Some Ideas for Re-Engaging Students

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For the past few days student engagement has been at the forefront of my mind.  Well, who am I kidding, it is always on my mind.  As I gave a workshop on student engagement, I was asked for quick tips on how to re-engage in class.  While these aren’t just simple ideas, I hope they can help you work through engagement lulls in your own classroom.

You can have an honest conversation with students.  If the same class is off-task or the same group, please pull the whole class or group together to discuss.  Do not judge, simply ask what is going on and then ask them to help you solve it.  Often students will blame being bored so then ask them how they can make it more exciting.  Part of creating classrooms where students are engaged is that students are expected to take control of their learning journey meaning you should not be trying to solve everything.

You can change it up.  Too often we fall in love with a routine like the workshop model and then forget that too much predictability can be a bore.  While I am not advocating for a zany show, I think it is important to be tuned into whether the routine is working at its optimal level or not, then tweak and change as needed.

You can turn on some music.  I have found that using music that has the opposite tempo of my students’ mood is great for refocusing them.  So if they are slow and lethargic, I play upbeat music while they work, if they are very energetic, I bring out the mellow tunes.

You can practice mindfulness.  I started using some short breathing or yoga videos after assemblies with my students because there was no way they would settle in on their own.  Once my 7th graders get past their giggles, they also benefit from 3 minutes of focused breathing.

You can stop a train-wreck.  When a lesson was going poorly, I used to ride it out to the end hoping that by then they would get it.  Now I know to stop, ask why they are not understanding, and then fix.  I also have the luxury of completely revamping it throughout the day since I teach the same class five times in a row (one of the only positive things about that).

You can move location or just move.  Sometimes my students have simply been sitting too long.  Past elementary level we sometimes do not realize how much time students spend sitting since we only see our slice of the day.  A natural restlessness is therefore bound to occur.  So we move around in the classroom either by sharing with peers, doing short book recommendations, or showing off our work, or we pick up and move altogether.  We can head to the library, outside, or into our team area.

You can affirm and replace.  This is a technique I adapted from the awesome book Awakened by Angela Watson.  When my students seems bogged down as a class, we spend a few minutes speaking about what is going on and then I try to help them replace those thoughts by shifting the focus to something else. It is important for students to feel validated in their thinking but then also for them to move beyond it.

You can find a different way for them to show off their knowledge.  We use turn-and-talk quite a bit, but I also ask students to act answers out, draw things out without speaking and any other way that will get different areas of their brains to light up.  This is not something I do the entire class period, but it is vital that we have students show knowledge in a variety of ways, rather than just one way.

You can make it personal.  Yes, personalized learning is a major buzzword right now, but I am talking about the personal connections that students can have to the learning and how we can tap into that.  A lot of disengagement comes from students being bored with the content, so we do need to re-evaluate the content we are focusing on, as well as what the students are doing with it.  Students may want to engage with the content in different ways but we won’t know that without knowing our students.

You can use technology.  We integrate technology throughout the year but sometimes introducing a new tool like Kahoot does fire students up in a new way.  However, with any new ideas, moderation is key because this does not address the problem in the long-term but simply changes the pace at that moment.

In the end, student engagement is just about the quick fixes we can make, but about the instrumental changes we need to have in our teaching philosophy.  It is too easy to just blame the students, although they do carry responsibility in all of this, so we must reevaluate whether what we are doing in our classrooms is truly worth being engaged in.  The bottom line is; we have to believe in what we are doing and show that passion every single day, because if we don’t, we have no right asking students to.

PS:  This is part of a three part series on student engagement.  The first post discussed the truths my students shared with me on why they are disengaged, the second post discussed the three areas we must re-evaluate.

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!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge, but rumor has it that it is out on Kindle already!

On the First Day of School

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Today I was reminded of the stark reality that is the 45 minutes blocks of time that I teach in every day.  As I sat and planned my first quarter, or at the very least wrote down some of the ideas I have, I kept glancing at that first day; the one that seems so magical.  I have so many ideas.  So many things I would like to do on that very first day.  Yet, the 45 minutes really stifles a lot of creativity.  The 45 minutes really forces me to see what is most important.

