assessment, assumptions, Be the change, being a teacher, grades, ideas

7 Simple Things that Make Feedback and Assessment About the Students Again

I think we all are always looking for ways to ease the assessment and feedback process in our classrooms, I know I am!  And I get it, giving feedback and doing great assessment with 120 students, or even just 20 students, can seem like an unwieldy beast at times.   So while I wrote about lessons I have learned while trying to limit grades, I thought I would also offer up the practical things that have made my day-to-day better.  Behold, a few things to maybe make your feedback and assessment process easier.

Background:  I now work in a district that is doing Standards Based Grades and moving away from letter grades.  We also believe that formative work is practice work and can therefore not count toward a summative score, and finally, that students have the right to re-take work.  At my middle school, we have a 2 week automatic re-take policy that we encourage students to use in case they need extra help with a concept.  

They have a notebook that stays in the room.  I have learned the hard way that when students leave with their notebooks,  they sometimes do not come back with them.  So this year, I instead created a readers notebook for them to keep in the classroom.  Yes, it was a lot of paper, but it means that my students always know where to write their thoughts, it means that all writing about reading only happens in the classroom, and it also means that I have access to them at all time.  This means that not only do we have a routine established for responding to reading, which frees up time, but also that student scan see their thoughts develop over time along with the feedback I give them.  Each class has a bin on my shelf for easy access every day and they grab them when they come in before they start their independent reading time.

They have a manila folder with their names on it in real life or electronically.  Each class is separated into 5 different groups and each group has a folder.  All work that students do that is not in their readers notebook go in these folder.  This year, the students will even file it themselves to save time.  Why collect the work?  Because my students write way more than I can assess, so this allows them a gathering place for all of their work.  When a unit is nearing its end, I ask them to pick the one piece that they want me to assess.  I also do this for anything we do electronically (but I respect the fact that some of my students want to hand write rather than type).  The discussion that happens based on what they select for me to look at are richer because I know they had to think about it and not just hand me the last thing they wrote.  This also signals to them that they are not working to get through things, but to learn, and that every piece of work they create has value eve if it does not get assessed

I have pre-printed labels with comments.  Not for everything, but when I give feedback in their readers notebooks there are certain things that crop up again and again.  That is what the pre-printed labels are for.  These change throughout the year and I do not reuse the same ones from unit to unit.  It is always catered to what we are working on  what I am noticing with the students, and are explained before they are put on their work.

The students self-assess before I assess.  At the end of unit, before anything is handed back by me, the students will then set goals and reflect on their work.  This involves them scoring themselves as far as where they are with their  proficiency in the chosen standard.  The score is based on a standard they have deconstructed to put into student-friendly language, and also based on a rubric they have built with me or we have discussed.  I want my students’ to have a chance to reflect before their confidence is skewed by my words.

Standards are assessed twice at least.  We have 7 standards to cover in English this year and all of them will be assessed for a summative score at least twice in separate quarters.  It is a chance for students to truly see that mastery may come at a different time for them than their peers and that that is ok.  It also allows us to establish a baseline score and then see how they grow.  When a standard is only assessed once, we assume that all students grow at the same rate, which we know is not true.   So instead, make it a point to show students that knowledge is something we gain at all times and that they are the masters of their growth.

They have a chance to disagree.  Once students have self-assessed, it is my turn.  I will either handwrite their assessment or speak to them about it.  But even then it is not final, it is a conversation, and students know that this is their chance to speak up.  Too often we gloss over the assessment piece by handing things back at the end of class and forget that this is one of the largest opportunities we have for meaningful conversations about their learning journey.  Don’t rush through it but take the time to discuss, reflect, and set new goals.

All work is kept in the classroom, pretty much.   I need to know what my students know.  Not what others know, not what they later figured out, but what they know right now.  So any kind of summative work is done in the classroom, not at home, so that I can see how they work on a product with time management and the need for them to think deeper.  This also fits into my policy of limited homework.  And it forced me to evaluate what I am asking them to do, since I can see how much time something takes.  ( I also do all of the work my students have to do, which has definitely been an eye-opening experience).

