Be the change, Passion, Personalized Learning, student driven, student voice

Some Ideas for Personalizing Learning in the Younger Grades

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“Mom, you have to see this…?”

Thea hands me her science project, her very first in in 1st grade, and she is so excited she has a hard time standing still.

“I have to do this thing and I get to choose and I know I want to do coyotes and a video so we need to learn stuff…”

I grab the paper from her hand and once again marvel at the ingenuity of her teacher and the district we both are in.

Personalizing learning in the younger grades has always been something I felt slightly clueless about.  After all, most of the kids I have taught have been older than 9.  Yet, by watching what Thea is experiencing in her 1st grade classroom, I have a few ideas for how learning can become more personalized in the younger grades in order to create more passionate learners.

Give  scaffolded topic choice.  While this seems like a no-brainer, I think giving choice looks a lot different in a 1st grade classroom versus a 4th grade.  I know that 6 year olds often have many ideas, which can either lead to brilliance or indecisiveness, so I have seen how a limited amount of choice in specific areas can really help them get engaged.  In Thea’s science project she was told to study a Wisconsin animal and was then given a suggested list to select from.  She knew right away when we read the words “Coyotes” that they would be her choice, however, her teacher also left it wide open for any animals not on the list as long as they were found natively in our state.  Having choice, but with limitations helped Thea get straight to work, and helped her get excited about her topic.

Have many ways to access information.  Her teacher did not place a limit on how she should access the information but gave us ideas instead.  We therefore watched real coyote videos on YouTube, checked out books, found a PBS kids show, and also found pictures online.  Not being limited to one method of finding information meant that we could adapt it to what we had access to, as well as what would work for Thea in the moment.

Have various ways to show learning.  While all the students had to do a fill-in-the-blank written report they also had to come up with a way to present their knowledge to the class.  A few choices were given; diorama, poster, or a video, but again you could also come up with your own idea.  Thea immediately wanted to do a video because she thought it would be fun.  As we discussed it more in detail, she decided to act like a teacher because she wants to be one when she grows up.  Again, having this choice in how she would present her information made the assignment even more meaningful to her because she got to express her knowledge in a way that made sense to her.

Have selective goal setting.  The students all have several goals in each subject area, but the teacher lets them choose which one they want to pay special attention to.  That goal gets a star next to it.  When they have centers, one of their stations is for working on their selected goal, a clever way of tapping into what they think they need themselves.

Let them pick partners.  Even if you think it is a bad idea.  We assume more often than not that students will make a bad choice rather than a good one.  Yet, Thea tells me proudly how often she selects a new partner for math because she wants to try working with them.  This experience not only offers her a way to learn alongside someone else, she also gets to explore more kids who might be a great friend for her.  What an awesome skill to work on.

Have them self-asses with smiley faces.  Thea is just learning how to read and write, so having them self reflect through writing would take a very long time.  A quick and easy way to self reflect is by using smiley/frowney faces as you go through their learning.  Again, this allows students to take control of what they felt successful in and set goals for upcoming learning.  Another idea is to have students do a video or voxer message where they self-reflect.  This can then also be shared with parents to see how a child thinks.

Discourage parent over-involvement.  When I first saw the science project, my heart sank a little because I thought of how much work this might be for Brandon and I.  Yet, in the rubric itself, it said that to get a “4” or a “3” the work should not be parent produced but rather originate from the child with only minimal parent support.  So that is exactly what we did.  While we discussed with Thea what she wanted to do, we really wanted the ideas to come from her and then helped her as she needed.  The end result; a kind of messy but pretty funny video (who knows if there is a king coyote anywhere?) that clearly shows her enthusiasm for the topic, as well as her knowledge.

I am amazed at the trust Thea’s teacher puts in her little learners and am also reminded in how often we underestimate kids.  Personalizing learning is not something we should start when we think kids are old enough, they are never old enough.  It is something we should start right away because that is what will create classrooms filled with curious students.  That is what will create passionate learners. 

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

assessment, being a teacher, Personalized Learning, Student

An Easy Yet Powerful Method for Differentiating Instruction

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Today was one of those days that gives you hope.  Where you feel like maybe we have been doing something all of these weeks together.  That perhaps the students are on their path to personalize, to take ownership of their learning.  To do all of those things I get a chance to tell others to try.  And it was not because I did anything revolutionary, but instead because I relied on an old method of differentiating, a method that I have not yet perfected, yet it gives us all greater insight every time.  This is best used with something the students have already tried.

