Some Rules We Need to Break In Our Reading Classrooms

We seem to be run by the rules of what came before us.  We seem to be trying to uphold traditions that were started all in the spirit of becoming better reading teachers.  And yet, I think it is time for us to break some rules, to become reading warriors, and to speak up and say no; this is not what reading will look like in our classroom.  This is not the reading experience that my students will have.  What are those rules?  Well, I am glad you asked.

Rule number 1:  You must read X number of pages before you abandon a book.

I used to enforce this; give it 30 pages, give it 50, then I read the False Prince and I told them to keep reading to page 88 where it gets so, so so good.  But that is not how adult readers read.  I sometimes abandon books after a chapter, after a page, after a paragraph.  I listen to the voice inside that tells me that there is just something wrong, that this book is slowing down my reading love and that it is not the right fit at this particular moment.  In our classroom, we practice free book abandonment, but we also reflect on why we are giving up on a book.  It offers a students a wonderful chance to learn more about their own reading identity.

Rule number 2:  You must read a book from every genre.

I used to have students read books from certain genres so that they had been exposed to them all, and yet, most students hated it.  So now instead I make sure that our book shopping is varied, that I book talk many genres, and also that they have access to many genres.  There is no requirement to read outside of a genre, but only gentle recommendations.  We need to celebrate the students that have identified themselves as loving a particular genre, after all we do as adults, rather than force them into thinking that somehow they are not true readers.

Rule number 3:  You must fill out a reading log.

My biggest problem (and I have several!) with reading logs is that it inherently shows students that we do no trust them.  By asking them to record how much they have read outside of our classrooms, we are telling them that their word is not enough.  When we ask parents to sign, our message is even stronger; you may have said this but I only know it is true because your parents agreed to sign this.  Is that really what we want to tell our students?  And as a parent who has forged her signature on a summer reading challenge, I can tell you, I would do it again if it means that my child does not have to distill her love of reading books into minutes or pages.

Rule number 4:  Reading is only something you do with your eyes.

I used to tell students that for a book to count for their book challenge that it had to be read.  And reading means they do it with their eyes.  Now I know that reading can also be auditory, whether by listening to an audio book or being read aloud to.  That students cans till experience a deep connection with a text even if their eyes have not processed it, and that audio books level the playing field for so many of our students who feel like they are bad readers.  Reading is many things, let’s make sure that in our rush to define it, we do not alienate the students that need alternative methods the most.

Rule number 5:  You must only read books at your level.

Levels were never meant to confine or define a child, but instead meant as a tool for a teacher to select text for guided reading instruction.  Yet our obsession with placing children in boxes has made levels prevalent in our schools.  If our goal is to create students who identify as readers outside of our classrooms then they need to know themselves as readers.  They need to know what they prefer, what they can read, and also what type of book they need at that very moment.  That changes, just like it does for us adults.  Having students select books based on a level robs them of the chance to figure this out, and in turn, counteracts everything we are trying to teach them.

Rule number 6:  You are too old to read this book.

If I only read books that fit my age then I would never read a YA or children’s book again, and that goes for our students as well.  Reading books that may be too young is a way for students to relax, to build confidence, and to read a book they feel like reading.  How often does our helpful rules really just hinder a child from reading?

Rule number 7:  You must create some thing after you finish a book.

When I finish a book, I often hand it to a friend.  Sometimes I book talk it to my class, sometimes I write a review, other times I quietly place it in a bin.  I do not write a journal entry, I do not create a book report, nor do I make something to show off the theme.  When students finish a book they should have an opportunity to discuss the book, to recommend it to a classmate, to share their love of it with the world, if they want.  They should not have to choose from a long list of projects to prove that they, indeed, did read it.

Rule number 8:  Picture books are for little kids.

Every day, almost, we read a picture book in our classroom.  In fact, picture books are  serious business here, as I use them to teach students how to infer, how to closely read, how to think deeply about a text and then be able to discuss it with others.  We use them as mentor texts as we work on our writing craft.  We use them as we build our community.  And yes, we use them because picture books make the world a better place and they remind students that reading is meant to be fun and magical.  A student told me the other day, “Mrs. Ripp, I am not so sure picture books are for little kids anymore…”  And I knew exactly what he meant, because a text that rich should not just be reserved for young kids.

