being a student, being a teacher, building community, new year, student choice, student voice

Getting to Know Our Students Survey

Every year, I do several surveys at the beginning of the year, I don’t think I am the only one.  As we try to get to know these kids that have come into our lives, I think it is so important to gather as much information as they are willing to tell us in order for us to be better teachers for them.  But I also think about how hard it can be to answer questions those first few days of school when you don’t really know what your answers will be used for, when you are not quite sure who this person is who is asking you these questions, when you are perhaps not even sure what the questions mean.

So this year, I am changing my approach a little bit.  The questions have been changed to be more of a progression of trust, not because I am under any impression that from Tuesday to Friday the students will trust me, but because I want to honor the relationships we are building and the fact that they take time.  Students will be asked to answer a few questions every day, but can also choose to speak to me about these things.  They are focused more specifically on what the child needs from me potentially to be successful and not so much on academics.  Students will do a separate survey every day, while not ideal, it will allow me to see their answers as the week progresses and then create one answer froup per student at the end of the week.

Along with these questions, I will also give my reading and writing surveys during that first week.  Those will be on paper as I place them in my conferring binder alongside the notes I take during our conversations.

Before the children have shown up, we will also have asked those at home about them.  We want to reach out to parents and caregivers as experts on their children and honor the knowledge they have through a home survey.  It is sent electronically before school starts and I respond to each person that takes it with follow up questions, those who do not have access to email or choose not to take it online are handed a paper version once school starts.

While the first-week surveys are not done, I am sharing here in order to receive feedback.  What have I missed?  What have I misworded?  What would you add or remove?  You are more than welcome to make a copy and make it fit your students, just please give credit.  To see the surveys, please see here:

Tuesday – Go here

Wednesday – Go here

Thursday – Go here

Friday – Go here

Thank you to those who have already helped me make it better, here are all of the questions together.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  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 a student, student choice, Student dreams, writing

A Few Ideas for Better Peer Editing

I became disillusioned with traditional peer editing a few years back after I had once again spent a long time coming up with a specific checklist for students to work through in order to help them strengthen their writing. I think this was my 10th version of said checklist, a list that was specific in its purpose, supposedly easy to follow, and exactly what we were working on. Almost every single student pairing blasted through the list and turned to me proudly to tell me that it all looked good, that they had now produced their very best draft, and that surely, there was nothing else they needed to fix.

And yet…when I inevitably peered over their shoulder, I saw the same mistakes. The same missed opportunities for discussion about their writing. Depsite the checklist. Despite all of my careful planning.

Move to 7th grade and I mention peer editing and all I am met with is groans. “Please not that, Mrs. Ripp…” and so as always, i would ask students to tell me more about their reaction and what they told me was the final nail in the coffin for my traditional way of doing peer editing.

We don’t trust our editors and writing is personal.

They just tell us it’s all good.

We don’t know how to help.

They don’t want my help.

I knew then that not only was I past the checklist days, but I had to change the whole writing community we had established in order to help them grow together as writers, a dream I am still working on year after year.

So in the past few years, we haven’t had a peer editing process per say, what we have done instead is focus on creating a writing community that is established early. A writing community that celebrates our writing, a writing community that (at times, because let’s be realistic here) doesn’t hate to write.

While this is still major work in progress for us, there are a few things we are proud of. These include:

  • The choice of who you work with in your writing. This way students start to see who can naturally help them with their writing rather than the constant forced pairings of years passed.
  • The choice of whether to continue revising/editing or to be done. Students know that when they see work as done, it often is, they then choose to either start a new piece or continue to work on the current one.
  • The understanding of the need for others’ eyes on your writing at times. The students we teach often ask each other naturally to look at their writing because they know that if they don’t, they will miss opportunities for growth. This is encouraged with built in time and conversation about what it means to be with fellow writers. Students are encouraged to share, read, and comment on each other’s writing when it makes sense to them. This is huge for ownership and lens of what they need.
  • The choice of whether to share or not. While students are expected to share some of their writing with the community, not all writing is for others. This has been a part of our foundation as it is important that students see their writing as theirs to own, not mine.
  • The choice to write poorly. It has been important for our students to understand that not all writing is going to be great. That sometimes what we are writing is not working, is not great, is not something we want to share. What we work on is getting past that feeling whether by abandoning a piece or working through it.

