advice, being a teacher, curriculum, MIEExpert15

3 Must-Do’s If Your School Purchases Curriculum

There seems to have always been pre-packaged programs available for districts to purchase.  Whether they came as a kit, a textbook, or just a set of ideas they have been a part of education for so many years and will continue to be as long as there are districts searching for the right answer, searching for guidance.  And there isn’t anything wrong with that.  I am not an opponent to the purchased curriculum, I am not an opponent of buying resources for teachers.  However, I am an opponent of buying a program, no matter how great it is, and then telling everyone to follow every single thing in it.

You see, we don’t teach the children that these researchers taught.  Our students will never share the same experience, nor the same background.  And that is important because if a program does not allow us to adapt it to our students, then it will not be as powerful as we need it to be.  If we are chained to a curriculum map based on other people’s students, then we are not teaching the students in front of us.

So by all means; go ahead and purchase the curriculum out there.  There are great ones out there that have a solid foundation,  but if you do, please make sure you do the following three things as well:

  1. Create an open dialogue.   Teachers need to know that they can question the program and that they have a voice.   There should be no sacred cow in our district.  Make sure that this is not a top-down decision and that you constantly assess whether this program is what you need.  Just because you spent money on something does not mean it is right for everyone.
  2. Allow teachers to modify, adapt, and change as needed.  That doesn’t mean compromising the program, but instead it means trusting teachers as the professionals they are to create an even better experience for their students.  One that allows them to teach the very kids they are supposed to teach.  That does not mean teachers are being subversive, it simply means that they are responding to gaps that they see and they are doing something about.  No program will ever be the perfect fit for all of our kids, all of our teachers, and all of our schools.  They are vast road maps, not step-by-step directions.
  3. Ask the students.  If students are losing their love of reading, writing, science, math or whatever program it is they are in, then we have a serious problem.  It does not matter that the program may be the best for creating deep comprehension if students hate doing it.  If a curriculum program is creating robots in our classroom then we should be worried.  And we should take action and we do that best by asking the students what is going on.  Then we listen and then we change.

So if you find yourself in the situation where you can tell that something is not working for your students, speak up.  Do it kindly, but do speak up, because administration cannot engage in a conversation that they do not know is needed.  Ask your students, involve parents, and collect your evidence.  Start a conversation before a program becomes an educational barrier to success.  Don’t stay silent if you see something harming students, the change starts with us and our courage.

PS:  And if you are using money to purchase curriculum but not using money to buy books, then the priorities need to change.

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.

advice, aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, being me, learning, Reading, Student

How to Break the Rules Gently – Creating Experiences that Protect the Love of Learning

In true EdCamp Style, Nerdcamp yesterday was all about the collaborative sessions.  I, alongside Donalyn Miller (!) ended up facilitating one of my all-time favorite sessions ever  “How to Break the Rules Gently –  Creating Experiences that Protect the Love of Reading.”  I tried to tweet as much of the advice shared as I could but thought a follow up post would be in order as well.

Let’s face it, we have all worked within systems that went against our beliefs in some way.  Whether we were told to follow curriculum we didn’t believe in, follow rules that broke our hearts, or even just compromise in a way we never thought were would.  Being an educator often means we are wondering how to protect the love of reading in our classroom, the love of school.  And not because people intentionally set out to destroy either of these things but sometimes decisions are made that have unintended consequences.  So do you work within  a system that has rules or curriculum that you want to change or break?  How do you create change when it’s just you fighting?

You know your research.  One of the quickest ways to keep a teacher quiet is to say something is research-based.  So you have to know your own research says Donalyn Miller.  You have to be willing to ask to see the research, and then counter with your own.  Stay current, stay knowledgable and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Donalyn recommends the book Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent Reading by Barbara Moss & Terrell Young as a great place to start.  I ordered it yesterday.  You also don’t say that you are “just” a teacher said Leah Whitford.  You are a teacher, you have power.

You inform parents.  Most parents think that what we choose to do in school is always in the best interest of the child, but this is not necessarily true.  So have a classroom website where you describe what you are doing in class, what students have do, and also the requirements you are faced with.  this is not to complain but rather to inform, because parents cannot speak up if they don’t know what is going on.

You speak kindly.  I used to think change would happen with a sledgehammer approach but ow know that just stops people from listening to you.  It is not that you should be quiet, or not be passionate, but you will get much further with a kind approach where you validate others in the process in furthering real change.

You compromise.  We all think what we are doing is in the best interest of our students, so connect with others and share ideas.  Withhold judgment when you can, but always share what is happening in your room and offer resources.  Don’t claim for it to be the best, but simply share.  Be willing to use others’ ideas as well and compromise on your team.  That doesn’t mean you have given up your ideals, it means you are an adult working with other people.

