My Student Questionnaire for Beginning of Year

My old student questionnaire

Since I will be traveling quite a bit in August, I am getting my papers in order for the beginning of the year and stumbled upon my standard student questionnaire in a folder.  Once I glanced at it I realized how it was in need of a serious revamping and thus asked my PLN for must ask questions for this document.  Thank you so much to everyone who inspired me!

Here is a link to the Google Doc – feel free to make a copy and make it your own.

Here are just the questions (for the actual survey go to the link) that I will be using that first week of school to get to know the kids better.

  1. What are the three most important things I should know about you?
  1. What are things you are really good at?
  1. What are you most proud of?
  1. What is the favorite thing you did this summer?
  1. What have you most loved learning (even if not in school)?  Why?
  1. What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not in school?
  1. What is the best book or books you have ever read?
  1. What do you want to learn HOW to do?
  1. I think 5th grade will be….
  1. What do you love about school?
  1. What do you not like about school?
  1. I work best in a classroom that is….
  1. Some things I really want to to work on this year in 5th grade are….
  1. What are things you cannot wait to do this year?
  1. I learn best when the teacher is….
  1. What do you know about Mrs. Ripp?


3 Beginning of the Year Surveys For Students And Parents

I believe in the power of a  great survey and have been giving them to my students ever since I started teaching.  This year, I am breaking them up for different days and will have students do them in class so I can gather them and mine them for information.  One of these is for my entire team to use as well.  Please feel free to use and adapt to fit your needs.  The three surveys are

Beginning of the Year Survey.  To see this survey, go here.

How are you as writer?  To see this survey, go here.

How are you as a reader?  To see this survey, go here.

To adapt these, simply click the link, go under “file” and then click “Make a copy.”  That way you can edit it and tweak as needed.

To see all of the other forms I use, including technology permission forms, student-led conferences, and other survey tools, go here.

As far as parents go, I have a very simple survey.  I ask them what their hopes and dreams are for their kids and then if there is anything else I should know.

(In the past, I have used a more extensive parent survey, to see that go here).

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 Beginning of the Year Parent Questionnaire

Two of my three kids; and that's who this is all about

Two of my three kids; and that’s who this is all about

Yesterday I shared my student questionnaire so I find it only apt to share my parent questionnaire as well.  While there are so many things I wanted to ask my parents, I wanted to keep it short and to the point.  As always, feel free to make a copy and make it your own.

Here is a link to the actual form

Here are just the questions on the form:

Tell Me A Little Bit About Your Child

  1. What is the most important thing I should know about your child?

  2. What is your child passionate about?

  1. What would you love your child to get better at?

  1. Overall how does your child feel about school and 5th grade?

  1. My child learns best when the teacher is….

  1. Great friends for my child are ….

  1. My child does not work well with…

  1. What is your child’s favorite book?

  1. What fears does your child have?  (Big or small)

  1. What is the best way to motivate your child?

Tell Me A Little Bit About You and Your Family

  1. What are you looking forward to with 5th grade?

  1. How would you like to be involved with your child’s education?

  1. What is your preferred method of communication (email, phone call, meeting, note…)

  1. Does your family have any special celebrations or traditions you would like to share with the class?

  1. What subject/area did you dislike when you went to school?

  1. What subject/area did you love when you went to school?

  1. I think 5th grade will be….

  1. A typical afternoon after school looks like this in our life…

  1. Who else lives at your house (siblings, pets etc.?)

  1. Anything else you would like to tell me that will help me make this a successful year?


This Year

“Has this year made it harder or easier to write, Mrs. Ripp?”

We are sitting in circle today (a restorative justice process we use to communicate), and the question now hangs between us, fourteen kids staring at me, waiting for an answer.

I know what she is asking me; has this year, with this group of kids, made me write less or more?  Has this year been too tough to handle or have I found inspiration?  What will I tell others about the kids I teach?

I don’t hesitate, I tell her the truth, after all; these kids tell me their truth all of the time.

