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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

BELOW IS A SMALL PEAK FROM A DISCUSSION
 

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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Discriminating Teaching (and Practices)

Hey friends! I am back with another soulful post AKA one from the heart, chalked full of honesty, and vulnerability. I'm linking up with my blogging buddies Mrs. Labrasciano and Amna Baig who are putting themselves out there, and sharing their personal opinions.

True Grit and Growth Mindset
I'm reading Multiplication is for White People along with some other bloggers. The first chapter obliterates the myth that ability is determined at birth (read this post for a better summary). After the reading the book, I've reflected on my own practice of emphasizing grit and the growth mindset with my students. In particular, I'm revisiting how I have embraced these concepts in my classroom, without full attention to the nuances that are important to my classroom of learners. The growth mindset is fairly straight forward; intelligence is dynamic. Therefore, working hard, learning from mistakes, and persevering through tough times leads to growth and change. Grit (as defined by me) is the toughness that leverages passion and perseverance to achieve goals. I've always taught in urban communities with a high percentage of students from low income backgrounds and students of color. Growth mindset and grit are staple concepts in my classroom. For my students, I talk about the growth mindset because many of them come to me believing that there are smart kids out there... and they aren't them. Additionally many of my students have experienced repeated failure, low expectations, and/or racism in their young lives. My intent with talking about and celebrating these concepts is to assist my students in cultivating their greatness and working relentlessly through tough times... MUCH EASIER in theory than practice.

So what's that big deal?  After a decade in education, I'm stepping back and wondering about the unspoken feelings I have about growth mindset and grit. In my heart when I see my students, I've always believed they needed to fully embrace growth mindset and be "gritty" because of the hand they've been dealt. Being a person of color and/or from a low income background (generally) is difficult, and presents obstacles because of societal norms. More specifically, I believe that my success of my students rests in their belief that they can, and a strong work ethic that pushes forward in the face of discrimination, racism, low expectations, stereotypes, ect. ect...

 I've never been honest with the fact that growth mindset and grit (especially) is something that their white peers do not need in the same way as them as they navigate the world. Truth be told, the world we live in has barriers that students of color and/or from low income backgrounds have to overcome that their white peers don't because of white privilege, and other systems that are built to the advantage of them. Note: I'm not saying that white students and/or students for upper class backgrounds do not need a dynamic mindframe and grit. I am saying that I believe that the extent to which they need it looks different than that of students of color and and/or from low income backgrounds. You might be wondering, "how does this connect to teaching?"

As a teacher, I am convinced that talking about grit and growth mindset has to be done as a part of a REAL conversation that raises student consciousness about the world we live in SO THAT they can be change agents. In my humble opinion I feel like steering away from that conversation can lead to the assumption that many of the situations my students face is a result of the lack of grit within their family structure. This is the part of my practice where I need to get better. I teach middle school so having real(er) conversations is something my students can handle, and in my experience appreciate. In the past, I think the way I've messaged thoughts on grit and growth mindset may have led my students to think I was blaming their family and/or other factors on their lack of success. I would say things like "successful people... and have..." or "the only way to attain your goals is to..." In hindsight, I needed to douse some realness into those statements to illuminate the societal obstacles. My greatest aspiration is that my students will not work to assimilate, but rather think about injustice in the world and work to make it more just for all. As a class, we just read The Watson Go to Birmingham - 1963, and the ironically my students were most engaged with the epilogue, which reads:  
Many heroic people died in the struggle for civil rights. Many others were injured or arrested or lost their homes or businesses. It is almost impossible to imagine the courage of the first African American children who walked into segregated schools or the strength of the parents who permitted them to face the hatred and violence that awaited them.They did it in the name of the movement, in the quest for freedom.
These people are the true American heroes.They are the boys and girls, the women and men who have seen that things are wrong and have not been afraid to ask “Why can’t we change this?”They are the people who believe that as long as one person is being treated unfairly, we all are.These are our heroes, and they still walk among us today. One of them may be sitting next to you as you read this, or standing in the next room making your dinner, or waiting for you to come outside and play.
One of them may be you.
I want my students to own their power to change, but this can only come if they understand the issues. If you read my blog, this is a topic that I revisit often, which is not easy. I am willing to put myself out there for my students, and myself. I don't have "the answers," but I want to link up with other educators to find them, and have conversations that will challenge my practice, and (hopefully) lead to better outcomes for my students. As another school year starts, I will continue to reflect, learn, grow, be brave, honest, and open to anything that will make me, and my students better people...even when it's hard! #teamgrit  Please.Share.Your.Thoughts... and read Amna and Amy's posts too! Struggle, and Progress...

