Audience Wanted for Elephant & Piggie Performance Videos

The students have been hard at work figuring out how to be better speakers and they are now ready to show the world.  Next week, my students will be performing Elephant & Piggie stories to their peers while I record them. We are looking for other classrooms to view some of these recorded performances and rate them using a simple form.  Classroom audiences can be any grade as these are picture books being performed but we would especially love K-3.  While students appreciate the feedback I give them, they really need a bigger audience than just their classmates and me to grow as real speakers.

If you are interested in perhaps viewing a few, please fill out the form below.  You can view just one or as many as you want, what matters is the feedback!  You will have a few weeks turn around, so feedback will be due by the end of April or so.  I will email you further details once the videos go live.  Thank you so much for considering helping out these amazing 7th graders.

Some Helpful Realizations for More Meaningful Assessments

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I have been trying to create more meaningful assessment for the past 5 years.  Not a small feat if you would, especially now when I am teaching more than 120 students.  Yet, a few things I have realized over the years may help others as they try to move away from grades as an end point, and instead move into better assessment and feedback, where students actually feel like they are in charge of their own learning journey.

Let me preface that this move from giving grades to giving feedback has not always been easy.  I find it is much easier to simply assign a grade to something, yet it has definitely been worth it.  By the end of the year my students are much better at evaluating, reflecting, and goal setting than they are when we start.  And that is worth it all in itself.  So a few things that I had to realize to make this shift was…

I am not the only one assessing.  Students self-assess on almost every assignment once we get started.  This is important, because they should not always be looking to me for how they did.  They need to know themselves well enough to reflect on their own performance.

It is an ongoing conversation.  We take the time to deconstruct the standards and rewrite them in student language.  We take the time to go through what an assignment is actually asking them to do.  We take the time to plan together so students can get ownership over what they are doing.  Assessment is not something that only happens once in a while so it should not just be discussed once in a while.

I cannot assume.  Too often we assume as teachers that we know what a child is doing or thinking.  It is not accurate most of the time.  So instead, I ask a child what they meant, I ask them to explain it to me as if I was not in the room.  I ask them to make sure that I can understand their thinking at all times.  We seem to focus too much on brevity, I would rather have a child be able to explain the full extent of their thinking than assume I know what they mean.

They need to produce more than I can assess.  Our job is not to assess every single thing that a child produces, but instead to assess the pieces they feel are worth others looking at.  Asking students to evaluate their work and only submit the one piece from a unit that they feel will show off their knowledge the best?  That is an assessment in itself.

They need to assess each other, but not until they trust each other.  We love using students as peer editors, as peer reviewers, and even as peer assessors.  However this can be incredibly hard for students who do not trust one another.  So wait.  Let them build community first.  Let them choose the people who will see their work.  Do not force them into vulnerability, it is not worth it in the end.

Assessment needs to happen in class.  They need to take ownership of the whole process, not just the end result, so that means that we are constantly evaluating our work, we are constantly engaged with our work, and we are doing it in class, not at home, not with parents.  But here, now, this day, so that the conversations can happen as a group, as a partnership and as a self-reflection.  And so the conversation can mean something and not just be homework or something else to get through.

Finally, assessment is a point in the journey, not the end of the journey.  And students don’t often understand that.  We have to have these conversations with them in order to change their mindset.  If students think that grades are something being done to them, that grades are out of their control and do not happen until the end when it is too late to do anything about it, then we are missing the whole point of assessment.  Assessment is for bettering yourself, for deepening your understanding, for helping you set goals.  Not for completing something so you can cross it off the to-do list. Once again, I am reminded of the saying; We do not teach standards, we teach kids.  And that is painfully apparent in the way we use assessment, feedback, and grades in our classrooms.

PS:  For the how-to for eliminating or limiting grades, please consider reading my book Passionate Learners.  There is a whole chapter dedicated to not just the why, but the actual how.

Why You Should Ask For Parent Feedback Even When You Are Afraid of the Answers

I just hit “Send” and for a moment my hand hovered over the “undo” button.  Perhaps I didn’t need to ask these questions, perhaps this year I would skip the annual end of year parent survey.  I don’t know why after 7 years of teaching, asking for feedback is still so excruciatingly tough.  Not from the kids, that I ask for every single day, but from the adults, the parents/guardians, the ones at home that see the effects of the teaching I do every single day.

For a few weeks I have wondered if I even wanted to send it this year.  If anything good would come from it, or if my self-esteem could handle it?  This was my first year teaching 7th grade and in so many ways I have felt like a brand new teacher with all of the flaws, the mishaps, the bad teaching that comes along with the first year title.  So now as the end of the year is in sight, I was compelled to just forget all about the feedback, pretend I don’t want to know, pretend to not care.

But that’s not the truth.  Because I do care.  Sometimes probably too much.  I know that I have screwed up.  I know that I could have been better at reaching every kid and teaching them what they needed.  I know I have failed some times, and I know some of my feedback will say that.  Some will probably crack my facade and make me feel pretty terrible.

And yet, if I don’t ask, I can’t grow.

So I let it go, and I now I wait, hoping for the best.  I hope there are some that will see how hard I tried to reach every kid.  I hope there are some that will see the thought, effort, and diligence that went into this year.  But I also hope there are some that will take a moment to give me advice, to tell me how I can grow.  Because I know I need to, and that is the bottom-line.  This is not about me, it is about the students.  And while I may have an idea of what I need to work on (and boy, do I ever), there is nothing like the perspective of a parent/guardian to show you things you never even thought of.  If we truly mean that we are in this for the kids, then we have to include those at home.  We have to ask the tough questions, even if the answers may sting.

