Are You Doing Your Own Homework?

itec-passionate-learning-environments-google-slides-clipular

This summer as I saw my niece, who is now a sophomore, we inevitably spoke about her reading life.  She used to be a voracious reader, we could not get enough books in her hands.  Then she came to the whole class novel, which inspired this post, and since then her reading life has been limping at best.  This summer I asked, as usual, “What are you reading?”  She told me The Kite Runner and then scoffed.  Surprised I asked why the reaction.  She then told me that she had read the book and loved it but now had to reread it to annotate it.  “The whole book?”  I asked.  “The whole book.”When I asked her why she was not quite sure, perhaps they would use parts for discussion.

I wondered then, as I often do, when I come across homework assignments that appear nonsensical, whether her English teacher had done their own homework?  Whether they had taken the time to annotate the entire book themselves.  Whether they understand the labor that was involved with that task and how it would take away from the enjoyment of the book.  It seems to me that once again something that is meant to teach kids how to better thinkers, instead is implicit in the killing of their love of reading.

Several years ago I started to do my own homework.  From the stories we wrote, to the essays, to the speeches, and to the presentations.  I started to experience what I was putting on the shoulders of my students and I quickly realized that what I thought would just take a few minutes never did.  What I thought would be easy hardly ever was.  What I thought would be meaningful sometimes wasn’t.  So I stopped giving homework, except for reading.  I stopped going by the formula of grade times 10 minutes.  I stopped handing out packets and instead vowed to stop talking so much and instead spend the time in class on discussion and work time.  I expected pushback or concern, but have hardly gotten any in the last six years.  Most parents express relief instead.

So every year I make a deal with my students; if you work hard in our classroom, you should not have to do work outside of English.  If you give me your best then besides reading a good book you don’t have to give me anything more after you leave our classroom.  And for most it works.  Most of my students come ready to work, ready to learn, and they hand their things in.  Not everyone, just like when we have homework we have those kids that do not get it done, I also have kids that do not use their time wisely.  So I work individually with them, after all, the acts of a few should never determine the conditions of the many.

So if you are still giving homework, I ask you for this simple task; do it yourself.  Go through the motions as if you were a student and then reflect.  Was it easy?  How much time did it take?  What did you have to go through to reach completion?  In fact, if you teach in middle school or high school, do it all, truly experience what we put our students through on a day-to-day basis. I would be surprised if the process didn’t shape you in some way.

I still do my own assignments, although I have been slacking lately.  Whenever I do, I am reminded of just how much time homework swallows.  Of sometimes how little actual practice it gives, or even learning.  How homework is unfair because we have already been given hours of their time in school.  How those who really need the practice do not need it at home, but instead with us as support in our classrooms.  Do your homework, tell your students, and see how they react.  Then ask them how they feel about homework.  Let their thoughts shape you as a teacher, I promise you won’t regret it.

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.

 

 

 

When We Are the Problem

Sometimes we don't see ourselves fully until a child holds up a mirror @pernilleripp

I thought she just wasn’t a very strong reader.  Not yet anyway.  She seemed lost, perhaps a little quiet, and definitely not invested.  In my head I was already planning for all of the interventions that I probably should try to make sure that this year was not a lost one.

As the year passed, her disinterest grew.  I guess I wasn’t surprised., after all, when the tasks get harder some kids tend to disengage more.  It didn’t help that she constantly seemed to be mad at me, we clashed over little things; cell phones, eye rolls, not reading.  I wasn’t sure what to do.

Mid-year and all students fill out a survey.  One question I always ask is, “How can Mrs. Ripp teach you better?”  That night as I looked through all of their answers, hers hit me hardest….”I don’t think Mrs. Ripp really likes me so perhaps that could be something she changes.”

I sat there quiet, realizing all of the clues I had missed.  That sometimes happens when we can’t see the forest for all of the trees, or the individual child for all of the students.

So the very next day, I pulled her aside, and I thanked her for her honesty.  I apologized, told her that I did like her but that it probably had not seemed that way.  The smile she gave me at the end was a furtive one, but it was a start, a promise of a new beginning.  A promise I needed to make to be a better teacher for her.

That child is no longer behind in reading.  She swallows books like a meal.  She participates.  She is engaged,  always ready to learn, eager to share her ideas.  She pulls others with her as she becomes stronger, more powerful in her thoughts, and I stand sometimes on the sidelines realizing what a fool I was.  How much we can destroy without even knowing we have a part in the destruction.

I often speak of the things we do to make students hate reading, and yet, how often do we look at how we affect the kids?  How we affect their relationship to whatever we teach because we may not be the best fit.  We may be focused on them in a negative way and we may not even be aware of it.

Not every kid has the courage to tell their teachers how they feel. I am so grateful to my incredible 7th graders that they speak up, that they help me change.  Because I try, we all do, but sometimes we don’t see ourselves fully until a child holds up a mirror.

