being a student, being a teacher, being me, questions, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, student voice, Student-centered

A Most Important Question my students to reflect, to give feedback, to set goals and try to peek into their minds has been a mission of mine for the last many years.  The questions I ask change, but the purpose does not; to create a better educational experience for them.  To create a classroom they actually want to be a part of.  To find out how I can change so that I can be a better teacher.

For all of the questions I have asked, and it has been a lot so far,  there is one that stands out.  One that has given me the most significant answers.  One that has led me to question myself and what I focus on in the classroom, day after day, student upon student.

And it is one of the simplest ones indeed.

What do you wish I would notice?


Tucked at the end of the survey, when they are already thinking, when they have already shared.

Some write nothing, some say I am noticing what I need to.  But then there are the others, those whose answers always stop me, change me, and sometimes even keep me up at night.

I wish Mrs. Ripp would notice how hard I am trying.

I wish she would notice that I am funny.

I wish she would notice how tired I a.

How I need help.

How I don’t know what to say.

How shy I am.

And I am grateful for their answers, for their faith in me to now begin to notice so that I can be better.  So that we can be better.  So that school can be about them again, just the way it was meant to be.

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.

being a student, being a teacher, Literacy, questions, Reading, Student Engagement, students choice

How Do We Best Do Literacy Interventions?

Literacy intervention has been weighing heavily on my mind this year as I vow to do a better job for all of my students.  I think most of us would agree that we are willing to move heaven and earth to help students become successful, yet there are times where it seems like every great idea we have is simply not enough.

And I keep wondering; what do we first focus on; engagement or strategies?  I know I always tend to lean toward student engagement first and finding a way to combine it with strategies, but I still wonder is it okay to use a program that may teach students incredible strategies to bolster their reading skills, thus making reading more accessible, even though we hear students dislike the program?  Do we focus first on re-connecting students with a like or love of reading and writing and then worry about the strategies?  I know that ideally the programs that we use would be a combination of both, but is that even possible?  Are there intervention programs out there that students actually like?  Or is it on a case by case basis?

As you can see, I have more questions than answers.  I have thoughts, sure, and I know where I tend to fall; student engagement above all, but what if this isn’t enough?  What if a child will never be fully engaged until they have mastered better reading strategies that can only be taught through repetitive means?

Therefore I wonder; what would the ideal literacy intervention program look like?  I have seen many variations, some amazing, some not so much.  I have seen an incredible combination of ideas that have worked incredibly for some students, and not so much for others.  And while I doubt that there is one right answer, there has to be an overall approach that gives us a better result for many students.  I am hoping with this post that you will share your ideas.  Lend your thoughts.

Where do we start?  Do we worry about students loving reading or writing or do we worry more about giving them the tools to master the skills needed?  Is there a right way to bolster students?

If you are looking for a great book club to join to re-energize you in January, consider the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  We kick off January 10th.  

aha moment, being a teacher, being me, Literacy, questions, Reading, student choice

The Questions to Ask When The Kids Aren’t Reading (1).jpg

I met my first book abandoner my very first year of teaching.  Yet, he was not your average run of the mill book abandoner.  No, he was the “look you straight in the eye and ask you what you are going to do about it” kind of abandoner.  So I did what I knew best; forced him to read the book and not allow him to abandon it.  And he did what he knew best; fake read for a good amount of time, skimmed a few pages, and failed the book report as well as the presentation.  Repeat with every book.  I don’t think he ever read anything beside Diary of A Wimpy Kid that year, and that was even under the radar.

Everyone has these types of readers.  The ones that abandon because they hate to read.  The ones that abandon because they cannot find a great book.  The ones that abandon because they get bored.  Some years we have a lot, others not so many.  So how can we heal break the abandonment cycle?  How can we help these kids help themselves?  Well, there are a few questions we can ask.

Do they have choice?  Because if they don’t, then that is the very first place we start.  And not limited choice based on levels or lexiles, but real honest-to-goodness choice where they get to pick their reading materials.

Do they have time?  If little time is given to reading then we are expecting them to do something they may not like outside of school.  The chances of that happening are pretty slim.

Do they have access?  We know that students need great books in their hands.  We know students need great libraries, but they also need books in our classrooms.  And not old, worn out books, but new, enticing, high-interest books that they can check out easily.

Do they have people?  Is it cool to not be a reader in their friend group?  Who do they have to talk books to?  Do they have reading role models that extend beyond the teacher?  Get them connected in a meaningful way with others that read.

Do they have reason to read?  And by that, I don’t mean because of a prize or a reward.  Do they see any kind of gain from reading?  Is anything positive connected to the art of reading?  Will it actually make their lives better or is it just one more thing to do?

