Some Ideas for Better Student Revisions

I have never been good at helping students understand how to revise better.  It seems like every idea I have had has only made them more dependent on other people, rather than develop their own skills.  Sometimes I feel like I have tried it all; from checklists, to peers, to specific directions from me. From strengths to goals to next steps, for some reason the art of revising and revising well has not truly blossomed in our classroom.  Until now.  Because if the last two days are any indication, we are finally on to something.

This unit came from my own realization as a writer.  When I write, I edit as I go, but I also step away and give it time.  I don’t jump right back in even when my editor emails me back.  I marinate, I process, and I try to make it better when I finally do jump back in.  I take my time, I make it a priority and I don’t try to squeeze it in.  This is what I want my students to realize; that revising and editing creates more beautiful work.  That it is not just something a teacher makes you do.  That it is not just some thing on a check list.

So what have we done so differently these past few days?  Here are few things:

We stepped away from our written work for a while.  And by a while I mean over a month.  The two pieces my students have been revising were handed in before winter break. One is a short story, another is either an opinion piece or a summary.  Some of my students did very well, others did not do at all.  Before break they were asked to hand in their best draft (thank you Kelly Gallagher for that term) and then I told them to not do anything with them until I asked.  I told them that rather than they trying to figure out what to work on we would work on our revisions in class.

Why?  Because when we do revision during our writing process we cannot look at our own work with fresh eyes.  We get tired of it.  We don’t see our own mistakes.  We go through the process because the teacher told us to, not because we see anything wrong with what we have done.

We have one next step.  Inspired through a conversation with my friend Lauren, she told me how she tells her students what their specific next step is when she reads their writing.  I loved this idea; one next step, not ten things you still need to work on. So after my students had self-reflected on their work, I wrote what I saw as their strengths in their writing and then the very next thing they should work on next.

Why? This means that as a I handed my feedback to them, they knew where to start.  Instead of “just” trying to read the rubric, which most of them admit that they don’t read or understand, they knew how to get started.  Their process then developed from that next step.

We read our work aloud.  And not to get through it quickly but as if we are narrating our very own audiobooks.  My students do not believe me when I tell them that I read every thing I write aloud, but it’s true (I am reading this aloud as I type right now), however, this approach has helped me catch many mistakes.

Why?  I have been sharing with my students how when they read things aloud their ears often catch things that their eyes did not.  Once I got students to actually believe me, some moved into quiet spots and started to read.  They were often amazed at how many things they caught.

We edit on paper.  I asked every child to print their short story and hand it in.  Not because I needed it, but because they did.  On Wednesday, I handed it back to them as I asked them to read it aloud and then asked them to edit directly on it.  Not because we did not have computers in the room, but because they needed to see the mark ups that happen when we edit by hand.  As they read their story aloud, their papers filled in.  I did not tell them how to mark up their paper; they need to figure out their own symbols, but I told them I expected to see change.  And change I saw.

Why?  Because when they only edit on a computer they mistakenly believe that they either have little to change because there are no squiggly red lines, or they think they have already changed a lot.  When they sit with a paper version of their story they can see what they are changing, they can feel their story better, and they then get to type their changes into typed story.  This also offers them another hidden chance of editing their work.


A student let me share their marked up paper after they were done editing it.

Everybody edits and revises.  Often times we only tell our kids who may not have mastered something to edit/revise their stories deeper.  We assume that the kids who show us strong written work already have edited/revised it a lot, but that is not always the case.  In fact, I have seen how little editing/revising some of my more developed writers do.

Why?  For this every child was expected to change their work, even the ones who clearly had exceeded expectations, because they need to realize that there is no such thing as perfect work.  We can always make something better, we can always polish something more.  And sure enough, some of my more developed writers made their stories even better.

We took our time.  This was a unit in itself, not just one day’s worth of activity.  This was an event, something important that I hope they carry with them.  I explained how when I taught younger grades we used checklists and fabricated peer edits to show them what to focus on but that now they were ready for the next step; the idea editing rather than a checklist.  This means that I offer them ideas of what they can work on and sometimes even where but that they must critically evaluate their own work to see what it needs.

Why?  This is hard work and deserves to be treated as such.  This is why it stood on its own and not just the two final days of our writing project unit.

I didn’t partner them.  While I love a great writing trio (trio so that one child doesn’t do all of the work), I purposefully did not put them with a  peer.  I instead wanted them to shape their own process by choosing who they could work with.  And they did, often trading computers and leaving each other comments.  Were the pairings always the most powerful?  No, but they were honest.

