What Do We Do When What We Do Is Still Not Enough?

Let’s discuss student engagement for a moment.  Not the kind that we wish for.  Not the one we blog about when everything goes amazingly. Where students cannot wait to work, to learn, to explore.  No, not that kind.  Instead, let’s talk about when students dislike your subject.  When they put their heads down.  What we do when students hate what you are doing but still like you as a teacher.  When they groan no matter how much choice you give, how much you ask them to create with you.   Let’s talk about what you do when you seem to have tried every trick and there are still so many days left.  And you asked the students what to do as well and they didn’t know and looked at you like you were crazy because weren’t you supposed to be the expert after all?   Let’s talk about that type of student engagement.

Because that’s what I need to talk about.

Not because I am depressed.  Not because I am mad.  Not because I think it is someone’s fault, but more because this is a real problem and I cannot be the only one that is experiencing it.  The lack of student engagement, the lack of students who want to learn.  Not all but some.  How are we losing kids already by middle school or even earlier?

So what do we do when we have personalized the learning and it didn’t matter?

So what do we do when we have asked students to plan with us and it didn’t help?

So what do we do when they have choice but they don’t want it?

So what do we do when they have voice but they don’t even want to speak up?

What do we do when they know that we care, that we fail and get back up together, that this a community and we are on a learning journey together?

What do we do when we have tried everything we know to re-engage them and none of it has worked?  Do we simply blame ourselves, keep trying the same things, or shake our hands in exasperation.  What do we do when we are supposed to be the expert but we don’t feel like it anymore?

Please let me know your ideas.

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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   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.

Can We Discuss the Whole Class Novel For a Moment?

I have been pondering the idea of the repeated whole class novel; a bastion of English classes everywhere.  I have been pondering why this practice seems to flourish in English classes everywhere despite what it seems to be doing to some students’ love of reading.  Frankly, I am starting to get upset about it, after all, it is hard not to when my incredible niece who seems to inhale books told me today that since she keeps being assigned books in school she hasn’t really been reading much else.  Which means her grand total of books this year is about 10.  Rather than the 50 or 60 she usually reads.  From 50 to 10.  Let that sink in.  She also told me the only reason it’s so high is because over the holidays she read a few books of her own choice, ones she had been waiting to read and finally felt she had the energy to.  But 10 books is not very high, not for her at least, so there seems to be a problem here.  Her English class seems to be killing her joy of reading.

As someone who has not used whole class books for several years, I am trying to see the need for them.  I am trying to take this post and turn it into a discussion, rather than a rant.  Yet I keep returning to the question of why we continue to force students to read certain books when that is the number one thing ALL of my students report kill their love of reading?

I see reasons for assigning the classics, in her 8th grade class a few of the titles this year have been Johnny TremainAnimal Farm,  and The Diary of Anne Frank, but wonder why it has to be all classics all year?  I also wonder who determines the books being read, when does a book become a classic, and does that list ever get updated?  I read Animal Farm and The Dairy of Anne Frank in school as well and that was 20 years ago in another country.  Are there really no new classics that can take their place?

I see reasons for having a shared text to discuss, analyze, and work with, but wonder if it can be done through a read aloud rather than an individual read?  Or could it be just one part of the year rather than every unit and every book?

I see reasons for presenting students with great book choices but wonder if they all need to be reading the same one at the same time?  Can the teaching purpose be reached in a different way?

What is the grand purpose that is eluding me?  Why does this tradition continue?  Why is something that is inherently harming some children’s love of reading being continued in so many schools?  It is just me that worries?  Is it a rite of passage that all readers have to go though and we hope they just make it out alive, reading love still somewhat intact?  Am I overreacting?

PS:  You know what is incredible though; my niece still loves her English teacher.  She doesn’t see the curriculum as a flake in that teacher’s ability, which says a whole lot about that teacher and their ability to connect with students.  So while she longs for the days where reading was just fun, she doesn’t hold it against the teacher.  And bottom line, that matters too.

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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   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.

The Problem With Taking Notes on Students

I remember the binder at the end of the year; probably weighing 10 pounds, spilling out with papers, tabs missing, scribbles everywhere.  I was ready.  I had the proof; proof of every single reading conversation that I had had with every student.  Every goal we had set, every challenge we had overcome.  The proof was in the binder and that binder was amazing.