Rule number 9:  Graphic novels are not real books.

Graphic novels can be just as complex as the hardest chapter books.  In our classroom, graphic novels can be a lifeline; a way to reach the kid that swears they will never love reading, a way to reach a child that cannot get through a chapter book.  I have students using graphic novels to find the signposts from Notice and Note at the moment.  I have students finally connecting on a deep level with a book that happens to be a graphic novel.  I am so thankful to all of the authors out there creating these magnificent books that prove once again to my students that great books do not just look like one thing.

Rule number 10:  You must reward reading.

Reading is it’s own reward to quote the fantastic Teri Lesesne.  The minute you attach a reward to reading you have diminished the act of reading itself.  Think hard about the stickers, the prizes, the special events based on pages read and instead find a way to celebrate the very act of reading by getting more books, by finding more time to read.

Rule number 11:  You must not judge a book by its cover.

I do it all the time.  We all do.  What we need to teach kids though is that covers are not the only way we should judge a book.  That even if a book has a terrible cover, which some amazing books truly do, that they then should move on to checking it in other ways; by reading the back, by skimming a few pages, by asking a friend.  For students to see us as reading role models we must not hide the true habits we have but instead celebrate them and share what we do.  Students do not need to see how we pretend that adults pick books, instead they should see how we really pick books, and that includes judging a book by its cover.

I could have gone on, but these are the rules that stood out to me.  I shudder at how many of these I have had in my own classroom and am grateful to the people that have shown me a better way.  We can create classrooms where students fall in love with reading, the choice is ours.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

Who It’s Really For

I could say that I am an amazing teacher.  That what I do is not something others could do.  That the way I connect with kids is a special talent that only I have developed, and that if you buy my book you could perhaps learn how to teach just like me, that some of my amazing “me-ness” will surely go your way.  I could say that I have discovered the one way to be great and all you have to do is try to be more like me.

But I would be lying. (And making a fool out of myself in the process).

Because there are days when I am not so great.  There are children that I do not connect with.  There are moments when no matter what I try it all falls apart and one of my teammates steps in and saves the day.  Saves the lesson.  Saves the student.  I am a better teacher because of those I teach with.  I am a better teacher because of the students that teach me.

You see, being a teacher is not about us.  It is not about the great things that we can do.  It is not about all of the things that we will teach.  It is not about what will work best for us, nor how we will change the world.  It is about the kids.

It is about what they will do.  What they will learn.  How they will change our world.  How I get to be a part of the process but I am only as great as my students.

And we seem to forget that at times.  We seem to forget it when we share the stories that do not highlight what our students are doing, but instead what we have done.  When we advocate not what is best for children, but what is best for ourselves and hope that children may benefit as well.  When we teach the way we would like to learn, and forget to ask the students what they need.

It is a balance and it is hard to keep at times.  I know I am guilty like so many others.  Yet, in this public way, I renew my promise to keep it about the kids.  To keep it about what they need, what they want, and what they dream for.

I am not the greatest teacher, I have so much to learn, and I cannot forget that.  We must remember what we are doing all of this for, because it is not for us, it is for them.  And that is how it should always be.  May we never forget that.  May I never forget that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

This One Book

Cross-posted from Mrs. Ripp Reads

On Sunday night, I cried in my airplane seat.  I held the book in my hands and cried not because it was sad, but because it was so true.  Because the words I had just finished reading made me think about my own privilege, about the conversations Brandon and I will never have to have with our son, Oskar.  About the thousands of boys whose everyday life can be changed in a single second.  And how I have no idea what to do about it other than continue to ask questions, continue to have the conversations in our classroom, and continue to place books like this in the hands of my students even if they make me feel so incredibly uncomfortable.  Because this book should do exactly that.  And not only that, it should make us weep at the society that we live in and the ways that we perceive each other.  It should make us angry and ashamed.

So today, I handed the book to another teacher and then promptly ordered another copy.  I know that for some of my students it is too mature, but for others it will be the book that they pass on from kid to kid.  It will be the book that makes them question the society that we live in, and for that I am so grateful.  We need books like this.  We need to cry in our airplane seats more often at the injustice that we participate in.

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s masterpiece All American Boys is a Global Read Aloud contender for 2016 because the world needs to be in on this conversation.  Go read it.  Please.