Do they have different ways to read?  Reading is not just done with our eyes but also with our ears, so if a child is constantly abandoning books get them hooked on an incredible audio book.  This has changed the reading path of several of my students in a profound way.

Are they hiding their true ability?  I have taught several students that could ace their reading assessment, mostly because it had been given to them so many times, and yet had a large gap in their skills.  So is their book abandonment masking a larger problem such as not actually understanding what they are reading or not having the stamina to stay with the story?

Are we making them do things that kill their love of reading?  When students abandon books a lot, it is a sure sign that we need to reflect on our own practices.  And not just skim over that reflection and pretend that everything must be ok.  Are reading logs killing their love of reading?  Are programs liked Accelerated Reader or LLI?  Are we constantly asking them to do things with their reading?

Have we asked them?  This is the biggest because too often we try to figure out why a child is abandoning books and we never ask them why.  Not beyond the “What didn’t you like about it?”  So instead we must give the students a chance to discuss or reflect and really start to study their own habits.  What patterns do they see?  What types of books might they like to read?  What can they do to change their habits?  Students need to feel empowered in their self-reflection because otherwise, their pattern won’t change.  They also need to set goals and then be able to honestly assess their own progress.

Do they see themselves in the books?  Such an important question asked by Dr. Jenn Davis Bowman.  Because we need diverse books for all of our kids and if students cannot connect with what we have in our library then they will not read.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  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.      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 me, Passion, questions

Where Are All of the Female Leaders?

where are

One of the most asked questions I get wherever I go is; how do you do it all?  And by all they mean be a mother, wife, teacher, author, and speaker and still seem somewhat normal.  Not dazed, not frazzled, not crazy.  I wish I had an amazing answer or  a magical formula that would somehow give me more hours in the day and peace of mind to the person asking.  But I always answer honestly; I don’t.  There’s a balance and sometimes that balance shifts one way or another, but I never lose track of what is most important.  Yet, the many times I have been asked that question, I cannot help but wonder; how many times has that same question been asked to my male counterparts?  To those male educators that seem to have a million things going on as well.  Do they get asked how they do it all, or is it just a female question?

I ask, because this post does not have inspiration or answers, but it does have a lot of questions that I am hoping you will discuss with me.  Because I have started to notice that there seems to be a double standard when it comes to female educators in leadership.  That females who lead in some capacity are always assumed to be sacrificing something for that leadership, whether it be time with their husband,  time with their kids, or time from their job.  And that supposed  sacrifice means that we should feel guilty (which trust me I do) and at some point we need to apologize for the fact that we sacrificed something in the first place.  That we are not supposed to sacrifice time with our children to further our own learning.  That we are supposed to become leaders only after our children go to college, not whenever we want to.  (Just to make clear, I have no issue with women who choose to wait until later in life, I do take issue with being told I should wait).  Not while they live at home.  That we tend to say no to opportunities presented to us because we feel bad, and boy, are we good at feeling bad.

So I wonder if this is just a female thing?  Do males get asked how they do it all?  Are they supposed to feel guilty when they leave their families behind to pursue a leadership opportunity?  Or am I biased because I am obviously a female myself.

It is not just because I wonder about the whole notion of feeling guilty when we are away.  More importantly though, I wonder if this guilt is stopping us from speaking up, from going to conferences, from taking leadership positions that we know will swallow more of our time?  Are we creating a barricade to strong female leadership ourselves?  Because it seems like everywhere I go, males are dominating a lot of the leadership roles still.   And it can’t just be me,  I cannot be the only one noticing this.  So I wonder;  where are all of the female educational leaders?

Because I am surrounded by them in my daily life.  I am surrounded by them at my school, in my district, in my network of people.  And yet, the minute we are asked to point out leaders, how many times do our fingers point to males?  How many times when we see a new initiative being pushed out is there few females involved?  How many pictures of leadership meetings feature mostly males?  And what are we doing about it?

So what happens to those women who want to be more than “just” a teacher?  “Just” a principal?  Are there enough opportunities out there for them?  Are we holding ourselves back or is it a societal thing where conference committees, editors, and other people with opportunities tend to gravitate toward males rather than females because there is an assumption that women don’t want these opportunities?  Why in a profession that is mostly female are most leaders still male?  Did we do it to ourselves?  Or am I completely wrong here?

PS:  Kaye and Leah, this one’s for you.

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.

questions, student driven

Why "I Don’t Know" is Powerful

Image form icanread

That first year of teaching when a child asked a questions I did not have the answer for I stalled.  I hemmed, I hummed, I did a little dance and then either hoped they would forget their question, that another child would know the answer or that class would be over so that I could quickly figure out what the answer was.

