Be the change, being a teacher, being me, challenge

The February UnSlump Yourself Challenge

Aah February; a month of love, of reading, of waiting for spring if you in the Northern Hemisphere.  While February may  be the shortest month of the year sometimes in teaching it can feel like the longest of them all.  While I love this month for the work I can do with my students, I find that sometimes the dark nights and cold Wisconsin winters can be positively slump inducing.  Rather than dread the slump, why not do something pro-active?

So this year I plan on doing my very own unslumping challenge and you are more than welcome to join me.  Every day for the month of February, I plan on doing something to either reinvigorate myself or make a difference to others.  It will not cost me much money but will hopefully instead lead to a deeper level of gratitude for the incredible job I have, the amazing students I get to teach, and the wonderful people in my life.

Here is what I plan on doing – to see the document, go here 

FEBRUARY 2017 Challenge - Google Docs.clipular.png

I will be introducing this in the Passionate Learners book club as well if you would like to have a community to unslump yourself with.  To join, go here.  And remember; we choose how we feel about our days, even when we feel the influence of others. Here’s to an amazing February.

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.

being a student, being a teacher, challenge, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

The 7th Grade Book Challenge Revisited

33% of my 118 7th graders told me they had not read a single book last summer.  That books were just not their thing or they were simply too busy.  33%…Many of them told me they had read the book club books they had been assigned the year before but not that much else.  Some told me they had fake read most of their way through years prior, averaging 1 to 2 books a year if even.  Some told me how much they loved books, that their summers were spent with their nose in pages because what else would you do when you have all of the time in the world

Teaching 7th graders has taught me many things, but one of the biggest is the incredible need to inspire a larger love of reading in more of their lives.  Not because teachers before them haven’t, but because for some reason it hasn’t completely stuck for all of them. So that becomes our mission; for the students to fall in love with reading or at the very least hate it less.

When I read the Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, it significantly changed my reading instruction as a teacher.  Coupled with other landmark books for me such as The Daily Five by The Two Sisters, and also Mosaic of Thought by Elin Keene and Susan Zimmerman, I finally felt like I had a path I could follow when it came to the aspiration of reading.  It was as if I did not know how high of expectations I could hold my students to until after I read these books.  Donalyn’s 40 Book Challenge became a central tenet of my instruction, not as a requirement, but as a way for my students to challenge themselves.  While I made tweaks because that is what reflective teachers do, I stayed true to its original intent; to challenge my students to read voraciously, based on the research that Donalyn cites in her book that kids who score in the 90th percentile of reading tests read between 30-40 books a year.  I did not offer incentives.  I did not do logs.  I did not tell my less developed readers that their goals should be less because there was no way they could accomplish 40 books.  I asked them to shoot for 40 or more and then helped them reach their goals by giving them time to read, time to book shop, and support as they needed.  Some kids made their goals, others did not, but they all read more than they had before.

I knew that when I moved to 7th grade I wanted to do the 40 Book Challenge but I was also faced with the incredible limitation of 45-minute instructional blocks.  45 minutes to do everything.  45 minutes that only allowed me to give them 10 measly minutes of reading, rather than the 30 we had enjoyed in 5th grade.  After my first week with my 7th graders, I decided to change the language of the challenge in the beginning to 25 books rather than the 40, not because I did not believe that my 7th graders could not read 40 books, but because for some, simply saying 40 in the beginning seemed completely un-doable, especially because I could only give them 10 minutes of reading time every day.  However, if I had 60 minutes or more, I would still start with 40 books, after all with that amount of time kids should be given at least 20 minutes of reading every day.  But the idea remained; this was a challenge, something to strive for, something to work toward, and something that I believe all of my students can reach if we help them have successful reading experiences.

It appears that some believe that because I have called this the 25 book challenge in the past that that means I want my students to only read 25 books.  That somehow the original 40 book challenge is too hard for kids.  Neither of these statements are true.  All kids should be challenged to read 40 books or more.  I believe all of my students can read more than 25 books, my job is often to help them believe it too.  But just as in the original, it is not really about reaching the quantity set, it is about having incredible reading experiences.

As the year goes on we, therefore, adjust our goal, some continue to focus on the quantity while others change their focus either to different genres, harder vocabulary or even formats that they have not dabbled in before.  While some kids continue to focus on quantity, and for them we do the following breakdown for how books count, for others the challenge morphs into figuring out how they can push themselves as readers beyond a quantity standpoint.  (To see more about this read about the reading identity challenge).

  • Books under 200 pages count as 1 book
  • Books over 200 pages count as 2 books
  • Books over 500 pages count as 3 books
  • Books more than 750 – see the teacher
  • Depending on its size a graphic novel may count as a whole, half or quarter of a book.
  • 10 of the books have to be chapter books
  • If this goal is not high enough for a learner, they set a higher goal
  • They write down their titles in a reader’s notebook we keep at school and update it every Monday or whenever needed.