PS:  For the how-to for eliminating or limiting grades, please consider reading my book Passionate Learners.  There is a whole chapter dedicated to not just the why, but the actual how.

achievement, advice, assumptions, authentic learning, Be the change, being a student, being a teacher, reflection, Student-centered, students

Some Ideas for Re-Engaging Students


For the past few days student engagement has been at the forefront of my mind.  Well, who am I kidding, it is always on my mind.  As I gave a workshop on student engagement, I was asked for quick tips on how to re-engage in class.  While these aren’t just simple ideas, I hope they can help you work through engagement lulls in your own classroom.

You can have an honest conversation with students.  If the same class is off-task or the same group, please pull the whole class or group together to discuss.  Do not judge, simply ask what is going on and then ask them to help you solve it.  Often students will blame being bored so then ask them how they can make it more exciting.  Part of creating classrooms where students are engaged is that students are expected to take control of their learning journey meaning you should not be trying to solve everything.

You can change it up.  Too often we fall in love with a routine like the workshop model and then forget that too much predictability can be a bore.  While I am not advocating for a zany show, I think it is important to be tuned into whether the routine is working at its optimal level or not, then tweak and change as needed.

You can turn on some music.  I have found that using music that has the opposite tempo of my students’ mood is great for refocusing them.  So if they are slow and lethargic, I play upbeat music while they work, if they are very energetic, I bring out the mellow tunes.

You can practice mindfulness.  I started using some short breathing or yoga videos after assemblies with my students because there was no way they would settle in on their own.  Once my 7th graders get past their giggles, they also benefit from 3 minutes of focused breathing.

You can stop a train-wreck.  When a lesson was going poorly, I used to ride it out to the end hoping that by then they would get it.  Now I know to stop, ask why they are not understanding, and then fix.  I also have the luxury of completely revamping it throughout the day since I teach the same class five times in a row (one of the only positive things about that).

You can move location or just move.  Sometimes my students have simply been sitting too long.  Past elementary level we sometimes do not realize how much time students spend sitting since we only see our slice of the day.  A natural restlessness is therefore bound to occur.  So we move around in the classroom either by sharing with peers, doing short book recommendations, or showing off our work, or we pick up and move altogether.  We can head to the library, outside, or into our team area.

You can affirm and replace.  This is a technique I adapted from the awesome book Awakened by Angela Watson.  When my students seems bogged down as a class, we spend a few minutes speaking about what is going on and then I try to help them replace those thoughts by shifting the focus to something else. It is important for students to feel validated in their thinking but then also for them to move beyond it.

You can find a different way for them to show off their knowledge.  We use turn-and-talk quite a bit, but I also ask students to act answers out, draw things out without speaking and any other way that will get different areas of their brains to light up.  This is not something I do the entire class period, but it is vital that we have students show knowledge in a variety of ways, rather than just one way.

You can make it personal.  Yes, personalized learning is a major buzzword right now, but I am talking about the personal connections that students can have to the learning and how we can tap into that.  A lot of disengagement comes from students being bored with the content, so we do need to re-evaluate the content we are focusing on, as well as what the students are doing with it.  Students may want to engage with the content in different ways but we won’t know that without knowing our students.

You can use technology.  We integrate technology throughout the year but sometimes introducing a new tool like Kahoot does fire students up in a new way.  However, with any new ideas, moderation is key because this does not address the problem in the long-term but simply changes the pace at that moment.

In the end, student engagement is just about the quick fixes we can make, but about the instrumental changes we need to have in our teaching philosophy.  It is too easy to just blame the students, although they do carry responsibility in all of this, so we must reevaluate whether what we are doing in our classrooms is truly worth being engaged in.  The bottom line is; we have to believe in what we are doing and show that passion every single day, because if we don’t, we have no right asking students to.

