Why You Should Ask For Parent Feedback Even When You Are Afraid of the Answers

I just hit “Send” and for a moment my hand hovered over the “undo” button.  Perhaps I didn’t need to ask these questions, perhaps this year I would skip the annual end of year parent survey.  I don’t know why after 7 years of teaching, asking for feedback is still so excruciatingly tough.  Not from the kids, that I ask for every single day, but from the adults, the parents/guardians, the ones at home that see the effects of the teaching I do every single day.

For a few weeks I have wondered if I even wanted to send it this year.  If anything good would come from it, or if my self-esteem could handle it?  This was my first year teaching 7th grade and in so many ways I have felt like a brand new teacher with all of the flaws, the mishaps, the bad teaching that comes along with the first year title.  So now as the end of the year is in sight, I was compelled to just forget all about the feedback, pretend I don’t want to know, pretend to not care.

But that’s not the truth.  Because I do care.  Sometimes probably too much.  I know that I have screwed up.  I know that I could have been better at reaching every kid and teaching them what they needed.  I know I have failed some times, and I know some of my feedback will say that.  Some will probably crack my facade and make me feel pretty terrible.

And yet, if I don’t ask, I can’t grow.

So I let it go, and I now I wait, hoping for the best.  I hope there are some that will see how hard I tried to reach every kid.  I hope there are some that will see the thought, effort, and diligence that went into this year.  But I also hope there are some that will take a moment to give me advice, to tell me how I can grow.  Because I know I need to, and that is the bottom-line.  This is not about me, it is about the students.  And while I may have an idea of what I need to work on (and boy, do I ever), there is nothing like the perspective of a parent/guardian to show you things you never even thought of.  If we truly mean that we are in this for the kids, then we have to include those at home.  We have to ask the tough questions, even if the answers may sting.

If you would like to see my parent survey this year, here you are.  Student surveys will be done in class next week.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join ourPassionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Why I Will Be Going Device Free in My BYOD School

I work in a fantastic district that believes wholeheartedly in the power of BYOD or Bring Your Own Device.  All year, we have harnessed the power of especially cell phones as we have taken pictures, recorded video, searched for facts, and used them in ways that made what we were already more meaningful, easier, and more efficient.  I believe in the power of great BYOD.  I believe in the power of teaching students how to use the devices they have in a meaningful way.  I believe that all schools should allow students to use the devices they already have so they can work with what they have access to, not what we decide they need.

And yet, my students are distracted.  They are often on their phones checking the time, checking their notifications, moving it, taking one from a friend, or wondering where they put it.  And so am I.  My own phone is an integral part of our classroom.  I send out pictures of students working throughout the day, I take pictures for parents to see, I tweet from my phone to showcase their learning, and I search quick facts we may need as we discuss.  But I also look for my phone, get distracted by its blinking, and check that quick notification and then wonder what that email, Vox, or text may say while I am supposed to be teaching.  Not all the time, but it happens, and it happens more and more.

As a teacher, I am worried about the constant distractions.  About the small bursts of attention we can give to things before we get that check itch.  The itch that tells us to check our phone quick, check the time, check whatever.  That rush we get whenever we see something new come across our screens.  As a parent, I worry even more as I see how much my students rely on their phones to communicate, about the intense scrutiny their social media presence gets, and how wrapped up their self-esteem is in their device and the messages they get through them.  What I am not worried about so much is how students seem to be less connected with those in front of them, I am that way, but with books, which just happens to be a more socially acceptable way of disconnecting.  But the constant urge in the back of our collective minds to just check really quick; that is getting in the way of learning for all of us.

So with 11 days left of school, I am declaring our room a device free zone.  At least on some days.  At least on the days where the constant distraction of merely having the device will stop us from going deeper with our learning.  At least on the days where everything we need to can be accomplished without the help of any devices.  It is not a declaration of war against devices.  It is not a breach of rights.  I will simply be asking my students to leave their cell phones in pockets, lockers, or a designated bin along with my own.  So that we can focus on what we have in front of us, not what someone might have said or the rest of the world.  But us, the community we have right here, and the actions we want to take a part in.

Yes, cell phones and devices have a rightful place in our classrooms, but just like any tool, they are not needed every single day, every single moment.  And sure, there will always be distractions, we all need brain drifts where we can activate our brains in a different manner, but the focus on just this one thing has to be spread out.  Has to be ,discussed, processed, and changed.  So it starts tomorrow, no better time to start than right away.   .

