aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, ideas, Passion, student voice

How Dare You Teach Our Students to Speak Up?!

I used to be afraid of what the next year’s teachers thought.  Of how I would be judged.  Of how they would roll their eyes when I spoke of the dreams I had for my students, of the voice I was trying to give them.  Of how they questioned everything I did.  I still remember the day I was told that I was not helping students, but hurting them instead, and how dared I tell students to question the every education we were providing.

And so I stopped.  For a few days any way as I licked my wounds and cried at home.  Because how I had become that teacher that instigated, disrupted, and told students that if their education was not working for them then they had to speak up.  How had I become a teacher who told students to question?

But my students didn’t.  They still questioned me, stopping me and asking what the purpose of something was, asking if they could do it in a different way, if they could change, break, create, or even skip.  And in their fight for a better education I realized that no matter what the next year’s teachers had thought, I had to support that fight.  That my students had the right to create a ruckus when the education being given to them was not working,

So instead of telling them to just speak up and question, I taught them to do it kindly but persistently.  That there were ways they could ask their questions without being seen as dissenters. at all times  That they had a right to ask and that they needed to involve themselves in the education that was happening to them.  They had a right to an education that would work for them.

And within the courage of my students, I found my own courage.  Reclaimed it and held my head up high again.  Because the question should not have been why I dared to have students question their own education, but instead how I dared being an educator that didn’t…  Where is your courage?

PS:  In my district now this does not happen, next year’s teachers are some of the biggest supporters of student voice that I have ever met.

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

being a teacher, education, ideas, MIEExpert15, Passion, writing

5 + 1 Simple Ideas to Make Writing Fun Again

Over and over their comments come.

“…I hate writing…”

“…Please don’t make me write…”

“…Writing is soooo boring…”

And with each comment, I am grateful for my 7th graders honesty and also very, very challenged.  How do you make writing fun again when all of the joy has disappeared for some?  How do you make writing something students want to do, or at the very least don’t hate, when you have a curriculum to get through?  How do we continue to inspire students to become writers, even when facing so many old writing demons?  Two weeks off have given me some time to think, so here is what I have realized.

  1. Writing cannot be for me.  Writing has to be personal and for an audience.  Not a made up one, although they can come in handy, but an actual real live audience that will give feedback on the writing.  Whether it is for a class across the hallway, the local paper, or any connection you can make; establish a purpose and then have that audience give feedback.  My students’ writing grew immensely when they knew they were writing for “real” kindergarten and first grade classrooms.  This also is why we blog, they know people are reading their writing.
  2. It is okay if they don’t write.  I forget that I only write when I am inspired and how hard writing is when it is “on demand.”  Yet, on demand writing is what we ask students to do every single day and we expect it to be great writing!   Sometimes, we just need time to think, to ponder, to reflect, to doodle, to stare into nothing.  Not every day, because yes there are still things to cover, but we seem to have forgotten that a lot of writing happens in our head before anything is even written down.  So allow students to think, help them along if they are stuck, allow them conversations and to look outside of themselves for inspiration.  Yes, this takes time away from covering curriculum but writing needs to be less forced and more organic.
  3. Know when to publish, rather than revise.  We get to so caught up in having students continually revise that sometimes we forget to just let a piece go.  Even if it is not perfect.  Even if it is not finished.  Too often we force students to revise, edit, and revise some more so that we can see their best writing for every single piece, yet writers don’t do that.  They pursue their best piece, abandon others, and sometimes circle back.  We have to offer students an opportunity to decide when something is finished and then let it stand by itself.  Even if that means publishing a blog that is not their best writing, even if it means showing me unfinished work.
  4. Allow for 5 minutes of free write.  I plan on incorporating 5 minutes of free write into my tight 45 minute schedule.  Just as I devote 10 minutes to read independently, I have to devote time for them to just create, think, and possibly write something.  Whether it is a story, a journal, a doodle, a poem, whatever it is, they need the time to get into writing mode.  This will not be graded, nor will it be read by me most days.
  5. Enough with the grades.  I am not a fan of letter grades or even scores when it comes to all writing.  Yes, there is a place for teaching writing through final feedback, but we tend to get so grade heavy that students can’t see any of the progress they have made, nor the feedback they are receiving.  As one of my colleagues told me regarding her writing experience in high school, “…There was so much red pen on my papers when I got them back, I just threw them away without reading any of it.”  That’s what an overabundance of grades and feedback can do.  Instead, have students pick a piece they want graded and have them explain why this represents them as a writer.  Our lens should be on providing specific and short feedback that can boost their writing skills, not continually grading their practice writing.

And yes, as always there is a plus one…

      6.  Use different types of writing tools.  This idea is stolen right form Kindergarten, still has merit with our older                    students.   Why not have them write on post-its, big posters, or anything else that can take some writing?  Why not                bring out the markers?  The sparkly pen?  The paints?  We get so confined in what constitutes writing that we forget to          have fun with it, and while this is a superficial fix that will lose its luster, it can still inject the beginning push for writing to          be viewed as fun again.

On Monday, I plan on having students critique my ideas.  They are, after all, for their educational benefit.  I will share what they say but in the mean time, I would love to hear from you; what has brought back life in your writing with students?

