authentic learning, being a student, being a teacher, being me, Personalized Learning

Re-thinking Our Learning to Infuse More Joy and Choice

One of many things I love when on break is the chance to simply reconnect with amazing people, and when said amazing people are fellow educators, you can bet that it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to how to make the educational experience better for all kids.

After dinner, I was left thinking about how often we get so caught up in all that we need to do that so many of those grand ideas, the ideals we dreamt up this summer or whenever we have room to be inspired seem to be forgotten as the year starts and the pressure resumes. That while we implement many things, tweak many others, there are many notions and ideas that simply don’t happen. And who can blame us? There are so many days that I am just keeping my head afloat trying to stay a few steps ahead of the students in order to create and sustain relevant educational experiences.

Last night, the conversation turned to joy and play. How little there seems to be purposefully implemented throughout especially older students’ daily routines in school. How the minute they come to us in the upper years there are few opportunities for infusing joy and allowing more creative approaches to learning. And while both of those concepts are foundations of learning I hold dear, I also look back at my own curricular choices for the year and see how easily those two tenets of learning get siphoned away as I feel the need to do more, dig deeper, and make sure that the learning is “serious.” However, the siphoning itself relies on a untruth – joy and creative choice does not equate easier learning and is serious business, in fact, often purposefully creating moments for joy and creative choice requires a broader commitment and self-reliance within the learning happening. So with this in mind, I have done some restructuring of a few upcoming units and also rededicated efforts in other places, so what might that look like coming up in room 203?

The main questions I focused on in my reflection is: how might this spark joy and engagement and how do students have creative choice?

Re-committing to picture books. I usually read a lot of picture books aloud to my 7th graders and also use them in a variety of ways throughout our curriculum and yet, this year, I feel like with the busyness of it all, picture books have been less of a central tenet to us. It’s time to change that. In a little more than a week we kick off our Mock Caldecott unit for the year, a two week investigation into twelve incredible picture books for the year that will lead into a persuasive speech in which students will try to sway others to their choice of winner of the Caldecott. Reading picture books together is something that we already see as joyful and doing it in small groups will hopefully bolster that. Creative choice comes in how students want to persuade their peers – how will they deliver a message that is persuasive in nature and which tools will they use?

Bringing back our immersion project. Two years ago, I did an extended genius hour project in which students got to pick something to learn for themselves in order to teach others about it through a mini-lesson. This consisted of identifying an area to immerse themselves in and then spending time figuring out how to create an enticing lesson for others to learn from them. The topics were broad: How to do a card trick properly, what integration methods are necessary to integrate any function and how are they used, how do you play guitar and so on? These were all catered to student interests and were very broad on purpose. We then infused note-taking skills, how to find sources to teach them how to do the skills, and how to engage an audience in order to help them understand a concept, as well as created a speech rubric in order to practice public speaking. This year, I will finetune it with a few more scaffolds for those who are not sure what they would like to teach, as well as opportunities to tandem-research. This project sparked a lot of joy the first time we did it because students got to self-select their learning, immerse themselves into something they found relevant, as well as show off their knowledge in a fun way. There was a lot of natural choice embedded throughout.

Re-thinking our TED talk unit. Every year, the students get an opportunity to create a TED talk on a chosen topic and then give it to the class, and while the unit itself is solid, I want to spend more time helping students choose topics that they are invested in already. This year many of our students have expressed a deep interest and commitment to social justice work, as well as the overlooked history we have explored. This will, therefore, be my starting point in reminding students of what they already know and which questions they may have to push their thinking further. So often we push students into new learning without realizing how much work it is to research and then synthesize and process all of the information into a brilliant short speech. With the re-introduction of our immersion project, I want to implement more time for students to dive into their identity and what they are already interested in so that their TED talk work can be more focused on filling in knowledge gaps, rather than starting all over with research. This will also be an opportunity to jump into persuasion, how advertisement plays on our biases, and how we are influenced by social media. Choice plays into topic, as well as the angle they want to take in their talk.

Asking for more student input and taking the proper time for it. In the Enriched English class I teach, we have 6 vocabulary lessons consisting of 25 vocabulary words each that we need to somehow process, understand, and implement into our vocabulary. While I have gamified it in the past and also allowed for choice in how students show mastery, I have never really loved what we did. The words seem like a chore no matter how I spin it This year, I plan on showing students the vocabulary and then having them come up with opportunities for how we can learn it together. While there will undoubtedly be traditional methods for students to choose from such as rote memorization with a quiz, I also want to give them the opportunity to come up with other methods for learning that they will be able to choose from as we move into the vocabulary. While I already try to get as much student input as possible, I feel it often gets rushed, so this is a reminder for me to slow down and let it take the time it takes, and this goes for all classes, not just the Enriched English class.

