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Ms. Sabbagh Posts

Evidence, Evidently…

On our recent assessment for A Raisin in the Sun students struggled with making inferences, and finding the strongest supporting evidence.

For example, question #1 – many students answered A “Walter thinks Ruth is being unnecessarily cruel.” when the answer was B “Walter wants to be seen as the head of the household.” 

Knowledge of the play would help students to eliminate Answer A due to the fact that Walter is a selfish character – if anything, he is upset that Ruth might betray to their son that they are suffering financially.  Ruth, throughout the entire play, has been consistent in her character, and even the worst person could never claim she is ever cruel, much less unnecessarily so. 

As we model our assessment questions similar to the ones students will be exposed to on the PSAT, if the student gets the inference question wrong, then they will likely also get the evidence question incorrect. In this case, students chose B for question #2, “Walter: What you tell the boy things like that for?”, when the answer was in fact D “[Walter] reaches into his pants with a rather important gesture.”Walter, desperate to be seen as the head of the household, even though he is clearly not, “reaches into his pants with a rather important gesture.”  It is the phrasing of “rather important” which signals that this is the correct answer, because it fits with what we know about Walter’s character – his desperate need to be greater than he is. 

With that having been said, students had the opportunity to use this Note-Catcher to help them pick evidence which matched traits with the characters. 

Regardless, Standard 10.1 – whether it be a reading standard or a writing standard, is often a standard students struggle with – and the LA 3 team is diligently working to support students as they make progress demonstrating mastery. 

I wish I could say that there was a simple solution to helping students master this standard, but learning is so multi-faceted, that it truly depends on the work the student does on a daily basis, both inside and outside of class. 

lf I had the time to sit one-on-one, every day, with each student, we could nip the lack of proficiency with standard 10.1 in the bud – but, alas, that is not possible.

One strategy that we use to practice this standard in class is by using a triple-entry journal. Students are asked to identify a quote, make a connection or pick up on clues, and subsequently make an inference.  It is an effective strategy (see sample below) when students take their practice time seriously. 

Speaker, Quote & Pg #Connection/ClueInference/Explanation
Walter: So you butchered up a dream of mine—you—who always talking ’bout your children’s dreams … (pg.96)The word butchered; the fact that Walter is selfish – and ready to blame everyone but himself about his dreams slipping away.I can infer the depth of Walter’s feelings about the death of his dream through his use of the word butchered.  

Students are asked to pay attention to who is talking, their motivation, as well as zooming out to understand the context of the quote.

I do my best to model my thinking when we do these types of activities, so that students can employ the practice on their own.  

Should students want to practice independently, they should use the triple entry journal strategy with their independent reading novel to further develop this skill.

In Their Own Words: On Gratitude

The research is clear: expressing gratitude is a key component to being a happier person. According to Harvard Health, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” (par. 3) Why is it, that we struggle with following through on the simple habit of being grateful?

One student offers this as their response.

I’ve always felt that gratitude doesn’t come easy to those who have what they need. As a young child I was always fully fed, clothed, and overall well taken care of. When I was younger I also didn’t really know what it meant to be grateful.

Of course I was taught “please” and “I love you” as responses to receiving something, but those words were always hollow shells of what they were supposed to mean. They became an automatic response, a mindless task, nothing. And then my two best friends were introduced into my life. Coming from much less than me L and P (names not used for privacy reasons) were completely different from what I knew. Sure, we all liked the color pink and we all read the same books and watched the same shows, but we were completely different fundamentally. After spending almost every day with them, I had started to notice just how estatic the two of them were when they received something. I also noticed how they didn’t even have to use words to show their gratitude, their actions alone proved it. Slowly I began to catch on and started copying their mannerisms. However, these new practices were not enough for me to fully grasp what gratitude was, and I still didn’t for a couple years.

Then my two best friends, the people I considered sisters, lost it all. Their house was gone, their father disappeared, and their stepmom became a, for lack of better words, complete jerk. It wasn’t until I looked around at my stable home, two loving parents, and the comfort I received everyday that I realized what gratitude truly is.

Gratitude means different things to everyone. For some it’s simply to be thankful, for others the sentiment is more complex. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what your exact definition is, only that you have a definition that makes sense to you and that you express gratitude whenever and wherever you possibly can.  – H.C.

The Weight of Words

Lately, I have been wrestling with juggling the responsibilities of teaching, while also writing recommendation letters for students in the Class of 2020.