PS:  This is part of a three part series on student engagement.  The first post discussed the truths my students shared with me on why they are disengaged, the second post discussed the three areas we must re-evaluate.

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!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge, but rumor has it that it is out on Kindle already!

assumptions, being me, books, Literacy, Reading, students

Can We Find A Better Term Than Struggling Readers?

image from icanread
image from icanread

To struggle means to contend with an adversary or opposing force.  To struggle means to advance with violent effort.  To struggle means to cope with an inability to perform well.  Despite its relationship with these definitions, the term “struggling reader” has become one of the favored way to label our learners as we discuss their needs.  A term that means to advance with violent effort is somehow now associated with developing as a reader, and I cringe every time I hear it.

It is not that I don’t see children fighting with words when they are learning to read.  I see the tremendous effort.  I see the hard work that goes into becoming a reader.  And I see my older students still fight, sometimes word for word, as they process the text.  They are in a struggle at times, yes.  But they are not struggling readers.  They are not battling an epic foe that will take them down somehow, because I can’t allow them to identify that way.  I can’t allow that definition to define them in my own eyes.  they are so much more than struggling readers.

When we allow a term like this to permeate our instruction, to permeate the conversations we have about students, we are viewing the children we teach only through one lens.  We allow this term to overtake any other information we have on the child and the effort that they put into learning.  When we label someone as struggling, we have, in essence, given them a box to place themselves in and for the rest of their lives they can choose to stay within that box knowing that no matter what they do, they will never stop struggling.  That label becomes part of their identity.  In our own minds as teachers, we also create a neat box to put them in as we plan our lessons and our own assumptions about what they can or cannot do taints their future path.

When we tell a child they are developing rather than struggling, then there is hope.  Then there is a chance for them to think that some day whatever they struggle with will not be as hard for them.  That they are developing their skills and working through the process.  And yes, that process may take years and years, but that there will be success, however small, and that this learning journey is one they will be on for the rest of their lives.  We don’t give them that chance for hope when we call them struggling readers.

In fact, why label them at all?  Why not just call all of our readers just that; readers?  Almost every child reads in some way.  I see it in my own children when they pick up a book and point to the pictures, too young to process that there are words on the page as well.  I see it in Thea, my 6 year-old, who is reading from memory and developing systems to figure out words.  I see it in my 7th graders that slowly work through a page of text, exhausted by the end of it.  They are readers.  And yet, their path toward becoming better readers may be one that has obstacles, may be one filled with struggles, but that does not mean that they are the ones struggling at all times.  That does not mean that one label will define who they are human beings, and nor should we let it.  But that change starts with the very language we use to speak about our students.  That change starts with us.

What do you think?

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!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.  

assumptions, being a teacher, being me, student choice, student voice

Today I Chose Not to Share – When Is It Our Right to Share the Work of Our Students?

I am spent.  Exhausted and drained as I type this.  My mind is swirling with thoughts that I cannot quite get a grasp on and yet, I feel compelled to share some words with the world.   My students started sharing their This I Believe speeches today, a project I was told would be powerful but that I had never done before.  I threw my faith into it, dedicated the last 3 weeks to write with them, borrowed ideas from amazing teachers like Brianna Crowley and held my breath just a little; would they really get what this assignment was about?  Would they believe in something bigger than them?

When I read their rough drafts I had to take a break.  Hurriedly written were stories of unexpected death, racism, bullying, and other anguishes that you don’t think any child, let alone a 7th grader should experience.  It took me three days to read through them, not because it was hard work, but because it was hard.  Hard to read their words and know that these are not just their stories, but their lives.  And so I knew I had to protect those stories, not share them with the world like we so often do.  That these stories belonged to us and no one else.  Which surprised me a little bit as I have always been an advocate for students sharing their stories to change the world.

