Voxer Takes Connections to the Next Level If You Let It

This summer I, along with many other educators, got on Voxer and started discovering just how powerful of a PLN tool it could be.  Although I wrote a post extolling the virtues of the app then, it is not until now 5 months into using it that I have truly witnessed the incredible power it holds for me.  Voxer is not just for collaborating, it is for connecting, and those connections are changing my life.

As educators, and especially female educators, there seems to be a weird phenomenon surrounding us; the seemingly overabundance of highly connected male educators, whether administrators, teachers, or tech integrators.  (Yes, this is a simplification, but bear with me).  I have often wondered about the apparent “mens/boys” club that seem to exist on Twitter, at conferences, and on blogs that list who people must follow, and have even written about it in the past.  Don’t misunderstand; I don’t feel the need to be a part of a male club, instead this realization made me long more for my own female version that could share the same camaraderie that seemed to exist in these groups, the ease with which they communicated and had each others’ backs.  I wanted my own group of women that would inspire me, support me, and actually become friends.  Enter Voxer.

5 months ago a few acquaintances and I started a Voxer group.  I didn’t think much of it, after all I was in about 8 different groups at the time all discussing various things related to education, and loving it.  The group consisted of 5 women from different parts of education that all had a few things in common but were nowhere near being close friends.  At first the Voxes were funny, little slivers of our lives and thoughts being shared.  Yet with time those Voxes grew, sometimes spanning more than 5 minutes, and as they grew so did our bond.  I never knew how much I needed this group.  I never knew how much I needed a group of women to grow with.

Yet, this group is not the only one I go to every day hoping for my heart to be filled, for my inspiration to be renewed, and my thoughts expanded.  Another Voxer group is between a few female educators I greatly admire and am lucky enough to call friends.  These two women have inspired countless blog posts, helped me make huge life decisions, as well as made me laugh.  Every week we check in, we update, we share our thoughts, making sure that we all feel supported, that we all feel cared for.  How powerful is that.

So if you are in need of a tribe like I was; don’t be afraid to reach out.  Use Voxer a s a way to connect to others in a deeper way and don’t be afraid to ask others to be in a group with you.  If you are a female connected educator but feeling alone sometimes, Voxer is your place.  Start a group, take the plunge, reach out tot those that you maybe only know a little and see what happens.

The groups I get to be a part of, those that really matter to me, weren’t planned. We didn’t set out to create these bonds, but they happened because we tried.  They happened because we realized that by having this tool to bring our voice together, we grew stronger as a group, we grew because we trusted each other.  You don’t have to feel alone even if you are a connected educator.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  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.  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.

The Professional Books that Changed Me as a Teacher

When I first started teaching, I devoured parts of books like a starved teacher.  And by parts of books, I mean parts of books.  I would start to read, grab some ideas and then get too busy to read on.  After a few years, I stopped.  Not that I did not need to keep growing, I just had changed my focus to reading blogs instead of books.

Lately, though, I have been turning back to books.  For finding the time to read an entire piece of work as I try to grow and become better.  I have highlighted the things that make me think, discussed ideas with others (Voxer is great for a small book discussion) and reflected until my brain hurt.

And I am changed.  I have these ideas that seem to want to burst out of me, that I cannot wait for students to digest along with me, so that we can become better together.  So what have made a difference to me?

Alfie Kohn’s The Homework Myth

A quote:

“But as I mastered the material, homework ceased to be necessary. A no homework policy is a challenge to me,” he adds. “I am forced to create lessons that are so good no further drilling is required when the lessons are completed.”

Why it matters:

The research and the reasons compiled in here made me quit homeowrk.  I would say that that has been one of the biggest and best decisions I have ever made as a teacher.

Unshakeable by Angela Watson

A quote:

“All the planning and scheduling is meant to control the other demands on your time—email, grading, paperwork, etc.—so that you are better able to focus on your students in class.”
Why it matters:

Angela Watson never ceases to amaze with her ideas for how to make our teaching lives better.  This book has the best of her wisdom on how we can fall even more in love with teaching.

Awakened also by Angela Watson

A quote:

“Being awakened is the initial realization of truth, the moment when the light illuminates a situation and you can see it clearly for the first time. Growth begins there, but a true awakening is a process. It’s a daily decision to choose thoughts that lead to the right attitude. It’s an ongoing choice to act in ways that align with wisdom and not with one’s current perception or mood.”

