being a teacher, education, education reform, student choice, student voice

Does It Matter Whether Students Recognize What We Do As Teachers?

I asked my students, all 114 of them, to show off their typical day in school.  Then I asked the world to join in.  Yesterday more than 3,000 students did the #studentlife challenge.  Images shared through the hashtag, blog posts, or any other social media platform all to let the world in to what happens when you are a student.

I was not surprised when I saw all of the sitting.  Students learning by listening rather than doing.  I was not surprised when I saw many teachers teaching, standing at the front of the room handing out information.  I was not surprised when I heard students tell us how tired they were.  How many hours of homework they had. How every day was the same; monotony rules their world.  We know this, I have been fighting that type of school for the last 5 years.

I was surprised though, when I saw how many of my students said these things.  How many of my students told me they sat down, that they wished for more movement.  That they wished for more breaks, longer lunch, more doing, less listening.  That they wished for more freedom in their own school.

I was surprised because in many of the classrooms around my school, they do move.  They do speak.  They do rather than just sit.  And yet few mentioned any of this.  Few mentioned how hard their teachers work to try to make lessons interactive, engaging, and worthwhile.  Few mentioned how little homework they have.  How little we ask them to do outside of school.  How much choice they do have in a day.  My students sounded like all other students; like school was a punishment they had to suffer through every day until their real life starts.

Disheartened, I wonder if students will ever notice, or whether it even matters?  Will students ever see how hard their teachers are working to change their educational experience?  Will students ever realize that the way many are teaching now is not the traditional way of teaching anymore?  Will students ever realize that they do have a say in their education but that they need to speak up for us to change?

There seems to be two lenses of education; the one shared by students and the one shared by teachers.  And they don’t seem to mesh up at all.  You ask a teacher what their classroom is like and they will show you pictures of happy students doing learning.  You ask a student what their day is like and they will show you a picture of textbooks and teachers standing at the front speaking.  Where is our educational narrative not matching up?

I will never stop tying to engage my students.  I will never stop trying to make their days active.  To give them choice.  To give them voice.  I will never stop trying to make school a place of curiosity and fun, rather than mandatory listening.  I wonder if I am being too optimistic that students would notice all of this?  Does it matter whether students recognize what we do?

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.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased 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.

assessment, education reform, grades, Personalized Learning, student voice

Before You Give Letter Grades, Please Ask Your Students

I have had a problem with letters grades for a few years now.  I used to write about it all of the time, and then stopped because I felt like all of the words had been written.  But now, I am back facing having to give letter grades for the semester as my district transitions from them to standards based grades.  All of those old thoughts of why letter grades say so little about a students knowledge, effort, and accomplishment have been hounding me throughout my days as the deadline for giving them nears.  But then I remembered; I need to ask the students what grades they should get.

It is rather simple process.  As a class we discuss what makes an “A?” What should a child be able to do in class and out of it to get that elusive top grade?  What does “A” thinking, writing, reading, discussion, and doing overall look and sound like?  We go through each letter grade this way as a class and determine our definitions.  We publish them to our website so parents can see.  The standards based scores they have received are also part of it but they are not averaged and they are not the only component.

Once the students have created a group definition, they evaluate themselves.  On a small sheet of paper they are asked which grade they feel they deserve and why.  The why is important here as I need to see their thinking.

Once they have completed the sheet, we meet.  We have to have a face to face discussion of what grade they think they should receive, what my thoughts are, as well as the path forward.   Often I find I agree with a child, but if there is disagreement whether the grade should be lower or higher, it is of utmost importance to have a face to face discussion.

For too long students have felt they have little say over how they are assessed.  They feel that grades are done to them, rather than something they determine.  While we as teachers may think that students understand that their grade is a reflection of their effort, time and time again students have told me they don’t understand the relationship.

So if you have to give letter grades, or even just scores, I implore you to please involve your students.  Don’t just rely on an average.  Don’t just rely on your gut feeling.  Don’t just rely on tests, homework, or whatever other assignment that you have given.  Bring the students in.  Give them power over their learning, give them voice in how they are assessed.  They will thank you for it, or at the very least start to understand how they ended up with that B….

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  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.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

education reform, reflection

We Will Never Be Truly Standardized and Thank God for That

The Common Core is meant to save us all from poor teaching or so it seems if you read many political opinions.  Publishers too have been eager to grasp the Common Core and quickly label all of their curriculum with the sure to sell “Common Core Aligned  sticker.  I get inundated with emails offering me new lessons that fit the Common Core, new ideas that will make me ready for the Common Core.  Everywhere I look it seems to be hailed as the savior  of American public education.  And yet I have to laugh a little and perhaps even roll my eyes at all of the promises and ideas of standardization of our educational system.  Has anyone ever truly thought to think about what true standardization would look like?