  

What Every student should know about their teacher

It’s the weekend before my students return, and I couldn't be more pumped! There's something ethereal about the start of a new school year. I drafted scribbled a letter to myself detailing what I want to be true this year (I'm a picture kinda teacher) about my craft. What clearly stands out (aside from content related items) is what I want my students say, think, and believe about me. I took those ideas and turned them into a quick blog post with commitments I am making. 
1) Your teacher cares about and sees you. 
From my perspective I think I do a solid job of letting my students know this, however, I forced myself to delve into what this looks, feels, and sounds like in my classroom. In particular, I want I ensure that I reach all of my students, especially those who don't gravitate towards my over the top personality. 
Commitments…
- A daily greeting
- Plan out who I will eat lunch with and use that time to listen to students 
- Have a warm and demanding disposition 
- Engage in ongoing conversations about student interests (AKA use my student interest forms)
- Ask questions
- Always assume the best, even during challenging situations. 
- Provide high support with accelerated expectations #restorativepractices
- Get to know student influencers & balance the ratio of positive/negative communication
- Discuss and check-in on student goals
- Advocate when necessary for materials that leverage student personal experiences
- Celebrate student growth
- Double check practices for gender/cultural/racial stereotypes 
- Analyze trends in consequences and rewards. Be honest with myself around mindsets that might be at play. 

2) Your teacher cares about the entire class. 
Our class community is important. Middle school was the bane of my existence. I was teased to no end, and to cope I became a really mean and unhappy young lady during this time. My students MUST know that I deeply care about them as individuals, AND about our classroom collective. Our class will be welcoming and encouraging to everyone because everyone matters.  
Commitments…
- Prioritizing teambuilders that support a welcoming environment (once a week)
- Participate in community time and offering to lead different parts for our grade team
- Quickly address issues involving student conflict using restorative practices (<--- school requirement)
- Authentically reference our school anchors and habits
- Shout out examples of strong team habits
- Be present at all times! #earsalwayson 
- Believe that my students can engage in direct conversations and learn from one another. 


3) Your teacher values your opinion.
I grew up in the "because I said so" era, which (IMO) stifles motivation. I am completely invested in giving my students rationale for why we do things, and open to their feedback. I've learned this builds investment and nurtures intrinsic motivation. While we have a set curriculum and guidelines, my students have to own their role as drivers in their educational career. It's not my class, it's OUR class!  
Commitments…
- Provide rationale for decisions in our classroom
- Implement and utilize the structure for collecting student opinions
- Listen to my students and ask clarifying questions before responding 
- Narrate the changes based on feedback
- Reiterate that it's our class 


4) Your teacher loves teaching.
I look forward to seeing my students every week, and keeping our flow going because when we get in a groove, WE GROOVE!!! I want my zest for my career to shine through daily. 
Commitments…
- Be POSITIVE and avoid negativity around the teaching profession. 
- Share my love openly...even when it feels like I'm swimming against the tide. 
- Be solutions oriented
- Operate with the 24/48 rule so that feelings don't build up
- Check in with other teachers (especially the new ones) to see how they are doing and how I can help.  
- Create engaging and rigorous lessons
- Submit student work and class videos for school bulletin boards. 
- Dance during our school dance parties #easydotcom
- Dress the part daily
- Balance my professional and personal live! 
- Smile, laugh, learn (in no particular order)


5) Your teacher is not perfect. 
Teaching is really challenging, and no one teacher has all the answers! I embrace the fact that some of my students look up to me, but I am human, and will make mistakes. I want to build a classroom community where I share how I am learning and getting better so that my students see there is #nomagic  
Commitments…
- Share what I am learning from my students. 
- Be vulnerable and honest when I make a mistake. More importantly, sharing what I learn from my mistake. 
- Be humble
- Be a team player (share,beg, borrow, and steal from other phenomenal teachers)
- Remember the students are ALWAYS watching!
- Revisit these commitments to celebrate the brightspots and (re)shape the path forward

Please share what you want your students to think/feel about you and your class? 