Why it matters:

Several years ago, when I was at my lowest point as a teacher, this book arrived and changed my thinking.  I still use the principles that Angela discussed in the book of replacing your negative thinking.

Donalyn Miller Reading in the Wild

A quote:

“If we really want our students to become wild readers, independent of our support and oversight, sometimes the best thing we can do is get out of the way.”

Why it matters:

This book taught me that creating students who can read outside of our classrooms is a vital task for teachers.  It has propelled me to change the reading instruction I do and also led to many deep conversations about reading identity.

Donalyn Miller The Book Whisperer

A quote:

“I am a reader, a flashlight-under-the-covers, carries-a-book-everywhere-I-go​, don’t-look-at-my-Amazon-bill. I choose purses based on whether I can cram a paperback into them, and my books are the first items I pack into a suitcase. I am the person who family and friends call when they need a book recommendation or cannot remember who wrote Heidi. My identity as a person is so entwined with my love of reading and books that I cannot separate the two.”

Why it matters:

This book made me trust myself as a teacher of reading.  It gave me permission to fight back, to protect the love of reading, and to do something about those who did not love reading.  This should be required reading for all teachers, whether you teach reading or not.

Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts Falling In Love With Close Reading

A quote:

“We see the ritual of close reading not just as a method of doing the academic work of looking closely at text-evidence, word choice, and structure, but as an opportunity to bring those practices together to empower our students to see the subtle messages in texts and in their lives.”

Why it matters:

This book stopped my fear of repetition and digging deeper into text.  Enough said.

Penny Kittle Book Love

A quote:

“I believe each of my students must craft an individual reading life of challenge, whim, curiosity, and hunger, and I’ve discovered that it is not too late in high school  to lead a non-reader to reading.  It’s never too late.”

Why it matters:

What the Book Whisperer did for me while teaching 4th grade, Book Love is doing for me while I teach 7th.  Penny Kittle’s wisdom, research, as well as practical ideas is making this book my most recommended book of 2016 so far.

Kelly Gallagher Readicide

A quote:

“…Shouldn’t schools be the place where students interact with interesting books? Shouldn’t the faculty have an ongoing laser-like commitment to put good books in our students’ hands? Shouldn’t this be a front-burner issue at all times?”

Why it matters:

If you are looking for urgency in your teaching, this is the book that will bring it to you.  Readicide was one of the first books that made me want to do something now to change the way we teach reading.

 

Kylene Beers and Bob Probst Notice and Note

A quote:

“The most rigorous reading is to find what those words on that page mean in our own lives.”

Why it matters:

This book transformed (and transform) how I approach reading instruction with my students, giving them a key to unlock the secrets of the text.  This is one of the biggest gifts I can give them as they read more complex materials.

Then there are the books that I have in my to read pile

Meeno Rami Thrive

A quote:

“To be fully engaged in our work, we need to bring our authentic voice.”

Why it matters:

I have read parts of this book before, however, I need to sit down and read it all in order.  Meeno is an incredibly smart woman and so I know that her thoughts will make me a better teacher.

 

Kylene Beers and Bob Probst Reading Nonfiction – Notice and Note

A quote:

“When students recognize that nonfiction ought to challenge us, ought to slow us down and make us think, then they’re more likely to become close readers.”

Why it matters:

The reading of nonfiction is something I have struggled with and this books provides me with the starting points for deeper conversations.

Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke Amplify

A Quote:

“Using technology doesn’t mean that we throw out those strategies that we’ve found to be successful with students.  It’s not the tools—it’s what we do with them that counts.”

Why it matters:

I have integrated technology for the past 6 years in our classroom, and yet I know that these ladies have some incredible ideas that I have not thought of.  Although it is targeted to K-6 I know there are ideas for 7th in there as well.

Teri S. Lesene’s Reading Ladders

A Quote:

Many of us are searching continually for that just-right book for each and every one of our students. It is my hope to help you find those books. More importantly, I hope to help you guide students to the next great book and the one after that. That is the purpose of Reading Ladders. Because it is not sufficient to find just one book for each reader.

Why it matters:

Teri Lesene is not only a fierce protector of the love of reading but brliiant, intimidatingly so.  This book is a must for anyone trying to develop reading identities in their classrooms.

