first time in my 30-something year old life! With winter comes the opportunity for winter themed activities! I teach at a school where we can say everything except for Christmas! This resource is full "of winter" (and a few Christmas shhh) themed activities for big kids! There are fiction and nonfiction passages, as well as, poetry! 

This year I am sharing this resource with students as optional during break. I give it to students and casually mention that there might be a prize for students who complete specific activities. I don't give the entire resource, but focus on activities that will keep their academic juices flowing, and are fun! This resource addresses both! 
Click here to purchase the full resource 
Click here for this FREEBIE
This year I am giving students the "Bucketlist" above for fun as a part of their winter gift. Are you from a non-snow state? No worries, there's a version for you too! Do you assign work for students over the break? Am I am being too much of Scrooge? Let me know your thoughts. Happy Winter Break! 

Conversations that Matter!

Greetings! It seems like forever since I took to the blog with a little #realtaneshateachertalk to share! That doesn't mean my wheels haven't been spinning out of control with topics. I'm in my tenth year as an educator, and hands down this year has challenged me like NO OTHER! While there have been lots of wins, there have also been times when I had to be honest about how my mindsets were at play. I've shared with my closest teacher friends my struggles, and have even felt moments where I wanted to concede. Oh, and it's only DECEMBER! 
The theme that surfaced time and time again was that I need to be stronger, braver, and allow my passion to breathe through. I realized that I've suffocated the ideas, concepts, and values that led me to this work. I wasn't being solutions oriented, and was trapped in web of negativity because I wasn't speaking up! I came to the realization that TEACHERS MUST BE BRAVE! Why? 

THE WORLD WE LIVE IN. Enough said, right?!?! We live in a social media, instant access to everything era. Many times our "teaching" is so much more than the curriculum, and involves topics that might make us uncomfortable. There is no manual on what to say when a student asks, "why do the police hate black boys?"  or "how come there aren't more <<insert description>> teachers here?" or "why am I the only <<insert description>> in this class?" The answer can't be "we don't talk about that in school." I'm not saying that we have to delve into deep reasoning and rationale, but I feel like we have an obligation to our kids to let them know we hear them even if we don't have all the answers. 

WE KNOW BEST. I can recall too many times when I told people I was a teacher, and where I taught, and their response would be "bless your soul" or "just do what you can" or the cringe worthy "they come from...they are so... their parents don't..." In full disclosure I didn't always advocate for my students. Sometimes because I was stunned by the ignorance, and other times because I didn't think it mattered. My voice and experience matters! When people talk about the profession and make assumptions about my students and community, I believe I have to speak up because my silence affirms their beliefs. We also have to be brave with each other. The other day one of my best friends told me that she was in department meeting with her team, and they were discussing constructed responses, and wanted to use the acronym R.A.C.E.S. She stated the obvious that it's too close to "racist." This was an important conversation. While her team disagreed, the fact that she said something at all MATTERS because it initiates conversation and thought! 

In full disclosure when I started this blog I had no vision for what I wanted it to be. Each day I get closer to what feels right for me, which is a place where I don't hold back and invite others to do the same. I invite/need conversations that recognize the real challenges associated with teaching... regardless of where, or what you teach. That's why I am requesting that you complete (and share) the survey below. I'm sure there are other teachers interested in similar topics and I want to share, learn, and collaborate with you! I am not sure what will come of this, but hope that it leads to giving others the audacity to get real and spark conversations about the underlying and pervasive causes of educational inequity in the world. I hope it pushes on the norm that places too many children in boxes with labels. Most importantly, I hope it leads to changes in the way WE think about the students, school, and communities we serve. I hope you'll be brave enough to jump in and get messy! Below are a few topics that are top of mind!

- Challenges with Creating a Safe Classroom 
- Working Across Lines of Difference - Public Charter vs. Traditional Public Schooling
- Creating a Diverse Curriculum For All Students 
- Book Study: This is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education  
- The Role of Teachers in the School to Prison Pipeline 

- Classroom Power Dynamics
...and growing!  

Please complete this form, which will assist me in finding a path forward! Thank you in advance!