That girl has a special place in my heart, she may not even know it.  But every day I look at her and she reminds me that I need to be the best for all of them.  I need to see the good in all of them.  I need to see everything they can do.  And I need to see myself and how I play into the equation.  Sometimes we may not like what we see, but that should never stop us from looking.

 If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  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.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, 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.

Somewhere in My Education #AgeofLiteracy

Somewhere in my education, I was taught to let others speak before me  I was taught to wait my turn.  To eat my words if that turn never came.  I was taught to listen.  To raise my hand.  To share when asked.  To give praise to others but downplay my own achievements.  I was taught to be a good girl, someone who sat still, said “please” and “thank you” and always offered to help, even if it meant sacrificing my own creativity.

Somewhere in my education, I was taught to plan lessons for fictitious children that would make my classroom look like a mini UN with a smattering of acronyms.  That came to us fed.  That came to us with clean clothes and new supplies and unshattered dreams.  That came to us believing that school was still about them and what they had to say had value.  Who loved to read, to write, to discover, and all I had to do was preserve that notion of loving literacy.  That those who needed more than what I could offer would always get it in some way.

Somewhere in my education, I was taught who the leaders were and to follow their ideas, for they had paved the path and certainly knew more than I ever would.  In that same education, I was taught the research I needed to be better, and so I grew, but I was never taught to trust myself.  I was never taught to seek more than just what was presented to me.  I was never taught to see myself as a leader because good girls don’t lead, they follow.

But within this age of literacy where we fight to keep our students reading, where we have to know our research before others tell us what best practices are, we are all leaders.  We are all of importance.  Our ideas matter because our ideas change the way students feel about the very act of reading or writing.  What we do now will not end with us today, but instead will live on in the lives of the students we teach.  So we are leaders when it comes to the very ideas that shape the literacy identity our students have.  Our words carry weight.  Our words can harm or protect, so we must believe that our words have value.  

So I hope today, that you will look in the mirror and tell yourself that your words should be heard.  That your words deserve a larger audience than just you.  That your ideas are worth spreading, even if no one asked you to.  That when you change a student’s perception of what literacy means that whatever you just did then needs to be shared.  That you can be a leader, that you probably already are.

Somewhere in my education I found my voice.  I found my brave.  I found my driving force, which will always be the students.  Somewhere in my education I found out I could be a leader, even though no one told me so.  Perhaps it is time for others to find the same.

This post is a part of the Age of Literacy that ILA encourages all of us to participate in on APril April 14th.  How are you a literacy leader?  If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  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.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, 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.

Share You

Share you. because no one else is. @pernilleripp

I didn’t know I had a story to share until I started sharing it.  Until I started writing.  Until I started speaking up.  I didn’t know that the thoughts I had every day or the small ideas I came up with would matter outside of those 4 classroom walls.  Not until I shared.  Not until I had the courage to find my voice.  Not until I hit publish and those things I had thought by myself were no longer my private thoughts.  They were now public.  They were now searchable.  They were now open for judgment.

It still scares me to this day.

It still stops me at times.

There are conversations that I will never have on this blog.  Topics I will never broach.  And yet, those that once seemed terrifying sometimes lose their fear factor and find their way out into the open, just like that.  And sometimes those thoughts start conversations that I could never have dreamed of that led me down a new path.

Yet, this blog is not just about me.  It is about the kids that I get to teach and their stories that I get to share.  The little things they ask me to change so that we can be better educators. And so I write for them because when I found my voice I knew I had to help my students find theirs.

So this past weekend when I sat at the amazing WGEDD conference with other educators and they told me of what they do in their classrooms, I asked them if they had shared those ideas in some way.  Is there a place where others may find their genius?  The answer was no.  It often is, and I couldn’t help but wonder; what if?

What if we all found the courage to share more?

What if we started by sharing those small ideas that make our lives better?  Those little things that may not seem flashy, or innovative, or any other buzz worthy adjectives you can think of.  Those ideas that just work, that make our jobs easier, that make education better for our learners.

What if we found our courage because we realized that we are experts in our own right and what we have to share is worthwhile?  That we do not have to wait for someone to give us a title, to pay us money, or to even give us permission (although if you need that; here have mine).

What if we found our courage to share more so that our students would also share?

There are too many who are silent.  Who are afraid.  Who do not think that what they do can help others.  But they are wrong.  Together we are better, and we never know what little idea may make the biggest difference to someone else.

So share your thoughts.  Share your dreams.  Share you.  Because no one else is.

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  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.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, 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.

 

Know Your Place

http---www.pixteller.com-pdata-t-l-327155.jpg

When I was a second year teacher I was told to know my place.  To remember that although I might have a voice, I should be more careful.  That I should not ask so many questions, nor share quite so many ideas.  That some things would be better left unsaid because I had not earned the right to say them.  And not just told it either.  No, for extra emphasis it was written as part of my official evaluation that year.  In my permanent record lest I ever forget that I had a place to be in.  That the place I needed to be in was one of new teacher that followed most of the rules and certainly did not question so much.