You would enter into any classroom in America and teachers would preferably be teaching from the same scripted material in the same classroom set up with the same type of children.  All teachers should address concerns the same way.  All teachers should address children the same way.  We should all carve out the same lesson plans, preferably guided by our aligned materials.  We should all make sure our students walk away with the same specific knowledge and skill set.  Then we would have true standardization of the American public school system.

In reality though, you will walk into one school and see many different ways of teaching the same scripted material.  You will see teachers address children differently, you will see them approach lessons in different ways.  No classroom will look the same.  No lesson will sound the same, sure core ideas may be present, but the way they are taught will be different.  And thank god for that.  We have to teach specifically to our students.  We cannot plow our way through scripted curriculum and not stop when a child doesn’t understand or we see an opportunity for further investigation.  If we do, then we are not doing our job as teachers.  The very nature of what we do and who we do it with prevents true standardization  even if politicians think they can test us into submission and sameness.

So I have decided to not get too hung up on the Common Core, sure the idea is quaint, let’s all get on the same page and be rigorous together.  Yet the way it has been processed by curriculum providers and districts clamoring to be aligned is nonsense.  The states racing to the top without really knowing what that means hasn’t helped much either.  If the Common Core is truly meant to push deeper learning opportunities then why would I ever want a scripted curriculum?  Why would I want to pretend that my students learn the same way as an inner city school in Chicago or a small school in rural America?  Why would I want to pretend that I even teach the same every year?  If it is meant to standardize then they will have to standardize the very act of teaching and the very act of learning, which is an impossible thing to do.  And for that I am thankful.

education reform, students, testing

So I Asked My Students Their Thoughts on Standardized Testing

I seem to keep opening Pandora’s infamous box when it comes to the thoughts of my students.  Spurred on by discussion in my every day about the ever increasing role standardized testing plays in our lives, I finally had the aha moment of asking my students how they felt about it.  Armed with an article from Time For Kids that discusses the new wave of computerized testing, I asked my students how they felt.  First they discussed and then they blogged, and boy, am I glad I asked. 

We think we know how testing effects kids, and we do know part of it, but some of their answers surprised even me.  Many of my students don’t get what it is they are being tested for.  Many of my students, who otherwise love technology, hate being tested on the computer.  They hate the strain on their eyes.  They hate feeling that everyone can see their screen.  They hate knowing that others have finished while they lumber on.  They hate not being able to go back and check their answers.  They kept asking me what will be on the test and when I said that I wasn’t quite sure because we are not privy to that information, they thought I was lying.  Why would I not be able to tell them what they would be tested on?  That didn’t make any sense to them or to me.  

But here are their words for you to read, and if you feel like it, please leave them a comment on our Kidblog.  It would mean the world to them.

I asked, “What Are your thoughts on testing?” 

Buddy wrote:
I actually have mixed feelings about this, and here they are. Doing tests on the computer is better because technology makes learning easier for me. I’m not happy about doing tests because it takes too long. Sometimes if I answer enough  questions correctly, I have to answer questions about what a passage from something means. Yes, answering what a certain passage means is easy. Would it be that easy if it were in French or Spanish? I like doing tests on paper because everyone gets the same test. It doesn’t bring you up to a level where it’s in a foreign language. In 2014 tests will all be on the computer. If the class doesn’t get good scores on the test, then the teacher could get fired. If your class dislikes you and they always go home every day and say to their parents “My teacher was so unfair today” then you could get fired for no reason. If your class just does a bad job on the tests because they don’t like you you could get fired. When you will do your test, it might affect your teacher’s job. I like doing tests on paper because it doesn’t hurt my eyes after a while, unlike when I do tests on the computer for an hour and a half. Usually I get headaches and my eyes hurt. The thing that bothers me is that someday everything will be replaced by technology. Someday your written tests that you do today could be valuable and put in museums someday. How do you feel about that?

Cecilie wrote:
They think when they test us that is all we know wrong we know things that they are not testing us.  So they think that we don’t know anything when they are the ones having us test stuff we do not know. It is there fault we are getting bad scores.

Amber wrote:
I don’t and it makes me kind of nervous.  My class read a article about we having to do more tests in middle school for next year.  They will be harder as the year goes along.  Also, the computer can glitch, but paper can’t.  I feel like I can do more on paper.