Struggle and Progress, 

Novel Studies: Peaks and Pitfalls

As a reading teacher and avid reader, my passion is sharing and spreading my love of reading to my students. Easier said than done. Prioritizing time to read, matching students with a book and/or author that they connect with, and developing a classroom library that is ever growing and intriguing is a full time job! Not to mention ensuring that students are becoming better readers, and end of year assessments. I usually ignore the latter. On this journey I've swung back and forth on using novels, and think I've landed in a place that drives towards my bottom line as a reading teacher; getting students to LOVE reading! Below is a collection of lessons learned (for better or worse) while using novels. I can't move forward without stating that I don't exclusively use novels in my classroom (#beentheredonethat), and I fundamentally believe that the best way for students to become better readers is to read what they are interested in .... A LOT! 

PIT. Student choice and reading levels are always top of mind when selecting a novel. There is no sure fire way to choose a novel that will engage each learner, however, knowing the novel, and why it matters is key to overcoming the pitfall of student choice, and engaging as many students as possible. I recently used the book A Long Walk to Water with my class. It was in our class library, but not one student had read it! One strategy to overcome this pit is to build energy around the book. Get students hype about it by giving them a few "bread crumbs" on what excites you about the book. To add this energy, I sent out a letter to parents/guardians, decorated my door to look like the book cover, and used the program Learning Ally to ensure that my students reading below the level of the book were set up for success.
Each student receives the book in a bag with their name one it, numbered book, parent letter, and minibook. 
PEAK. Novel studies present the opportunity to truly hold all students accountable for reading. I give students optional mini-books for homework that has questions about each chapter. In all honesty I do it for my parents! They want to hold their child accountable too, and have given me feedback that questions about the chapters are a great starting point. That said, I allow my students to read ahead! I refuse to stifle their engagement by saying, "STOP, don't read that!" The one agreement I have with students is if they read ahead, make sure they don't ruin it for their peers! Here is the mini book from our last unit. NOTE: I used KG Fonts to create this book. You can download them here and here

PIT. Nothing drains a novel study quite like a teacher squeezing EVERY DROP of EVERY DETAIL from a book. It sounds bad right? But it's honest! When reading with students I tell them ahead of time which chapters to read, and when they come to class we discuss what they've read, but move on to our focus for the day. I used to want to experience every point with my students, but I realize this drags the novel on, and doesn't build the habit of reading independently and coming prepared to talk about the book. More importantly, I feel like I lose momentum (and time) by spending too much time on one book. 

PEAK. This connects accountability because while we don't read everything together, we do have class discussions, and these tell me who is and isn't caught up. Beyond that, students L.O.V.E sharing their personal opinions and deep diving into all their favorite parts. We use a Socratic Seminar format, which allows students to think broadly about how the text connects to their lives, and also find specific places in the text where we see shifts in the plot. I teach 5th graders, and seminar is something they love, but are still learning how to make connections, respectfully disagree, and move the conversation ahead. That said, it's SUPER engaging! Students are required to come to the conversation prepared to engage, and during seminar they take notes for a paper they will write. 

Sample Discussion Guide and Note Tool During Seminar


PIT. This is a biggy that I have to remind myself about ALL.OF.THE.TIME! I have to fight the urge to use the novel to teach and do all things. You know, summarize the chapter, determine the main idea, compare two characters, evaluate character relationships, determine the theme, review character motivation, analyze the impact of the setting, determine the author's purpose... on and on and on! When choosing a novel, I think about the synergy with the standards I am teaching, but that is not the sole focus. Additionally, I've found that trying to use the novel to teach everything is overwhelming, and not aligned to the reason I teach reading. I want students to use the reading strategies authentically, and teach concepts when appropriate and natural. 

PEAK! Last, but not least, students remember the novels we use in class forever. Well, maybe not forever, but for a long time. I won't even try to count the number of times I've heard a student recall character actions, or connect a theme to another text! Students complete a book review and get to talk with peers who had wildly different opinions about the book. I read all their reviews to decide if it's a keeper! The shared experience and the ability to refer back to the novel during class is an invaluable advantage to using them! 

Let me know your thoughts! Do you use novel studies? If so how many each year? Let me know in the comments! Until the next post..
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