I do not ask them to read certain genres but instead take this as an opportunity for them to explore themselves as readers and figure out what they love to read.  I constantly book talk books, as do they once we get rolling, and I am constantly sharing recommendations to individual students.  We practice free book abandonment, making sure that the books we read are books we actually want to read, and we book shop monthly if not more.  Our to-be-read lists are extensions of our reading life and are used weekly, if not daily.

After three years with 7th-grade book challenge, I can tell you, it works.  I am not surprised, after all, Donalyn Miller and her ideas have never let me down.  While not all kids reach their goals, many do, and many of those who did, never thought they would.  Yet the biggest success is not just the kids that reach their goal but within the kids that don’t.  As one child told me on his reading survey, “…I even read a book at home for fun, I had never done that before.”   That child’s number?  Five more than the year before.  Five more great books that he loved so much he book talked them to others.  Books that gave him such a great experience that he continues to chase that feeling again.

I will not pretend that it worked for everyone, there are always kids that issuing a challenge will not work for, where what we did together was not enough, but there are so many that it made a difference for.  Where the expectation to read every single day and reach a certain goal that mattered to them meant that they turned up their reading, that they selected their books more carefully, that they spent a longer stretch reading then they normally would have.

So for the 118 7th graders that I teach, I am so grateful that they believed me when I told then, “Yes, you can read more books.”  But do not take my word for it; let these pictures show you what it looks like when 7th graders read and become readers.  Let these pictures show you that yes we can get kids at this age to read, that just because a child is going through huge personal development reading does not have to become not lost.  What matters is the reading community we create.  And the high expectations we have for all of our kids.  27166703430_98b5a337ba_o26835817253_48478693c8_o27344117862_70e104318d_o27443368625_dc2b4b5b2b_o27344097252_2fe674e6bd_o

And in case you are wondering, that is 4,357.5 books.  Not bad for how many kids told me that reading was not something they felt like doing.

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The first book tentatively titled The Global Literacy Classroom is scheduled for release November, 2016 by Solution Tree.  The second, 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.


Be the change, being a teacher, challenge, global, Student

1 School 1 World – What Did We Learn #1S1W

Sometimes my crazy ideas get ahead of my own brain in all of the best of ways, such was the case of 1 School 1 World , a social media initiative that was meant to showcase schools around the world using a common hashtag #1S1W.  I wanted my students to see not just how we are different, but more so how we are all the same.  And so  I shared the idea with the world and today, February 22nd,schools around the world participated.

As I showed my students the stream of pictures throughout the day, we couldn’t help but marvel at so much.  The sun in New Zealand, the sheep in Australia, the gym in Denmark, the wooden tables of Serbia.  We saw the differences, sure, but we also saw so much of the same.  It turns out that many of our classrooms look like they could be in the same school.

Yet, as the day went on, we started to notice not just how alike we were but also the incredible differences there were in school buildings, activities done, and even technology showcased.  As we tweeted out asking people to show us pictures of their libraries, one person responded that their school did not have one due to money.  That was a sobering notion for many kids.

And this is what stopped my heart today and what continues to run through my head tonight.  While this day was meant to share our learning environments, it also inherently shared our privileges; schools that have the tools to share in the first place.  Teachers that have the ability to show off their environments without the fear of being in trouble with administration or school boards.  Buildings that were mostly well kept and learning environments that were inviting to students.  Yet, we all know that this is not what learning looks like for many students, not just across the world, but right here in the USA.

There were voices missing, which I expected, but I did not expect how hard it would hit me once again just how lucky I am to teach in a district that is well-funded and community supported in many ways.  There are so many teachers that do not have that privilege.  There are so many kids that do not have that reality.

So as I digest the many images together with my students, I plan to ask them to look at how we are similar, how we are different, but then I also plan on asking them to look for the missing images.  For the schools that are not represented in these pictures.  For the kids that are not represented.  To see if they can figure it out. To see what they will come up with.   This will be the seed for further exploration.  This will be the seed that somehow will carry us forward.  To what I am not sure, but we know that a change in society can start with us, but not if we don’t start the conversations.

And if you joined today; thank you.  Sometimes all it takes for us to get to know each other is a simple hashtag.  Keep connecting.  Keep sharing.  Keep discussing and then do something about what you see.  We teach the future of the world, let’s never forget that.

To see the Storify of all of the pictures I could find, go here.

Thank you Ben Wilkoff for pulling 400 or so pictures and putting them in Google photo.

aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, challenge, global, Mieexpert

Join the 1 School 1 World Challenge Feb. 22nd #1S1W

Last year, my 7th graders did the “Day in the life of a student” challenge and asked students around the world to join them by showcasing pictures of their typical school day.  The conversation that it sparked as far as how similar our days could be or how very different they were was profound, while also leading to some great discussions at our school about the experience students have.

Today, I shared some of the images coming out of Detroit Public Schools  and my students had a hard time understanding that this is the reality for students only 6 hours away from us.  As we sit in our heated classrooms with nice carpet, books surrounding us, and a beautiful view of a prairie, the notion that other children even in our same state may have a different school experience is one that my students do not give much thought to.