Re-committing to free writing. We have been dabbling with free-writing throughout the year but due to book clubs in December, we changed our process. While students continued to write on their own, the community piece was lacking and so as we enter into January, I want to bring back the prompts and self-selected choice and the time to then share the creations we have. I also want to bring back the notion of playing with writing that so often gets lost as we write. Students so often fear that they have to write great pieces every single time which is an incredibly damaging notion for anyone trying to work through the emotions of writing and so I want to model my own not-so-great writing that tends to happen when we do a free-write. Students don’t need perfect role models, they need real ones.

Skyping with authors. Talking with actual authors is magical at any age and the advent of World Read Aloud Day reminded me to sign up to bring authors into our classrooms more. This is something I used to do a lot but once again seem to have gotten away from. I cannot wait for students to hear from Kevin Sylvester, Juana Martinez-Neal and Ishta Mercurio as they discuss their writing process.

Participating in Global School Play Day again. I love this initiative created by Scott and Tim Bedley with the idea to infuse more play into schools again. I have done this day before with 7th graders and while I am not able to do it the day it is scheduled for this year, I will do it instead on February 7th where students will get all of English to simply play with each other. You should sign up as well.

While this is not an exhaustive list, I am glad to be bringing this lens back to our work together this year to hopefully create experiences where it is not just students learning from me, but more from each other. Where there is more cooperative problem solving, more relevance, and more choice. Where maybe, just maybe, students can think of English class as a class that is meaningful to them beyond developing a love of reading and writing and helping them find themselves. Who knows, but I will keep trying.

I posted the following question on Twitter last night and the responses are definitely worth checking out – so many great ideas for infusing more play and creativity into our work.

And now I ask you as well; how will you restructure or continue to reinforce the notion of play and creative choice in your class these upcoming months?

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students

assessment, authentic learning, being a teacher, collaboration, No grades, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, student voice

Ready to Re-Ignite Your Passion? Join the Passionate Learners Book Club

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With the bustle of December and all of the year-end blog posts starting to be released, the end of the year is fast approaching.  But with that end also comes an inevitable beginning; a January that calls for re-invention, renewed commitment, and also the energy to try new things.  I do so adore January for all of its passion and courage.

It is therefore that I am pretty excited to share that the first ever official book club for Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students will kick off on January 10th.

Join this private Facebook group for a casual and fun exploration of the book, find a community of your own that is trying some of the ideas, or have already implemented them into their classrooms.  There will be reflective questions, helpful resources, as well as ideas shared in the hopes to make this January the best one yet.

In the book club we will discuss how to

  • Build a working relationship with your students based on mutual trust, respect, and appreciation.
  • Be attentive to your students’ needs and share ownership of the classroom with them.
  • Break out of the vicious cycle of punishment and reward to control student behaviour.
  • Use innovative and creative lesson plans to get your students to become more engaged and intellectually-invested learners, while still meeting your state standards.
  • Limit homework and abandon traditional grading so that your students can make the most of their learning experiences without unnecessary stress.

So if you are looking for a way to re-ignite your passion, to meet new amazing educators, and find great ideas for how to engage and empower your students, join this book club.  There is no commitment once you join, pop in when you can and share when you want.

When:  January 10th – February 7th

Where:  Online via a private, closed Facebook group

Cost:  Free

Click here to join the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  You will receive a notification from Facebook once you have been added to the group and you can then start posting.  Please contact me with any questions.  You can get your print or e-book copy of Passionate Learners here.

authentic learning, global, projects, students

Want to Be Our Audience?

My fantastic 7th graders are working on short choral poetry performances and would love a real-live audience.  Well not live, but actual kids to watch their short videos and then give them feedback on their performance.  We are looking for 4th grade and lower to assess us, videos will be shared via Google Drive and feedback will be given via a short Google Form.  This is open to anywhere in the world.  Videos will be posted next week and then we would love feedback by the following Monday, November 9th.

If you are interested, please fill in the form below and you will receive a link with the videos when they are available, you can do as many as you would like.

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

Some Ideas for Re-Engaging Students

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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!

assessment, attention, authentic learning, being a teacher, Literacy, MIEExpert15, student choice, student voice, technology

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.

aha moment, authentic learning, being a teacher, being me, life choices, Reading, student choice

When Your Child Hates Reading- Some Advice From Those of Us Who Try

Note with content: When your child hates reading

One of the top questions I work through with friends, family, parents of my students, and even my own children is what to do when a child doesn’t want to read.  Or  I am asked for ideas for how to increase a child’s desire to read.  This is not a question I take lightly, nor one that I have a magical solution to.  I wish.  But I do have a few ideas that may help a reluctant reader get more interested in reading taken from my own experience as a teacher and parent.

First of all; be a reader yourself.  Nothing speaks louder to a child than having reading role models.  Read as much as you can, discuss your reading, share your reading, and read widely.  Switch it up to showcase that reading is not just one thing to you, but can consists of many types of books and genres.  I always have a book in my purse, backpack, and in my house.  I read when I am waiting for people, when we sit a traffic lights, whenever we have an errand to run and I stay back in the car.  Be a reader yourself so that the children in your life can see the value of it, not just hear about it.  Also pass books on in front of your children, I often hand books to others and discuss why they might love it.  My children and students have started doing the same.

