6 Changes Toward Personalized Learning

Say personalized learning to most people and it conjures up classrooms where every child is doing their own thing and the teacher is furiously trying to maintain order and overview in an otherwise rule-free classroom.  Yet, this is not exactly what it is.    Instead, personalized learning to me means student voice and choice, where student input is used to create a personalized learning path that allows students room to explore their passions while exposing them to new things.  Sounds great but where do you even begin on this path?  Or even better, what are you already doing that would count as a step toward personalized learning?

Change the way they sit.  I ask my students to sit wherever they want as long as they can work.  Only once in awhile do I have to interfere as to their seating choice and I have much happier students.  Why?  Because they got to have a say in their classroom environment, they were given control.

Change the way they work.  I ask my students to discover how they work best; do they like to hand-write things, type, dictate?  Are they kids that love to write papers rather than make a movie?  How do they want to read?  How do they want to think?  If students are to discover how they work best we have to give them choice and room for exploration.  This doesn’t mean that every single thing has to be open for anything, but simply providing choice in some things is a step in the right direction.

Change the knowledge they have.  One push-back against personalized learning has been that students don’t necessarily know what they need to know, and I agree.  That is why personalized learning also has to include exposing students to various topics, such as the materials we have to cover due to standards.  However, there are many ways to expose students to these topics, so don’t do the same thing over and over; change it up and allow for student ideas in the way material is covered.

Change the expectations for all.  We tend to teach the way we learn best but that is not always the way our students learn best.  So rather than plan by yourself, plan with your students.  Their ideas are often much better than ours anyway.  This also allows us to move out of our comfort zone rather than use the same type of format, or go with just your own thinking.  So ask the students HOW they would like to learn something and then heed their advice.  You don’t have to go with every single idea but try a few of them at least.

Change the timeline.  I used to think all students had to gain mastery of something at the same time because I had taught it to them all at the same time, until I had my twins.  Kids, even born at roughly the same time from the same mother, do not learn things at the same time so why do we expect our students to?  My students will now show me mastery of the standards when they feel they are ready within the quarter.  Sure, it will require a more lucid timeline but it really doesn’t add more work to me, all I need is a more flexible mindset.

Change the conversation.  I used to be the queen of all answers and solutions.  If a student had a problem, I fixed it.  If a student needed help, I helped them.  I used to think that was one of my main components of being a teacher; the helper/fixer/teacher role.  Now I know that students need support so they can help themselves and figure things out themselves and my language reflects that.  Rather than giving an answer, I ask a question back.  Rather than affirming an answer, I ask them to explain it.  I ask for their input, I ask them to reflect, I ask them to provide solutions and to teach others what they know.  This classroom is no longer about what I need them to do or know, but what they need to do or know, and that carries power.  So change the way you speak, include the students in the conversation, and stick with it.

Starting a journey toward personalized learning can be a terrifying endeavor, but have faith; every step you take toward giving your classroom back to your students matter.  Every idea you have that gives the students more power matters.  We have to create environments where students are passionate learners, that want to take control of their learning journeys.  I wrote my first book on how I did my journey, hoping to inspire others, and still my journey continues.  I am not done changing the way I teach because every year I have new students to grow with.  It is not just the students that need to be exposed to personalized learning, it is us the adults as well.

I Hope They Notice

She picked the pinkest one, of course, it even had a little bit of sparkle.  This was important, and as Thea sat in the backseat, clutching her new backpack, she said, “I cannot wait for tomorrow.  I cannot wait to show my teacher.”  Not her friends, not her aunts, not her daddy; her teacher.  Because that’s who she hopes notices this new acquisition.  That who she cannot wait to show it to.

I wonder how many things my students hope I notice every day.  Those tiny little things that tend to get sucked into a blur of oblivion, rushed away in a fast-paced day.  I wonder how many of my 7th graders hope that I notice something small, something that means the world to them, and are disappointed when I don’t.  I wonder if there is ever something they can’t wait to show me.  Something they hope I see.

How often are the small things the things that need to get our attention.  Not their past school history, not their family life, not their grades, not their homework record.  Not the times they were late, or the times they were sent away.  Not the times they handed things in on tie, had perfect attendance, or even got it all right.  Not those times, we notice those.  The little times, the ones that make a difference to them but to us may seem inconsequential.