So I propose a challenge to enlighten us all.  On Monday, February 22nd take a picture, or a few, of your classroom (you don’t need to have students in the pictures), write your location and your age group and share it on Twitter using the hashtag #1S1W (it stands for 1school1world).  That day or the next start a conversation with your students about the images you see shared.  That’s it.  Think of the images we can share to start a conversation with the very children we teach about the education that surround us here in the US and in the world.

A hashtag may not make a difference but it can start a conversation.  So sign up to stay in the loop, or just join in on February 22nd as we hopefully start a global conversation about our school, our classrooms, and our future.

aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, being me, challenge, choices, Passion

When We Forget Where We Are Going

image from icanread

Sometimes we get so turned around that we forget our chosen path.  We forget where we are going.  We forget where we came from.  And in our turned-around-ness we think we need to abandon our path completely, because we no longer know who we are.

A week ago I thought my path forward next year would not be in 7th grade.  That I was not meant to teach this challenging age after all.  That I had gotten so far away from who I was as a teacher that there was no way for me to find myself again. I didn’t want to stick around for another year, I wanted to run.  Forget about the challenges,  Forget about all the good I thought I could do that wasn’t happening.  Lick my wounds and go back to my safe zone.  Back to elementary where the kids show they like you and think your jokes are funny.

Then spring break happened and with it came a moment to reflect.  A moment to remember that I don’t run from challenges.  I don’t quit when it gets hard.  That when something isn’t working, I don’t give up, I fix it.  And that perhaps 7th grade is my biggest challenge, and since when have challenges scared me?

I had forgotten that the last time I thought I was going to quit, I recommitted.

I had forgotten that the last time I didn’t like the teacher I had become, I changed.

I had forgotten that it is hard to change schools, districts, and especially grade levels, but we still do it.

That it is hard to reinvent yourself.  That it is hard to figure out new curriculum.  That it is hard to get to know students especially when you only have them for 45 minutes.  And that you will never be the greatest of teachers the very first year you teach something.  No matter your passion.  No matter your dedication.  No matter your ideas.

So I am getting back to basics.  Back to making it about the kids and not the curriculum.  Making it about growing together and figuring it out.  About making school about them and not about me.  Taking my own advice over the years and giving the classroom back to the students.  Away from homework, away from scores, away from me lecturing, and back to them doing, and questioning, and changing our school.

I am terrified to continue on as a 7th grade teacher.  They are my biggest challenge.  Yet, within that challenge I have been given a new chance to be better.  And not just as a teacher, but as a human being.  Sometimes life gets us so lost that we forget to see where we are.  We forget to see the wonder around us.  To marvel at all of the greatness that surrounds us.  It is time for me to once again open my eyes and revel in the fact that I get to be a part of the 7th grade journey.  It is time for me to stop being so scared and getting back to what I love; being a great teacher for every single kid.  Even the ones that make me want to quit.

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.

Be the change, building community, challenge, Student-centered, students

Hey, It’s Ok To Go Outside the Curriculum Once in a While


I have felt like a new teacher this year.  Chalk it up to 27 students with a crazy range of learning needs, new program implementations, and just an insane amount of meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page.  We also have a new block schedule to implement, which has been amazing in some ways and limiting in others.  Most nights I work 2 or 3 extra hours at home making up for the time I don’t get in school.   While I love this year, it has also been a crazy one and every day I feel the curriculum pressing down on me urging me forward, to just get it done.

So why on Friday, with the pressure of everything we need to get through, did I have my students do the spaghetti and marshmallow tower challenge, swallowing up 40 minutes of our day?  Why “stop” the curriculum so the kids could have a team challenge?  Haven’t we already built community?

I did it because the kids need it.  They need to continue working in new teams.  They need to be challenged.  They need to think differently and deal directly with failure (there were epic attempts!).  And if you look closely, you would have seen how it absolutely was curriculum, even if FOSS science had not mandated it.  The students worked with design, creating a standard prototype and then testing their theory, adjusting along the way.  They changed and tried to control the different variables and engaged in deep on-the-spot thinking to ensure success.  In fact, as I looked up the Common Core standards for speaking and listening, I couldn’t believe how many of them we had covered.

Yet it’s bigger than that.  I made the teams so that kids who would not pick each other worked together.  I told them they would more than likely fail (based on previous years’ experience) and it was what they did with that failing moment that mattered.  The spirit of living up to expectations swallowed the room and carried the children home.  They did it together, and even though there was a winning team all of the kids celebrated and laughed about it.

We may think that when we leave the confines of our curriculum, we are breaking the rules or not teaching.  And sure there are times when the educational value can be hard to uncover.  But if the challenges are right, we are teaching the children more than some lessons do.  It takes courage to step outside the boundaries, but do it right, and the pay off will be immense.  My students left asking when they would do the next challenge, I told them “Soon!” and I meant it.  We have to think outside the lines of our own rush and needs to keep those kids challenged and engaged.

I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, 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.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.