So I tell her it has been hard.  That I have had to weigh my words more carefully.  To really craft the sentences that have been published on this blog.  To think deeper before hitting publish.  To take a moment to breathe before I go to write.  To write clearly, to write with intent.  To write with care and with meaning.

But not because this year has been hard.

Not because these kids have been hard, although some days have been hard.


But because this year I have been pushed as an educator further than I have been pushed in many years.

Because this year I have felt like a terrible teacher more days than before, and not because I lost my temper, or things fell apart, but because I wanted to be everything for everyone. Because I wanted to change the narrative; the story these very kids told me of the reputation they came with, of how they knew they were the “bad kids” and how hard that was to carry when they didn’t feel bad.  To help them know that they are not “bad” or “trouble,” that the actions of a few do not define the whole.  I wanted to help them know that we, teachers, saw this as a new beginning, that with us they could reach the goals they set, even if some days would be hard.  To help them all believe that reading was worth their time.  To help them understand how transformative writing could be.   To help them at this incredible stage of their journey.  To make sure that every day I brought my best because they deserved it.

But some days I have failed.  Some days the minor things have piled up and I have left feeling like I could never be enough.  That I was not enough.  And that is hard to write about.  After all; which parent wants to read about how their child’s teacher does not think they are enough?  Who wants to publicly admit that sometimes they don’t have the right answer, a new idea, or even a clue as to how to make everything work for all of the kids you teach.

Yet.  This year, with these kids, this is one I will remember.  For how they pushed me, for how they questioned, for how they wanted to be something more than the story they felt was written about them.  This year may have been hard to write about, but it sure has been good to be in.  And that is something worth remembering, even when we feel we are not enough.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


How to Create Empowered Readers – A Beginning

The sniffles started almost immediately.  Small choking noises came soon.  Then full out wails, tears, and gasps.  Theadora, our oldest daughter, was a mess as we drove home from Chicago today.  What had caused this sudden crying?  The end of Harry Potter Book seven.  The end of our 9 month journey accompanied by the ever amazing Jim Dale and the audio books of Harry Potter.  I was wistful myself to tell you the truth.  As I tried to console our distraught daughter,  I couldn’t help but feel slightly pleased, after all, isn’t this exactly the type of relationship that we hope our children, our students, have with books?  One that makes you want to cry, or laugh, or scream in frustration?  One that allows you to feel so intimately attached to something not created by yourself?  To feel the gratitude of brilliant writing and a long journey along with an author’s imagination?  To feel the loss of characters and of story as a book series finishes?

Yet, how many of our students have never experienced this type of sadness?  How many of our students have not experienced what is means to complete a series that one has become so invested in that it feels like the loss of a family member once the last page has been read?  How many years has it been for some, if at all, since they truly loved a book?  While we cannot change the past, we do have control over the now, over what happens in our classrooms. Over what happens from the moment they enter to the moment they leave.  And with that power comes an immense responsibility to empower our students, to offer them a chance at an incredible relationship with reading once again or for the very first time.  While it may start with having them choose their own books, this is not the only place students need more control to be empowered and passionate readers.

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Book choice.  This fundamental right to choose what you read is one that is so often taken away from our students because we want to help them develop as readers.   Yet when a child is not a  allowed to choose the very text they are asked to engage with, we give them little room for an emotional attachment.  How many of us adults will willingly invest in something we have been told to read?  So while we can expose and recommend, we must create classrooms where student choice is the norm, not the exception.  Where we help students find that next great book in order for them to become independent book selectors so that they can leave our classrooms knowing that they do not need us.  Not in the same way as they did in the beginning.  Where wild book abandonment is the norm and not something you need permission for.  Where indifference rules when a book is given up because we know that a new book awaits.  If we truly want students to feel in control of their reading identities then giving them the choice over which book to read is the very least we must do.