I know when I started writing books and realized what editing and writing communities really did for my writing, I know I wanted to emulate that in my classroom and yet for many of my students, they don’t see a purpose in their writing beyond the teacher telling them to get it done. This is why it has been such a long process for me because not only am I trying to get them to write better, but also to see power in their writing. This is also why I don’t write about our writing work very often because it is such a huge work in progress and I doubt my own ideas a lot, despite the growth I see.

So, the other day as we were finishing our This I Believe scripts, I turned to my learning community to see what else is out there for ideas in better writing partnerships, especially with an eye on revision, and I was not disappointed. There were so many great ideas and opportunities for growth shared that are helping me go further in my journey. So wherever you are in yours, perhaps some of these ideas will help you further develop your writing community as well. I know I have a lot of work to do with my current and incoming students as we continue to try to make our writing more meaningful.

This is yet another reason why I love social media so much, thank you so much to everyone who shared. There is a wealth of ideas here, many of them centered around the individual child’s identity as a writer and the vulnerability that is naturally involved when it comes to sharing what we have written with the world. And that for me is always the biggest piece; how will my students feel after they have shared their writing? Will they feel empowered or will they feel taken apart? Will it truly have transformed their writing or will it just be one more reason that they think they cannot write?

I know I have much to learn!

PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  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.

books, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, student driven, Student Engagement

So You’re in a Reading Slump, Now What?

Perhaps this has happened to you..

You know those books staring at you from your to-be-read list or reading shelf sounded good at some point, but right now, they just seem like work. Yet, you know that you should be reading, especially if you are someone who teaches reading and so you grab one, read a few pages and pretty quickly lose interest. You grab another one, only to lose interest again. The story repeats until your phone pleasantly dings and you find yourself surfing mindlessly, doing everything but reading longer texts, feeling the guilt build up.

Or perhaps you finished the most incredible book and now every other book pales in comparison.

Or perhaps you started an amazing series where the first book was thrilling but now on the second, or third, or fourth, it just seems to be dragging on.

Or perhaps you see that book that is okay staring at you, but you just can’t seem to find the time to actually read it and as the days drag on so does your memory of what actually happened.

Whatever the case, if you have found yourself in one of these situations (or many of them as I have), you have found yourself in a reading slump.

Perhaps life has gotten in the way.

Perhaps your energy level is just not there.

Perhaps it just doesn’t seem like there are any great books out there.

Whatever the case may be, this slump is one that you can get out of, it just may take a few tries.

First things first; identify what is causing the slump. Is it work getting in the way? Is it lack of energy? Is it that you cannot seem to find another great book? Finding the cause can help you navigate out because it involves identifying your own habits. What is causing you to dread or want to skip out on reading? What is making it seem like a chore rather than something you enjoy? If you are not sure what caused it, fear not, you can still try any of these ideas.

Try a different genre. I often fall into reading slumps when I have been reading the same thing for too long and it all seems really formulaic. This is a great time to make sure you don’t pick up another book like the last few you have tried and try something else. So what have you not been reading?

Try a new genre. Now is also a great time to try a genre that you don’t often read. Perhaps it has been a while since you last read historical fiction, or sports books, or a book about mermaids (yup, totally me) so now would be a great time to try exactly that. Do some research for the “best” book within a certain genre of the past year so that you can see what you have been missing out on and give it an honest go.

Try a new format. Perhaps now would be a great time to pull out audio books for your commute. Go to the library, download Overdrive or Audible and stack up on new reads. I recommend stacking up on a bunch of new audio cd’s and just trying them out as you are driving. Also, graphic novels and novels in verse are a great tool to get out of a slump, when life seems a bit overwhelming, I love to pull out a stack of them because I feel accomplished in my reading when I can get through one or two. Sometimes we need to boost our own self esteem as readers too.

Try a professional development book. At times, I need something that engages my brain in a different way which is why I always have a stack of professional development books ready to read or simply books that will teach me something. The change in pace and what I am getting from it is helpful as I try to restart my reading and the bonus is that it leaves me inspired.

