What About the “P” In Your B.Y.O.D.?

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The final quarter of last year, our classroom was a limited B.Y.O.D. zone, meaning yes, bring your own device but check it at the door unless we had a purpose for it.  I instituted this because I felt we were getting distracted, myself included, we were having a hard time resisting the instant temptations that our smartphones seem to provide for us.  So we left them out of the room and the students were just fine with it.  I was too.  In fact, there  were times where I knew that our conversations, our reflections, our thinking traveled to deeper levels because we did not have a device nearby to distract.

Yet, I felt like I had taking the easy way out.  That declaring our room a device free zone was limiting the students.  So I have been thinking a lot about meaningful purpose lately, because much like I would not take a pencil away from my students unless I had to, I don’t think we should be taking devices either.  What we need instead is purpose, and purpose starts with us.  Especially in our literacy classroom where we have such an opportunity to use the devices to further a love of reading.

The beauty of students with devices is not just the instant access to information, but the ability to give them a voice even if we are not discussing.  To give them a further purpose than just the immediate one in the classroom.  To create a digital platform for them to share their voices with the world.  Therefore, this coming year, we will not be device-free but rather device-purposeful.  Together we will be deciding how to use, when to use, and what to do with our devices.  There will be clear student-set expectations and they will be a natural part of our classroom, not something to always leave at the door.

A few ideas so far for the purpose part are:  (For students with  no devices we will have access to Chromebooks to do some of these things. )
An ongoing TodaysMeet backchannel.  This idea, shared by Ira Socol at ISTE, means that I am creating a TodaysMeet room for each class and having that as a place for students to discuss, ask questions, and also to take the pulse of my classroom.  Because, of course, students will probably veer off the prompted conversation, but will they do it all of the time?  This will allow my shyer students a way to speak up, allow students to help each other, and also a way to leave me questions that perhaps they don’t feel they need the answer to right away.  This backchannel will also allow me a way to assess to see engagement, interest, and confusion.  All useful tools as I prepare and plan.

A Goodreads community.  I plan on using Goodreads with my students this year as a way to log their books, share recommendations, and explore new books.  It is the same tool I use for myself and so adding it will be a natural extension of what adult readers use.  For those who teach younger students, you could use Biblionasium to do this as well.

A Padlet Wonder wall.  I really want us to start being more curious and wondering more, so having a Padlet with things we wonder about will be another tool for the students to access.  I plan on sharing a daily wonder as well, and may use Wonderopolis if we have time.

A Padlet book share wall.  This idea shared by the inspiring Kristin Ziemke at ILA is having a place for students to post “Book shelfies” plus a recommendation of the book.  I loved Kristin’s idea especially of opening this up to the world and having students around the world sharing their books as well.

Those are just a few ideas, but I am sure more will come soon.  I cannot wait to discuss these ideas with my students and see what else they have to offer.  What ideas would you add?

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.

Why I Will Be Going Device Free in My BYOD School

I work in a fantastic district that believes wholeheartedly in the power of BYOD or Bring Your Own Device.  All year, we have harnessed the power of especially cell phones as we have taken pictures, recorded video, searched for facts, and used them in ways that made what we were already more meaningful, easier, and more efficient.  I believe in the power of great BYOD.  I believe in the power of teaching students how to use the devices they have in a meaningful way.  I believe that all schools should allow students to use the devices they already have so they can work with what they have access to, not what we decide they need.

And yet, my students are distracted.  They are often on their phones checking the time, checking their notifications, moving it, taking one from a friend, or wondering where they put it.  And so am I.  My own phone is an integral part of our classroom.  I send out pictures of students working throughout the day, I take pictures for parents to see, I tweet from my phone to showcase their learning, and I search quick facts we may need as we discuss.  But I also look for my phone, get distracted by its blinking, and check that quick notification and then wonder what that email, Vox, or text may say while I am supposed to be teaching.  Not all the time, but it happens, and it happens more and more.