Book truths.  If we do not know what we are up against, then we can never change their minds.  This has been a mantra of mine since I started asking my students all sorts of things about their education.  So every year, and throughout the year, we continuously discuss how we feel about reading (and writing).  I never dismiss their truths, nor try to correct them.  It is not my job to tell them how they should feel, but it is my job to hopefully create a better experience for them.  I cannot do that well if students do not trust me, trust the community, and trust themselves and also trust the fact that perhaps how they feel about reading right now, if it is negative in any way, is something that can be changed.  (Yes, growth mindset at work here).  So ask them how they really feel and then truly listen, because it is when we listen, we can actually do something about it.

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Student post-it’s cover our whiteboard, our very first discussion of why we like reading or not from Friday.


Book Tasks.  Just Friday I was asked how many book summaries we would do this year.  I must have looked perplexed, because another student quickly added, “You know, write a summary every time we finish a book?”  I assured them that while we would work on summarizing, it would not be on every book, nor even books mostly.  Instead we discussed what we want to do when we finish a book; discuss with others, pass it on, perhaps forget all about it.  We must give our students control over what they do with a book once it has been finished.  We must allow them to explore ways to communicate their emotions with a book and certainly still develop as thinkers.  I keep thinking how I want our students to have choices every few weeks as we advance our reading; review, conversations, written ponderings, perhaps a summary, perhaps a video.  The point is, I am not sure at this point what we shall do once we finish a book because it depends on what the students would like to do.  I do not ever want to implement a task that makes a child slow down their reading or stop it altogether just because the task attached to it is horrific in their eyes.  So when we plan our reading tasks make sure that the long-term effects are not unwanted.  Make sure that it actually plays into our bigger picture; students who actually like to read, and does not harm this.

Book Selection.  While choice is of utmost importance, so is the way books are selected.  Too often we schedule in book shopping time for when it is convenient to us, forgetting that all students need books at different times.  Selecting a book is a also something that must be taught, even in middle school, because many students still have a hard time finding a book.  We therefore discuss how to bookshop, which yes, includes, judging a book by its cover, and then we take the time it takes.  If we really want students to wander among great books then we must give them time for that wandering and we must embrace the social aspect that comes along with it.  After all it is this book loving community that should sustain student reading after they have left our classrooms.

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How many students would say the exact same thing?

Book Access.  While I cannot continue to purchase books at the rate I have been due to a change in our household, I know that one of the biggest reasons many of our students end up identifying as readers is because of the sheer volume of books they have access to both in our classroom library and in our school library.  Kids need books at their finger tips at all times.  Much like they must have time to book shop when they need it, they also need to be able to book shop right in our classrooms.  When a child is obviously lost, we or other classmates can jump in.  When a child is only pretending to bookshop we can offer guidance.  We cannot control how many books our students go home to, but we can make sure that whenever they are in our classrooms; the books are plentiful.

Book Time.  Providing students time to read in our classes is one of the biggest ways we can signal to students that reading really matters.  After all, it is what we give our time to that must be the most important.  So whether it is only 10 minutes, like I provide every day, our a longer amount of time; time for reading in class is essential.  Otherwise, how will we ever know that they are truly reading because anyone can forge a reading log.  The time for reading should be just that, not time for tasks or post-its.  Not time for partner discussions or writing.  Reading, in all its glorious quiet.  In all its glorious discovery.



While the above areas may seem so commonsense, perhaps it is their commonsense-ness that makes us forget to implement them all.  It seems so obvious and yet… how many of us have told a child what to read (I have!).  How many of us have asked students to create task upon task after they finished a book (I have!).  How many of us have asked students to bookshop at a certain time and for a certain amount of time and wondered why they came up empty-handed (I have!).  The point is really that we have the choice to empower our students.  That we have the choice to show our students that their reading identity and developing it is a major part of our curriculum even if the standard does not cover it.  Even if the test does not measure it.  Because we know that at the end of the day we are not just teaching students that should be college and career ready, but instead are teaching human beings that should grow as human beings in our classrooms.  I may not be able to change every child’s mind when it comes to books and reading, but I will go in there every day trying, because my hope will always that they too will someday cry when they realize that a series has ended.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Some Small Ideas for Implementing Change in the New Year

Don't let your new ideas become forgotten plans. @pernilleripp

I had my first back to school nightmare 3 weeks ago, yes in June, not even a full month into summer vacation.  It was the same standard dream that I think many teachers have as they start to look forward to the year ahead; the children hate you, you are unprepared and everything tends to just get worse from there.  I was surprised at how early the dream occurred at first, yet then I remembered just how excited I am for the next year.  I know it may be too early for some to think about the next school year but when we have this type of job that brings us so much joy, it is hard not to get excited, even if school does not start until September 1st.