Why?  The kids knew that they could help each other and were chosen to be a help and so they did their best to offer critical feedback.  I also want them to make connections without me so that they can shape their own writing process.  It was exciting to see how much students supported each other when I got out-of-the-way.

Once again, I am in awe of the small tweaks that we can implement to create a better writing process.  I have seen incredible changes in the work that my students have revised.  I have seen care taken to a new degree.  I have seen a re-investment, rather than just a shrug off.  By giving them the time and elevating this process to something that was treated with importance, my students now see a larger value in editing.  Now the very next step is to help them hang on to that as they continue to shape their writing identities.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  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.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


5 Tenets of Choice

I have long believed in putting the “person” back in personalized learning.  In creating engaging classroom experiences with our students as we try to help them discover how they learn best and what they still need to grow in.  However working in the public school system in a state that has mandates and tests to take, means that we sometimes cannot just do whatever we want as we explore 7th grade English.  Means that I am not always able to tell my students to create whatever they want and make it work within our standards.  Means that sometimes we all do the same lesson or produce a similar outcome.  Even if I work in a district that is focused on doing what is best for each child and puts immense trust in its teachers.  Even if at my core I believe that children need to feel like they have control in their learning experience so that they will invest themselves.  And I think this is the reality for many teachers that are trying to do their best in engaging all of their learners.  So how do we truly create experiences where students feel empowered and engaged and have choice, even when it is not free rein at all times?

One of the foundations in our classroom is the five tenets of choice.  These ideas by themselves are the foundation for many successful educational experiences, these ideas have been around for a long time, and these ideas, when coupled together, mean that my students always have choice in something, even if it is not apparent at a quick glance.  While the optimal experience would be for them to have all of these choices at any time, sometimes this is not possible within the system I work.  So, instead, I strive for at least two of these, but preferably more, at any given time.

This tiny excerpt from my forthcoming book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Engaging and Reaching Every Child, details the five tenets of choice, hopefully they will be of help to others as well.

1st Tenet

Choice in engagement, meaning how they access the learning; do they need small group instruction, one-on-one conferring, are they independent or want to work with a peer?  I have students do a pre-assessment of how they would like to work through a project and then plan my classes according to their needs.  To see a sample pre-assessment survey, please see the appendix.   

2nd Tenet

Choice in product, meaning what would they like to create to show their understanding and exploration of a concept.  Sometimes this means full control of the product depending on the standards we are working with, while other times it only means minimal choice such as the format of their written work.   

3rd Tenet

Choice in setting, meaning how and where would they like to learn.  As discussed previously, students need to be afforded opportunities to manipulate the learning community environment to suit their needs.  This is part of their learning journey and so students can choose where they sit, how they sit, whether they work in the learning community or in other designated areas, as well as how they use the environment they are working in.   

4th Tenet

Choice in timeline, meaning when they are ready to be assessed.  While this one is harder to do at times, I do try to provide flexible timelines for students, as well as stay in tuned with what else is happening in other classes.  This may mean that for a longer project I will tell students what the final day is for them to turn something in but that they can turn it in any time they are ready before then.   

5th Tenet

Choice in assessment, meaning how and what I assess as far as their mastery of concepts.  Inspired by Kelly Gallagher I will often ask students to turn in the piece that they think showcase their depth of understanding the best and then assess and confer with them regarding this one piece of work.  This allows students more flexibility and control over how they are assessed, as well as gives them the opportunity to reflect on what mastery really means.  This tenet also means that once students have shown mastery for a quarter, they do not have to prove it to me again but can instead move on to more challenging work.  This is a way for me to ensure that students are provided with learning that matches their needs better and also allows them for more self-directed learning.  

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  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.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Teaching Tough Topics – An Exploration into Suicide Prevention

For the past two weeks my students have visibly struggled in class.  They have questioned.  They have reflected.  They have stopped and spoken to each other as they have made their way through a topic that I wasn’t sure we were ready to do.  A topic I felt uncomfortable even discussing, but I knew we should.  For the past two weeks my students have to come class ready to learn, eager to get started, and worked until the very last moment, asking if we were continuing the next day.  They have been fully invested, fully aware, but also just a little bit timid.