{Week 4} BTS in A Flash! Student Engagement

This is the last week of a fabulous link up for Back to School hosted by Fancy Free in Fourth, Ramona Recommends, and Not So Wimpy Teacher. It's all about STUDENT ENGAGEMENT! My {quick} strategies are about keeping students engaged during the lesson! Enjoy!
As a middle school teacher, there is always drama! It's part of the gig. #truestory Therefore, my job is to keep students engaged during the lesson so that they are not off in "the fifth dimension" thinking about the drama. The best way to do this, is to use your teacher moves! My bottom line is to make sure that Every is ALWAYS ON! We vow to "make every minute count" in my classroom. That means we keep the flow of the class moving and students thinking. It DOES NOT mean going too fast so that students can't keep up with the work, but rather thinking about what EVERY student is doing at each moment during the class, assigning a "thinking job", and effectively calling on students to share/check their thinking. Below are moments when some students might be OFF, and the teacher move(s) I use to keep them ON!


OFF Example #1: Calling on ONE student to think about AND answer a question
We've likely all been here before. The moment you call on a scholar to answer a question and then wait, sometimes awkwardly as they get to their response. In the meantime, half of the class appears to be patiently waiting and listening, but are actually thinking about ... lunch,  a text to send,  drama that happened during class transition, what's happening on Instagram, their next FB status update, ect. There's another subset of students who are becoming frustrated with the student you called on.
Consider this:
Before calling on a student, ask the question, have students think about their answer, and use the cold call strategy to identify the student who is going to answer. This sounds like, "How does the author use imagery to contrast the feeling between x and y?...WAIT TIME!!!!! Call on a student." This ensures that everyone has thought about the question, and has an answer. To keep the other scholars involved say, "Listen to <insert student name>'s answer, I am going to call on someone to evaluate their response"  Now, everyone in the class has a thinking job. Depending on how quickly the student is able to answer, continue to cold call other students to help them out, or do a quick turn and talk so that students get to share their ideas and then cold call on a student to share and evaluate their partner's idea!

OFF Example #2: I DON'T KNOW (also known as IDK)
We have a no-opt out culture. Meaning you might not know now, but you will. In my first years of teaching students would say "I don't know" and I would just move on to another student. YIKES! Nothing kills an academic culture quicker than the belief that there's an opportunity to opt out of the lesson. 
Consider this:
If a student says, "I don't know" and you've done a lot of set up already (refer the example above), call on a student who likely knows the answer and give the entire class the thinking job of "evaluating" their response (one of my favorite tools). After the student gives the answer, quickly call on another student to summarize what they said, and then come back to the student who initially said, "I don't know." Ask this scholar to answer the initial question based on what they've heard.  Important Consideration: We have to use our teacher judgment in determining whether or not the student opting out is doing so for attention, or not. I err on the side of assuming the best, and try to ensure that my tone, body language, and eye contact is positive. I don't want this to become a teacher vs student showdown! If the student is still confused, I'll quickly clarify for the student, and create a note to follow up with the student as they practice. 

OFF Example #3: Teacher Talk 
This is often called ratio. As teachers, we have to think about the amount of time we are doing the "heavy lifting." A key indicator for me is the way I feel after class. If I am exhausted physically and mentally, it was likely because I was doing too much of the thinking and practice. In my experience, nothing turns students off quicker than sitting for extended periods of time while the teacher pontificates about the lesson, or does all the work for the students. 
Consider this:
When planning lessons, think about when and where students are doing the thinking. Be proactive in including back pocket questions, or questions that you can ask if students are not able to answer the question you ask. More importantly, plan for misconceptions. Thinking about misconceptions enables me to write better back pocket questions and prevents me from talking too much because I am prepared for the misconception. 