My current sophomores jokingly quipped on Friday that I should just use a template – and my mind revolted at that idea (although if you do use a template, I totally get it).

Needless to say, each letter becomes a project. In front of me, I have students’ résumés, lists of extracurricular activities, honors and achievements, transcripts, etc. Thank god for Google Drive, because I was also able to pull up essays, letters, reflections, bell-work, and other assignments to reference as well. It is a process, but definitely one I am honored to do.

This year was especially significant, because I was asked to write letters by a handful of students who became my students rather unconventionally (either second semester of sophomore year in honors language arts, or second semester of junior year in AP Lang).

I was on my last letter of the season, when I came across this paragraph in a student’s advice letter to future tenth graders.

*** From the bottom of my heart, I really want to thank you for creating such a sheltered environment. Your class served as a daily get-away for me. On days where my pulse almost jumped out from my body, this class calmed me. You make each and every single student feel genuinely loved and wanted. It’s the little things that you did that made the biggest difference. In a way, you broke me out of my shell – and I felt powerful and understood every single time I walked into your class. I wish that every teacher had your energy and drive. Usually I’m beyond anxious before lunch, and somehow all that gets thrown out of the window when I come inside. It’s almost like a little bubble – one that allowed for self-expression and creativity. I know how hard it is to  implement creativity and meet standards with everything that’s expected of you-but you did it. At the end of the year, I know that this will be that class I miss the most, because you allowed it to be a safe haven for me. Thank you for being such an amazing and life-changing educator.***

It reminds me of why I have absolutely no qualms about the time it takes to craft each letter – because, on the eve of graduation, my words are my final gift to you.

Thank you.

Beyond the Content

Students recently had the pleasure of reading both Sandra Cisneros’ “Only Daughter” and Ken Liu’s “short story “The Paper Menagerie”. While the essential question focused on the theme of identity, students also worked on developing their skills in two essential standards, Words in Context (10.4) and Choosing Evidence (10.1).

I say it often, but as a Language Arts teacher, I take my responsibility to help students grow as readers and writers and thinkers very seriously.

I’m so lucky that my discipline allows me to choose texts which can impact students on an emotional level as well – to grow as human beings capable of reflection and empathy.

As a graduate of Wayne State University‘s Education Program, reflection is an integral part of my practice as a teacher. Over the years, I have seen the impact reflection has on my students’ growth.

Image result for reflection is important

When asking students to reflect on their on-demand writing piece from last week, here is what students (in my 1st hour) had to say:

Today the tenth grade Language Arts team reflected on the prompt posed to students on the theme of identity. We conclusively agreed that despite how well students may have understood the pieces, the question could have been much clearer. The results from the survey support our conclusion. Teachers, like students, are always learning.

Of course, as teachers, we do our best to offer students multiple modes to interact with the content.

Here’s what students (in my 3rd hour) said helped them the most:

Lastly, I asked students what the most important lesson they learned during this unit – and many asked me to clarify:

  • Did I mean from the story?
  • Did I mean as a student?

And that’s the thing – it’s one thing for teachers to guide students’ thinking, but it’s an entirely different thing to offer students the opportunity to make the learning theirs.

Here are some of my students’ responses:

  • “From holding onto the people you love, cherishing moments, understanding your identity, and staying connected with family, the most important lesson to me was understanding my identity and what built it.”
  • “The most important thing I learned was the life decisions you make are the things that affects your future.”
  • “This unit helped me to learn the importance of annotation, connecting and reflecting to everything, even if it seems obvious or if I already know the meaning. This would help me have more details and things to work with for questions and discussion.”
  • “The most important lesson I learned from this unit is how to analyze a story and find evidence that is strong enough to support a claim. Doing this helped us better understand what we were reading and how to find meaning behind the author’s word choice and the way he chose to write the story. From the story, I learned to cherish the time I have with my family and to be more understanding. In the end, they are all we will have and we should treat them with respect and kindness.”
  • “Your culture will always be a part of you, how much it affects your daily life depends on you.”
    “The most important lesson I learned from this unit was that experiences will always shape our lives and identities- whether we take those experiences and make them into something positive (like Sandra with her writing) or negative (like Jack with disconnecting from his mother) is up to us.”


As you know, card-marking period #1 ended on Friday, and students are obsessed with what grade they earned. Despite repeated reassurance that CMP is simply a progress report, students are worried about how Standard-Based Grading is “making them have a bad grade” in English.