Megan wrote:
I am not a fan of computer tests, like, at all.  I get so nervous taking tests on computers, I am always shivering before them.  In my opinion they don’t show what you know, because the tests don’t have everything.  So pretend that somebody is like a genius in pan balances, it might not be on it and they got a low score, they might of gotten a higher score if it was on the test.  We have had MAP test (on the computer) and WKCE tests (on paper)  I feel like I can take my time on the WKCE because I don’t know who is finished or not.  Also I really like the privacy folders on the WKCE, they make me feel less panicked and it seems like a regular test.  Now in the MAP test a totally feel panicked!  I am usually one of the last people taking it, and I can see who is done and who isn’t.  The people that are done are reading books or playing on the computer, and there is no privacy folders for me to not see that.  When I am one of the last people taking the test I feel panicked and rushed.  I also hate the MAP test because I can’t go back to check my answers.  I bet that the new computerized test would be a ton like the MAP, school in the 2014 would be horrifying!

Graham wrote:

1. Sometimes they don’t ask you the things that you are learning in school
2. People sometimes get tired or worried so they just guess
3. They can get really, really boring for most people, so they don’t pay attention
Standardized testing is one of the things I look forward not to doing.

Please go to their blogs and read their thoughts, as always, I am baffled that we leave students out of this debate.  Ask you students how they feel and give them their voice back.  

advice, Be the change, being a teacher, education reform, new year

Who Is to Blame? Who Cares…

image from icanread

In the ever expanding debate on the state of education, it seems a lot of blame is passed around.  Teachers blame parents, parents blame teachers, public schools blame society, charter schools blame public schools, and politicians, well they seem to blame everybody.  Not a day goes by without another blaring headline of one side versus the other and frankly I am sick of it.  I know there is blame to be passed, I know there is blame to be had, but in the end, who really cares?

Blame doesn’t do us any good.  Blame doesn’t fix the problem.  Yes, I can lament the fact that not all of my students have the same socioeconomic background, the same level of parent commitment, heck, I can get upset about their varying degrees of pre-school involvement, but at the end of my teaching day, none of it matters.  What matters is what I do now.  What matters is how I work with the students, with all of their background, and how we keep them successful from there.  Blame is great to discuss, it can get us all riled up, it can get us more invested in the debate, but really it takes our focus off of where it should be – what we can do in education with the students we have.

So this year, I am going to try to step out of the blame game.  Yes, I know there are many ills in our public schools and society in general.  Yes, I know poverty is a major factor in many students’ lives.  Yes, I know that I cannot control what happens outside of school or what happened before they became my students but I can control the now.  I can play a part in what happens starting September 4th and for a whole school year within the walls of our classroom.  I can focus on the students as I have them, rather than the blame I would like to assign.  I am going to take my energy off of blaming and place it back with my students.  I will continue to work and fight for change.  I will continue to be a voice in the debate.  But I will not continue to just pass the blame and do nothing.  Are you with me?

being a teacher, control, education reform

Forced Education is Not Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Image from here

An interesting debate has been sparked in the comments section of my post “Not Grading is Awful” on the Cooperative Catalyst, with some people stating that forced school is inhumane.  I have been pondering this for a bit and I must say I disagree; having an educational system that is mandatory is not inhumane, not having one would be.  And neither is forcing courses on students, it all comes down how those courses are taught, which incidentally is something we do have a bit of control over.

Now I know that we are tied to standards and district regulations, the politicians are breathing down our neck to raise test scores and there are, indeed, major flaws within our educational system, and yet…There are many things we can change within the public school setting.  I did.  But back to the original point that forced courses or mandatory education is cruel and unusual punishment and that students should have a free reign instead over what they study and how.  I disagree.  I think students should be expected to take certain classes simply because education is what rounds us out at human beings.  Particularly in the primary grades.  I loved climbing trees as a child and could have spent most of my days outside roaming around with my knife, and yes because of school I couldn’t pursue that all day, however, that childhood passion would certainly not have led me down the path of teaching.  Instead going through school and having a foundation to do further studies on led me to where I am.  Children may have the curiosity to explore, and that should never be stifled, however, we must support that curiosity with basic common knowledge and a well-rounded worldview.

So some may argue that there is no point in knowing historical facts that do not directly relate to whatever we end up pursuing as a career.  Some may argue that much of math is arbitrary for most people who simply do not end up using it.  Some even say that grammar and how to write an essay is superfluous knowledge that does us no good.  I disagree.  I think all of these lead us to where we end up.  I think knowledge as a whole is needed to be a citizen, to be a knowledgeable member of society, to be respected and accepted.  So I may not remember all of the days of grammar drilling, or spelling lines, or even math facts, but I see the result of them; me teaching it to my students but trying to make it more interesting.

I think we sometimes mistake the whole notion of education for all as flawed, where instead we should be focusing in on the parts that are.  Drill and kill, sometimes that is a necessary component.  Teacher talking, yep that too.  However, how we teach becomes just as important as what we teach.   And that is something we all have control over in this endless debate of education policy.