You find your tribe.  If you cannot find someone in your school that shares your same ideas, look to other schools in  your district, look in your county, and obviously look online.  The Nerdy Book Club is a great place to start.  However, having local connections to keep you sane and invested is a must as well.  It is important that you know you are not alone in your corner of the world, but you have to search these people out.  They may be scared to speak up like you.

You work within the system.  When I was told I had to do reading logs, I had students do them right in class right after independent reading.  I was still doing what I was told but not sending them home.  So find ways to work within the rules that may be imposed on you if you cannot break them completely.

You find your core beliefs.  Figure out what your core beliefs are or values within the classroom, write them up, hang them up and then make every decision based on those.  I think the visual reminder of what you are fighting for will help you pick your battles as well as lead the way.

You are willing to let go.  Sometimes something we love does not fit the purpose anymore, so if you are asking others to change you have to be willing to change yourself.  Even if you spent money on it.  Because money doesn’t equal qulity or great ides or passionate students.

You find out the reason why.  Often when new things are imposed on us, such as leveling a library or doing a reading log, there is a bigger reason behind it.  Find out what that is so that you can try to find other ways to reach that same goal.  So for example if you are told to level your library, if it is for students to be able to self-select “just right” books then explore other ways to achieve that.  Present these ideas and be ready to discuss why these may be a better fit.  As Donalyn said, “Everything we do is a scaffold toward independence – that’s the end game.”

You stop assuming.  We are terribly good at assuming why rules are made or how administrators will react to us.  And yet, often our assumptions are wrong.  So have courageous conversations.  Ask gentle questions and try to broach the subject.  You may be surprised when you find an ally rather than an enemy.

You involve your students.  The biggest advocates for independent reading time in my 7th grade classroom are my student, hands down.  So offer them ways such as on blogs, vide, Twitter, newsletters or whatever else you can think of to spread the message about the things they love in your classroom.  If you want parents onboard, get their kid excited about school!

You work together.  Invite others in to see the classroom environment you have created.  Ask other teachers to come in and observe if they want, admin even though you don’t have, get the special ed teacher to be a part of the movement or any other special teacher you can.  Involve your librarian, they are a reading warrior if I ever met one.  Bring in parents, have family nights.  Find a way to spread the positive image of your class so that others will fight for it as well.

You stay persistent and passionate.  Don’t confuse passion with anger, although it is okay to get angry sometimes.  But stay passionate and persistent in your goal to protect students, stay on top of your reasons for doing things, stay up-to-date on research, and stay down to earth.  No one wants to listen to anyone who thinks they are better than others.  Don’t give up, real change can take a long time, but we must stay at it.  Even if it seems like you are totally alone and no one is listening.  As Jen Vincent said; “You never know what will come of a conversation you have.”

advice, aha moment, being a teacher, being me, Reading

Enough – My Nerdtalk for #NerdCampMi

Yesterday I had the incredible honor of declaring myself a reading warrior along with hundreds of other passionate nerdcampers.  Thanks to the awesome Erin Klein,this Ignite/Nerdtalk from Nerdcamp 2015 is below.    If you have never experienced Nerdcamp, you need to put a huge “X” in your calendar for next year.  It was absolutely incredible to be surrounded by people who are as passionate about literacy as I am.  We will change literacy instruction if we band together!  Thank you to Colby, Alaina, Suzanne and all of the other incredible people that put this event together.

PS:  Due to the slides not working you will see me filling 3 minutes of awkward silence with my stand up routine – luckily I think I am better teacher than stand up.

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.

advice, aha moment, assumptions, being a teacher, being me, Passion, student voice

What My Students Want to Know

I asked my 7th graders to tell me the truth and for 170 days they haven’t stopped.  Sometimes their truth was harsh, angry reactions to the perceived faults that school and teachers have.  Sometimes their truths weighed heavily on me as I drove home contemplating how to be a better teacher.  Sometimes their truth spoke of challenges I knew nothing of and had no idea how to solve.  Their truths became my truths as they shared, and shared, and shared.

My students have had opinions on everything, from the way teachers speak to them, to where they sit, to what we do.  Their words have shaped me more as a teacher than any other professional development opportunity, any other teacher, any other book I have read.   They have offered up their opinions even when I didn’t ask.  Showing me the trust they have in our community, the implicit trust they have in me to carry their words forward.  And so I have shared their words with anyone who crosses my path; placing them in my book, into my presentations, and into any conversation I have had.  I have made it my mission to share their words because for some reason students have little voice in today’s education debate.  And with their words behind me, I continue to change the way I teach, hoping to become than I am today.

So as I turned to my blog today to reflect on something completely different, their words encouraged me to write this instead.  They told me to ask a simple question to anyone who reads this; have you asked your students about your teaching?  And if you haven’t, why not?