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join ourPassionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

A Few Ideas for Using Skype in the Classroom

There are technology tools that come along and make your day easier, that make your day better.  There are technology tools that integrate themselves so seamlessly into your lessons that you soon forget what life was like before.  There are tools that you know you can rely on whenever you need them.  And then there are tools that encompass all that and oh so much more.  Tools that elevate your teaching ideas to places you never thought they could have gone.  That’s how I feel about Skype.  Skype and I have been faithful friends for the past 16 years, ever since I moved to America, but our relationship really deepened 5 years ago when I brought it into the classroom.

So why has Skype been such a central piece of my classroom?  Because it is free, efficient, easy to use, and opens up a world of possibility that I never could physically bring into my classroom, yet through its power and immense network I can.  Skype simply makes what we are doing better.  It gives us audiences, authors, experts.  It connects us with places around the world and gives my students a way to change the world.

So what are some of our best ideas?

Students speak to author Adam Gidwitz

Students speak to author Adam Gidwitz

How about using Skype to do market research?  We did just that in our epic nonfiction picture book project where the students had to write a book catered to a K and 1st grade audience.  So voila, through the magic of Skype we spoke to several classrooms throughout North America and learned what we need to learn to make our books so much better.

How about speaking with an author?  This has always been one of my favorite ways to use Skype since so many authors speak to classrooms either completely free or for very cheap.  It is powerful for students to see the genius behind their most favorite books and only heightens their experience with the book.  Did you know that the incredible Kate Messner has a list of authors who Skype for free?

How about working on geography skills while building community?  That is exactly what playing Mystery Skype has done for my students.  If you have never tried this simple guessing game, please make sure you plan one this year.  They are so easy to plan and incredible to be a part of. This is always one of the most favorite things my students do throughout the year.

How about having students teach others how to do something?  My students have used Skype to teach others how to blog and how to play Mystery Skype.  They have been teachers for other classes and other teachers.  Think of the power in that!

How about using it to share book recommendations?  As summer nears, my students are adding books to their “Plan to read” lists and a great way to get more suggestions is by scheduling Skype calls with other students eager to recommend great books.  This is a great way to get new suggestions both for my students and for my own classroom library and it seems to hold more power when it is a student-to-student recommendation rather than just me book-talking.

How about bringing an audience to you?  It would cost a lot of money for my students to visit an elementary school to perform or speak, but via Skype our audience can come to us.  So whenever the chance exists, I try to bring in a live audience through the camera.  Having the live audience ups my students’ performance and gives us a way to connect with others.

How about learning about other cultures?  I think we often think that every call has to be planned out and structured but sometimes just giving students tim e to  speak to other students can be exciting within itself.  One of my classes spoke to a school in inner-city New York, something I did not think would mean much to them because it was not out of the country, but the experience rattled them.  They could not believe how different their school and community was from theirs.  That call cemented something that I had been telling them all year but that they didn’t quite believe; America is a very diverse nation indeed.

How about to raise awareness?  My students have used Skype calls to raise awareness about the “R” words, bullying, and other issues near and dear to their heart.  Again, by providing them with a platform to spread their message that extends beyond our classroom walls, they see the significance that their words may carry.

And finally, how about to learn something more?  With the massive network of experts that Skype In the Classroom provides it has never been easier to bring in someone who knows more than me to help the students learn.  All I have to do is search for what I need and I can almost always find someone who matches that.  I love showcasing new fields of information to the students, and they love getting to ask even the weirdest questions.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join ourPassionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Our Favorite Picture Books for Middle School

I used to think picture books were best placed behind my desk, labeled for teaching use.  Stowed away neatly so that they wouldn’t be lost, not the pages too creased.  After all, picture books were for little kids and certainly not the big kids I was teaching.  One day, a student asked me if he could borrow one of the books that was perched behind my desk fortress, I wanted to say no, but instead asked him why?  Why did he want to read that book and not the mature books in our classroom library.  Sheepishly he glanced at me and then muttered, “For fun….?”  And so I handed him the book.  It wasn’t long after that all of my students would ask for the picture books squared away and I soon realized what a fool I had been.  Picture books were not for little kids.  They were instead the perfect text to use in mini-lessons, to lead discussions, and to create a community of readers.  I have never stored my picture books away from students since.