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.

ideas, projects, Sponsored

It’s Back…Join the H&R Block Budget Challenge For This Spring

HRB-Concept3-Twitter

This summer was the first time i posted about the H&R Block Budget Challenge for Teens and it made me pine for some high schoolers to teach.  After all, when we talk about school being a tool to not just teach knowledge but also teach life skills, this type of program is what we mean.  It is frightening how few of my 7th graders seem to know what the value of a dollar is or how much money it takes to have a n adult life.  I know when I was a teen, money was something I wasn’t really that concerned with, not because we had a lot, but because I assumed I didn’t have to think about it.  I was very wrong in this notion as my early 20’s and their terrible financial decisions proved to me.  So while I may not teach high schoolers, which this program is intended for, my wheels are still spinning trying to think of ways I can incorporate it with my 7th graders.  After all, it is never too soon to teach more about financial literacy.

So why this program?  Well, it’s free, which I love, it is really in-depth and yet can be covered spending about 15 min a day while the challenge runs.  And there are prizes.  Not just little tiny ones either, but massive, make-a-difference types of prizes which just sweeten the whole deal.

What is the H&R Budget Challenge?

Participants encounter real-world personal budgeting situations, problem-solving, and decision-making through an online simulation and accompanying lessons that meet national standards. With sessions October through April, teachers have six opportunities to participate.  This is for students 14 years or older, enrolled in grade 9 through 12 full-time.  Today is the kick off to their new event, which of course is free for teachers to sign up for, but even better; there are scholarships and grants to be won!

What are the grants and scholarships?

For the top classrooms and teachers, so those who budget the best, there are prizes to win!

H&R Block will award $3 million in classroom grants and scholarships throughout the competition including a $100,000 GRAND PRIZE SCHOLARSHIP.

60 opportunities for classroom grants up to $5K
132 opportunities for student scholarships of $20K
Grand prize scholarship of $100K
Student incentive during game play

When does this start?

Sign up starts today and the next session kicks off January 16th.  This is a great opportunity for teachers to help students learn solid financial skills before they make stupid mistakes like I did.

I have more questions!  

Go to their website to read more about it and also register.

Wait, have real teachers really done this?

You bet!  Quotes from Teachers who participated in the H&K Block Budget Challenge

My kids love this challenge. Everyday they are engaged and want to learn more about personal finance—and, more importantly, they are becoming more financially literate.

I must thank you for the wonderful resource this simulation is and how useful I’m sure it is going to be for their future financial success. They are checking on their status in class all the time, even when it isn’t our scheduled activity. Those who have downloaded the app have found it incredibly useful and convenient as well.

My Juniors and Seniors do this for a Project grade every Wed. and Fri. We have a good time with this “bonding” experience and there is great laughter as well as dread when they have late fees! I really appreciate the people who put this challenge together. It is wonderful to witness them learning about “real life”!

So there you have it.  A great opportunity for anyone who is lucky enough to teach high schoolers.  And yes, H&R Block did compensate me for this post, but I would have shared it even if they hadn’t.  I think this is a pretty incredible program.

ideas, Passion

5 Simple Ways to Reenergize Your Classroom

image from icanread

I carried a crate out of my classroom yesterday.  Filled with a few gifts, 113 projects, and a book, I knew what I needed to bring home.  I am ready for the break and so are my students.  We have worked hard.  And yet, in typical teacher fashion I couldn’t help but think of January 5th, a new year, tired students, and all the great things we get to do.  As I glanced around I knew these next few weeks were my chance to re-energize the classroom, signaling to the students that 2015 would be a year of wonderful learning.  So what can we do to get great energy flowing again in our classrooms?  Well, there are a few simple things…

  1. Clean out all the clutter.  Much like a house a classroom starts to collect things in nooks and crannies.  So I am taking one day to go in and get rid of the clutter.  Start fresh with clean surfaces, wipe everything down, and reorganize the essentials.  The students may not notice it, but the energy changes.
  2. Pay special attention to your own area.  I have a few tables that I use for papers, binders, and other things I need to teach.  They look fine but could really use a good going through.  So every paper will be filed, every drawer will be cleaned.  It is so nice to come back to order.
  3. Switch out all of your (book) displays.  Whatever you have on display in the classroom, change it out.  I always see the students perk up when they notice the new displays.  I treat my classroom like a mini-library and thus have a lot of books displayed throughout,  these are the way my room is “decorated.”  I cannot tell you the excitement kids have when they see new ones displayed.  It doesn’t even have to be new books, I often showcase favorites that students seem to be missing in their browsing.  A physical change in the scenery can inject quite a lot of excitement for a new year.
  4. Find one great new idea.  I love starting the new year with a great new idea.  So pledge to try something different, doesn’t have to be a big thing; find a way to incorporate a technology tool you already use in a new way, change a project, or try something completely new.  Whatever it is, promise to infuse your teaching with at least one new thing to try, and remember; it can be something small.
  5. Be inspired.  Whether you read a great book, listen to an amazing conversation, watch a video, speak to someone who gets you thinking – find a moment for you soul to get re-energized.  I have my stack of books and podcasts lined up ready for me after Christmas and lunch with a few friends.  Break is also about re-finding our purpose, lighting our own fires and being the head bringer of excitement.  If we are not entusiastic to go back to teaching, our students wont be either.
  6.  I know, the title said 5, but here is my bonus idea and probably the most important:  Turn it off.  We are educators 100% of the time but it is okay to turn it off over break.  You don’t have to go in every day.  You don’t have to plan for days.  We see our students need a break but forget that we do too.  Yes, I have things to do to prepare but I also have cookies to make, songs to sing, books to read and relaxing to do.  You cannot get re-energized if you don’t take a step away.  So allow yourself a break, even from your own thoughts, you will come back stronger because of it.