Yet, more than a month ago, Rafranz Davis got me thinking about the things we share from our classrooms.  How we often share student work with their permission, but sometimes do not think of the larger consequences of sharing it.  How we view the internet as a vast land where no one will know the students whose work we magnify, and yet, this isn’t true.  We share and our students see us sharing.  We ask for permission from parents in blanket forms and they give it to us because they trust we will use their child’s work in a trustworthy way.  Yet, we sometimes share without thinking of how a child may be recognized in the work, or how something we don’t give importance can harm a family.  We simply don’t know what the unintended consequences may be when we let the world in.

Today, the stories intertwined with their beliefs came from shaky hands and downward glances.  Yes, this was a speech assignment but the hush at the end of each speech proved just how powerful silence could be.  These kids with their heartbreak.  These kids with their dreams.  Who had decided to give us the ultimate gift; their words.  Whose dedication to the community we have built this year told them it was safe for them to share.  Who believed in us and in this assignment and allowed others to see a side of them they don’t always show.  I have to protect that.

Sometimes the most amazing experiences we have with our students are those that no one but us know about.  Those that no one would be able to be a part of because they are not part of our community.  I asked my students to go as deep with this assignment as they were comfortable with, and their journey today showed me just how much trust we have built.  I wish I could share it.  I wish others could have been here to witness the courage of my students, to see the emotional reactions from their peers, but they couldn’t.  And they won’t.  And I am grateful because today happened and the rest of the world will just have to take my word on it.

So stop and think before you share your students work.  Think before you post.  Did the child mean for the whole world to see it or just for you?  Who did they write it for?  Would their parents or guardians want the whole world or even just the school to know?  If you are not sure, stop, don’t, there will be other things for the world to see.

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.

aha moment, assumptions, being me, MIEExpert15, Passion, student voice

Why Do We Hold Students to Higher Expectations Than Adults?

I told one class today that I was not there for their sheer entertainment.  I didn’t raise my voice, nor did I yell.  I simply stated it and asked them to step it up, to show engagement, to show me that what we were doing mattered to them because I could tell they were checked out and it made me unhappy.  And then we continued on with what we were doing.  Just another moment teaching 7th grade.

Yet, as it popped back into my mind, a seemingly insignificant moment from my day, I now see what a missed opportunity it was.  Not for another lecture, but instead to realize that these are kids that I am teaching.  Kids that we hold to insanely high expectations every single day.  Every single day, we expect full commitment in every subject matter.  We expect passion.  We expect interest.  We expect a willingness to try, to create, to experience   We expect them to pay attention, to shut everything out except for what’s in front of them.  We expect total compliance with all of our rules.  At.  All. Times.  No Excuse.

Yet as adults those same expectations don’t apply to us.  Go to any staff meeting or professional development opportunity and you will see adults not paying attention all of the time, not trying all of the time, not tuning in all of the time.  Not because we don’t want to.  Not because we don’t find it engaging, but because we can’t.  No one can.  Our brains need a break, and we know it. So we allow ourselves to fidget, to whisper, to slouch, to shift our attention for a moment, because we know we need it.

So why do we forget this fundamental truth when we create our learning environments?  Why do we forget that in the very place where we are trying to fire up as many brain cells as possible, that those same brain cells needs a moment to recover, to regroup, to make new connections?  That kids need a moment.  That these kids are trying.  That these kids do want to learn and most days are giving us the best they have. And yes, I get why we have to have high expectations, we are teaching them to be better humans, but at some point we also need to give them a break, because they are human beings first not just learners.

So tomorrow, I will remember that when my students start to slouch, when they start to whisper, when they start to drift, it’s not a reflection always on what we are doing, but more that they are in school and have been working for x amount of hours before they got to me.  It’s not always that they don’t care, it’s not always that they don’t want to learn, it’s not always that they are bored.  Sometimes they are just full and it is up to us to help them through.

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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  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.