I've included a few quick {non-exhaustive} examples and considerations of how to keep students engaged during my lessons using teacher moves. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section, and be sure to hop around for more wonderful strategies!  

Managing Bias in the Classroom

I talk about race, class, privilege, and inclusiveness A LOT as a blogger. It's my passion, and I am unapologetic about it. If we are to embrace all of our students, we have to converse and reflect on our practices to ensure that our classrooms are affirming and nourishing all of our scholars. I am always reviewing my classroom rules and procedures to double check for blindspots, or assumptions I might be making about my students as a result of a unchecked biases.  As usual, I'd love to know your thoughts too! 

In her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race, Dr. Beverly Tatum notes that we all breathe in smog. In this way she compares smog to racism by noting, “sometimes it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are breathing it in.” WE.ALL.BREATHE.IT. It doesn't mean we are all racist, but rather that none of us are free from bias, and that we are constantly bombarded with negative messages of groups of people, which become internalized. As educators, we have to step back and ensure that our unconscious biases are not causing us to take action that prevents our students from feeling safe and included in our classrooms. Let's think about this through the lens of classroom management. When evaluating your classroom management system, think about how it may unfairly favor one group over another. Below are a few pitfalls that this mindset might lead teachers to as a result of unchecked biases. 

BEHAVIOR CHARTS – These are pretty popular in the lower grades. If you are going to use images of children, think about how the placement of children in the continuum factor into the psyche of your kids. A chart that displays a white child at the top representing the best behavior plays into some of the ongoing negative messages that we all absorb. How would your students of color feel not being “reflected” until the bottom of the chart? When creating a chart like this, consider having multiple children represented throughout the levels, or no children at all. 
TEACHERS VS. STUDENTS – One of my favorite bloggers, Blair Turner recently posted about this "game." In short, be mindful of games that pit students versus the teacher. There are variations in how this game is played, but I encourage teachers to reflect on the message sent regarding power and privilege if the teacher earns a point when the class doesn’t do something. 
HARD WORK GUARANTEES SUCCESS A very nuanced concept, but it’s important to remember that hard work can lead to success, but doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in life. This is a really hard reflection to have, and one that a colleague at my current school brought up because of a line in our core outcomes that read something to the tune of "I know that if I work hard I will achieve my life goals." While we certainly want our students to cultivate a strong drive towards their goals, we don't want to ignore the fact that there are many systems that continue to oppress members of society that share the identity of our students. As a result, hard work will not always be the only determining factor in realizing their goals. #realtalk 

