Be the change, being a teacher, being me, reflection, Student-centered, students

Are We Having Honest Conversations with Kids?

image from icanread

The groan could have been heard for miles it seemed.  The 7th grader in front of me looked at me with that look only kids can give you when you have said something that they hate.

“Post-its?  I hate post-its, why do we have to use post-its?”

I bent down and said “Why?” took the few minutes to discuss and then knew I had to change what I was about to teach.

It was my first day of readers workshop with the students and I was pumped, I couldn’t wait to get them started on their journey to think deeper about their books, have better conversations, and boost their writing.  And yet, already by the first hour, I had run into a boulder of disapproval.

In the past, I would have had a conversation with the student as well, but it would have centered on explaining why this was good for them, why they had to do it, and how they just had to trust me.  This time though, I knew it wouldn’t be enough, that my role right now is not to force habits because I said so but rather create discussion and find habits that work for us.  So I listened and we discussed and I realized that the student brought up points that I think of myself as I read through some of my lessons and it was time for me to admit it.

Being a teacher is sometimes like being an enforcer.  We tell children what to do because we know best, we know the end point, and so we know the building blocks that they need to get there.  We have discussions, we offer choice, but how often do we listen to what the students are telling us and admitting our own doubts or thoughts?  How often do we admit our own adult habits and how they fly in the face of what we are teaching and then create a new path forward because we know the students might be right?  How often do we listen when students tell us how they feel and then actually act upon it even if it means changing the way we teach?

We have to have honest conversations with our students.  We have to be able to admit that sometimes the ideas we first had are not the ideas that are best suited for the children in front of us.  That we as adults have developed habits that fly in the face of what we are teaching and yet we still manage to be deep thinkers.  We have to admit that sometimes our lessons are not “real life” or even do-able for all of us.  We have to admit that not everyone has the same path forward to whatever goal we may have set.

I speak to my students about developing as independent thinkers, yet I expect them to conform to all of the same rules in our classroom.  I am not sure how to go forward, but I know something has to give.  We may know what is best for most, but I need to know what is best for each.  And that will take a lot of honest conversations.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 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 thoughts on “Are We Having Honest Conversations with Kids?”

  1. Thanks to you, I am learning to have these conversations more often and more authentically this year. It has been profoundly changing how I teach and it is so exciting.

    My own journey beyond post-it notes has been an ever evolving journey and it has always been driven by those students who have shared how post-it notes have ruined reading for them. I am in a better place now with our reading journals. But it is far from perfect. But I am learning to let the kids take the lead and find a way to track their thinking that is meaningful to them. As they share with the class what they are doing, they have been teaching each other ways to make it work. Meaningfully. It’s been so exciting to watch.

    Thank you for showing me the possibilities that come from letting the students take the lead.

      1. Some students still use post-it notes, if that works for them and what they are working on. But when I confer with a student, I listen to what that student is already doing and I ask that student if that is something that they want to continue paying attention to. It might be something like, “I want to pay attention to the moments when I see that this character is really afraid even though he is acting touch.” Or it could be, “I want to pay attention to how the author is describing the mom in this book and what those details say about who she is.” We write down the goal in their reading journal and then together we come up with a way to track their thinking so that they can remember what they have noticed to share with others either in a literature discussion group or when they share their reading work with the class as they teach the class one way to focus on what they are reading. A lot of times, the plan we come up with is more of a chart that they create in their reading journals to take notes on as they read. Sometimes, the child creates a plan that uses post-it notes. And sometimes, the child creates a plan that is a combination of post-it notes and a reading journal. Whatever they decide, it has to work for them. I ask them when they would like me to check back in and when I do check back in, if their plan is working, then they keep with it until they are ready to teach the class. If the plan is not working, then we talk about why and we create a new plan. Like I said, it is far from perfect, but it has been working so far. I hope that makes a little bit of sense!

      2. Thank you so much for this description. I think that what you are doing to promote deeper thinking is perfect. It really shows how you listen to the kids. You help them make a plan to keep track of their thinking and what they’re interested in thinking more about and then you check in at a later date to see, not only how their plan is working but also what their inquiry allowed them to discover. I am going to print this out so that I can do something similar with my students.
        Thanks again,

      3. Please let me know how it goes and how you make it work for your kiddos! I know that I have a lot of adjusting I still need to do and I would LOVE to hear how you make it work in your classroom.

  2. I know exactly what you mean, Pernille! It’s so important to listen to what kids are saying about the structures that we think will work in the classroom. I usually invite kids to do these unless I feel a student never takes up my invitations and then I will tell him/her to try it at least three times before abandoning it. If that happens and nothing ever works then I need to think of other strategies.

  3. Hi Pernille,

    Are you working with a rubric? Sometimes, if I think the rubric might not be clear or that the students may have better ideas, I submit the rubric for discussion. Perhaps you may find a way to better explain the use of the post-its and, subsequently, have the students understand its value. Alternatively, you, the students or a combination of the two may find a different way to complete the task. You may not have or need a rubric, but the discussion would seem to help. In my humble opinion, the important thing seem to be understanding the purpose of the task.

  4. This is great! I like to give a survey online before my classes start to get to know the kids. It is insane the information I gather from this survey about the kids. And the questions I ask give the students a feel that I really do care about them & want them to do well in the class.

    Link to survey I plugged into the website box of the comment section. Not sure if that will allow you to see the survey or not.

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