Read outside of your field. I just read the book Keep Going by Austin Kleon which is meant for artists and yet as an educator, I loved the book’s simple message of self care and preservation of creative strengths. Even though the book was not necessarily geared toward me in my life, it was still a meaningful read. Don’t let your own interests and limits narrow your choices.

Give it 20 minutes. When I don’t feel particularly inspired to read, I set a timer. If I read for 20 minutes then I can decide whether I want to read the book some more or let it go. While this doesn’t always pull me out of my slump, it does help me stay in the habit of reading and at least my to-be-read shelf gets smaller as I pick up new books to try.

Commit to something. Joining a book club, whether virtually or live, is a great way to get excited about books again, and once again, it doesn’t have to be for serious reasons. There is something super fun in coming together with other adults who are purposefully seeking out enjoyable reads.

Ask your students what you should read. I share my book slumps proudly with students and ask them for their best recommendations to get me out of the slump. I love how some of them get invested in trying to convince me that the book they are recommending is the best book to read, they also add a layer of accountability to keep me reading, even when I would rather watch The Office reruns.

I asked educators what other tips they had for this and boy was I not disappointed. Here are some of the many tips that I received, some that I will for sure be trying out myself. Thank you to everyone who responded.

Amanda Potts wrote, “Sometimes I return to an old fave, something where I can take a dip or a deep dive; or I switch genres, read along w/a student or my kids, allow myself to start book after book until I (inevitably) get hooked. Library holds => pressure to finish before they are due, that helps.”

Alice Faye Duncan wrote, “I visit museums. During the exploration, I will encounter intriguing and unknown (to me) artists that send me off on a trail of discovery. This is how I unearthed books about Romare Bearden, Alma Thomas, and Kerry James Marshall. Museums are my gateway drug to intoxicating books.”

Scott Fillner wrote, “What has worked for me before, is to go to a library and hang out in the picture books. Finding new treasures, reading old favorites, and thinking about people who could use these stories. #SlumpBuster”

L. Suzanne Shanks wrote, “Simply fun “Junk Food” books, especially audiobooks, to get the relaxation, escape & joy back. Also, reading when I am tired is pure frustration so the rare gift of reading when refreshed works for me.”

Ariel Jankord wrote, “Carrying a book with me everywhere I go is huge! Instead of whipping out my phone to pass the time, I pull out a book!”

Trish Richardson wrote, “I set a goal of reading the short list of the Canada Reads recommendations. Also, every time I wanted to reach for my phone to check Twitter, Instagram or Facebook I would make myself read for 15 minutes before. The books took over.”

Beth Shaum wrote, “Read a book WITH someone so you have someone to talk to about it. I enacted bookclubs with my 6th graders this year because they were NOT having silent reading, so I worked with their natural curiosity and chattiness.”

Dr. Shari Daniels wrote, “I use @donalynbooks strategies – set reachable small goals, carry a book with me everywhere I go, read in the edges of time to keep my head in the story. Often, for me, it’s getting my “reading brain” back.”

Jay Nickerson wrote, “For me, it’s often a matter of a comfort book, like a Jack Reacher, or licensed property. Other times, I grab what someone else is reading. Poetry collections, comics, short stories, magazines are all nice bridges between books.”

Jaymie Dieterle, “I usually pick up an old favorite and re-read – or I let the slump be. I do other things for a couple days – Tv, movies, etc – and then try again. I try to take the pressure off the slump and be okay with not reading for a couple days.”

And the amazing Donalyn Miller wrote this great post with even more ideas.

What did we miss?

PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  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.

Be the change, being a student, Book Clubs, student choice, Student dreams, student driven

Join Me for the Summer Book Study of Passionate Learners!

With the bustle of April and all of the excitement that that brings, the end of the year is fast approaching.  But with that end also comes an inevitable beginning; a summer that calls for reflection, relaxation, re-invention, renewed commitment, and also the energy to try new things.  I do so adore summer for all of its passion and courage, and also time to just be a reflective practitioner.

It is therefore that I am pretty excited to share that there will be a summer book study of my first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students , which will kick off on June 1st and run for four weeks until June 28th. Why June? Because while I am still in school in June, I am also itching for some reflection for the new year. And then comes July, where I take time off in order to be a better person and I hope others do as well.