Then I moved to 7th grade and I made 5 binders.  Tabbed for each student.  Ready with my goal sheets, my conferring template and my ever trusty clipboard.  No longer did I need to take notes on all subjects, just two, and boy did that seem daunting, but I figured I needed to gather as many notes as possible because that is what good teachers do.  Those first few weeks as I got to meet my students I used it every day.  Called them up, flipped to the page, asked them the questions, wrote down, had them wait while I was still writing, finished up, wrote some more, called the next one up.  In 10 minutes of independent reading time, I got through 2 students, at the most.  With 116 students total, I didn’t know how I would ever keep up.  How would I have all of the proof that I needed to show what I was doing every day with my students?  How would I find time to take all of those notes?  How would I be a good teacher.

Now I think I know the answer; I couldn’t.  And I don’t have to.  The thing is, you don’t need to take notes every single time you meet with a child.  You do not need to document every conference, every small conversation.  You don’t have to walk around with a binder or with a clipboard noticing every little thing and documenting it for all eternity.  What you need to do instead is notice the big things.  Find proof for the things that you would want to assess or share with someone else.  Check in where a child is on their journey once a week and allow yourself to know that that is enough in most cases.  Have enough to fill one sheet with really great observations and find your peace within that.

During a conference with a child, put the pen down and focus on what they are telling you.  Look them in the eye and listen. Jot a line down when they are done if you want but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t.  Allow yourself time once a week during independent reading or whenever you can and write down notes on all of the students.  What have you noticed this week?  Where are they at now?  What is next for them?  Then ask the students to reflect as well, give them a goal sheet to fill out and do it as a class.  Ask them three simple questions: How are you better at whatever this week?  How do you now?  And what will you work on next?

I used to think that I needed proof of every single thing.  That in case someone stopped by to ask what I did as a teacher I had to be ready.  Now I know that it is not the quantity of information that matter but the quality.   So join me in resisting the urge to document every single thing.  Focus on the big things, the necessary, and look at the kids instead.

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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   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.

Why Do We Hold Students to Higher Expectations Than Adults?

I told one class today that I was not there for their sheer entertainment.  I didn’t raise my voice, nor did I yell.  I simply stated it and asked them to step it up, to show engagement, to show me that what we were doing mattered to them because I could tell they were checked out and it made me unhappy.  And then we continued on with what we were doing.  Just another moment teaching 7th grade.

Yet, as it popped back into my mind, a seemingly insignificant moment from my day, I now see what a missed opportunity it was.  Not for another lecture, but instead to realize that these are kids that I am teaching.  Kids that we hold to insanely high expectations every single day.  Every single day, we expect full commitment in every subject matter.  We expect passion.  We expect interest.  We expect a willingness to try, to create, to experience   We expect them to pay attention, to shut everything out except for what’s in front of them.  We expect total compliance with all of our rules.  At.  All. Times.  No Excuse.

Yet as adults those same expectations don’t apply to us.  Go to any staff meeting or professional development opportunity and you will see adults not paying attention all of the time, not trying all of the time, not tuning in all of the time.  Not because we don’t want to.  Not because we don’t find it engaging, but because we can’t.  No one can.  Our brains need a break, and we know it. So we allow ourselves to fidget, to whisper, to slouch, to shift our attention for a moment, because we know we need it.

So why do we forget this fundamental truth when we create our learning environments?  Why do we forget that in the very place where we are trying to fire up as many brain cells as possible, that those same brain cells needs a moment to recover, to regroup, to make new connections?  That kids need a moment.  That these kids are trying.  That these kids do want to learn and most days are giving us the best they have. And yes, I get why we have to have high expectations, we are teaching them to be better humans, but at some point we also need to give them a break, because they are human beings first not just learners.

So tomorrow, I will remember that when my students start to slouch, when they start to whisper, when they start to drift, it’s not a reflection always on what we are doing, but more that they are in school and have been working for x amount of hours before they got to me.  It’s not always that they don’t care, it’s not always that they don’t want to learn, it’s not always that they are bored.  Sometimes they are just full and it is up to us to help them through.

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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   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.

What We Seem to Forget

Today I turn 35.  It feels like an accomplishment.  After all, 35 is so serious and I look at my own life and I realize; it’s a good one.   Every year on my birthday for the past many years, I have received a Futureme letter.  A letter written on the previous year’s day as a reminder to myself of what my hopes, fears, and dreams are.  As a reminder to myself to pause, reflect, and appreciate.  This year’s letter mentioned the hopes for Augustine, our very premature baby, and how I hoped she might be walking by now.  In March of last year, she was still so little and we had no idea what the future would hold.  My worries for her shine through in the letter and now they seem so distant.  She is fine.  She has been walking for several months now, she sleeps well, and she runs after her siblings.  Reading the letter brought me back to those nights spent worrying about her future.  I am thankful for that.