I didn’t think I could say, “I don’t know…”

Go to my second year of teaching and another question from another child, again; stalling, nervous glances, some vague reply hoping to satiate curious minds, but otherwise, same approach.  Glance at bell, dismiss the question, hope for a lifeline, wish that my principal or a parent wouldn’t see me in this position.  Anything but to admit my own inadequacy of not being the master teacher and simply not knowing something.

I never thought to say, “I don’t know…”

Third year of teaching and I realized I wasn’t the only expert in the room.  One child knew more about wars at 10 years old than I would ever be able to cram into my head.  Another was an expert on poetry.  The questions kept coming but my approach to them changed; I stopped being afraid of them and realized that not knowing something was powerful.  Not knowing something and admitting it  was a sign of strength, a learning opportunity to model how I would find out.  Now instead of nervous glances at the door, hoping no one would ever discover that I didn’t have all of the answers, I asked the students for help.  How would we find out, why was this a great question, did anyone else know?

This year, I am fully aware that I am not the only expert, I embrace it daily.  That I am not supposed to know everything.  That I am not supposed to pretend I do.  Instead, I am there to show what happens when we don’t know.  To show that even though I did my preparations for class I couldn’t put everything into my head but I have ways to help me through any question.  Now my students know to try to find the answer first using a multitude of sources instead of just asking me.  Now I ask my students questions that make them say, “I don’t know…”

I now know the power of “I don’t know…”

discussion, homework, no homework, parents, questions

My Kid Is Drowning in Homework – Why Parents Should Be Speaking Up and How

Mathematics homework
Mathematics homework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thea is only 3 and is nowhere near the homework assigning level, thank goodness. And yet, already it is an issue I come back to frequently in my mind, particularly as I get my fabulous 5th graders ready for middle school.  Speaking to some middle school teachers and hearing to expect at least 1 1/2 hours of homework every night and that no regard is taking for homework assigned by other teachers.  Yikes.  From a teacher perspective I have made my stance clear on how I feel about homework and how over-assigned it is, but what about for parents?  What can you truly do as a parent when sending your child to school to help them handle the insanity of homework as well as to maybe, just maybe, start a dialogue with their teachers?  Here a few things to start you out.

  • Get clarification on general statements.  If a teacher throws out an arbitrary number for homework minutes like I used to do on orientation day, ask them what it looks like.  When they say 50 minutes of homework, which child are they referring to?  Are they referring to a well-adjusted, high-level learner, or to a more sluggish paced child?  Which child will spend 50 minutes? Is that the maximum any child will spend?  At the very least it may make the teacher think about the 10 minutes X grade level rule so many of us have used as our standard.
  • Ask whether there will be punishment involved.  What happens to the child that does not do their homework?  Different teachers have different policies.  Some take away recess, something I shy away from because I don’t think I have the right to, others give them a chance to make up for it.  Some, like me, simply ask them to bring it the following day or try to not assign much.  This is going to directly effect your child and their view of homework, so do ask what will happen if they don’t hand something in.
  • Figure out your parental level of involvement.  Are you supposed to help or is this homework only for the child?  How are you allowed to help?  Would the teacher rather know if the child cannot complete a task by themselves (one would hope so!).  These are all important questions to ask as well and leads directly to the next point.
  • Ask what the purpose of homework is.  Is it used for grading?  Is it used for assessment?  Why does their homework look like it does and what is the end result of that homework?  This discussion goes way beyond just a general statement but it is vital.  Too often we assume that whatever a teacher assigns must have value otherwise it wouldn’t be assigned.  Having been that teacher I can tell you that is not the case!  So find out what the purpose is.
  • Search your soul.  Many of us think homework should be something certain because of what we experienced but even for this youngish teacher, school has changed drastically since I graduated.  Make sure that your homework expectations are not based on what you feel helped you as a learner, figure out instead what will help your child, after all you do know them better than the teacher but they are not you, no matter how much we see the resemblance.
  • Ask questions.  I am never bothered when parents ask me questions, in fact, I cherish their feedback and often wisdom about their child.  I differentiate assignments, I give class time and I try to not involve parents much simply because it is not them that need to learn a concept.  Yet I still fail sometimes, I still learn from my mistakes and I don’t always have the answer to something.  So start a dialogue and start it early, it can be something as simple as a line or two in an email and does not need to be often.  It will benefit all parties involved all year.
  • And finally, stand your ground.  As a parent I will expect Thea to apply herself in school and to give school her best in the hours she is there.  Once she is home, homework should not take up the majority of her afternoon and evening.  As she gets older, sure, there will be projects, papers, reading etc.  But she should not be having to give up most of her free time for worksheets or other repetitive tasks, and I will discuss this with her future teachers.  You can do this nicely and it may lead to a very interesting conversation.  Simply said; it is ok for parents to question a teacher’s homework philosophy.