But that’s the thing… from an academic perspective, we have a ways to go to demonstrate mastery – which is a GOOD thing. Every journey, I repeat, EVERY journey, deals with learning from failure, and continuing to make progress. PERIOD.

Only a handful of students answered the question regarding their goal for CMP2 “correctly” – Let me first start off by stating that if your GOAL is to get an A then you are approaching the whole learning thing WRONG – and that’s a problem.


Great news – problems are meant to be solved. I have previously blogged about the secret to being a successful student – and the thing is, it’s not really a secret. BE MORE ENGAGED; BE WILLING TO WORK HARD; ASK FOR FEEDBACK; ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF! One student wrote, “A goal I have for Card Marking Period #2 is to ask more critical thinking questions when analyzing text/stories, because this permits deeper thinking and a stronger comprehension.” THAT student GETS it!


I LOVE being a teacher and cherish the magic of possibilities we create together in my classroom. Students WANT to be there. Students FEEL like success is within reach. At Open House I shared that I want to EMPOWER my students to become critical readers, writers, and thinkers. It is SO true.

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Pragmatically speaking, absolutely, students should learn to demonstrate mastery of essential standards, but more importantly… my hope is that students will learn more about themselves – who they are as human beings, and what is important in helping them grow into the best version of themselves.

Thank you for reading. – Mx. Sabbagh

Insert Clever Title Here

Starting my fourth year at Dearborn High, and my twelfth year of teaching overall, I’m struck by a surreal sense of je ne sais quoi.

No two years of my teaching career have ever been alike. I’ve learned that control is an illusion, and that all we can do is the best we can with what we have.

I remember early in my career, my principal sharing that it’s important to be flexible – that you can count on things going awry, more so than you can count on things going perfectly planned.

I experienced just that this past week. The week started with picture day – I wore a well-received new outfit (my feet were screaming by the end of the hour). I managed to get my hands on some chromebooks, so my students were able to finish an assignment on Google Classroom.

Then, in the middle of third hour, all the passwords automatically reset. A district decision, students had to wait until fourth hour to get their new passwords. Poor IT Dept – I called so many times. Thanks to Troy, Chris, and Shane for being so patient with me.

For only the second time in my career, I am teaching the same thing all day. My first year of teaching – I taught 8th grade Language Arts all day. By the time the last hour came around,I was frayed. I had a tough class – fourteen girls, and four boys. I have three words for you: middle-school girls.

I remember thinking, I just need to make it to year three, then year five – cause all new teachers are familiar with the alarming statistic that half of all new teachers leave the profession before their fifth year. I can’t help but wonder what the statistic states now – I can’t imagine it’s favorable given the teacher shortage we are experiencing.

Long story longer, this is currently my sixth year of being back in Michigan (after teaching in Kansas). At the end of this year, I’d have been home for as long as I was gone. Surreal.

I have been thinking of Kansas a lot lately. Maybe because autumn is my favorite season? I don’t know.

This past summer was my first summer without a job – in the past I used to work a secretarial gig, or summer school. To be honest, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Luckily I had some familial obligations which took me out of state – my sister’s graduation from her surgical residency program in NOLA, and my brother-in-law’s graduation from his surgical residency program in Biloxi. And who can forget my god-daughter’s carnival themed third birthday party in Alexandria?

I didn’t spend as much time at the pool as I’d have liked to. I didn’t read as many books as I’d have liked to either (but I also didn’t sit in front of the TV all day).

Blink – and the summer was over.

Friday marked the first full week of school – which coincidentally was Friday the 13th AND a full moon. Good news – I survived. Sort of. This blog entry is being composed on my couch, under a comforter, as I ward off chills from my first cold of the season.

Every one likes to ask how the new school year is going – and the truth is, it’s going well. I love my job. I love the culture and community the students and I create in our classroom. I love my former students stopping by to visit. I love working with my team to do what’s best for our students.

The NEW challenges I am working on tackling this year are:
> Standards Based Grading
> Differentiating to support ALL students in my classroom

I think even though I didn’t have a job this summer, I did work – I worked on myself. Being more mindful and more present is what’s best for ME and for my students.

Happy 2019-2020 School Year everyone – let’s make this happen!

Short and Sweet

One of my colleagues challenged me to write a blog entry which was short and sweet.


Thank you for a great school year, staff and students alike!  Have a great summer and remember, READ!