I remember I went back to my classroom shell-shocked.  When I closed the door, I cried. Maybe this teaching thing was not for me after all.  Maybe asking questions was wrong.  It certainly seemed that way.

So I took the lesson to heart; I shut my door, metaphorically and literally.  I had to.  I could not face what some others saw me as; a know-it-all new teacher that thought she had such great ideas.  I skittered through the rest of the year watching every single word I spoke, always telling myself to just stay quiet, think it but not say it.  To hide the new.  To not share.  After all, I needed to stay in my place, whatever that place might be.

By the end of the year I wanted to quit.  It turns out that eating your own words leaves you hollow after awhile.  But I didn’t, instead I changed, and as they say; the rest is history.

So for the past 6 years I have carried those words with me.  I have known my place every single step of the way.  Never forgetting that I do have a place in this world, in education.  Never forgetting that, really, we all have a place if we only knew where.

So what I know now is that my place is with my students asking them what I can change. To realize that I am not a perfect teacher, nor do I have all of the answers, but that I will spend every ounce of energy I have to try to make it better for them.

That my place is among colleagues who push my thinking and always have what’s best for kids in mind.  That while we may not always agree, we always respect, we always have each other’s back even when we have to have tough conversations.

That my place is on this blog sharing how I screw up so that others may learn from it without having to experience it.

Among the teachers that feel alone, much like I did so many days as I tried to change myself.

Among the people who question and show up every day trying make themselves better because they know they have a long way to go.

Among those that still doubt but try any way.

Among those that dare to dream.

Among those that still cry when it hurts.

Among those that know that even a small change makes a difference.

Those that change.

Those that question.

Those that fight.

6 years ago I was told to know my place and so I went looking for it.    It was not pretty.  I was not perfect.  I was not always right.  I did not always know what I needed to know.  Yet within that quest, I found myself.  So I ask today; do you know your place?  Because if not, you should probably search for it some day.

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.

 

 

When Reading Becomes a To-Do

I have been in the longest reading slump of my adult life this winter.  Books have been picked up and tossed aside.  My iPad and I have entered a new relationship level as I have committed to beat all levels of Candy Crush Jelly Saga.  I spent an entire plane ride to California thinking about how I should read and then not actually doing any reading.  Both ways.  And I have abandoned book upon book, only to feverishly cram the shortest book down in a half an hour so that I could my students that I was still reading.

What caused this reading disenchantment?  Pressure.  Pressure to find the perfect book for the Global Read Aloud.  Pressure to find an engaging story to beat the last engaging story I finished.  Pressure to read more than I read the week before.  Pressure to meet my goal.  Pressure to like a book that everyone else liked.  And yes, even pressure to read some of the mountain of books that sits next to my bed waiting to spill out of the bookshelves at the slightest movement.  Good thing, earthquakes are rare in Wisconsin.

On Monday, I realized that I loathed reading.  That I would have no problem not really reading for the next year or so.  That reading and I could certainly break up and I could fake it for a while, after all I did not really have to read all those books, I could just read their reviews and pass them off to students.  Yet, in that stark realization I found my key to salvation; reading had become a chore rather than something I do for pleasure.  Reading had been added to my to-do list right beside folding the laundry and answering email.  So I knew it it was time to reclaim my reading life.  To not let this one completely self-indulgent pleasure fade out of my life.  And since last night, I have gratefully sunk into the pages of a self-selected perfect for me book and rekindled  my love slowly, page by page, minute by minute.  There is still hope for me, I am not a lost cause, because deep down, I love reading.

Yet, I wonder about our students who loathe reading.

Whose fragile relationship with reading is one marred by well-meaning intentions from their teachers that tried to change their mind.  Who will gladly accept whatever book you hand them because then at least you will stop bugging them.  Who stare at a book not as a welcome friend but as a chore, a to-do, rather than a to-love.  Who are told what to read because they do not know how to find a book by themselves.  Who are limited in their choice because they certainly cannot read that book, whatever that book may be.

I worry about the kids who do not know that reading can be something incredible and therefore go through life eagerly awaiting the day that no adult will tell them to read.  Who cannot wait to fake read their way through the next book they are forced to read.  What a skill they can perfect right under our noses.

What will ever snap them out of their loathing when the things we do to help only cause them to hate it more?  When we tell them to stick with a book rather than abandon it, when we tell them to always write about their reading or log their minutes and don’t forget the parent signature.  When we tell them to find books at their level even if their heart calls out for another.  What will break them out of their pattern of reading not for enjoyment, not for fun, not for exploration, or self-preservation, but instead for the-teacher-said-I-had-to.  Will they know that reading is meant to be an act of love?  Of dreaming?  Or will they simply count the days when reading disappears from their to-do list never to return.

I fell in love with reading because I was given the space to grow as one.  I was given the trust to pick my books and to abandon them as well.  To not produce after I read but instead be given more time to read.  I fell in love with reading not because a teacher told me I had to but because my heart longed for the pages of a book.  Can our students hear their hearts in our classrooms or does our teaching get in the way?  I think it is time we stopped and listened.

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.