When I Finally Stopped Speaking


It struck me as hard as a hammer.  6th period Friday.  The fourth time I was teaching this lesson.  The fourth time I had students go through the discussion questions, do the turn and talk, and then come back together.  It hit me so hard that I instantly cringed a little bit, because why in the world I hadn’t thought of this sooner?  If only I had listened to that little nagging voice we all have inside, if only I had tuned in as it screamed,  “Stop talking, Pernille.  Stop interrupting their conversations.  Stop rushing them through what you think they need to get through and let them speak to each other.”

And yet, after only a minute of talking, I felt the ticking time.  I saw the hands moving as class slowly trailed away and so I kept interrupting them.  Guiding them to the next thing that we had to do.  Telling them to finish up So that we had the entire foundation laid.  So that I could place a check mark in my planner and move on to the next thing, knowing that we had done everything we were supposed to and gotten to the end of the text.   Yet, this is exactly what we should not be doing in our classrooms.

Too often, we rush.  Too often, we hurry so that we can cover things.  Too often we get through a lesson rather than realize that what we are doing in that moment is the lesson; is the point of school.  We say we want students who speak up and exhibit deep thinking, yet then limit this very thing as we teach.  We must slow down.  We must stop our incessant teacher talk, our incessant interruptions as we guide and mold and let students think, then let them speak.  And when they are done speaking let them sit in the silence for just a moment so they can be sure they are completely done speaking.

Teaching is not about getting through.  Teaching is not about getting things done.  Teaching is not about completing every single lesson we had planned so we can say that we did it, we followed the path and now we have taught.  Now our students have learned.  It is about the path we take to get there.  The exploration we have along the way.  The time we give to our students to speak so that we may listen.

So in that 6th hour on Friday, I finally stopped speaking. I finally stopped interrupting them and just let them speak.  Those who ran out of words looked at me expectantly waiting for me to start again, but then saw how others were still going in their conversations and that spurred them on to keep speaking.  I bounced from group to group, not interjecting, but listening instead.  Nodding and smiling as I saw them start to become what I hope they will be; kids that have an opinion, kids that have a voice.  After a few more minutes, a child asked a question so good that I knew we could discuss this as a class.  And so we did.  And I didn’t interrupt.  I didn’t shape the conversation.  I let them speak and they loved it.  Because it was about them and not me.  Their learning and not just my teaching.  Just the way it is supposed to be.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

Win A Signed Copy of My Book!

I am packing right now, on my way to the Mt. Lebanon school district in Pennsylvania, where I get to have the immense honor of working with their elementary staff for a whole day.  My focus for the day is, of course, all about creating passionate learners – everything I have written about in my book, and I cannot wait to see the thinking, discussion, and ideas that will happen.  I always get so inspired working with other teachers as well, what a great way to spend a Monday.

In the spirit of learning from others, I thought it would be great to give away a physical copy of my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I will even sign the winning copy!  All you have to do to enter is leave a comment and tell me why you would like to read the book.  (Your email does not need to be included as long as you put it in the comment box).  I will pull a winner this Friday night, October 9th and will then send you the book.

So what is my book about?  Here is the excerpt from the back.

Would you want to be a student in your own classroom? In Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students, author Pernille Ripp challenges both novice and seasoned teachers to create a positive, interactive learning environment where students drive their own academic achievement. You’ll discover how to make fundamental changes to your classroom so learning becomes an exciting challenge rather than a frustrating ordeal. Based on the author’s personal experience of transforming her approach to teaching, this book outlines how to:

• Build a working relationship with your students based on mutual trust, respect, and appreciation.

• Be attentive to your students’ needs and share ownership of the classroom with them.

• Break out of the vicious cycle of punishment and reward to control student behaviour.

• Use innovative and creative lesson plans to get your students to become more engaged and intellectually-invested learners, while still meeting your state standards.

• Limit homework and abandon traditional grading so that your students can make the most of their learning experiences without unnecessary stress.

And what are people saying about the book? Passionate Learners- How to Engage and Empower Your Students (9781138916920)- Pernille Ripp- Books.clipular

I hope you love the book!

Great Picture Books to Teach Theme

I need to apologize.  This post will be the longest one yet with the most suggestions of which picture books to use for something.  But it makes sense; theme is one of those things that is present in so many great picture books, so when I started going through my classroom library, I ended up with a huge stack.