One month ago I saw an article get released by NPR, it spoke of how the suicide rate among middle schoolers is at the highest peak ever.  It stopped me in my tracks, after all, this is my age group, these are my kids.  And while I am lucky to have never taught a child who has committed suicide, I know I have taught kids who have tried, kids who have contemplated, kids who still carry the weight of suicidal thoughts and are not sure what to think of themselves.  The article sat in my inbox staring me in my face, daring me to do something.  And yet…would my students be able to handle a topic like this?

On Monday the 5th, I cleared my voice and told my students that for the next few weeks we were going to pursue knowledge, that we were going to discuss, explore, and question.  That we were going to go as personal as we wanted to.  That the topic was dark but necessary. Were they ready?  Yes, they told me.  And so we began; focusing a unit on the question, “How do we prevent suicide in middle schoolers?”  And I am so glad we did.

For the past two weeks we have been surrounded by hard conversations.  Surrounded by outrage, by questions, and even by sadness.  They have asked things out loud that they might not have had the courage to ask out loud before.  They have shared their truths and also shared (some) of their fears.  They have cried with me when we heard a glimpse of a parent’s 911 call pleading for help for their own child.  They have been outraged at the intense bullying some children have suffered from.  They have discussed responsibility and guilt.  They have struggled with the central question and reflected upon their own actions and how they affect other people, even when they don’t mean to.

I have sat in awe as they have taken this topic and explored it in a way I could not have planned for.  As one child told me, “Mrs. Ripp, I know this sounds strange but I find this to be fascinating and yet also so sad.”

I wasn’t sure my students were ready.

I wasn’t sure their parents would understand.

I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.  If it would matter.  If it would be worth our time.

I wasn’t even sure that I could handle this topic in a meaningful way.

But we did, and it was, and the kids now know what the warning signs are.  Now know to ask each other if they are worried.  Now know that suicide tends to not be impulsive, that there are hints dropped.  Now know that even “normal” looking kids can have suicidal thoughts.  Now know what the real effects of bullying can be. Now know to have conversations with someone they trust if they feel like this is a solution for them.

Too often we shy away from the hard topics because we are not sure it is the right time.  That we are the right person to teach it.  That our kids can handle it.  That our community will support us.  Yet time after time, these kids amaze me.  Time after time, they prove that they are more ready than we could imagine.  That they don’t want to invest their time in “boring” topics but want to deal with the real side of the world.  They want to know what really happens, how people are really affected, and they want to know what they can do to make it better.  Our job is to support them.  To help them understand. To help them navigate this world that they live in so they can have better lives.  Our job is to educate and not be afraid, to plant seeds that may in some way help them as they grow.

For the past two weeks I have had more hard conversations behind closed doors with more kids than I ever could have imagined.  I have cried with my students.  I have thanked more kids for their bravery.  Told them that no matter how they feel they matter to me, to us.  For the past two weeks I have marveled as the facade of some my kids have crumbled and they have risen from their pasts like a phoenix from the fire.  All because an article haunted me.  All because I thought it might just matter to them, to me, to us.  And it did.  And so we did.  And we grew from it; closer, stronger, better.  Isn’t that what teaching is about?

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    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.

Planting a Seed – Our Project on the Refugee Crisis

I grew up in a home that had a newspaper on our table every morning.  Laid out for us kids to see, we grabbed the comics first, then the Danish news.  I was a teen when I started reading the international news.  Being aware of the world was something that was expected of us, after all, Denmark is a small nation.  We read the paper, we listened to the radio, we watched the news.  Not always fully attuned but always aware of at least some of the bigger things happening in the world beyond our own.

Being a globally aware and invested teacher is something I have tried to live and breathe for many years now.  After all, the Global Read Aloud was created with the idea of making the world not only smaller, but also more interconnected to create more empathy and kindness.  My students have therefore in varying degrees always brought the world in, been a part of projects that involved others and tried to know more about the outside world than when they came in.  Working on a team with an incredible geography teacher has only made my job easier.

So this year as my English standards starred me in the face a small idea started to form, a seed began to grow; what if instead of “just” doing summaries, what if instead of “just” having an opinion, I was able to structure an inquiry project into something that I have been following myself; the Refugee Crisis?  What if we created a two-week experience where the students got to learn at their own pace with the end goal of having an opinion?  With that, I started to plan…

We would have two weeks roughly of work time, with time dedicated every single day after we do our 10 minutes of independent reading.  Students could choose how they wanted to work and engage with the materials.  I used a sheet that simply asked kids how they would like to engage with the learning and then crafted lessons based on this.  I have used this approach in the past and it has worked pretty well, this time I should have been more diligent with using it though after the kids filled it out.  However, that being said, kids were also good at reaching out and asking questions, as well as use each other for help.  I did promise the students that I would only do one whole class lesson; how to write an opinion piece using the MEL-Con format, and I kept my word.  My students have asked me to do less whole class teaching and I am adhering to that as I can help them better in small groups anyway.