But what do you bring into the middle school classroom?  Is there some sort of rule that applies for which books will work with these fantastically diverse years or does it not matter?  It turns out that the only thing that matters is the quality of the picture book itself, once that is taken care of, the students will not stop reading them.  If you are just adding picture books to your classroom library, pick wisely in the beginning, but don’t get too caught up in whether or not it will make a great mentor text, I have found that the most unlikely of books can always be used for something as long as the students are into the story.  So the favorite picture books we have in our room, in no particular order, are…

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A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson

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The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds

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One by Kathryn Otosh

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Pete & Pickles by Berkeley Breathed

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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

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Malala, A Brave Girl From Afghanistan/Iqbal, A Brave Boy From Pakistan by Jeanette Winter

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Bad News for Outlaws:The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

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This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

 

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

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Bluebird by Bob Staake

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Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman

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The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada

What Do You Do With An Idea?  by Kobi Yamada

Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great by Bob Shea

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

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Froodle by Antoinette Portis

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio

Sparky! by Jenny Offill

Sparky by Jenny Offill

Knock Knock by Daniel Beaty

Knock, Knock: My Dad’s Dreams For Me by Daniel Beaty

Product Details

Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds

It's a Book by Lane Smith

It’s A Book by Lane Smith

That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems

That Is Not A Good Idea by Mo Willems (Or anything by Mo!)

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The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

And the list could go on and on, but at least this is start for those of you looking to add incredible picture books to your classroom library.  And don’t start like me; let the kids read them whenever they want, even the big kids, especially the big kids.  Which books would you recommend?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

12 Tips for An Organized Book Loving Classroom

Anyone who enters our classroom immediately notices all of the books we have.  It’s hard not to, they seem to be everywhere.  While I have always believed in having as many books as possible in the classroom, I was not always sure on how to best organize it for optimal student access and interest.  Now, seven years into having a library, there are a few things that have made my life easier.

No check out system

I have tried so many different check out systems, from a catalog system, to student librarians, to an electronic version, and all of them turned out the same; a ton of work for me and I still lost a lot of books.  So a few years ago I abandoned the check out system.  Now students know they can grab any book as long as they promise to return it.  It is amazing to see the look on a students’ face when they hear that.  Yet, I am not sure this is still the best way, I do lose a lot of books but for now replacing books is easier than spending all of that time checking them out.

“Return Your Books Here” Bin

I used to have students shelve the returned books but I always ended up having to remind them and then re-teach them how to get them in the right bin even though everything was marked.  I now have a plastic tub with a “Return your books here” sign taped to it right by all of our bookshelves.  Once a day I take the time myself to shelve all of the returned books because it gives me a way to see what is popular, look for books other students are wanting, and check on the conditions of some of our most beloved books.  It takes me less than five minutes and all the books are in the right bin.

Bins for every genre and then some

I have loved having book bins for many years.  While they cost money and give you less shelf space, it has proven to be the easiest way for us to categorize books.  Bins are grouped by genre and some by popular authors.  Students suggest bins as well as they see a certain collection grow.  Two such examples are our newly formed Cassandra Clare bins and military history bins when students pointed out that we had a collection now.

This Book Belongs to Mrs. Ripp Stamp

This inexpensive stamp purchased from Amazon several years ago has saved me so much time.  All new books get stamped with “This book belongs to Mrs. Ripp.  Please return when finished” on the inside cover and then the genre abbreviation (or author if they are in an author bin) is handwritten below it in black sharpie.  I cannot tell you how many books are left behind in other classrooms around our school and this little inexpensive stamp means they all come back to me.

The Hardcover Post-It

The only exception I have to my no book check out system is that if a student is borrowing a hardcover book, I ask them to give me the book jacket and put their name on it with a post-it.  I then save them all in a bin and ask students for them periodically.  This has saved many hardcover books from disappearing as students see their name and then remember that they probably left in that one place.  It also gives me a way to track a book down if someone else is looking for it.

The Gutter Picture Book Organizer

Someone long ago hung gutters all around my room under the white boards and I could not be more happy.  Gutters make a perfect display rail for any amazing picture books we may have and ensure that all of the new ones get read right away as well.  A very inexpensive way to get more display space indeed.

Beginning of the year book shleves

Beginning of the year book shleves

Printed and Laminated Bookmarks

We use Kylene Beers’ book Notice and Note throughout the year to give us a shared reading language, so it was natural for me to make some printed bookmarks reminding students of the strategies as they read.  Bookmarks are i the same place next to post-its, which some kids prefer to use.  They don’t have to ask for one, they take them as needed, and return them when they don’t if they feel like it.