This book is what started it all, it reflects the journey I have been on, inspired by research and people who did the work before me, to create a more human and engaging experience for all of my students, particularly the kids who felt that school was not a place for them. The book is an honest view into what I did then and what I have learned from my students in order to be a better teacher for them while also working within the restrictions of a public school system. It is not meant as a step-by-step guide, but instead as a way for you to reflect on your own decisions and how you can change your teaching to allow room for your students to have more control and power over their learning experience. While the book study will take place in the Passionate Readers Facebook group, it is not a book focused on reading specifically, but rather overall student engagement.

So join the Passionate Readers Facebook group for a casual and fun exploration of the book, find a community of your own that is trying some of the ideas, or have already implemented them into their classrooms.  There will be reflective questions, helpful resources, Facebook Lives, as well as ideas shared in the hopes to make this school year the best one yet.

In the book club we will explore how to:

  • Establish or expand a learning experience based around giving space for student voices.
  • Be attentive to your students’ needs and share ownership of the classroom with them.
  • Break out of the vicious cycle of punishment and reward to control student behavior.
  • Use innovative and creative lesson plans to get your students to become more engaged and intellectually-invested learners, while still meeting your state standards.
  • Limit homework and abandon traditional grading so that your students can make the most of their learning experiences without unnecessary stress.

So if you are looking for a way to re-ignite your passion, to meet new amazing educators, and find great ideas for how to engage and empower your students, join this book club.  There is no commitment once you join, pop in when you can and share when you want.

When:  June 1st -June 28th

Where:  Online via a private, closed Facebook group

Cost:  Free – you do need a copy of the book, though, you can get your print or e-book copy of Passionate Learners here.

Sign up: Please fill out the Google Form in order for me to email you all the details when we kick off. Don’t worry, I don’t use your email for anything else. Also, join the Passionate Readers Facebook Group in order to be a part of the discussion.

Thank you for wanting to be a part of this conversation, I cannot wait for this opportunity to learn together!


Be the change, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement, student voice

On Student Voice and How All Means All

If I asked most of my students, they would consider me a great teacher for them. They would tell you how safe they feel in our classroom, how they feel respected, how they feel like what we do is worth their time. It is easy feeling like a great teacher if those are the only voices you pay attention to. But if you were to speak to a few, perhaps the ones who would need some extra goading, perhaps those who choose to remain mostly silent throughout our time together, a different story would emerge. They still hate English, they still hate reading and writing, they find little value in what we do, and some, probably, also see little value in me.

I don’t think I am alone in that. Our schools are filled with both kids who flourish and those who don’t. Those who see the value added to their lives in what we do and those who don’t. Those whose days consist of success and those who have limited success. But whose voices are being heard in our conversations? Whose voices are shared in assemblies? Whose voices are shared when we invite incoming families in to discuss what a school experience consists of with us?

And what happens when we don’t monitor whose voices get the most space within our school? When we once again select the few kids that we know will speak up, speak eloquently, and will stick to the message that we know reflects us best? It means that we create a false sense of accomplishment, as if student voice is something we can checkoff, as if everything we do is exactly right and all we need to do is just stay the course.

I worry about the echo-chamber we sometimes create, whether inadvertently or purposefully. How many of us purport to support student voice but then only give the biggest space to those we know will shine a positive light. How we assume that a child must view their schooling as favorable as long as their scores, grades, percentages show them as successful. How we squelch the voices of those who may have less than stellar experiences to share. How we dismiss their voices as simply kids carrying a grudge, or not understanding, or simply just being in a tough spot. How easily we dismiss their experiences rather than recognizing them for the incredible learning opportunity they are. A chance to dive into what we still need to work on, a chance to create a partnership with those whose experiences are not successful despite our carefully laid plans and best intentions.

When I ask others to make space for students to reclaim their voices, I don’t just mean those whose voices echo our own sentiments. I don’t just mean those who will present us in the best of lights. All means all and that includes those who will tell us the unguarded truth even when the truth hurts. This is why in all of my presentations there is truth that hurts, statements that made me grow, that felt like failures when I first was given them. It is important to model to others what real feedback looks like, to acknowledge that at times we will fail our students. That at times we will not be the teacher, or the school, or the district that they needed us to be and we now have to figure out how we can do better, with them. Because that is what the truth does; it gives us a chance to grow. To become something more than we were before, but we cannot do that if we only make space for those voices who will tell us all of the good we are doing without mentioning the bad. If we only select a few to represent the many without giving everyone a proper chance to speak up, to be heard, to shape their experience.