Some of these books I use in guided groups with the students, meaning that their theme may need a little more thinking to find, others I hand to the students for them to use in their discussions and reflection.  Which ones depend on the class and the conversations we are having.  I love how many of these picture books can be found on my other lists, this truly shows just how many times a picture book can be used in a classroom.  These are investment books, not “just” for fun, and give us a shared experience that will shape our community and conversations all year.

Note:  While I am writing a blurb on what the them of the book is, many of these books have multiple themes, so my blurb is not the the only one.

Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, our picture book author study for Global Read Aloud is about finding your place in the world and having courage to try new things.

Also by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, The Ok Book is a great one for why you should keep trying things until you discover what you are great at.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein is all about following your dreams and doing the impossible.  It is also my chosen read aloud every September 11th.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown where Mr. Tiger just will not conform.  When he tries to change his ways, he loses his real identity.

This Is A Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld is a great example of the what happens when others try to make you into something you are not.

What I love about Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson, is that most of my students can relate to its message about being expected to fit in in a certain way.

Any day I can use Pete and Pickles by Berkeley Breathed is a good day in our room. The universal theme of friendship and change is easy to spot here.

While Oscar’s Spots by Janet Robertson is more than 20 years old, I still love the copy we have in our classroom.  The theme of staying true to yourself and self worth is great one.

I am pretty sure I can teach almost anything with the help of Peter H. Reynolds.  His beautiful book Ish is a fantastic book for theme and what it means to discover your own talents and not let self doubt ruin it for you.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson is one of those picture books you can use for so many things; memoir, aha moment, words of the wiser, teaching empathy and such.  The theme of forgiveness, the impact of decisions, and how kindness gets passed on is a great lesson for all kids.

A Perfectly Messed Up Story by Patrick McDonnell is one of many amazing picture books from this author.  I love the simple aha moment of realizing that it can be good enough even if it is not perfect.  This is a great read for many of our students who push toward perfect every time to the detriment of their own sanity.

Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted Birdie Friends by Jill Esbaum is not only a great book to discuss friendship and how we must stay true to ourselves, but is great reminder to students.

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang is about how we judge others and what it all really means.

I have long been a loud fan of Bob Shea’s for a long time.  After all, he is the genius that wrote Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great so I had to get Ballet Cat The Totally Secret Secret.  It is laugh out loud funny.  And the best part is that I can completely relate to the story and so will my students.

Marilyn’s Monster by Michelle Knudsen is one I think many of my students will gravitate toward with its quiet message.  I know I will be using it to facilitate deeper conversations about finding our own path in the world.

Wild About Us by Karen Beaumont is a beautiful book in many ways.  The illustrations done by Janet Stevens pop off the page and catch your eye, but the message of the book is what really got me.  We all have things that we can pick apart, but what we do with those things is what matters.

Thea, my kindergartner, came home and told me that I had to get this book about a big red crayon.  Okay…. I thought.  But she was right, Red – A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall was one that I had to read aloud to my 7th graders.  And then we had to discuss what it meant staying true to one’s own nature as well as facing the pressures of others.  I swear this book was written for middle schoolers and not young children secretly.

It is a celebration in my life whenever the talented Ame Dyckman comes out with a new picture book and Wolfie the Bunny was definitely a cause for celebration.  This book about assumptions and what they can lead to has not only made my students laugh out loud, but more importantly, has led us to question our own assumptions about others.

I have Bluebird by Bob Staake on many favorite picture book lists, and there is a reason for that.  The shock on my students faces when we get to that page.  The questions, the discussion when I step out of the way are priceless.  This is a wordless picture book which also means that my students love interpreting the ending and allows them to find confidence when they are discovering what theme means.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes once again teaches students what it means to be proud of yourself and not try to change for others.

The Day I Lost My Super Powers by Michael Escoffier is a book that tells a familiar tale of childhood imagination.  I hope to use this to bring my students back to when they thought anything was possible and to reignite their passion for thinking they have the ability to make a difference in the world.

Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett is stunning. The story about a boy who is afraid of the dark is sure to elicit conversations about our fears and what we can do to conquer them.  I cannot wait for my students to discover all the details of this book.