As I have been searching for new ideas, new ways to make 7th grade English a better experience for all, I cannot help but think about all of the ideas I have had previous summers.  How my head has been filled to the brim, excitement building, and then something happens between the beginning of the year and the end of the year.  For some reason most of those ideas don’t happen.  Most of those ideas fade away.  As soon as the day-to-day routine starts, our old habits take over and we just don’t do all those things we said we would.  As my colleague Reidun says, “We have all of these ideas in the summer and then  we get into habits and routines because we get busy.”  And that’s it isn’t it?  We get so busy with all the things that teaching encompasses that we tend to not add anything else on as we paddle our way through our days.  But what if we were able to sustain just a few ideas?  What if we planned for the busyness and that way could find the time, break the habits, and actually do some of the things we dream about?  Here are a few ideas to help.

Do things now.  This may sound silly but chances are you already know what you get busy with those first few days of school.  So which of those things can you get busy with right now?  I know that many are on summer vacation but as we relax, what little things can be done right now so that they don’t slow us down later?  I plan on spending some time in my classroom this week shelving books, creating displays, and making a few copies.  Nothing exciting (well maybe making displays gets me pretty excited) but all things that need to get done.

Plan for the change.  If you have a great idea that you really want to implement, then schedule it.  Write it in your planner, create your lesson plan, whatever it is that you need for it to happen.  This is how I go through my first days if school; with a list of things I would like to accomplish and then I plan accordingly.

Change your environment.  We get stuck in the same routines because our environment doesn’t change.  When we work in a space that looks like it did the year before it feels as if our brain pulls us back in the previous year’s mindset.  So if you want to change things, move some furniture around, change the layout, make a physical change to inspire a curriculum change.

Plan your preps.  This idea is also from Reidun, but I had to share it because it is genius.  We tend to focus on planning our lessons but how about we create a plan for what we will do during our preps?  I know I often end up not being quite as productive as I would like because I cannot remember all of the things I would like to accomplish to begin with.  So while you plan your week, or even just your day,  take time to figure out what the goals of your preps should be as well.

Purge.  We get sucked into our old habits because we have all the stuff to do it.  So if you really want to get rid of a lesson or change something up, purge the things that go along with it.  That way you might as well plan for something new since you would have to plan anyway.

Tell someone else.  I have ongoing dialogue with several other educators about what I would like to do next year.  Not only is this a way to get the ideas out of my head but that way they can also check in on me.  We know plans feel a lot more official when we speak them out loud, so find someone to share your ideas with.

Make it visible.  At the end of a school year, where I felt like I had not done enough for my readers, I wrote a post-it to myself.  It still hangs right in front of me whenever I sit down at my classroom computer.  It says “Find them a book.”  This small reminder is all I have needed to keep trying, to keep changing, to keep working toward a better literacy environment for all of my students.  So whatever your idea is, make it visible in the form of a post-it reminder or something similar.  When you look at every day, it propels you forward.  The other post-it I have is a quote from Shane Koyzcan’s beautiful TED Talk, it says “If you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror.”  It hangs there so I remember the good days, so I remember that I am not perfect but that I am trying.

And as always; start small.  Often times our grand ideas fall away because we feel overwhelmed.  So focus on the little things that will lead to those bigger things.  Plan for those small things so that each day becomes a step toward the bigger change that you would like to see.

What do you do to keep your ideas alive?

PS:  To make it official; some of my new ideas include incorportaing writer’s process by using The Yarn Podcast, doing a version of Penny Kittle’s multi-genre project, focusing more on micro writing, and also getting students more time to discuss.  Now you can help me stay accountable.