It has been proven time and time again that even our "Kinder-babies" see color and difference (e.g. the "doll test" here, here, here, and here).  Last year, my niece who is five saw a Santa Claus doll in my mother's house and said, "Santa isn't black." Imagine that! She's five and while most of our family members have black Santa Claus figures, somehow she internalized that the real Santa was white based on trips to the mall, TV, and other places. I would argue that we have to think about our youngest scholars just as much, if not more when creating an inclusive classroom. Our students soak up so much from our classrooms that help them make meaning of the world. Our procedures should help students make strong choices and underscore the habits of good community members. Teachers should reflect on whether or not procedures reinforce common stereotypes, or undermine common cultural norms within a group. Below are a few pitfalls that connect to classroom procedures
THE CONTROL EVERYTHING MINDSET  I honestly believe that the overwhelming majority of teachers want what's best for their students. This compelling belief and desire for our kids might cause us to take action that stifles their development. Four years ago I taught at a middle school that demanded straight lines. The problem was that we weren’t truly teaching our students about social intelligence and self awareness, and some students were getting in BIG trouble for… wait for it, not walking in a straight line and/or whispering in the halls. I often wondered about the transferable skills students were learning by walking in straight quiet lines, and to this day have NO EXAMPLES. My school was approximately 98% African American with about 85% qualifying for free or reduced lunch. Our staff was about 70% white. I've since left the school, and they are changing up methods, but I've thought about the impact of our actions on our students. Such strict control and required submissiveness from students takes away their decision making ability, and in my opinion doesn't reflect our highest aspirations for students. I often think about how students conceive power when the majority of their teachers do not share their identity and are enforcing excessive control over them.  
NOT REFLECTING ON CULTURAL NORMS Silent lunch is a practice which may counter the cultural norms of students if not presented in a manner that respects their home environment. For example, if the lunchroom is loud and a teacher yells "stop talking loud like you have no home training." Many cultures have talkative family dinners, which might be loud... and that's awesome. It’s not okay to state that this is wrong, or imply that students are not acting appropriately. The goal here isn't to say that teachers should never have silent lunch, or that it's a practice we should eliminate. I'm just encouraging us to think about how we redirect students towards expectations for school in manner that respectfully recognizes that school and home norms may be different.
THE VERNACULAR - I've heard many arguments for/against students speaking "proper English" in school. The book This is Not a Test  by Jose Luis Vilson includes a powerful line that gets at the gist of HOW we should think about the language(s) students bring to our classrooms. He writes, "... I also see is a symptomatic of the schooling process, which often fails to account for other children's literacy, as if the code that children speak has no value compared to the King's English." Boom!
This is commonly known as colorblindness, and usually comes from a very well intentioned place, but it is wrong. I repeat WRONG. There is no way around it. Being "colorblind" usually allows those from the dominant race to ignore the experiences of others who aren't. The experiences and differences that our students bring to our classrooms are valuable and make them who they are, and if we don't recognize them, we are doing a serious injustice to our classroom culture and students. Check materials for diversity of thought and perspectives, or for curriculum materials that may inadvertently demean certain groups. Below are a few strategies that connect to celebrating all students

NAMES IN MATERIALS – When creating materials, be sure to include diverse names, and double check how people with traditionally diverse names might be engaging in stereotypical actions.  Similarly, you want to have a diverse selection of books, toys and materials regardless of the population you teach. 
PICTURES – This is a personal pet peeve, but when choosing pictures for students, it’s important to remember that different shades of the same clipart picture does not equate diversity. A fellow blogger Jameson over at Lessons With Coffee suggested Illumismart, and I LOVE HER WORK! It captures and celebrates difference!   
This is difficult, and requires us to be hyper vigilant about the decisions we make and to engage in honest reflections about our practices. The stakes are too high not to. 


"The secret in education lies in respecting the student."  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

{Week 2} BTS in a Flash! Curriculum Must Haves

Hello! I am continuing with the our Back to School in a Flash Link up with some of my curriculum favorites!! Up first, is The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. I use the book to help frame the purpose of the activities we will engage in throughout the first two weeks.
I use this book to frame one of my beginning of the year activities that introduces students to me, each other, the rules, and procedures for the year. There are activities in the book that all end with the frame, "The important thing about _________________is...But the most important thing about __________________ is."  As a ELA teacher I love this because it also gives students a chance to their summarizing juices flowing!  The very first page is a reading on malleable intelligence. There are many different emotions, feelings, and changes that happen during the middle years that I like to ground my students in a dynamic mindframe AKA malleable intelligence AKA growth mindset. As a class we believe that if we put for a strong effort that we will continuously get better.  The other activities include a student puzzle, get to know your teacher, all about the year, and student interviews.

Click {here}

Something that I have used, but think I will use this year and throughout my teaching career is the book Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson. It's a quick read about the importance and impact of kindness on others. The middle school "awkward" years really test our ability to be kind and this book presents what happens and how we might feel if we miss out on those opportunities. I am still stewing on exactly what I will do, but know that it will definitely be used this year. Have you read it? Do you have ideas? I'd love to hear them. 


Last, but not least, this quote bundle is currently on wish list. If you don't know the fabulous Blair Turner I suggest you go visit her blog and TPT store (after you link up of course). I don't have a "theme" for my classroom this year, but I know I want it to be a place that is overflowing with hope and that it embodies that habits we reinforce at my school (drive, personal growth, empathy, curiosity, gratitude, teamwork). I live close to an IKEA (as in 5 mins away) so I envision creating a quote "collage" wall with these.