Our anchor chart for the MEL-Con format

We first needed a question, one that would give us a focal point but would not be shaped or tainted by my opinion, after all, I did want the students to come to their own conclusion.  So our guiding question became ; What should America’s role be in the refugee crisis?  This was what the students would work toward and discuss.


We created a running word wall as student questions came up.

I knew I needed texts to start with; thank you Newsela for your text-sets, you saved me so much time.  So I pulled nine different texts that highlighted different aspects of the crisis, printed them at three different reading levels and told the students to choose three of them to read at least.  I also made all of the texts available as a folder in case they lost their copies.


Another teaching tool for students to reference

I also wanted students to watch videos; I created a padlet with different short videos that would be appropriate for 7th graders and also less than 20 minutes.  Students were asked to watch at least one, but could do more if they wanted to.

I then crossed my fingers and asked on Twitter; would anyone Skype with my students about being a refugee?  I am so grateful for the response.  Three of my classes were so incredibly lucky to Skype with the incredible Rusul Alrubail,she graciously and courageously shared her story of how she became an Iraqi refugee at a young age.  To say my students were moved by her story would be an understatement.  Yet, the kindness of strangers continued.  Another teacher, Emily Green, from Michigan asked her students, some of them refugees, if they would create a small video for my students.  Last night, I received three different videos from her courageous kids sharing their stories.  Today as I played them for my students, you could have heard a pin drop.


So for the past two weeks, my students have annotated the texts (using their own systems rather than ones created by me) for anything that stood out, they have written a summary on one article, and they have crafted an opinion on the guiding question, as well as craft an opinion piece based on all of their newfound knowledge.


In some classes we started in small group before we went to whole class discussion.

Today, as we came together as a group to discuss what we have learned and what our opinion is, I sat back behind the kids and watched them practice their discussion skills.  As kids navigated the ins and outs of adult unmoderated conversation, I couldn’t help but feel just the tiniest bit proud.  Yes, they were discussing, yes they were listening to each other, but that was not the only thing I observed.  I observed kids who all of a sudden understood just how vast of a nation we live in.  Kids who now know where Iraq and Syria are.  Who know tales of children passing through Europe unattended as they try to reach freedom.  Of people who never wanted to leave their homes but were forced too.  Of what we can possibly do as a nation but how many hurdles there may be to making any decisions.  I also saw kids who started to understand that for some reason they equate refugee with terrorists.  Who thought 10,000 refugees is a large number but have since discovered it might not be.  Who know that we need to help but are not sure just how to do that.


Discussing  as a whole class

I didn’t set out to shape the opinion of my students, that is not my job as their teacher.  Instead I wanted to create an opportunity for them to form an opinion on fact rather than hearsay, on research rather than rapid talk.  I know that some believe America should do more and others think we do too much already.  I know that for some they don’t really care either way.  But I also know that by giving them more control over their learning, by giving them tools to start with, by creating a guiding questions and then by bringing others in via Skype and YouTube that we have created an experience that matters.  That together we now have this piece of the world that ties us together and that will continue to crop up through the year.

Yesterday, a child asked me what the deal was with Mosul and weren’t they bombing over there?  A child that two weeks before was not even sure that Iraq was a country or what refugee meant.  That child had heard on the news that fighting was starting up again and now wanted to know more.  As teachers of literacy we have incredible opportunities to bring the world in, to help our children find their opinions, and to create experiences that connect us with other human beings.  I wrote a book on how to do just this,  not for the sake of the book, but for the sake of making this world a better place.

I ended our discussion time today with the following words; “My job is not to make you think a certain way, my job is to make you think.  So whatever your opinion may be, all I ask of you is to have one based on fact, rather than what others believe.  Keep your ears open and ask a lot of questions.  That is the least you can do as the future of this country.”

As teachers, we can bring the world in when it makes sense.  To make it matter more than just getting through the year or working off our checklist.  The year has just started and yet we have so much more to discover about the world.  I cannot wait where our learning takes us next.

PS:  If you would like to see my folder of resources, go here, some of it is loose.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out January, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    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.