That’s it.

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.

advice, being a teacher, global read aloud, Reading

5 + 1 Ideas for Doing Better Read Alouds in the Middle School Years

I knew moving to 7th grade from 5th that our read aloud was something I had to preserve.  I knew that having a shared experience was something we needed as we built community, I knew we needed a read aloud so we could be a part of the Global Read Aloud and be a part of a global reading community, and I knew that no matter how old my students may feel like they are, a great read aloud has no age limit. What I didn’t know was just how hard it would be!

Between 45 minute class periods, students who groan at the slightest hint of silliness, and a broad curriculum that seems to never slow down; our read aloud was getting squeezed out almost every day.  In fact, in one class, our very first read aloud took us nearly 5 months to finish.  Talk about stretching out a story.  So in this year of trial and error, I have discovered a few things that is bound to restore the read aloud as one of our main tenets next year.

  1. Pick different books for each class.  As much as I hate having to keep track of five different books, I made the mistake of reading the same amazing book aloud to three of my classes.  My own apprehension and disdain for reading the same thing aloud thus created another barrier; I simply did not want to read aloud to my later classes because I had already read it aloud before.  Now I honor the individuality of my students by having different texts for them all.  We discover the books together and I want to see what happens next just as much as they do.
  2. If you do read the same book; record your read aloud.  If you can find an audio version of a book, find it and use that with the students.  If you cannot, then make your own for example by reading it aloud to Voxer and then emailing the sound file to yourself.  I plan on doing this for our Global Read Aloud books next year so that I won’t get sick of  reading it aloud again and again.
  3. Make your read aloud your mentor text.  I did this in 5th grade and got away from it in 7th, but now I am going right back to it.  This way, when we go through the strategies from Notice and Note we can search for them right in the text we are using, thus double-dipping into the time we have.
  4. Read books in verse aloud.  This year certainly has been the year of the verse book and these make for incredible read alouds.  The story moves along at a fast pace, the students hear great poetry and like it, and it allows us to cover more books.  I just finished The Crossover with two classes who loved the story.
  5. Never underestimate a great picture book.  If you know you will be hard-pressed for time one quarter or over a span of time, opt for reading aloud amazing picture books.  We have read many Elephant & Piggie books, plus any of the other incredible picture books we have in here.  What matters about the read aloud is that we have a shared text experience that we can grown from on many levels.  That does not just have to come from a chapter book.
  6. Even if just for a minute; read aloud.  I used to think I should only read aloud when I coud afford to spend 10 minutes or more on it in class.  The constraint of the 45 minutes that I teach in did not allow me the luxury of that often so we got further and further away from our stories.  Now I know that even if I finish class with just a few minutes of read aloud at the end of class, it is better than not reading, because even a few minutes keep a story fresh and the action moving.

What ideas do you have?  Please share.

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” 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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advice, being a teacher, being me, label

When Your Child Is Given a Label

Although we were the ones that asked for an observation.  Although we were the ones that raised our eyebrows and rang the alarm.  Although we were the ones that thought maybe something was slightly amiss and weren’t quite sure if we were crazy or not.  Although it was us that started the process, when the news came, it still stopped us for just a moment.

When your child is given a label, if even for a second, your body seems to freeze.  For a moment  the world stops spinning.  For a moment you feel the crushing weight of parental failure.  For a moment you know you did something wrong.  Like that kid that you have been raising all those years somehow isn’t the kid they are actually talking about.  Like that kid that you have found to be absolutely incredible, sure a tad bit crazy at times, but still just a little bit of a miracle cannot possibly be the same kid that now is dissected on paper in front of you.  But just for a moment.

Because then that kid gives you a hug afterwards and asks you for snacks.  They ask to go run around and be a soccer girl so they can burn off all that energy. They ask you to come to their bedside so they can read you a book.   And you remember, when your heart starts beating again and your breathing calms, that they are a kid.  That as a kid they have many facets, and those labels that were uncovered, are just another facet.  That those labels while on paper seem terrifying are just that; on paper, and they don’t have to define the kid that stands in front of you asking for just one more book.  Asking for just one more hug.  Asking to sleep in your bed when the thunder comes.  Telling you that one day they are going to be something big, they just haven’t decided what that big is going to be.

We asked for answers and we got them.  We are grateful because now we know that our energetic little girl is perfectly fine, even though there are now labels that can help us help her.  Even though there are now things we can discuss as we support her learning.  Those labels will not define her, they were never meant to, even if my heart stopped beating for just a moment, and my eyes filled with tears.  Those labels are not all there is to her, nor will they ever be.  They are just another piece of the puzzle, of our amazing little girl, who will some day be an amazing young woman.  I am so proud to be her mother.  And that is a label that will always define her.

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 – 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.