As a teacher, I am worried about the constant distractions.  About the small bursts of attention we can give to things before we get that check itch.  The itch that tells us to check our phone quick, check the time, check whatever.  That rush we get whenever we see something new come across our screens.  As a parent, I worry even more as I see how much my students rely on their phones to communicate, about the intense scrutiny their social media presence gets, and how wrapped up their self-esteem is in their device and the messages they get through them.  What I am not worried about so much is how students seem to be less connected with those in front of them, I am that way, but with books, which just happens to be a more socially acceptable way of disconnecting.  But the constant urge in the back of our collective minds to just check really quick; that is getting in the way of learning for all of us.

So with 11 days left of school, I am declaring our room a device free zone.  At least on some days.  At least on the days where the constant distraction of merely having the device will stop us from going deeper with our learning.  At least on the days where everything we need to can be accomplished without the help of any devices.  It is not a declaration of war against devices.  It is not a breach of rights.  I will simply be asking my students to leave their cell phones in pockets, lockers, or a designated bin along with my own.  So that we can focus on what we have in front of us, not what someone might have said or the rest of the world.  But us, the community we have right here, and the actions we want to take a part in.

Yes, cell phones and devices have a rightful place in our classrooms, but just like any tool, they are not needed every single day, every single moment.  And sure, there will always be distractions, we all need brain drifts where we can activate our brains in a different manner, but the focus on just this one thing has to be spread out.  Has to be ,discussed, processed, and changed.  So it starts tomorrow, no better time to start than right away.   .

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 ourPassionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

I Challenge You to See Every Child, Not Just the Ones That Demand Your Attention

…I remember thinking that the teacher in front of me probably had no idea I was even in their class.  That my parents didn’t come to parent-teacher conferences because they heard the same thing over and over; Brandon is doing just fine.  I was the just-fine student, the average kid, and teachers never saw me…

It’s Friday evening at our house and for the past two hours, my husband and I have been in deep discussion about race, education, being a foreigner, and what it means to be a kid these days.  But it is these words that stick with me.  The words about being the average kid who never got much attention.  It is these words that have hung over me the past few days.

Because my husband is right, there are those kids that we do not see in our classrooms.  Where entire class periods or days can go by and we have had little interaction with them.  Where we struggle to really describe what they can do and how they should grow when we speak to their parents.  The kids that are doing just fine, they don’t cause problems, they are perfectly challenged within our learning, they do their work, they sometimes raise their hand.  And they fade away into the background of our classrooms as we focus on the outliers; the kids that demand our attention either for good or for bad.

Yet, those kids need us too.  The sheer fact that there are kids that slip through our days should make anyone shudder.  Every kid deserves to be seen, every kid deserves to be noticed.  Every kid deserves to feel that their teacher knows who they are and what they can do.  Every kid, even the just fine ones, deserves to be taught.

This year with 116 students, I have seen how easy it is to not be a part of a teacher’s day.  I have seen how easily a child can go through their day so quietly that no one really recalls whether they were there or not.  But I have also seen a school that tries to notice every child.  It is not easy and there are days where we fail, but at the very least we are aware.  In 7th grade we use a few tricks; I schedule small group instruction with all students, I use a clipboard with their names on it and track who I am speaking to, we send postcards to every single home to highlight the great things we see.  And yet, there are days where I don’t recall whether a child came to English or not except for their attendance.  And that makes me sad.

So my challenge to you is a simple one; notice all of your students.  Find a system, a cheat if you will, and make sure that every single kid leaves thinking that their teacher knew they were there.  That every single kid leaves every single class thinking that it mattered that they showed up.  Yes, I know it is hard.  Yes, I know that it will take more work than what we already do, but we have to.  No child should think they are invisible.  No child should feel like they don’t matter.  No child should sit 20 years after they graduate and share the story of being invisible like my husband did.  It starts with us, will you take the challenge with me?

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.

What Do We Do When What We Do Is Still Not Enough?

Let’s discuss student engagement for a moment.  Not the kind that we wish for.  Not the one we blog about when everything goes amazingly. Where students cannot wait to work, to learn, to explore.  No, not that kind.  Instead, let’s talk about when students dislike your subject.  When they put their heads down.  What we do when students hate what you are doing but still like you as a teacher.  When they groan no matter how much choice you give, how much you ask them to create with you.   Let’s talk about what you do when you seem to have tried every trick and there are still so many days left.  And you asked the students what to do as well and they didn’t know and looked at you like you were crazy because weren’t you supposed to be the expert after all?   Let’s talk about that type of student engagement.