I know I am forgetting some but wanted to share in case anyone was looking for a great new read to change their teaching.  Which books have you read that have transformed you?  Which books did I miss?

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.

And the Winners Are…Our Mock Caldecott Predictions 2016

It has been an incredible week diving into the world of the Caldecott with my students.  Every day, we have taken time to discuss amazing picture books, vote for our favorites, and remember what reading is all about falling in love with incredible books.  While I will do a more detailed post on how we did the unit later, I couldn’t wait to share our predictions as we eagerly await for the awards.

To see how I did the unit, follow this link for my very basic planning document with resources that were shared to me by the incredible Mock Caldecott group I was included in on Voxer.   

I did not have a beginning list of picture books for the students to choose from, but instead pulled all of my 2015 picture books for them to browse through.  I had also searched online for buss books and then either purchased those or requested them from my library.  They therefore had about 200 books to start with and yes, they said it was hard to narrow it down.

My first hour class chose….

Honor (a tie between two books):

 

Boats for Papa – Art and Story by Jessixa Bagley

Marilyn’s Monster – story by Michelle Knudsen, Art by Matt Phelan

Honor:

Strictly No Elephants – Story by Lisa Manchev, Art by Taeeun Yoo

Medal:

My third hour class…

Honor:

Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted Birdie Friends – Story by Jill Esbaum, Art by Nate Wragg

Honor:

Waiting – Story and Art by Kevin Henkes

Medal:

The Night World – Story and Art by Mordicai Gerstein

 

My fifth hour class…

Honor:

If You Plant A Seed – Story and Art by Kadir Nelson

Honor:

To the Sea – Story and Art by Cale Atkinson – Sadly this one turns out to be ineligible.  While my students were in charge of vetting the illustrators, this one slipped through the cracks.

Medal:

The Night World – Story and Art by Mordicai Gerstein

My sixth hour class…

Honor:

Growing Up Pedro – Story and Art by Matt Tavares

Honor:

If You Plant A Seed – Story and Art by Kadir Nelson

Medal:

Water is Water – Story by Miranda Paul, Art by Jason Chin

My seventh hour class…

Honor:

Beautiful Hands – Story by Kathryn Otoshi, Art by Bret Baumgarten

Honor:

Toys Meet Snow – Story by Emily Jenkins, Art by Paul O. Zelinsky

Medal:

The Night World – Story and Art by Mordicai Gerstein

And finally, my own predictions…and since it is my blog, I get to pick more than 2 honors.

Honor:

Lenny and Lucy – Story by Philip C. Stead, Art by Erin E. Stead

Honor:

 

Waiting – Story and Art by Kevin Henkes

Honor:

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement – Story by Carole Boston Weatherford, Art by Ekua Homes

Honor:

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear – Story by Lindsay Mattick, Art by Sophie Blackall

Honor:

Wolfie the Bunny – Story by Ame Dyckman, Art by Zachariah OHora

Medal:

Last Stop on Market Street – Story by Matt De La Pena, Art by Christian Robinson

Some Ideas for Personalizing Learning in the Younger Grades

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“Mom, you have to see this…?”

Thea hands me her science project, her very first in in 1st grade, and she is so excited she has a hard time standing still.

“I have to do this thing and I get to choose and I know I want to do coyotes and a video so we need to learn stuff…”

I grab the paper from her hand and once again marvel at the ingenuity of her teacher and the district we both are in.

Personalizing learning in the younger grades has always been something I felt slightly clueless about.  After all, most of the kids I have taught have been older than 9.  Yet, by watching what Thea is experiencing in her 1st grade classroom, I have a few ideas for how learning can become more personalized in the younger grades in order to create more passionate learners.

Give  scaffolded topic choice.  While this seems like a no-brainer, I think giving choice looks a lot different in a 1st grade classroom versus a 4th grade.  I know that 6 year olds often have many ideas, which can either lead to brilliance or indecisiveness, so I have seen how a limited amount of choice in specific areas can really help them get engaged.  In Thea’s science project she was told to study a Wisconsin animal and was then given a suggested list to select from.  She knew right away when we read the words “Coyotes” that they would be her choice, however, her teacher also left it wide open for any animals not on the list as long as they were found natively in our state.  Having choice, but with limitations helped Thea get straight to work, and helped her get excited about her topic.