I will never be able to notice every little thing, but it won’t be for a lack of trying.  At least I can say that much, I tried, my team tries, even if we don’t always succeed.  I hope they notice that we see them.  I hope they notice that we pay attention.  Because even though they may be much bigger than Thea, I hope it matters to them still that we care.  I hope it matters that we try.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Unleash the Power of Post-Its

The students would always show up with them; stacks and stack of yellow post-its.  My pile in the cabinet would grow year after year with graduated student names, not quite collecting dust, but definitely not being utilized.  We used them for reading sure, after all, how else would we mark all of our thoughts, but other than that, I had not understood the power of the post-its quite yet.  That changed a few years, when after an aha moment prompted by a student, I finally realized just how much power a small post-it can really hold.

So what can you use them for beside the obvious?

Give your reluctant speakers a voice.  Every year I have a few students that have so much in their heads but seemingly few ways to express it.  Whether it be due to shyness, self-doubt, or any other barrier, these students would rather the teacher think they don’t know an answer than share it with the class.  Behold the mighty post-it!  I speak to my students beforehand, hand them some, and ask them to write down their thoughts, their comments and questions as the discussion progresses.  At the end, they hand them in to me so that I can see their thinking.  Often I use them as a way to affirm their thoughts as well, hoping to build their self-confidence.

Level the playing field.  Some of my students are really quick thinkers that usually get it right the first time, others are more meticulous, sifting through various opportunities, possibilities, and methods before finding an answer.  Rather than make our sharing times a race for who is the fastest thinker, I have students write down their thoughts.  If a child is done, I ask them to add more while we wait for others to think through their answers.  I can walk around and see their thinking without them feeling the pressure to come up with something brilliant on the spot.

Creates visual thinking maps.  This goes hand-in-hand with having them write thoughts down as a class; if students continue to add their thoughts, they can lay them out in front of themselves as their thinking hopefully deepens.  They can also all add more thoughts to something they had previously written and see their thinking grow.  It is quite powerful for a child to see how much they have to offer to the world in terms of their ideas.

As a quick assessment.  I always have small groups created for possible re-teaching but nothing beats my post-it groups.  Once we have done our mini-lesson, I ask students to apply it right then on a post-it and hand it to me.  I can quick flip through them and immediately see who needs to be re-taught or just needs a check-in.

A story starter.  Sometimes I have students brainstorm possible topics for a new writing assignments and then lay them out on a table.  Everyone can then shop for ideas for stories and borrow others by simply taking them.  For students who have no idea what to write about, this can be an easy way to get started.

As surprise book recommendations.  If a student loves a book, I ask them to place a post-it in it with their thoughts or recommendation right in the book.  That way when the next student open it up, they get to see another child’s thought, whether it is from someone they know or someone they don’t.  The power of a student recommendation cannot be replicated.

An affirmation.  I have been doing the “I have noticed…” post-its for two years and I cannot tell you how fun it is to hand to students.  All it is is a post-it starting out “I have noticed…” and then whatever great thing I have seen.  Sure, they take time to write but the students take them to heart.  Every year, I have a few students leave them on my table as well on their own accord, I keep them all.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

How to Do Meaningful Student Blogging – Presentation

Every so often I get asked to present on student blogging, one of my favorite things to present about.  I always tell people I will upload the presentation, even though it doesn’t make a ton of sense without me speaking about it, so here it is

Hello October – What I Have Been Doing

Hmm…October has been a lot busier than I expected, I have been involved in a lot of great things and thought I would share it all here.  Peruse at your pleasure. (And no this is not a typical month for me at all!)

I started out the month in San Francisco at the incredible ISF conference.  Seriously if you want to experience an amazing hands-on, workshop based conference, you need to check one of these out.  I hear the Portland one is amazing!  Here I got to discuss global collaboration as well as how to empower your school.  I cannot wait to go back next year hopefully.

I go to speak about the Global Read Aloud and what it means for community and collaboration at this webinar by #OCLMooc.  The link will open the Blackboard archive.

Then I was lucky enough to be a featured as a Bullying Prevention Difference Maker by CPI due to these posts where I share my own experience being bullied.

I had an older article on Mystery Skype re-published by ISTE at their new EdTekHub.

My second Book, Empowered School, Empowered Students was reviewed by Starr Sackstein, which was really kind of her.

I also got to do a really fun podcast with Jason Bodnar from Principally Speaking where we discuss what it means to empower staff and students, the Global Read Aloud, Mystery Skype and creating passionate learning environments.

Augustine slept through the night (hallelujah!) so I started my third book, hopefully to come out in the spring!