It is simple; with whatever task you want students to do ask them to divide themselves into three groups; those that would like to work with support of a teacher, those that would like to work with the support of a peer, and those that would like to support a peer.  Then let them go into those groups, even if you think it may not be the right choice for someone.  Pair students up in the two peer groups and have them do the learning task while you work with the other kids.  That’s it for this time.

Here comes the best bit of this; once they have done the task and you have looked at it (I quickly glanced at their work today and assigned them a score according to the criteria we set), then the following day you regroup them based on their scores.  Why?  Because some kids inevitably need support that they did not get the day before.  Some kids are ready to support their peers and do not know it.  And others just need one more time with the same type of assignment but in a new way.

So why bother with the self grouping in the first place?  Because it gives you invaluable insight to the confidence (and ability) of the students.  This way you get a chance to see how they view themselves and it allows you to have some deeper conversations as to their skills.  Yes, I had to bite my tongue as a few kids made choices I was not sure of, but it turned out that some of them knew themselves and their needs a lot better than I did.

And there you have it, an easy way to gauge students’ skills, confidence, and needs.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

aha moment, assessment, being a teacher, being me, MIEExpert15, Passion, Personalized Learning, student choice, student voice, testing

So It Turns Out I Am a Terrible Teacher

It turns out I owe everyone an apology.  Or at least a great big “I am sorry” to all of the people who have ever been inspired by this blog to change the way they teach.  It turns out I don’t know what I am doing, at least not if you look at our test scores.  You see, my students took our district standardized test, the one they take three times a year, and it turns out that at least for some all of my crazy ideas have apparently ruined their English skills.  It wasn’t that their scores dropped just a touch, no, some lost hundreds of points in their comprehension skills; whole grade level disseminated by this terrible teacher.  And there is no one to blame but me, after all, I am the one responsible for all of the teaching.

These tests are a funny thing really, they have a way of messing with even the most stoic of teachers.  We say we don’t care what the test scores are and yet we cannot help but feel fully responsible for the negative scores.   The positive ones, the ones that gained hundreds of points since January; those cannot possible be my doing, because I am teaching all of these kids.  And not all of these kids are improving by leaps and bounds.  So those great scores, they have to be a fluke, but those kids with the big fat minus next to their number, yup, I did that.

As I wrestle with my own feelings of ineptitude tonight, I have realized that who ever thought that teachers could be evaluated by scores that change so dramatically over a year, has never been a teacher.  I could re-test my students tomorrow and guarantee you that all of them would have different scores.  How a test like that can help me plan instruction is beyond me.  How a test like that can be used to evaluate teachers in some states is even further out of my understanding.  And yet it does, and we take it ever so personal because we care.  We think if we had just tried a little harder, worked a little more then maybe we could have reached all of our kids, and not just the “easy” ones.

So I am sorry for ever thinking I could help change education from within.  I am sorry that I have told others to give the classroom back to students, to create passionate learning environments where students not only have a choice, but they also have a voice.  The test told me today that I am doing something wrong for these kids, because there is no way a 34 question test can be wrong, right?  All I can say is that I am thankful to work in an incredible district with an amazing administration that sees beyond the test scores.  That has faith in us and in all we do.  That knows we are bigger than the test scores our students get, because if I didn’t, according to this test, I don’t have any business teaching some of them, or blogging about what I 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.  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, Passion, Personalized Learning, student choice

What Personalized Learning Is Not

I seem to have become an advocate for personalized learning, it wasn’t intentional, nor do I think I am good one for the cause.  I believe in creating passionate learning environments where all students have a voice.  So the more discussions I have the more I understand where the hesitance to personalized learning, or any seemingly new initiative that crops up, is stemming from.  Because much like any great educational idea, this idea of personalized learning seems to have become twisted into something it is not.

I believe in personalizing learning for every child.  That doesn’t mean a system,  a plan that can be found in a book, or even mapped out for the world to replicate.  They don’t teach the kids I teach so they have no way of knowing what they need.  That is my job as a teacher to figure out by asking the students.

Personalized learning does not mean to let go, give up control of everything, and hope for the best.  It doesn’t mean that every kid has to make something, invent something, or be creative for every assignment.  It doesn’t mean we have to integrate more technology so that we can reach every kid.  It doesn’t mean that teachers should just facilitate or guide and otherwise get out of the way.  There will never be just one role for all of us to fit all of the time.  Because personalized learning means to personalize which means to teach the kids we have right here, right now.

Those kids we have may want to invent.