What ideas do you have?

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 from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

assumptions, being a teacher, ideas

Use This Time to Remind

As-we-get-ready-to

I thought they would all remember.  I thought they would all instinctively know.  After all, by now, we have spent so much time together.  I am sure they had me pretty figured out.  Yet, after I surveyed them last Friday, I realized a few things.  They have plenty of demons for me to battle when it comes to English, and boy, do they not remember the first day of school.

That first day of school.  I should have known.  After all, I don’t think I remember any of my first days or what was said, what we did.  More an overall feeling of confusion, an overall feeling of nervousness yet wanting to get through the day so that the first day would be over; a new year begun.

So today we spent 15 minutes discussing the survey results, but also more importantly going through things that were said the first day of school.  Yes, you can really move the tables and chairs wherever you want.  Yes, you can really work ahead on projects and hand them in before they are due.  Yes, you can come up with your own ideas.  Yes, you can sit by whomever you want.  Things that I thought  by now they surely just knew.

You should have seen the look of surprise on many faces.

So as we lead up to the next winter break, as we get closer to an exciting time for many students; take the time to remind.  Take the time to restate some of those things you said on the first day.  Discuss as a class what you discussed on the first day.  Bring it back up and watch it sink in for the first time for some.  I thought they knew but once again I should have known better.  As we unwind; remind and see the change, plant the seeds for 2015.

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 from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being a teacher, conferences, ideas, parents

3 Ideas For More Meaningful 5 Minute Parent/Teacher Conferences

image from icanread

This week I had my first experience with the 5 minute drive-by conference.  You know the one; all the teachers in the lunchroom at their own table, parents waiting in line, and once the timer starts, off we go for non-stop talking, the only caveat being you only get 5 minutes.  Not exactly my cozy student-led conferences that I love so much.  Why the change?  Besides that this is how we do it at my new school, I also have 113 students.  I don’t even know how I could possibly give them a longer student-led conference at the moment without spending weeks on it.  And still, I wanted my students to be a part of it. I still wanted it to be worth the time for the parents, I wanted it to be meaningful.  I therefore did this:

The students reflected beforehand.  As always I had my students reflect on what their grades should be, what they were proud of and what they accomplished.  I invited all of my students to come to their conference but knew that few of them would, but their voice needs to be present.  This sheet allowed me to have the conference focus on their learning journey, not just what my thoughts were.

I reflected and wrote down beforehand.  I knew it would take a long time for me to write strengths and goals for all of my students, but I knew it was worth it.  In the week preceding conferences I spent every evening thinking about each child, writing down what I knew I wanted to share (beside their grades).  I didn’t want the conference to be focused on the grades, I wanted it to be focused on the child.  I was then able to share what my thoughts were after we looked at the student’s reflection.

I asked the parents how they felt and what they thought.  My gut reaction was to not ask any questions and just run it as a fast monologue.  After all, with only 5 minutes I have a lot to cover, but that is not the point of these conferences.  No matter the time limit, parents/guardians/students should always have the time to speak, even if you feel like it may eat up too much valuable time.

Always find something good and end with that.  Ok, so this is the fourth idea which I wrote about yesterday.  In every conference I made sure to end with something good.  I remember how it was as a kid to have your parents go to conferences without you; that nervous feeling, that growing sense of dread.  As a teacher I want to make sure my students know that I am in their corner, even if there are things to work on.  Often the last thing we say is the one that leaves the freshest impression, so make it something good.

Other small ideas include:

Be wiling to set up separate conferences.  I knew that some of my students needed more time for discussion so rater than wait for parents to contact me, I sent out a blanket email offering every child a longer conference at a different time in our classroom.  A few responded and there were even a few surprises of who wanted a longer one.  You never know until you ask.

Bring out the picture books. I send all student work home so instead of having their to display, I will have some awesome picture books out.  That way, parents can at least read some awesome stories while they wait.

Just listening.  Often parents know exactly what their child needs to work on or they have simply heard it before, so stop talking and listen.  Ask them questions and see how much they cover that you would have covered as well.  Parents know their kids, sometimes we seem to forget that (myself included).

Treat ever conference as if it is your first of the day.  Every parent deserves the best of you, so keep smiling, keep the energy up.  Yes, I know it is like running a marathon to be your very best self for 4 or more hours, but that is what you should be.  I had water and peppermints to help me keep up the spirit.  We owe it those waiting to meet with us.

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 from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.