I No Longer Want to Be Just A Witness

I have been thinking a lot about the inherent racism that my life is seeped in lately.  Mostly because I do not face racism.  Sexism yes, but racism, no.  Mostly because I see the news and I am dumbfounded, saddened, and outraged.  Mostly because I am a witness to how my students are treated outside of our school and the lives that they have.  I am merely a witness but I don’t want to just witness anymore.  I want to stop being a part of the problem and become part of the solution.   But I don’t know how.

So when I see an infographic like this from The Sentencing Project

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Or when I hear a Podcast like this “The Problem We All Live With” from This American Life and I shout at the radio at the injustice of it all, I cannot help but wonder; what can I do?  Or more importantly, what can we do as educators?  What can I do as a white educator who does not live this every single moment of my life?  What will change in our classrooms so that we all become part of the solution rather than a continuation of the problem?  How do we stop racism from flourishing rather than disappearing?

What do we do?  Because we have to do something.  And it has to be more than what we are doing now.
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.

My Favorite Reads of This Summer – 2015 – Part 1

While summer still has a few weeks left in it, I have been surrounded by so many amazing reads that I felt I needed to share some of the incredible books I have been reading.  We are so lucky to have such incredible books to share with our students (and ourselves!)

I just finished MiNRS by Kevin Sylvester last night and couldn’t believe how good it was.  I love a great science fiction book and this one does not disappoint.  Best part is that I can see handing this book to so many students to read, with it’s accessible language and action scenes, this is sure to be a crowd favorite for 4th graders and up.

It is completely appropriate that The Blackthorn Key is released the very same day that I go back to school.  Why?  Because this is the book to give to students to read.  This is a book for anyone who loves a good mystery, fantasy, action, and hopefully something that will turn into a series.  This book, which again was an ARC given to me by Scholastic, will be a great book to hand to those students that loved Harry Potter or The False Prince.  And it will be one that I cannot wait to read aloud.

Bottom-line: 5th grade (or mature 4th graders due to the murders in it) and up.

I have loved Jennifer’s books for many years.  The False Prince and it’s sequels have been must-reads in my classroom for a long time.  To me she is such a fantasy writer, one that weaves tales that sucks us in and leaves us wanting more.  Imagine my surprise when I saw her new book A Night Divided.  Long gone are the tales of battles, kings and queens, instead replaced with a stark narrative of what happened when the Berlin Wall was erected over night.  It seemed so unlike her, but it is not.  Her masterful story telling shines as we enter the would of Gerta and Fritz and their quest to have their dream survive.  I was sucked into the story, needing to read just one more page until I sadly found myself at the end.  Well done Jennifer.

So this book is a must add to 4th grade and up.  There is shooting and death in it, after all it is historical fiction, but it is not graphic.

This is the post where I admit I have never read Wonderstruck. I have never read the The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  I had watched the movie and marveled at the beautiful story.  I have handed the books to students and told them to fall in love with them.  But I had never read them myself.  And I am not sure why.

So when I was handed The Marvels after standing in line at ILA for more than an hour, sharing the delightful company of Alison Hogan, I knew I had to read it.  And it was worth every minute of standing in line.  The book is beautiful, the story captures your imagination and leaves you pondering.  I cannot wait to order this for my classroom and this time when I hand it to students really mean it when I say, “This is a must read.”

For 4th grade or perhaps even 3rd grade and up.

 

A favorite student of mine handed me a Barnes & Noble giftcard at the end of the year.  I was surprised because I was pretty sure middle school teachers do not get gifts and yet she handed me one of the best things in the world; a chance to get more books.  I therefore knew the books had to be special and I was not disappointed; Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan is a masterpiece.  All 500+ pages of it.  Once again she weaves a tale so masterful that you have to just read one more page, even if it is past midnight and you know tomorrow will be a long day.    What I also loved about this book is it ageless and timeless quality, I immediately could think of 4th grader and 7th graders that needed to read this book.  I am so thankful this book was recommended to me and now I am recommending it to you.

This is the book that took my breath away.  This is the book that I read in less than 2 hours and then passed it on the very next day.  This is the very first book that is a Global Read Aloud contender for 2016 for middle grades and up.  Gut-wrenching, beautiful, and still resonating weeks later for me.  Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt is a book that will resonate across our continents.