Language surrounds us all but by middle school certain words seem to lose their off limit-ness.  That’s why I love Little Bird’s Bad Word by Jacob Grant.  This book will give us a way to discuss what our language says about us as people and how our casual conversations can harm others.  What a great conversation to have.

An amazing wordless picture book by Jon Arne Lawson and Sydney Smith that tells the tale of Sidewalk Flowers and what happens when we are too busy to notice the world around us.

Ben Clanton’s Something Extraordinary is just that – extraordinary.  Once again a simple story unfolds leading us to rich conversations about imagination and how it can color our world.

The beautiful story of Last Stop On Market Street by Matt De La Pena is one meant to spur conversation about our lives, our assumptions, and how we view the world.  But the illustrations?  They tell an even richer story, one that I cannot wait to discuss with my students, many of whom have never ridden a bus or even been in an urban neighborhood.

I am always in favor of a picture book that allows us to discuss how we treat others, particularly when teaching middle schoolers.  I love the story in Henry Hyena, Why Won’t You Laugh by Doug Jantzen and think it will resonate with many of my students with a fairly easy theme for them to discover and discuss.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires continues to be a crowd favorite in my classroom with its theme of not giving up and seeing the usefulness in things we otherwise may discard.  I love when students pick out the details that are in the illustration and we refer to it often when we create ourselves.

On my daughter’s 6th birthday she was gifted Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg.  I took one look at it and then bought a copy for my classroom.  Students are so quick to dismiss their own mistakes, but this book with its simple show of what you can do with those “oops” is sure to inspire a moment to re-think and re-draw before a supposed mistake is discarded.

I am sure I was not the only one jumping up and down when the Caldecott award was announced this year and The Adventures of Beekle – The Unimaginary Friendwas the big winner.  I have cherished this book in the classroom for its simple message about imagination and taking control of ones own destiny.  The illustrations are divine in the book and have inspired many students to draw their own imaginary friends.

I love the giggles that students, yes even 7th graders, get whenever I read aloud Froodle by Antoinette Portis.  The message to embrace their uniqueness and let their true personality shine is not one that is lost on them.

Another book by Mac Barnett on the list is Extra Yarn.  I have loved using this book to discuss theme with students but I also love how it shows that you can take something simple that you can do and turn it into something extraordinary.  Often this is the biggest aha moment that students get from this book.


The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds, I told you he is a genius.  This is the final book I read to my students every year as I hope it inspires them to take a risk and find their own path in life.

Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great by Bob Shea

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea is one of the best tales for discussing the theme of how often we misjudge others.

From the title to the illustrations, think of the discussion My Teacher is a Monster – No, I Am Not by Peter Brown  will elicit.  I loved the message, but also the nuance with which it is presented, and let’s face it; many students think their teachers are not quite human and this is a great book to discuss just that.

We love Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  This sweet story of a spoon trying to fit in and finding his place in the world was one that made us laugh and think about our own place in the world.

What can I say about The Dot that countless others have not said already?  The simple message of making your mark on the world and being good enough is one that left its mark on us.

Journey by Aaron Becker was used as the culmination of our first reading unit, which happened to be a lesson I was observed during.  I asked the students why I picked this book to share with them as our celebration book and their reasons blew me away.  “We are on a journey in reading like the girl.”  “We also can create what we want 5th grade to be like she does with her world” were among some of the things said.  Again a wordless picture book brought some of our deepest conversations.

I pulled this book out after a recess incident that had really rattled my team.  Whenever I send my students out to play and be with their friends, I never think that they may not be friends outside, that they may say mean things about each other, that they may exclude, and yet that day they proved me wrong.  I knew we had to discuss what had happened but instead of another lecture from me about the power of our community, the sanctity of what we have built, and how we should all fit in, I let this picture book, Zero by Kathryn Otoshi do the talking for me.

The Big Box by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison is a great picture book for more advanced thinking, the students will get it with prompting though and it leads to some pretty amazing conversations.

Patricia Polacco is a master storyteller, Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece is great for discovering courage and sharing experiences where we had to overcome our fears.

I love Billy’s Booger – A Memoir by William Joyce for discussing great ideas and how they can be interpreted.

I know there are more, but thought this was a good start.  So many of these books are incredible, so many of them can be used for many teaching points, so many of these books will become favorites in your classroom.  Happy reading and please do share your favorites!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!