So survey all of the kids. Give space to all of the kids. When students are invited to speak at your training events, at your staff meetings, at your school board meetings, invite a broad range of perspective. Sure, invite those kids in where the system is clearly working, but also invite those who tell us through their behavior that it’s not. Who perhaps may be doing well but who really do not love it. Monitor who you give space to so that all experiences can be represented because if you don’t then it is really just a sham representation. And then ask meaningful questions, not just those where students will provide you with sound-bytes that will do little to move the conversation along.

Ask them if they feel respected.

Ask them if they feel valued.

Ask them if they feel represented.

Ask them if what we do matters.

Ask them how by working together we can make it better.

And then listen to their voices, all of them, and instead of dismissing their words take them for what they are; the biggest gift to do better, to be better. An invitation to create an education that matters to all, not just some, and who can say no to that?

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  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.  

Be the change, being a student, punishment, student choice, Student dreams

What Are They Trying to Say?

Black,                 Free Image

As I sat with colleagues not too long ago discussing a shared former student, it was mentioned how she still sees me as an ally even though I no longer teach her. Hard to believe as this was the same child that slammed my door loud enough to shake the team area while telling me exactly what she thought of me and *!@&*% class. And yet, still, to her, I am someone who cares. To her, I am someone who still has her back, despite our ups and downs while I had her.

We all have these children in our memories, perhaps you are teaching one right now (or many). The kids whose love language seems to be filled with protest, with ways to push us as far away as possible. Whose method of communicating their lives and their needs do not follow the same path as our own. How these kids, our kids, sometimes are the ones that carve out the biggest place in our days and in our hearts as we try to understand what it is they are trying to tell us. How they often make us feel like failures when our latest attempt at connection was dismissed and not enough. And yet….in every moment, in every day, we have this incredible chance to show that no matter what they throw at us, we can still be there, we can still care, we can still ask if they are okay rather than react in a more volatile way.

We speak so often of our vision for what our schools should look like. What they should sound like (silent in some cases which is terrifying but that’s for another day). What they should feel like for every kid. We plot and we plan. We dream and we train, and yet, some of that seems to be forgotten the very moment a child fails to live up to our expectations (thank you, Shana White for that thought). The moment a child seemingly steps out of line. We throw our hands up in exasperation, lose our temper, and quickly a situation that did not need to spiral out of control has done just that. Just because we had to prove a point.

I can only speak for myself, I try to not yell. It is something I work very hard at. Not because there are no situations where yelling might be used, but because I think the act of an adult yelling is only to be used in true emergencies. Yelling is only to be used when things are really dire. I don’t want to scare, nor intimidate my students, why would I? Instead, I try to treat these kids as the human beings they are; complicated beings who are carrying their own set of burdens every single day, just like I do. I try to treat them the same way I want to be treated; with concern, with an eye on my humanity. Not in an angry, authoritarian way, because in the long run, it does more damage than good.

So as I think about our school system, about the horrible inequities that exist, especially for marginalized populations, I think of what I can do. How I can certainly share the information that inspires me such as this article from Teaching Tolerance, but also the small things that I can do within my own sphere; our classroom. How I can approach each situation with calmness, how I can approach each child with care rather than anger. How I can ask if they are okay rather than jump to conclusions, how I can ask how I can help, how I can respond in calm rather than anger. How I can use humor and trust to try to diffuse the situations that arise. That I can try to be a part of a classroom that functions on humanity rather than punishment. How when I mess up, because I will, I can apologize and try to do better.

I know that every child is trying to tell us who they are, they just do it in many different ways, and sometimes those ways can be seen as a challenge. Yet, I know how deeply I care about my own story being told and heard, I can only imagine that our students do as well. Yes, our system needs to change, and we need to be a part of that, but that change starts right within our own spaces in how we treat the very children we get to teach every single day. How we protect their humanity even as they sometimes rage. We will never know their story if they don’t ever trust us enough to share it.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  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.