Finally, this weekend I get to go to the School Library Journal Leadership Summit to present on the Global Read Aloud.  I am terribly excited and nervous to be a part of this incredible event.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

10 Quick Ways to Give Students A Voice

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My students continue to astound me.  Not just because they are opening up more and more.  Not just because they are working so hard.  Not just because they are pushing themselves.  While all of those things are wonderful to see, it is how they are speaking up, asking for change, and taking control of their learning journeys that really is getting me excited.  Student voice is something we embrace in my district and it is something I believe in as well (Just see the books I have written).  Sometimes we think student voice is a system or a huge change, but the reality is that it doesn’t have to be.  It can be a s simple as trying some of these ideas.

1.  Give them a blog.  

My students have blogged since 2010 and nowhere do I see the global effects of them having a voice in a bigger way.  Our blogs serve not just as a way to record our growth but as a way to start a dialogue with the world.  And my students embrace it because we take the time to do so.  They see the results in their commments.  They see how people react.  Blogging has changed the way I teach more than once.

2.  Give them time.

Student voice takes time, at least the type of voice that will lead to changes.  So invest the time in the beginning, model what your conversations will look like, and take the time to showcase the tools they will use.  Student voice is something I come back to throughout the year because students often forget that we want to hear their opinions, simply because they are not used to someone asking (and listening).  So make it a focus and keep it in focus all year.

3.  Give them post-its.

Wondering how you will engage your shy students?  Wondering how you are going to find time for this?  Have them write down their idea on a post-it and hand it to you.  Often some of my strongest students are the ones that have the hardest time speaking up, and yet, student voice does not necessarily mean the words have to be spoken.  They have to be communicated and post-its count as that.  In fact, this is something that I use throughout the year as a quick way to check opinion.  Students can express their honesty without wondering about judgment from others.

4.  Model constructive feedback.

Part of student voice is getting and giving constructive feedback.  If students want to change the way things are done well then they need to know how to approach it.  Often students can be overly blunt, which requires a thick skin, but take the time to discuss how to frame their words so they will be listened to.  I teach my students that how they deliver their message sometimes matter more than the actual message, you can get so much further with kindness.

5.  Give them whiteboards.

One of the easiest ways I have for including all student voices within the class (beside post-its) are 2-dollar whiteboards.  Massive white shower walls cut into smaller sizes and accessible at any time.  Sometimes students flash their answers to me while others are still working it through, sometimes they use them to brainstorm and walk around showing each other, other times they write on them and then leave them for me to read after class is over.  Why not just use paper?  There seems to be something about paper that often inhabits kids, the white board though with its quick erase capabilities allow kids to express even half-complete thoughts and take more risks.

6.  Give them a chance.

Student voice is not something that develops as a class culture by itself. It has to be a focused approach to include all voices and there is bound to be not so stellar moments.  Yes, your feelings will probably get hurt (mine still do), Yes, students will say cringe-worthy things.  Yes, students may even hurt each other’s feelings or be misunderstood.  But if you persist in it, working through any obstacles you will see the results.

7.  Give them an audience.

While student voice kept within a classroom can be quite powerful in itself, find a way for students to connect with the world so that their voice can be amplified.  Blog, tweet, Skype, use whatever tools you have available even if they don’t include tech, but give students the opportunity to make a difference to a larger crowd than their classroom.  The give and take process that happens between an audience and the students is something that will teach them even bigger lessons about delivering a message and getting their point across.

8.  Give them a starting point.

Sometimes my students are eager to share all of their opinions and ideas and other times they are not.  So provide all students with a common starting point.  I always start by asking questions specific to what we are doing and how they would like to change it.  (Don’t forget to listen to it and change the things you can!).  Then move forward from there making the issues deeper until students are sharing comfortably.  A few months in I know I can start to ask my students more personal questions and have them share their answers because they have shown me they are ready.

9.  Give them a purpose.

My students want to change the world.  Well, at least some of them do.  So I try to get out of their way.  Whether I ask them to look for things they can change locally or globally or it grows naturally out of whatever we are doing, once that seed has been planted, it often does not take much for students to get involved.  Even within our confined schedules there are many ways to tie our standards into service learning.

10.  Give them trust.

I think we fear that students will say stupid things (they might).  I think we fear that students will make a fool out of themselves (they wont).  I think we have so many fears when it comes to giving students a voice that we often don’t even try it because we know all of the things that can go wrong.  But what if we started in a place of hope rather than a place of fear?  I hope my students will change the world.  I hope my students will find their voice matters.  I hope my students will have the courage to tell me how to be a better teacher for them.  But I wont know unless they try.  We are here to protect and guide them yes, but we are also here to watch them unfold their wings.  At some point we have to let go, at some point we have to trust them.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

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