The Least We Can Do

What follows is my ITEC Ignite…

On December 19th, 2013, our youngest daughter, Augustine, was born almost 10 weeks early.  She came so fast that there was no doctor in the room, just the nurse.  She came so fast that I now know what the big red emergency button in a hospital room does.  She came so fast that I did not see her.  I did not hold her.  She did not cry.  For the first minute of her life, I did not know if she was alive.  It wasn’t until my husband, Brandon, told me she was breathing that I think I took a breath.  That life started up again because for that longest minute of my life, with no wailing to calm me down, I had no idea if I was still the mother of three or the mother of four.

They whisked her away from me into their machines, into the equipment that would help her tiny body breathe, stay warm, and her heart keep beating.  See when babies are born that early they need help with everything.  And we can prepare all we want but it is not until they actually arrive and we see how much they need us that we realize that all of a sudden we have started a new journey, one that will take us down a perilous path where we might not be able to see our destination for a long time.

In the week leading up to her much too soon arrival, I was in the hospital waiting.  Willing my body to slow down.    We were not ready.  She was not ready.  One night a doctor from the NICU visited me to help me prepare for what would happen in case she came.  His words has stuck with me all of this time.

He said, “When she comes we will be ready.  We will have the machines that will help her breathe.  We will have the machines that will keep her warm.  We will monitor her heart and we will be by your side.  We will do everything in our power to keep her alive, to keep her safe, to help her no matter what.  While we can help her with her needs, we will not know about her brain.  We will not know what long term effects being born so early will have on her learning.  We will not know if her brain will be damaged,  we will not know until she grows, until she reaches her milestones.  We will not know what her future path will look like when it comes to learning but we will be ready.  We will be by her side because that is what we do.”  That is what we do…

As I held Augustine for the very first time more than 24 hours later, I held all of our dreams for her as well.  As we sat in the quiet, listening to the alarms and the beeps on her monitor, I knew that her future was now in my hands as well, and that all we could do now was our best.  That all we could do now was to be by her side and hope that her future teachers would see her for the miracle she is and not just a child who might have difficulties learning.


Every year as the new year awaits, our students arrive in all of their glory.  They arrive with all of their dreams, their hopes, and their needs.  They show up whether we are ready or not.  And so we prepare, we plan, we dream over the summer that this will be the year that we reach every single child we teach.

We do not pick who we teach.  We do not pick who shows up.  We do not pick who these kids are that we are supposed to have life-changing experiences with but instead we stand by our doors  like the Statue of Liberty and say; “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”

We can prepare all we want as teachers.  We can create classrooms where most of our students will thrive.  We can plan for fictitious children and hope they will fit into the boxes we create.  Or we can teach the kids that come.  We can create classroom experiences that center on the kids that actually show up instead of the kids we hope to teach.  


We can open our classroom doors wide to make sure that every child that enters, that every child that shows up, know that with us they will learn, with us they will create, with us they will matter.  Because they do.   And we can ask those kids how we can be the types of teachers they need.  We can ask those kids how they would like to learn and then we can listen to their truths and become the teachers they need.

So we can take them all and we can love them all because that is the least we can do.  We work tirelessly every day so that those kids that become our kids know that with us they belong, that with us it does not matter what their start in life was because in here they have a chance at success.  That with us it does not matter whether they were born 10 weeks early, don’t have a good home life, or have never liked school.  That with us all that matters is that they showed up.


Augustine did not ask to be born early, she did not ask to have such a hard start in her life.  She did not ask to have harder path than our other kids.  The kids that come to us with their broken dreams and their battered hearts, didn’t ask for that either.  Didn’t ask to have a different life than so many others.  So our job is to teach.  Is to love.  Is to be by their side.

ITEC Ignite The Least We Can Do - Google Slides.clipular.png

This summer, as Augustine went to her NICU check up appointment, we heard the sweetest words.  “Your daughter is perfectly average…” and while her path is still unwinding and we are not in the clear just yet, we see hope with every word she learns, every task she accomplishes.  We see her for the miracle she truly is, a child that would not have lived not too many years ago.  So may we all see the miracle that is the child that enters our schools.  May we all know just how lucky we are to teach these kids, even when our days are long and our lesson plans are broken.  Even when we feel we are not enough, may we still try.

As teachers, we were never promised it would be easy.  We were never promised that our jobs would be effortless.  Or that our hearts would stay protected.  But we were told that it would be worth it.  That this may be one of the hardest jobs and yet also the most rewarding.  So every day as we welcome the kids, make sure it is every child we welcome, not just the easy ones, the ones that barely need us.  Make sure your classroom is a place for any child to succeed.  No matter their start in life.  Because much like the NICU doctor told me almost three years ago; we are ready, we are here, and we will stay here until you no longer need us.  It is the very least we can do…

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out January, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    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.