Because the thing is, we forget how much we accomplish in a year.  We forget what consumed our thoughts, what goals we had.  Once we reach them we forget how passionately we yearned and how so many decisions hinged on making it there.  We forget how many days are in a year and how much can change so quickly.  And when we forget we forget to celebrate all that have happened, how we have grown, and what we now can do.  We live our lives so quickly, chasing after our next big dream that the dreams of the past fade away so quickly.

I see it with my students as well.  They forget how they felt about reading or school when they started.  They forget where they started, they only see where they are now.  They only see the things they cannot do right now and not all of the things they have conquered, how far they have grown.  What a shame that is.  What a shame that in our hurried school days we don’t take time to celebrate how far they have come until the very last day.  When it almost seems to late to realize that yes they have grown and yes they are ready for the next big challenge.

So this year, on this day, I am celebrating the little things; Augustine walking and sleeping through the night, Thea starting to read, the twins speaking up a storm, a husband who still loves me even though I know I am a demanding wife, an incredible new job where I feel like I fit even on the days my lessons fail, 2 books that a few people actually say have helped them, a new home that isn’t falling apart, a cup of tea, great books, and a life filled with so much love.

I don’t know what the next year holds.  I have been working on my bucket list for the year.  And that’s ok.  I will continue to hope and dream.  I will continue to revel in the accomplishments in the past, hold on them for today, and then set my sights on the road ahead. I know it will bring many days of happiness and some days of sorrow, whatever they are, I am ready.  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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   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.

Another Failed Lesson Thanks to My Students And Me

It was meant to be easy.  It was meant to be epic.  It was meant to show off what I thought I already knew; how my students had mastered everything there was to know about theme, evidence, and how to do a great presentation.  Yet, a few presentations in on Tuesday, it was pretty clear that this was not epic but instead a massively big failure.  And I got upset.  After all, these kids have had 2 months to work on this as they have been in book clubs for that long.  All I had asked them to do was choose their book, discuss and read at their pace, and in the end create a book talk in whichever format they chose.  I gave them plenty of time and plenty of choice.  What could be so hard about that?

While some rose to the occasion, most did not.  Yet instead of assuming that I knew why this had turned so awful, I asked them what happened.  A few in each class bravely raised their hands even though they knew I was upset…

“We weren’t sure what you exactly wanted…”

“We felt overwhelmed by how long we had to do it…”

“Our group didn’t work so well together so we got distracted…”

“We didn’t put in much effort…”

“We didn’t think you would get so upset…”

“We had other things to do…”

And they waited for my reaction, expecting me to get madder.  Yet as I looked at my students, I couldn’t help but just be a little bit proud of their answers.  Sure I was upset over all of the wasted time, how they hadn’t stepped up to my expectations.  Yet here they were, class upon class, with the guts to tell me that they didn’t think it was important.  That they didn’t think I would care as much as I did.  That they pretty much dropped the ball and now had to face the consequences.  And I realized in that moment, that this lesson wasn’t about theme, opinions, or even how to be a great speaker.  It was about guts and failure; having the guts to embrace their failure, discuss it, and actually learn from it.

How often do our students actually tell us the truth when it comes to their own mistakes?  I know we talk about modeling and embracing our failure, but do our students actually pick up on it and do it as well?  Not often enough.

The next day, we watched Diana Laufenberg’s amazing TED talk on learning from failure.  Not what I had planned but it was what we needed.  My students loved her message; yes to learning from failure, yes to allowing students to fail, in fact, they got pretty passionate about it, started to argue why school doesn’t let them just fail so they can figure it out.  I chuckled a bit and then reminded them; many had failed the day before.  Here was their chance to show me everything they knew.  To not let one presentation define them.  Silence.  Then it clicked. Not for all, but for many.

While I had huge dreams of of the great content that students would have shown me on Tuesday, I am now thankful they didn’t.  They needed the freedom to fly and to fall.  They needed the freedom to to not care, to push off, to procrastinate.  Because I can preach about failure, I can preach about personal responsibility.  I can even preach about letting them try and picking themselves up when they fall.  Or they can experience it.  We say we want kids to be afraid of failing and yet still try, yet how often do we have opportunities for just that?  My students taught me again.  It is because of them I want to keep trying to be a better teacher and that includes having lessons fail in the most epic way.

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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   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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