Those kids we have may want to create.

Those kids we have may want no structure, to be able to show mastery whichever way they choose, as they tinker, play, and dream.

Those kids we have may want to integrate their own device whenever they can to show off their own genius.

Yet those kid we have may also need support.

Those kids we have may also need guidelines.

Those kids we have may also need a piece of paper with an assignment explained and a path to get from point A to point B.

Those kids we have may also need structure, an end goal that is shared with others, and a teacher that leads the way.

Personalized learning seems to have become confused with yet another rigid system where we assume that all kids want to make.  And that is a shame because the minute we assume that ALL kids want anything then we are doing the opposite of what personalizing learning is.  So don’t believe all of the guidelines, don’t believe that there is just one path to do it right for it means to reach all kids, to find a way to teach all kids, giving them what they need and being in tune with them when that need changes,

As a child, I would have hated being told to create on my own at all times and to somehow figure it all out.  That was not what I needed then, nor is it what I want as an adult.  Make sure in our quest to reach all kids that we don’t think there is only way to reach them.  Make it about teaching them all, reaching all, and realizing that there is not one system for doing that because we do not just teach one child.  Don’t buy the latest idea just because someone sai dthat this is finally the right way to teach, even if it sounds magical.

aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, being me, Passion, Personalized Learning, student voice

What Story Are You Telling?

My students told me to stand proud.  To make sure I made eye contact.  To speak up and smile.  Maybe play music and crack a joke.  To do all of the things I ask them to do every time they speak.  “Tell them what we tell you…we need to change school, no joke”

I stand today, privileged to speak to other educators about the way we do education, about the things we may want to change.  I stand today ready to carry my students’ words out into the world.  I stand today, nervous and with butterflies in my stomach, knowing that those things my students tell me day after day now have an audience to be passed on to.  I don’t want to let them down.

Yet, I am not alone.  All of us that write, all of us that speak, all of us that go out and discuss education whether globally or locally, we carry the words of our students with us.  We carry the awesome responsibility that comes with being in classrooms or schools every day.  We carry the knowledge of what may work work and what definitely doesn’t.  We carry the words students give us so that they have a voice.  We carry the stories of our students and what they do every day.  We carry their words when they can’t.

So before we speak of THAT kid that drove us crazy.  Before we speak of THAT class that just wouldn’t listen.  Before we speak about THAT school that didn’t work; remember that we choose what the narrative of education is.  Remember that within our words we carry all of their words, all of their thoughts, all of their hopes.  We just have to decide what we share with the world.  We decide what story is told about education; one of frustration or one of change.  The choice is always ours.

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.

being me, education, lessons learned, Personalized Learning, students

I Want to Be the Kind of Teacher

I have failed as a teacher many times, mostly in small ways, but there have been epic ones as well.  I think so many of us have had them.  Yet, what we do with our failures is also what defines us and today, after two weeks of rotations that simply were not working, I was reminded again of what kind of teacher I want to be.

I want to be the kind of teacher that doesn’t give up.  The kind that finds a new solution even when it seems like I could just stay on a path because it would be so much easier.  That knows when to hold them, when to fold them, and yes, even when to walk away.

I want to be the kind of teacher that keeps the students in mind at every moment and with every decision I make, even the ones where my own pride may suffer.  The one that problem-solves rather than rants.  The one that fixes rather than breaks.

I want to be the kind of teacher that realizes when something is not working and has the common sense to stop it.  That tries an idea with all of their heart and then makes it better when it doesn’t quite work.

The kind of teacher that dreams.  The kind of teacher that listens.  The kind of teacher that has students who are willing to speak up even if they know the message may cause temporary hurt, but in the long run will create a path toward a solution.

I want to be the kind of teacher that sees the learning in every problem.  That sees what can be salvaged rather than throws everything out.  The kind that can see the good in something or someone even in the bleakest of moments.

Today, when I realized that my dream for epic discussions had failed, I wanted to throw it all out, but my students once again reminded me that there were good moments too, things that worked that deserved protection and resurrection in a new format.  So instead of ranting.  Instead of raving about all of the hard work lost, how I now had to start over, I reflected, re-imagined and am ready to go for tomorrow.

I want to be the kind of teacher that never forgets their own vulnerability but sees it as a strength rather than a weakness.  That isn’t afraid to show the world failure to inspire others to grow.  That remembers that not everything is bad, not everything is broken even if it seems so at the moment.  That’s the kind of teacher I want to be.  One day I’ll get there.

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.