My blogging friends over at iTeach Fifth have teamed up to do an AMAZING giveaway for an iPad Air 2 and goodie back from some amazing bloggers!!!! Enter for the goodie bag below and head over to the iTeach blog to enter for the iPad2!

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Week 1 BTS in a Flash! Teacher Faves

Welcome! I am blessed to do what I do, and looking forward to the upcoming year with my students (when do you all start?). In that spirit, for the next month I will be joining in with a fabulous group of bloggers to help teachers ease back to school. This week focuses on teacher favorites. I am sharing some of my favorites and hope that you link up to share yours. 
First up are my favorite professional development books! This year I a have a FULL month of professional development. Yes, a month. Our first day of school is August 24th, and we have sessions from now until then. I am fortunate to enjoy most of the PD that my school provides. That said, I don't solely depend on my school to develop me. I seek out experiences, opportunities, and other resources that align with my educational philosophy, and students that I am teaching. I serve a large population of students of color and/or from low income communities. Many of my students have similar life experiences to me, BUT I don't make assumptions about my students, and constantly think about how my practices are affirming my students and giving them ownership in the classroom. Some of my favorite authors with related interests are Dr. Lisa Delpit, Dr. Beverly Tatum, and Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings... to name a few.  I have BIG news about my school model, which is unlike anything I've ever read about (more coming soon), but part of this new model led me to think about my role in the classroom. Check out the excerpt below from the second edition of Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Teachers by Dr. Ladson-Billings. This book is for every teacher, regardless of your class population. 
The second book is Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov. I was first introduced to this book about five years ago, and love so many of the techniques! He recently released the 2.0 version. I haven't bought it yet, but I have this pocket guide that highlights changes. Check it out and tell me what you think!

Another one of my favorites are hanging buckets from IKEA. Not only are these stylish, but they are also versatile. The pots are heavy ceramic, and can be used to hold small plants, or school supplies. I recently saw a picture that had chalkboard labels on the front, which I *might* try out this year.

Last, but not least, I want to share my love of writing utensils! My current favorites are Staedler marker pens, but in all honesty I love so many different types of pens! Whenever my husband and I seperate in Target, Office Max, Office Depot, Staples, or even the grocery store he usually finds me in the pencil isle. #noshame #iheartpens

I'd love for you to link up and share some of your favorites! You can check out this post to find out information on upcoming topics! See you soon!


Brown Girl Dreaming Book Review

Winner! The title captured my attention, and the story captured my heart.  Readers experience the coming of age of the author, and the complexities of growing up between the Jim Crow south and hope in New York. The poetic form gives snippets into Woodson's childhood and journey as an emerging writer. The book is divided into five parts that bring to life key moments, events, and dreams of Ms. Jaqueline Woodson.  

Part 1i am born,” details Woodson’s birth, paternal, and maternal  ancestry. It frames the setting and important people in her life, and how the personal beliefs and choices of her parents shape her upbringing.
Part 2 - This section details life growing up with her grandparents, and her grandfather, who becomes “Daddy.” Readers are treated with a clear understanding of the rules, limits, boundaries, and traditions in the family.  
Part 3 - Part three branches out to a new  and very different reality in which the narrator trades in the sandy red clay of South Carolina for the "diamond specking" sidewalks of New York. While the transition changes some things, others stay the same. 
Part 4 - Jacqueline blossoms as a a writer and starts connecting the stories in her head with paper. Jaqueline's interest in writing becomes part of her daily life and inner being. 

How can I explain to anyone that stories 
are like air to me, 
I breathe them in and let them out
over and over again

Part 5 - While still young, the book comes full circle as she accepts that her worlds are constantly evolving, and that sum of the changes makes her who she is.

When there are many worlds
you can choose the one 
you walk into each day. 