P.S.  I will probably post a lengthy caption under my end-of-year photo on Instagram (cause, we are, who we are). #sorrynotsorry

And so another chapter ends…

This past weekend I was in Easton, Kansas for the high school graduation of the Pleasant Ridge Class of 2019.

I had these students when they were seventh graders, having left them to return to Michigan in the summer of 2014.

I went to a grad party on Saturday, and walked up to a table of soon to be grads.

There were no spontaneous outbursts of joy, no illuminated faces, no welcoming or reuniting hugs.  My heart broke a little.

Upon the retelling of this story, people were quick to tell me that it has been five years, that they are teenagers, and that even though it was a lovely gesture to return to Kansas for their graduation, ultimately, the weekend was not about me.

So, I shifted my attention and spend a lot of time with my friends – former colleagues, parents of former students, and went down memory lane and enjoyed revisiting some favorite old haunts.

It was a little better when I went to the actual graduation, and former students leapt into my arms and cried a little.  I let the the hopefulness and joy that permeates the air of high school graduations wash over me.

But, by the time the weekend came to a close, I was ready to go home and be back with my (current) students.

This week was our seniors’ last week of school. The week has been filled with hugs, tears, and gratitude.  I love how life is a circle – as a chapter closed in Kansas with the high school graduation of my last group of Pleasant Ridge Rams, a new chapter is beginning with the high school graduation of my first group of Dearborn Pioneers.

Life sure is a bittersweet ride – and I am grateful.

How to Behave for a Guest Teacher

Sometimes I have to be out of my classroom, whether it be for a professional development (to help me become a better teacher), a sick day, or, as is the case for this weekend, to support the last group of students I taught in Kansas at their high school graduation this Sunday.

That’s right – my enthusiastic seventh graders from all those years ago, are graduating high school.  Pleasant Ridge Class of 2019 – Go Rams!

How the years fly!

My excitement is somewhat dampened by the sub report I received yesterday when I was not in class because I was at the ASC for a Restorative Practice PD.  I know my students HATE it when I am gone, exclaiming, “Yours in the only class I hate having a sub in!”

Be that as it may, there is still a sub, and there are certain expectations for your behavior.  It goes without saying, you should have these expectations for yourself, not because I expect them.

Image result for thumbs upWhat expected behavior looks and sounds like when there is a guest teacher.

What “bad” behavior looks and sounds like when there is a guest teacher.

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  • Students are on task.
  • Students are seated.
  • Students can be on their phones, as long as they are working.
  • Students can be talking to each other, as long as they are working.
  • Work is completed independently – with integrity.
  • Students are non-compliant to the guest teacher’s request(s).
  • Students are off task.
  • Students are disruptive.
  • Students are disrespectful.
  • Students are listening to music, but NOT working.
  • Students are talking, but NOT working.
  • Students are belligerent and confrontational with the guest speaker.
  • Students are sleeping or have their heads down.

The last couple of times I was out, I returned to some pretty disappointing notes from the guest teacher.  I was mortified that MY students acted the way they did.  When I would approach them about their behavior, they would protest, “But Miss, that sub!” or “Miss, I was doing my work!”  or “Miss, you know I don’t do good with subs.” And then I would be disappointed all over again, because MY students were not taking any ownership for THEIR behavior.

Here’s the thing – there are things we can’t control, the fact that I am not here, who the sub is, which students are in the class.

There are things we CAN control – our actions, our words, and our behavior.

Please – it is business as usual on Monday – the only thing that is different is I am not going to be here in person.  I will be here in spirit, and I need you to be the students I know you can be – students that I am proud to call mine.

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Examining Author’s Purpose and Craft

For the remainder of the school year, students will be examining author’s purpose and craft, specifically how both of these things impact the reader.

For example,  my friend Christina Greer has a book coming out entitled Everything’s Jake which focuses on mental health in young boys.  Greer states, “Mental health issues affect so many of today’s youth. Everything’s Jake was written for any teen trying to navigate their way, particularly boys, who feel they might be living their life ‘off on the sidelines.'”

Knowing an author’s purpose can impact the reader’s experience with the text.

For example, Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Night, shares that he wrote the memoir for several reasons:  1) to share man’s inhumanity to man and 2) in hopes that such atrocities will never happen again.

I look forward to sharing Wiesel’s memoir with my students as we dive deeper into two of our essential standard for LA4:

  • 10.5: Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).
  • 10.6: Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.


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