Some Ideas for Channeling High Energy Needs Into Better Learning Opportunities

I have the honor of teaching an incredible bunch of very energetic kids this year.  Their kinesthetic energy level is high throughout the day, couple that with some also voicing loudly how bored they are in school and I have the best kind of challenge ahead.  This will be a year to remember.

So I have been googling, I have been asking, and I have been spending a lot of time trying to think of ways to channel their energy into something great.  Not to get them to quiet down necessarily but to get to a place where their energy is a tool rather than a hindrance.  I have a lot to learn still, but a few things I have tried I thought I would share with others who may have the same awesome challenge we do.

Yoga balls.  I have invested in 18 yoga balls and while the bouncing drives me a little bit nutty at times, I cannot help but marvel at the sight.  After all, if this is what the kids need even right away in the morning then I cannot imagine putting them in regular chairs.  Sure we have popped a few in the 6 months I have had them but when I am at a super store I pick up a few more just in case.  Note; I have not switched all of my chairs for yoga balls because for some kids they are a nuisance or a distraction.  Besides paying attention to their preferred seating arrangement is also giving me clues to their personality.  We also have other alternate seating such as bean bags, exercise bands around the chair legs, office chairs and regular old chairs, but the yoga balls have made the biggest difference.


Switching up seating arrangement.  I am a huge proponent of “choose your own seat” but this year in a few of my classes I have been doing a little bit of seat arranging to spread the energy.  You see, when I have one really high energy cluster they may get really sidetracked but when I disperse the kids throughout the classroom their energy transfer to the new group.  This does not always work and I am still tweaking it to get it right, but I like what I am seeing so far.

Picture book read alouds as calming tools.  I end my days with a group of amazing boys.  They are bouncing off of the walls by the time they get to me so sometimes trying to teach them is like a game of who can interrupt the most.  Not because they are rude but because they are wired and excited.  Today I had them sit on the floor with me, away from anything they could fiddle with and then read them Where the Wild Things Are in honor of Banned Books Week.  I read it in the most soothing of voices, even when the Wild Things roar, and it was incredible.  Immediately their demeanor changed, their voices hushed and for a few moments we got to work at a level of concentration and focus that I had not seen for a while.  There is something incredible about the power of a great read aloud.  There is something incredible about story time on the floor.

The turn and talk.  When I teach my kids, i know I cannot be the only voice in the room so very little of our discussion is done in whole group, instead we utilize the turn and talk almost constantly.  My students want to share, they want to discuss, they want to participate and so I need to make sure they all have the chance.  Not just those that have enough courage to raise their hands in the air.

Incorporate brain games.  I work with really smart people and one of them suggested I use some of the same brain games that another colleague had used.  Genius.  So in some of my classes, when we have worked for 15 to 20 minutes, the students will get 3 to 5 minutes of brain game time.  All of our brain games are cooperative not competitive.  All of them have very few props and are easy for kids to participate in.  We play tri-bond, we build card houses, stack cups, hit a ball through the air as many times as we can without it falling to the ground and we do riddles.  I am searching for more brain game activities to do with the kids as I see the benefit of them using their brains in a different way after working hard for awhile.

Writing before speaking.  My students all process at different speeds and some times the very first thoughts that come to mind are not always the deepest.  So we have started a write before we speak routine whenever they are doing formal discussion.  It is simple; each child has access to a whiteboard (or they write right on the tables covered in whiteboard contact paper) and before they discuss something they take a few moments to write down their thoughts.  Having these few minutes to gather their wits, channel their energy and also come up with something interesting to say means that all of the students have a better chance of being a part of the learning.

The right to move.  Students in our classroom have the right to move as they learn.  They are not asked to sit down; they can stand, nor are they are asked to sit still.  As long as their movements do not distract others, they are perfectly fine.  This is important because for some of our kids they listen better when they are in movement.  They learn better when they have control over their bodies.

I know I need more ideas than this.  I know I am only scratching the surface as far as incorporating more movement into our days but at least this is a start.  This is a way for me to think more consciously about the need for movement and to embrace needs of all of the children that enter our classroom rather than just the quiet, compliant ones.  So if you have more ideas please let me know, I would love to be inspired by your great ideas.

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.