I had the honor of meeting Erin Soderberg at Nerdcamp and get a copy of her book.  I loved The Quirks, funny, lighthearted, yet with an universal theme that many kids will connect with, Erin has written a great book for 3rd grade and up but also appropriate for middle schoolers.

Books Are A Chance To See the World They Do Not Live In

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My classroom library is a large mix of reads.  Several thousands of books greet my 7th graders when they enter and are free to leave the room in their hands.  Over the last year I have tried to expand it as much as I can afford to make sure that it represents the world we live in, that it represents their experiences, that they can find themselves within our library and use that knowledge to boost their own lives.  My students need to see themselves in our books.

Yet, after a conversation with a great friend, I realized that it is not so much the need to find themselves within our library that I should be focused on because let’s face it, most of the world surrounding them is filled with images that look just like them, sound just like them, and share many of their same experiences.  They are used to turning on the TV and seeing kids that are like them.  They are used to picking up books and seeing like them in the pages.  To  many of my students seeing something other than white is uncommon.  For my mostly white, rural population of readers it is important that they find the rest of the world in the pages.  That through our library they can experience the world that they do not live in.  That their emotions can be stretched to encompass events that they will most likely never have to encounter.  That the library provides them with a window to things that they most likely will never have to live through such as racism, extreme poverty, no access to education, civil war, religious intolerance and a myriad of other issues that exists in only small ways in most of their lives.

So when we rally the cry for diverse books, it is not just so that our kids can find themselves within our pages and find books that mirror their experience.  It is so they can see the world they do not live in.  It is so they can see a world that may not make sense to them and start to make sense of it.  It is so they can start to develop empathy, interest, and community with other parts of the world, other societies, other experiences that do not mirror their own.

Most of my students have plenty of books that they can find themselves in.  My job is to provide them with ones they can’t.

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.

I Didn’t Become A Teacher

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I didn’t become a teacher so I could test my students into submission.  So I could talk about them as data points and chart their growth on a spreadsheet.

I didn’t become a teacher so that I could make students cry.  Or make them smile on command, make them sit still, make them schedule their breaks to my own benefit.  Punish them into submission while I wondered why they seemed so disengaged.

I didn’t become a teacher so I could tell children which books they couldn’t read, where they couldn’t sit, and who they couldn’t work with.

I became a teacher so that I could help students make their voice louder.  Help students believe more in themselves.  Help students grow, learn, and thrive.

I became a teacher to help students find the guts to say, “This is what I need, this is what I want.”

I became a teacher not to kill a child’s love of learning, but to protect it.

And that is the reason why I am still a teacher to this day.  I don’t want to forget that.

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.

Before We Periscope From Our Schools, Let’s Think For a Moment

I fell in love with Periscope, the free live-streaming app created by Twitter, this summer while at ISTE.  Free, instant access to events happening around the world – finally!  The myriad of ways I could see implementing it in my classroom overwhelmed me in a good way.  Kids could periscope our class at any time to bring the world in.  Students could interact with other students around the world.  Students could have a real-time audience at any time we needed.  We could explore every day moments in cultures around the world.  On and on, the ideas went.

Yet, when I thought about it some more, I started to second-guess my love for it a little bit.  I didn’t fall out of love, but I did start to question my own ideas, as well as the professional responsibility that I carry not just as a teacher, but also as an active conference goer/speaker.  So what has made me slow down?

The need for privacy.  Student privacy and protecting it is at the forefront of my mind as a teacher who shares the work of their students.  Some of my students cannot be shown on the internet for a variety of reasons and that is something I respect.  What if that child walks by in the background?  What if their voice is heard?  What if students start filming from our classroom and do not know who can or cannot be shown on the internet?   This by itself is enough to stop me from using Periscope in the classroom, but there is more.

The need for respect.  When I videotape something I have editing abilities.  That means that anything silly, stupid, weird, or somehow embarrassing does not have to be seen by anyone but us.  The “live” part of the live-streaming means there is no delay, no editing, no take back.  What if a child says something mortifying, screws up, fails in some way and the whole world potentially sees it?  One thing is failing in front of your peers and embracing it, another thing is failing in front of strangers.