Because that’s what I need to talk about.

Not because I am depressed.  Not because I am mad.  Not because I think it is someone’s fault, but more because this is a real problem and I cannot be the only one that is experiencing it.  The lack of student engagement, the lack of students who want to learn.  Not all but some.  How are we losing kids already by middle school or even earlier?

So what do we do when we have personalized the learning and it didn’t matter?

So what do we do when we have asked students to plan with us and it didn’t help?

So what do we do when they have choice but they don’t want it?

So what do we do when they have voice but they don’t even want to speak up?

What do we do when they know that we care, that we fail and get back up together, that this a community and we are on a learning journey together?

What do we do when we have tried everything we know to re-engage them and none of it has worked?  Do we simply blame ourselves, keep trying the same things, or shake our hands in exasperation.  What do we do when we are supposed to be the expert but we don’t feel like it anymore?

Please let me know your ideas.

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.

All Hail the Kids

I never thought I would be the parent of a child who couldn’t pay attention.  Who had a million ideas in her head except for the one she should be focusing on.  Who tries so hard to look you in the eye yet can only last for a few seconds because that thought she just had is just so amazing and she has to tell it you right now.  Even though you are talking.  Even though now is not the time to interrupt. I never thought my child would struggle with reading.  I never thought my child would struggle with sitting still.  I never thought she would be like this.  After all, I did what good parents do.

Yet, here she is, in a school that embraces her wholeheartedly and yet those amazing qualities she has; her imagination, her need for movement, her sense of righteousness and independence don’t seem to always fit in a school day’s work. She doesn’t really fit the system’s definition of what good girls do.  Because good girls pay attention when asked.  Good girls look you in the eye.  Good girls are friends with everybody.  Good girls know how to do school.  Good girls are teacher-pleasers, peacekeepers, and direction followers.  Not wild girls with crazy hair, incredible ideas, and a need to go go go. Thank goodness her teacher loves her.

My child doesn’t fit the mold of what a girl should be and yet she amazes me.  The stories she tells are far-fetched and fantastic.  The way she carries her emotions and feels others’ pain.  How angry she gets when she feels the world is against her.  How she declares everyone her best friend.  She doesn’t know what good girls are supposed to be like, and I hope she never does.  Because in her I have found an independence I never knew a child could have.  In her I have found the realization that not all girls will act like girls, but they will still be good.  And also not all boys will act like boys are supposed to but they will still be good boys.

All hail the girls that break the mold.  The boys who dare to defy.  The kids who make us worry and yet continue to captivate us when we wonder what they will do next.  There has to be room in our schools for them.  Not just the kids that are easy to teach.  Not just the kids that do as we ask.  All hail the kids who are themselves in a world that tries to define them.

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.

A Student Gives Up And I Get Even

His head was down, hoodie pulled over his eyes.  The frustration radiating out of him, the dry erase board lay there untouched, unwritten, and I thought to myself, “again?  Seriously…”  And the irritation in me kept growing.  This kid who obviously didn’t get what I was teaching had just given up, how dare he.  So I coaxed, I goaded, I even raised my voice a little trying to let him know that the choices he was making was not going to help him learn anything.  That I needed to be the center of his universe for him to understand it.  That we were not going down this road again today.

In my mind I knew I was going to have “the talk” with him once class was done.  I was going to tell him how unacceptable his behavior was, how disrespectful, how I would be emailing mom and speaking to his homeroom teacher.  I was going to give it to him good too because all I could see when I was teaching was that head down, hoodie up and that just wasn’t acceptable.

When class ended, he approached the table and I looked up and saw his look of sheer resignation, the, “Uh oh I am going to get it now and I don’t care because I just don’t get it”  attitude streaming from him.   So I said, “I noticed how tough math was for you today, how you had given up…” and I hesitated, noticed his downward glance.  “So I want  to thank you for continuing to try, for not thinking I was crazy in my explanations.  Please keep reaching out for help and I will try to get to you as soon as I can.  I know you can learn this, don’t forget that.”

Eyes up, shoulders back, and out he walked from my room.  Who knows what Monday will bring.