“Our Favorite Books” Spinning Wire Rack

For a long time I had a wire rack where I placed all of my favorite books on for students to browse.  Yet, it was not being used very much even though it was in a prime location.  After inspiration by Nancie Atwell, I hung a sign above it declaring it a rack for the students to share their favorite books and then took all of my books off.  I told the students its new purpose and have since watched it fill up with their favorite reads.  This spinning rack has now become the first stop whenever they need a new book.

A Separate Book Case (Or Two) For Picture Books

While we have many of our favorite picture books out on display in the classroom (it’s amazing how many time students gravitate toward them in a day when they have a few minutes), I also have an entire book case just designated to picture books.  I used to organize them and group them together and then realized it didn’t make the slightest difference to the students.  They looked through a lot of books anyway whether they were organized or not.  Since I don’t have these in bins, I gave up on organizing them and haven’t looked back since.

The Readers’ Notebook That Doesn’t Leave

I used to ask students to carry their readers’ notebook back and forth for some reason, which meant many days they left it in their locker, or at home, or didn’t know where it was.  I also had to ask them to specifically leave them behind whenever I needed to assess them which meant the pressure was on to get them assessed so I could hand them back.  Now I ask the students to leave all of their readers notebooks in the classroom.  I have a bin for each class, I don’t care what name order they are in and at the start of each class all I have to do is grab the right bin off of my shelf and put it out for the students to grab.  This is also how I do attendance these days, by seeing whose notebook has not been picked up.

Pre-printed Standard Comments Sheets

I assess my students readers notebooks every two weeks and while I often take the time to write in specific comments to them, I have also learned to pre-print address labels stickers with certain broad comments such as “Remember to use text evidence to support your thinking” or “Why do you think the author did this?.”  Not only has it saved me a lot of time when I need to assess 120 readers notebooks, but it also allows me to focus on the comments they really need while covering all bases.  The students do not mind (I have asked them) since they know it allows me to support them more often with my thoughts.

Learning to Let Go

This has been my biggest take away in having a classroom filled with books and readers.  Sometimes you don’t have to have a perfect system for it to feel perfectly fine.  The students make our book loving classroom their own so they change the organization of books, the shelving of them, and even how we read them.  I don’t mind, I just have to let go sometimes and trust the students.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

To the Girl Who Cries At Night

To the girl who cries at night,

You may not want to hear my words.   You may not want me to care.  You may think that we adults, we teachers, have no idea what you are going through.  You may think that the world is coming apart, that all of those people you thought you could trust, who cared about you, turned out to be frauds.  You write your poetry, telling your teachers that it is not personal, you speak to us of friends that are having a hard time. You reach out, but you shield yourself in every possible way.  Just so we don’t catch on to the fact that it is not your friends that are hurting, it is you.

And I get it.  Right now, life seems like it is too much and there is no way to dig yourself out.  Like having a concerned teacher will only cause more problems, add to the burden, and so you stay silent, struggling through as best as you can.  You keep putting on the mask, every single day, putting on your brave face so that no one will spy the cracks in your armor.  But at night, when it gets dark and you are alone, that’s when you cry, and you wonder why you keep coming to school, why you keep caring, because no one seems to care about you.

I am here to tell you, we do.  I am here to tell you that we see the cracks, that we see how much you try every single day.  That we see the hurts being thrown your way and we try to shield you in all of our lessons, all of our words.  We try to teach empathy, kindness, and love in the picture books we read.  We speak to you about friendship, tolerance, and acceptance.  We show our human side so that you know we are more than just teachers.  We greet you every day so that you know that someone sees you.  We leave our doors open so that any time you need us, you can come in.  We have arms that will give hugs and shoulders that will carry the burden with you.  We may not have the answers, but we do have the time to listen.

So to the girl who cries at night, you are not alone.  Even when it feels like there is no one left to care about you, that there is no one left to notice whether you are here or not, we do.   Every single day, we look for you, every single day we try to reach out.  We try to convince you that it gets better.  That when you think that life will always be like this, it won’t.  Yes, middle school may seem like a cruel place at times, but there are so many people who care.  Who want to create the best experience for you, and not just the academic one, but the emotional one.

So to you, the one with the brave face, who fights her way through her year, just so you can say you did it; I see you.  I am here for you.  And I am going to tell you, I know how you feel sometimes, because I was the girl who cried at night.  Who thought that life would never get better.  Who got up every single morning eager for the day to be over, just so one more day would have been lived.  Who thought at times it was too much and that no one cared whether I existed or not.  I was wrong, and you are too.  You may not know how many people care right now, but they do, and we do.  So keep coming to school, keep letting us in.  Open up and let us help.  You don’t have to be alone.

Love,

Mrs. Ripp

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

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