On the first day of school I don’t want to do activities.  I don’t want to play games.  Nor do I want to fake my enthusiasm.

On the first day of school I don’t want to force student into awkward ice breakers, while they hope the teacher will forget it is their turn next.  I will not force them to bare their soul, nor to share their dreams.

On the first day of school, we will not have many things planned.  We will not spend precious time listening to me drone on.  We will not run around hectically trying to figure it all out.

Instead, on the first day of school we will sit quietly and listen to a book read aloud.  We will have the time to speak to one another.  We will cautiously start to feel each other out, find our friends, glance at the new people.

We will ask the questions about 7th grade that we have, not because we have to but because we will take the time if needed.  Students will set the rules of the classroom, as always, and it will take as much time as it needs.

The first day of school is meant to be a great experience, but that does not mean we cram it full of things to do.  That doesn’t mean that we put on our entertainer hat and try to juggle as many balls as we possibly can.  Instead, it means that we take the very first step to get to know these students that have been thrust into our lives.  That they take the very first step in trusting us and trusting the community.  That can only happen in a genuine way if we take things slow.  If we allow time to just be, to just sit, to just talk.  So as you plan for the very first day of school, plan for the quiet, for the reflection, for the conversation.  Don’t spend so much time planning for all of the things.  Because this isn’t about how to prove how fun you will be this year, it is about showing the kids that you care.

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.

The Posts that Spoke the Loudest Part 1

One day left of this year.  This glorious, life changing year that included a new baby released from the NICU, a new house, a new job in a new district, and even 2 books being published.  4 and 14 have always been my lucky numbers but even I could not have foreseen all of the awesome that happened in this year.  So while I can see which posts got the most traffic, those aren’t necessarily the ones that spoke the loudest to me even if they did to others.  So per tradition, here are the ones that came the straightest from the heart and weren’t always easy to publish.  (In no particular order)

What Becomes of the Lonely Teachers?

…I know I forget to, I know I get too busy trying to catch up with the ones I already have established routines with.  I know I forget to include, to ask, to invite, but I try.  And it is in this trying that I find my own hope, that perhaps if I try and everyone else tries, that perhaps those teachers we let slip through the cracks will be caught by someone and for once they wont be the ones shutting their door, for once they wont be the ones that no one noticed that day.

How to Unleash the Uncreative Child

…When I look back on my childhood I see that I was probably not alone.  Many of my friends weren’t explosively creative either and while these days when we have uncreative children we tend to blame our school system, I think it was just the way we were.  We didn’t know how to be creative so we weren’t.

To the Kid Who Walked Through My Door Last Night

…But the truth is you didn’t come to me last night for math help.  You came to tell me about how you are trying your best but the teachers don’t see it.  How it is hard to stay awake some times.  How it is hard to not laugh when your best friend does that funny thing again.  How the teachers don’t get you even though 2 weeks ago you decided to really try your best but now you think your best will never be good enough for those teachers.  They already give you that look, they have already given up.

When Teachers Bully Teachers

…Today I choose to reclaim my past as I leave my old district and school and venture forward, it is time to take back the power that this situation had over me.  It is time to move on and away from the past.  It is time to tell the story of what can happen when teachers bully teachers.

A Letter to Those Who are New, Myself Included…

…Don’t be ashamed of being you.  You may not always have the best advice.  You may not always be an expert.  You may not always know what you are doing, but you still have worth.  Your ideas still matter.  You still matter.  Your excitement can spread.  Your newness may be an advantage at times.  Your energy and curiosity will help you.  So don’t stand in your own way.

And here are the most viewed posts, some do overlap which is nice.

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.

Am I the Barrier to My Students’ Full Tech Integration?

I have been integrating meaningful technology into my classrooms since 2010, trying my hardest to find tools that would help my students find an audience, spark their passion, and find their voice.  I wouldn’t call us tech infused, I don’t use a lot of tools, but the ones we do, I love.  And yet…I cannot help but feel that sometimes I stand in the way of my students and the technology they use.  That sometimes the parameters I set up hinder rather than grow.