Have many ways to access information.  Her teacher did not place a limit on how she should access the information but gave us ideas instead.  We therefore watched real coyote videos on YouTube, checked out books, found a PBS kids show, and also found pictures online.  Not being limited to one method of finding information meant that we could adapt it to what we had access to, as well as what would work for Thea in the moment.

Have various ways to show learning.  While all the students had to do a fill-in-the-blank written report they also had to come up with a way to present their knowledge to the class.  A few choices were given; diorama, poster, or a video, but again you could also come up with your own idea.  Thea immediately wanted to do a video because she thought it would be fun.  As we discussed it more in detail, she decided to act like a teacher because she wants to be one when she grows up.  Again, having this choice in how she would present her information made the assignment even more meaningful to her because she got to express her knowledge in a way that made sense to her.

Have selective goal setting.  The students all have several goals in each subject area, but the teacher lets them choose which one they want to pay special attention to.  That goal gets a star next to it.  When they have centers, one of their stations is for working on their selected goal, a clever way of tapping into what they think they need themselves.

Let them pick partners.  Even if you think it is a bad idea.  We assume more often than not that students will make a bad choice rather than a good one.  Yet, Thea tells me proudly how often she selects a new partner for math because she wants to try working with them.  This experience not only offers her a way to learn alongside someone else, she also gets to explore more kids who might be a great friend for her.  What an awesome skill to work on.

Have them self-asses with smiley faces.  Thea is just learning how to read and write, so having them self reflect through writing would take a very long time.  A quick and easy way to self reflect is by using smiley/frowney faces as you go through their learning.  Again, this allows students to take control of what they felt successful in and set goals for upcoming learning.  Another idea is to have students do a video or voxer message where they self-reflect.  This can then also be shared with parents to see how a child thinks.

Discourage parent over-involvement.  When I first saw the science project, my heart sank a little because I thought of how much work this might be for Brandon and I.  Yet, in the rubric itself, it said that to get a “4” or a “3” the work should not be parent produced but rather originate from the child with only minimal parent support.  So that is exactly what we did.  While we discussed with Thea what she wanted to do, we really wanted the ideas to come from her and then helped her as she needed.  The end result; a kind of messy but pretty funny video (who knows if there is a king coyote anywhere?) that clearly shows her enthusiasm for the topic, as well as her knowledge.

I am amazed at the trust Thea’s teacher puts in her little learners and am also reminded in how often we underestimate kids.  Personalizing learning is not something we should start when we think kids are old enough, they are never old enough.  It is something we should start right away because that is what will create classrooms filled with curious students.  That is what will create passionate learners. 

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!

How About a Mystery Vox?

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The power of Skype never ceases to amaze me and I have loved doing Mystery Skypes for many years now.  So as I started to plan for back to school I knew I wanted to participate once more in as many Mystery Skypes as possible, but I also wanted to try a different approach; the mystery Vox.

What is Voxer?  It is a free walkie-talkie app that allows you to leave messages asynchronously or even a 15 second video if you would like to other users around the world.  For more information or to download it, go here.

What is a Mystery Vox?  Using the power of Voxer, students would take turn leaving clues throughout the day, checking in when they could in order to try to guess the geographical location of the other classroom.  The questions still have to be in a yes or no format and students may still not google each other.

Why do this rather than Skype?  For me it allows multiple classes to collaborate throughout the day trying to piece together where a class is. It also works around the timezone issues that can limit where we do a Mystery Skype with.  Students will not have designated roles like they do in a Mystery Skype; anyone can guess, anyone can ask a question.  I also love that students can digest the clues before they ask the next question.  However, I still plan on doing lots of Mystery Skypes too!

How will this work?  Sign up below on the form and then go to the form responses to find a match.  Reach out and set up the day or week you would like to do this in.

To see the form responses and find someone, go here.

To see more about Mystery Skype, go here

What will this look like in my classroom?  I will have a running list of clues and answers on the board, as well as questions asked.  I will probably have students do this for me.  I may even put it in a Google doc.  I will alert kids to it throughout the day and ask them to come up with a question and an answer.  I will use my own voxer account as I do not feel like setting up another one, right now anyway, and my students will be the ones leaving the messages.  We will try to have it guessed within a day.  I think that is really it.

Any further ideas?