The need for attention.  My first job is to teach the students in front of me.  Not the world, not the parents, not other colleagues.  So whenever a tool is brought into the classroom, I have to make sure it is not creating a barrier between me and students.  Being focused on live-streaming something means that I am not working with students but instead acting as a cameraman.  Even if I am live-streaming something that I am taking part in, I am still not giving them 100% of my attention because that would be multi-tasking, which we know decreases our focus.

The need for intimacy.  Some of the biggest moments that have happened in our classroom has been when students have let their guards down and trusted us all inherently.  When the door was closed and just we were present.  That intimacy is gone the minute I start videotaping anything.  So often we end up capturing the not quite as great moments because that is all we can get.

The need for purpose.  If live-streaming something will add value to the purpose of what we are doing than I will consider doing it, but if it really only boosts me as someone who shares, or in some other way becomes more about me than my students then I am not for it.  I worry that some will use Periscope to boost their own popularity and lose sight of why we are all doing this; for the kids.

The need for permission from parents.  While most districts have technology policies and permission slips in place that include sharing the work, name, and image of students, Periscope, I feel, is a new level of sharing.  So as a parent I would very much like the right to know about its use, the purpose of it, and also have the right to think about it.  When we don’t ask, we take that right away from parents.  

The need for permission from speakers.  I had a wonderful discussion on Twitter on what the protocol is for periscoping professional development/keynotes and such.  It seems there is none, but there probably should be.  After all, if a conference has spent a lot of money bringing a speaker in and I have registered for it that does not mean we get to share that conference with the world.  What we paid for is our own experience.  So bottom line is to ask before you periscope and respect if someone says no.

So what Periscope might be great for?

Professional development where you interview other great thinkers or interact in some way and make it about the sharing of thought.

Students sharing knowledge in a pre-determined way.  It would be a great idea to have students run a small talk or demonstration purposefully sharing their knowledge with the world.

Showcasing environment or other non-student immersed ideas.  I love the idea of being able to send someone a live stream showcasing my classroom set up, library organization or something like that.  Again, purpose, control, and meaningfulness is at the forefront of my thinking here.

Tuning into a specific part of the world to see what daily life is like there.  This fits nicely with the tag line of “Explore the world through someone else’s eyes.”

So while there are definite great uses to Periscope, I am hesitant to bring it into my classroom when the students are there.  Perhaps I am too scared?  Perhaps I don’t know enough?  I would love to get your opinion on this.

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.

My Classroom Without Students

I always feel funny posting pictures of my classroom because it is not cute, nor lively, nor exciting.  It is utilitarian, empty without students, and we have space to roam.  Perhaps, though, in its bareness is its beauty.  It is a vessel for learning, waiting for my many students to fill it with personality and life.  The 1 month countdown has begun, another year awaits…

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The front display as they come close to the room, most of the day I teach with an open door unless we get loud.

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This idea is adapted from the fabulous Jillian Heise who does a picture book a day with her 7th and 8th graders.  I don’t know if we will do one every single day but I plan on doing as many as possible, so of course we need a place to showcase them.

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I don’t believe in the power of motivational posters, but this is I believe in, every single day.

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An empty bulletin board waiting to be filled with books.  Every staff member at our school has a yellow “Just Read” poster to show students  that we are a community of readers.

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On the other side of the door is my “Read this summer” poster.  This was updated as of last week.

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This is almost the view from the door, slightly to the left of it.  I have placed tables in pods for now but know that they will be moved however the students see fit when they arrive.  Whatever they need to do with them to make learning accessible works for me.  I love my window so much, most days we leave the light off.  Students flock to sit in the window and read.

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View toward my desk.  It is in the corner on purpose; I don’t want to sit behind it away from students.  I work with students at the small round table when needed or they take it over.  I am just starting to show off all of the new picture books.

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Also up by the front door, my old rocking chair and easel is where we will gather when we have our mini lessons.  There are bean bags for the students to use, as well as carpet squares.  I don’t ask students to sit on the floor unless they want to, what matters is that we can gather as a group and talk.

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 A slightly blurry picture of my non-fiction and graphic novel bookshelves.  I am so excited my school got me these, less excited that I already filled them.

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Probably one of the best things about our classroom; the picture books.  How can you not just want to read them all?

There you have it, a tour of an empty classroom, waiting for the students to make it important.

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.