If you would like to see my parent survey this year, here you are.  Student surveys will be done in class next week.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join ourPassionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Principals; Please Let Your Teachers Evaluate You

I am here today to really ask one thing; principals, please let your teachers evaluate you.  And although it may not be my place and you may find it odd that I dare say it, I will tell you why I ask.

Please let us evaluate you so that we can tell you all of the great things you have done for our school.  So that we can tell you where we have grown as teachers and how you have helped foster that growth.

Please let us evaluate you so that we can tell you our vision for our learning environment and we can figure out how it fits into a whole school vision.

Please let us evaluate you so that we can tell you how the school’s climate is doing from an individual classroom standpoint.  We know you have the overall feel, but let us fill in the gaps.

Please let us evaluate you so that we can help you grow like you help us grow.  We are all human, we all have areas we need to focus on, yet sometimes our own judgment or priorities cloud what is most pressing.  Sometimes teachers or even students are the ones that can keep or put a whole school on track.

Please let us evaluate you so that we know that how we feel matters.  So that we know that much as we should be listening to our students and to you, you will also listen to us.

Don’t make it anonymous; people need to stand behind their words.  But please give us the chance to speak those words to you.

We know time is of the essence, and we all know how much there is still to do, but please let us evaluate you so that we can continue to grow together.

PS:  I let parents and students evaluate me every year, and every year, I grow from it, even if some evaluations are not as positive as I could hope.  We will not grow if we do not ask the people who we effect how we are doing.

How Do You Assess Without Grades? 5 Tips to Ease the Transition

Two great questions came my way yesterday in regard to assessing without grades and then communicating that information.  We are so used to the ease of a letter grade that gets recorded in a book, averaged out and then translated into a letter, that moving away from that can be daunting and just a bit overwhelming.  So two years into my process I thought I would share some tips I learned the hard way.

  1. Discover your goal.
  2.  Whether they are based on district standards, common core, school outcomes, or even those listed in the curriculum, figure out what the goal is for each thing you teach.  These can be large or small (don’t do too many small ones though, trust me) and then figure out what the outcome should be.  Everything you do should have a learning goal because without that there is no point to the lesson.

  3. Determine the product.  What does it look like when students have accomplished the goal?  What is finished?  What is just another stepping stone?  How will students show that they have mastered the goal?  I love to have this discussion with my students, they have amazing ideas for this.
  4. Determine assessment.  Will it be written feedback?  Will it be a rubric?  Will it be a conversation – great tip; record these with a Livescribe pen and you have it for later!  Once again, ask the students, what type of assessment will help them?  How do they learn best?
  5. Keep a record.  This has been my biggest hurdle.  I have had charts, Google Docs, grade book notes, relied on my faulty brain, and yikes.  This year I am bringing my iPad in and using Evernote to keep track of it all.  Students will each have a portfolio in Evernote with conversations, pictures of work, links to blog posts, as well as videotaped events.  This way, everything will be at my fingertips when needed.  
  6. Communicate!  Assessment is not helpful if kept to yourself so have the conversations with students, take the time, write things down, communicate with parents.  All of these things need to be taken care of for this to work.  The allure of letter grades is just that; the ease of communication, nevermind that they can mean a million different things.  So when you step away from those make sure you replace that with communication.  Give students ownership of their goals and have them write a status report home, send an email, make a phone call.  Something.  Everybody should know where they are at and where they are headed throughout the year.

My 5 biggest tips for today and something I continue to work on.  Whatever your system is, take the time to reflect upon it, refine it, and make it work for you.  Ultimately stepping away from letter grades should lead to a deeper form of assessment, not a larger headache, but for that you have to have systems in place.

Can We Prepare Students for Middle School If We Don’t Assign Homework?

I wonder if my child will be overwhelmed in middle school by all of the homework since they have not had much with you… The comment stares me in the face and I immediately think up excuses; but we had homework, we just did it in class, but it is not my problem what happens in middle school, and why didn’t this parent bring it up before? And then I pause, re-read the comment, take away the personal insult I had added to it and see it as feedback, see it for what it truly is; a learning opportunity. 

Homework, that integral part of going to school, that bastion of what afternoons should be consumed by, how school should look. We grew up with it, we survived, we learned the lessons and now our children should go through the same. I used to believe that home work taught a deeper lesson, that without it children would not learn lessons such as time management, responsibility, accountability. I used to believe that if a child did not do their homework then they were not taking school seriously, that the failure to complete their end of the deal exonerated me from any further responsibility. Really all I had to then was punish and move on, hope the kid got the homework done and understood the bigger lesson. And now I know how wrong I was in those beliefs. I know how homework became something expected but not contemplated. and yet how do you communicate that to those kids it affects? How do you effectively have parents place their faith in you when how you run your classroom is pretty different than what they ever tried?

So for next school year I will not just mention my homework policy. I will thoroughly explain it and also stress that it is not that my students do less work than the other fifth grade classes, it is just that they do it at school instead. It is just that they may not get worksheets but rather delve deeper into projects, dedicating class time to learn those same lessons of accountability, responsibility, and time management. I will leave the doors for discussion open and encourage the questions, not afraid of criticism but welcoming the process, carefully explaining why I make the choices I make and how the students will indeed be prepared for middle school.

And so I continue to read through the feedback and I stumble upon one that is just as unexpected, just as deep… “I wish I had had a teacher like you in school, I am sure I would have liked school more if I had…”. And I smile and I reflect and I am grateful for all those that took the time to tell me how they felt.

We only grow when we open up to the good and the bad, we only grow when we realize our own imperfection. We only grow when we reveal our vulnerability and then really listen, I would not want it any other way.