Secondly, keep reading aloud.  We read aloud to all four of our children every single night.  They pick the books and we gladly comply.  It is a perfect way to end the day and allows a moment to create a shared experience.  This goes for older children as well.  Several of my students have reported sharing a book with a parent and I can tell you; it makes a huge difference to them.  I also cherish the read aloud time we have in class, much too little of it unfortunately, but again it allows us to have a shared experience that will shape future conversations about books.  (One tip:  Read the first book in a series aloud to ensure students get hooked and have more books to read).  Create a shared read aloud experience with the world by joining The Global Read Aloud or other shared read aloud projects.  This helps students connect with the world and also gets them excited about incredible books.

Third, take them to the book store.  Yes, I love a great library but there seems to be a stigma to some kids about “those old books” that they can find in the library versus the new and shiny ones they can see in a book store.  My trick, so that I don’t go bankrupt is to take my own children to the book store first , let them select all of the amazing books they cannot wait to read, write them all down, and then head straight to the library to get them from there.  Once in a while they get to select a book to purchase from the book store and we make a big deal out of it.

Fourth, keep handing them books.  Be specific with why you are handing it to them.  “I read this book and think you might like it because…” and keep doing it every chance you have.  Don’t be offended when they don’t want to read it.  I tell my students all of the time that even if I think a book is great they may hate it, which always turns into a great discussion of taste.  Children need chances to develop their own taste and in order to do that they need to be presented with a lot of books to choose from.  (This is also why I have a large classroom library and many books at my house).  And don’t just hand them the Classics, or whatever you think they should read, if they express interest in something hand that to them.  My mother never limited what I read even if she felt something was too hard or outside of my interest, she just let me read.  When we micromanage we stop children from discovering themselves as readers.

Fifth, don’t let your own ideas of what great reading looks like ruin great readings for others.  I think we are all super guilty of thinking we know what great reading looks like.  Whether it is reading a certain book or genre, whether it is reading in a certain type of environment or noise level, whatever we prefer is what we assume must be best for all.  Just don’t.  I have had students get deep into the reading zone while listening to soft music.  I have had students only want to read one certain genre and nothing else no matter what I presented them with.  I have had students swear that the best reading they can do is when they walk around the room.  Yes, really!  And guess what?  They were right.  Their best reading is their best reading, not the silent lying on the couch method I prefer. But you should have the conversation with them, ask them what it looks like and then have them cultivate that.  Discuss your own reading preference so they can find their style as well.

Sixth, don’t do rewards.  Ever.  Reading is its own reward.  The minute we start to tie reading with a tangible reward, we remove the intrinsic pleasure we hope our readers discover.  Although reading for a reward can offer a short-term solution to get a child reading, it will set a long-term precedent of what reading is for.  It is not worth it.  It will almost never lead to some sort of revelation of how pleasurable reading is and instead you have created a new bad habit; the “give-me” monster whose outstretched hand will only read when there is a tangible prize at the end.  So don’t start, even if it seem  like it might help a little, the damage it will do will not be worth it in the end.

Seven, give it a break.  I can be a high-strung reading parent, particularly because reading has not come super easy for one of my own children.  When we saw her struggle, my immediate reaction was to want her to read for longer periods of time in order to practice more.  My husband intervened, thankfully, and reminded me that when she does read it is hard, concentrated work and so we want to keep it short and sweet.  Make it a pleasurable experience, not a drill sergeant moment.  So if your child is really fighting you on reading, or struggling, don’t force them to read for a long period of time every day, keep it short, pleasant, and predictable.   Let them browse books, read a bit and support them throughout. They will get there, it may just take time and that one great book, but making something already difficult or hated into a long battle is not going to change their mind or help them love reading.

Eight, talk about reading but in a non-threatening way.  My daughter and I invent stories a lot on our drive home, sometimes based off of read alouds we have done.  My students and I discuss movies all of the time, particularly if they are based on a book and we need to compare it.  I show book trailers, I do impromptu picture book read alouds, and I get very, very excited about new books that I am reading.  Books are a constant undercurrent of my life and I do my best to bring it to the attention of the children I am surrounded by, but in a non-obvious way.  So go to author talks and signings, do read alouds, go to movies based on books, leave books out, listen to audio books on road trips, be excited about being a reader and don’t give up.  You never know at what moment a child will start to love reading.

Nine, realize it’s ok if they don’t love reading.  I can’t believe I just write that but it is true.  Yes, we should make opportunities for all children to love reading but we also need to be ok with a child if they don’t.  My mother raised my 4 siblings and I to love reading (I really have 11 siblings but these were the ones at my mom’s house) and 4 out of the 5 kids love it more than anything.  My one brother… not so much.  He is a great reader and once in a while will fall in love with a book series, but most of the time he is busy doing other things.  His life is not less full or less pleasurable than mine.  So we need to be ok with having a child that doesn’t love reading as much as we do…That doesn’t mean we stop, but it means we stop judging them on it.

What did I miss?  What ideas do you have to share?  I know many of us struggle with this.

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.