It is not from a place of fear, I am all for technology and using it well.  It is rather from my own ignorance.  Often I don’t t know what I don’t know.  Often I don’t know whether a tool will work for the thing we are doing.  Often I get a little scared, wondering whether they will be able to be successful if they veer off the beaten path.  Often I assume that I have to be the expert and this should know everything and have all of the answers, giving all of the permissions.  But the big thing is; I have forced myself to recognize this and boy, did it make me feel uncomfortable.

How often do we as teachers let our own fears stand in the way of what we “allow” students to do?  How often does our own lack of knowledge of a tech tool (or anything for that matter) prompt us into saying no, rather than yes?  How often do we dismiss rather than invite?

So the next time we propose a project, how about we ask students what tools they want to use?  What tools do they already know?  Rather than rush into creation take a day to explore tech tools that may benefit all.  Have students teach each other.  Share your own knowledge.  Open up your classroom and show your own place as a learner.  Acknowledge that perhaps tech scares you, or perhaps trying a new thing leaves you worried about time line.  Perhaps you are not sure a tool will work or that the students will get it.  So what?!  Embrace this fear and allow it to push you forward, rather than hold you back.  Let students see that their ideas, voices, and prior knowledge matters.  And not just to make them feel heard but to change the way learning happens within our classrooms.

Technology tools surround us, with more being added every day.  We cannot keep up.  We cannot be the only experts.  If we truly have a community of learners in our classrooms then students’ knowledge has to be embraced.  So don’t say no when a child asks if they can use a new tool.  Say yes.  Embrace the fact that you may not know it and learn along with them. Admit your own fear, admitting your own lack of knowledge will only show students the power of doing just that.  Be a learner with your students every day.

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.

What I Take For Granted

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I know I have a lot to be thankful for.  And yet, it seems to get lost in the every day.  The hustle and bustle we call life.  I try to be thankful, I try to give thanks, but some of the things I take the most for granted are the things that I forget about.  The things that if I didn’t have them in my life, my life would not be a happy one.  So why is it that we take so many things for granted when really we should be aware of how different our lives would be without them?

I think of the last few days in the aftermath of the not guilty verdict out of Ferguson and how I take for granted that my white son will never be accosted by police, unless he deserves to be.  It’s amazing what you take for granted when you are white.

I think of the millions of children who go to schools that are underfunded, falling apart, and riddled with inequities, and how I take for granted the incredible school my daughter goes to.

The couples who fight to pay their bills every day, whereas my husband and I certainly have to save and budget and not buy, but we are never faced with the choice of heat or water or which one we should pay.

I take that for granted.

Family and friends who get mad when you can’t see them enough because life is too busy and it has been too long.

Ugly mini-vans that are safe to drive in winter and can fit all of our crazy lives.

7th graders who are invested in our classroom, who think I am ok, who don’t hate everything we do.

Colleagues who actually like you and think you have worth.

Plenty of food to eat, to fit even the pickiest 2 year old’s appetite.

Health insurance that doesn’t stop, even when faced with more than $500,000 in medical bills because a baby decided to come 10 weeks early.

I take that for granted.

So today, I am thankful, but not for those big incredible things I get to do, but those essential ones that make my life my life.  Those tings I take for grated even though they should be the first in line whenever thanks is given out.  What are you thankful for?

A Simple Lesson

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Their words echo across the pages; see me, notice me.  Post upon post the kids’ voices rise off the pages; like us, love us.  Altogether they tell me again and again; what we love about school is not just our friends but the teachers that actually like to teach.  The teachers that have a little fun.  The teachers that seem to care that we showed up that day.

So why do we forget this when we plan?  Why do we forget to take time to notice kids?  For small conversation?  I look at my lesson plans and nowhere does it say; walk around and speak to students, smile at them, laugh with them, find out more about them.  Instead the standards are aligned with all of my goals.  This is what we must cover, this is what we must do.

Those who wrote the Common Core, those who write the standards, seem to have forgotten one small thing; without relationships none of it matters.  Without relationships all our fancy lesson plans will be are words floating through air, no anchor to bind them to the minds of our students.

So this week, I am planning for time.  I am planning for them.  Notice me, like me, laugh with me, show me.  Those are the goals of my lessons.

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.