I devoured this book in one sitting, and experienced a myriad of emotions as I reflected on my childhood. Woodson's descriptions were powerful and brought back the smells and tastes of summers spent in Louisville, Georgia with my grandmother and my great grandmother. As a "brown girl" I couldn't help, but wish that this book was written when I was an adolescent searching for my place in society. 

I'd never have believed
that someone who looked like me 
could be in the pages of the book 
that someone who looked like me 
had a story.   

I'm 32, and got this same feeling while reading this book.  As I read, I thought about students to share this with, and decided that this book is perfect for any student, from those who feel lost, undervalued, or that they are swimming against the tide, to those who have it all figured out (insert wink), and need a little inspiration to tell their own story. It definitely led me to want to share my story. Meet my great great grandfather Jason Lewis (pictured left). He's a legend in my family. I vividly remember my grandmother, the keeper of stories, tell me about our patriarch. He was born in 1879 and carried our family on his shoulders. He led by example, and refused to bow to the times and believe that he was less than anyone or anything. No small feat given the time period and location, rural Georgia. I've never thought of these stories as extraordinary, but that has changed. As I read this book, memories of my now departed grandmother, hot summers spent in a large tin house, pecan trees, pitch black nights, twinning with my sister, corn fields, spankings via a switch, fresh cooked breakfast, and chatter on my great grandmother's cool front porch came racing back (along with a stream of tears). An inexplicable feeling of pride and peace washed over me as I realized that "all the while I was quite happy." I also realized that writing used to be fun for me, and I want that back. 

Classroom Ideas: I haven't "taught" with this book, but it will certainly be a part of my class library forever! I am a firm believer that the best way for students to become life long readers is to read. However, a few ideas for teachers looking for activities to do with the book are floating in my head and I want to share. 

  1. Mimic Poem: Students pick a poem written by an established poem to imitate the the style and add elements of their voice. This is something that Woodson does in the poem "learning from langston." 
  2. Memoir: Students will write a memoir! This book has propelled me to jot down ideas for my own memoir because I've realized that events in my life that I've written off as unimportant, or ordinary are TRULY because their mine. I want my students to know and feel that too. 
  3. Literary Analysis: Students can respond to series of questions evaluating the time period, titles, and major themes in the text. One of my favorite poems is Nikki-Rosa would make a great pair for this book. More ideas can be found here.

If you've read this book, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and please stop back by as I have a stack of books that I will be reviewing. 

Splish-Splash It's Summertime Blog Hop

I am linking up with The Classroom Game Nook for a ginormous and fun blog hop packed with exclusive freebies, giveaways, and more! 
In my current role, I lead a summer teaching program with Teach For America. This means that unlike most teachers, the height of my responsibilities occurs during the summer via summer school. This is my 10th (and final) summer working at summer institute, but things I love about this work include:
  • Student Impact - We serve a major school district and work with approximately 2,000 students! It's what has kept me coming back! 
  • New Teacher Development - Watching teachers develop as instructional leaders who get stronger daily never gets old.
  • The different teams I get to work with - We hire approximately 100 part time staff members to work with 500 new teachers. My team is a team of five that plans the entire thing.
  • Long Days - This program goes 100 mph for 5 weeks. 6am-6pm 6 days/week. #doneandone
  • Transportation - Our teachers ride on school buses (yes school buses) to school and from school. Watching the process is CRA-ZY! If you want to see pictures, follow me on Instagram! I'll be giving followers a window into my summer world. 
Below is a very, very, very small sample of the work we do. 



In the spirit of this blog hop, I am making my yearly newsletters free! Get a jump start on preparing for next school year right here! After the hop ends, this will return to being a paid product so download it while you can! I'd love to hear your feedback on this resource!  
The best part of having a blog is sharing my personal opinion AND resources with other educators! I shared this freebie in previous post, but I want to call it to the attention of readers that it's still available! #endoftheyearawards #doubleFREEBIE #enjoy

Last, but not least is the opportunity to win an item from my store and $20 Teachers Pay Teachers gift certificate! I hope teachers who are out of school have a great summer, and those still in school take away something that will help with the "sprint to the end." Please stay tuned to my blog in the coming weeks for an important announcement. Happy Summer! 

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