aha moment, being a teacher, student choice, student driven, students teach me

Planning for Flow in the Classroom


Our classroom has been silent the last few days.  A stillness surrounding the students as they sit in thought, only interrupted by the occasional whisper.  I have felt rather useless, not teaching, barely speaking, and yet.  That stillness has been a sight to behold.  The stillness has been profound as students have sunk deeper and deeper into the work asking me to not interrupt.  Asking me to let them work.  And I have listen, and I have watched, in awe of what has unfolded.

My students have reached a state of flow.  That mental state where you are fully immersed in what you are doing and your brain is working optimally.  That zone that we teachers hope to develop every day so that students can learn deeply.  Yet ask most teachers whether their students reach flow daily or even weekly and they will tell you no.  Their days are too disjointed, we have too much to cover, too many things to do.  It seems as if we don’t have time for deep thinking these days.

So what changed in our room these past few days?  What changed for it to become this way?

I stopped doing an all class mini-lesson.  Instead, I have been pulling kids one-on-one as we work on their specific need.  The children that need extra support sit close by every day so that I can support them whenever they need, others come to me for help or I come to them.  That doesn’t mean there is no need for mini-lessons, just not right now for this unit.

We brought in music.  I always marvel at the students that can work intently while listening to music, yet year after year, I see it happen.  So some students listen to music as they work, submerged into their own world the music allows them to shut everything else off.  It heightens their focus, even though I will never understand how myself.  Music allows works wonders for those that tend to interrupt, they focus on their music rather than others.

They sit where they want and work how they want.  Some students are inn bean bags, others move tables.  I have a students that goes to the team area every day to work.  Some type, others write.  Choice surrounds us as students figure out how they work best and it allows them to get comfortable.

I spoke more quietly.  I can be rather loud as a teacher, so lowering my voice was not something that I often remember to do, but in doing so I have modeled it for my students.  They know to whisper, they know to not disturb others.

We speak for a few minutes before we start.  As students get ready, as students get settled, instructions and reminders are given.  And then I say, “Settle in, settle down.”  I repeat as necessary, almost like a mantra,  as the quiet slowly takes over the room.

The lights are off or low.  I have the most amazing window that allows a lot of natural light in.  Most days we have no overhead lights on and the simple dimness of the room signals to the students that we are in a quiet work zone.  The feel of the room from the moment they enter allows them to transition into the quiet, into the deeper thinking zone.

I don’t interrupt.  If a child is deep in thought, I think before I conference with them.  Perhaps today is not the day to check in, perhaps a glance over their shoulder is enough?  Too often our helpfulness interrupts flow rather than enhances it.  I leave a note for myself of who I need to meet with and keep track with check-marks.  I confer with every child every few days, sometimes just not on the day I had intended.

The first day we reached the state of flow, I was giddy, and yet also filled with trepidation, would we be able to reach it again?  When it happened again the following day, I started to pay attention.  The words of my students continue to surround me; let us work, give us time, teach us individually if you can.  and I try, and we work, and every day I marvel at the quiet, thankful of the thinking that is happening around me.

Note: I’m co-writing a book with John Spencer about flow in the classroom and student engagement. Go read his blog for great ideas on how to create environments where students are engaged.  Then go and check out any of his projects to be inspired further.  

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.  




being a teacher, being me, Reading, students teach me

The Things I Did That Stopped A Love of Reading


I have always had good intentions, my heart and mind has always been in the right place whenever I have done anything “to” my students.  I don’t think any teacher sets out to destroy, I don’t think any teacher wants to harm a child’s love of reading.  And yet, they say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and nowhere is that more visible than when it comes to our reading instruction.  When I look back upon the things that I have done, the things that I did because I thought they would help, but now know the results, oh boy. Well, let’s just say I am lucky that I have had amazing students that have helped me see the wrong in my rights.

So what did I do that was so wrong?  Over the last 7 years as a teacher, this is how I have changed based on feedback from my students.


I forced them to read certain books because I knew better.  Armed with levels and lessons, I have forced many a child in giving up the book they were certain to struggle through and handed them a better suited one.  Better suited based on levels, reading abilities, but typically not interest.


Students have free choice to read with few restrictions.  Throughout the year they have to read 25 books, 15 of which must be chapter books.  If a child is continuously abandoning books we discuss, adjust, and try new things.  We also spend time selecting books together and work on strategies to get through books that may be a bit out of their “level.”


Students had to prove they had read either through worksheets or a reading log.  Worksheets never worked for me because they didn’t give me the deeper level thoughts I wanted, plus it meant that students had to read the same book, and reading logs are something I will never subject a child to again if I can help it.


Students prove to me that they are reading in a myriad of ways without a reading log or a worksheet, the most common one being conversation.  We discuss books frequently in class and even within my 45 minute class period the students still get 10 minutes of independent reading time.  There are so many ways we can see whether a child is reading, we just have to tap into it.


We did the whole class book throughout the year.  This was to make sure we had a common text to discuss and I also believed that my developing readers could learn a lot from the stronger readers (which I still believe), however, this format slowed down some kids while it burned out others.


We do the whole class read aloud.  Starting with the Global Read Aloud we have a whole class text read aloud every day as part of our mini-lesson.  Students can develop their discussion skills around a shared text and I have a text to use every day as a springboard.  Students are then still free to read whichever book they want and apply our strategies discussed to that one once the read aloud portion of the day is complete.


All students had to use post-its.  This was a way for me to see their thinking while they read, they would even hand them in.


Students show me their thinking however they want.  Some still use post-its which I have readily available, others their notebook, their blog, or any other way they can think of.  What matters is that they are finding a way for them to stop and think and then jot down their thoughts so that we can have some deep discussions.


I always had an independent text to use for every small group.  I always did guided reading with the same kids every week and we always had either a pre-selected book club book or a text that I had selected.  This way I could control the strategies we developed because I had pre-read everything and could thus lead the conversation.  Students answered questions but no real discussion ensued.


Sometimes I have a text but more likely I have a picture book.  Students and I read the text together and then work our way through it.  All ages love picture book sand I have been spent a lot of money getting great ones into the hands of my students.  We read the book and then apply the strategy to their own book right then and there so that I can see whether they fully understand it.  If a child needs extra time, I hold them back while I release the others.


Students did book clubs with me as the guide.  This type of guided reading was something I worked very hard at but frankly it was exhausting.  I always had to read ahead and prepare the discussions so that I could lead the conversations.  Often I had a hard time keeping the 6 different books I was using straight, and trying to find multiple texts centered around the same theme was also hard.  Students did little discussion but at least they had a shared reading experience.


Students run the book clubs.  I check in and help them push their thinking but they set the pace, they select the books  based on group conversations, and they “manage” the club.  I have to step in once in a while to help a student who is not adhering to the group’s etiquette but mostly the students are in control.


Groups were created based on level.  I did not look at pace, interest, or specific skills needed, only what level the computer or Rigby said the child was at.  While this is a great place to start for the year I didn’t move past it until I realized this was not a great way for my students to learn from others.


Students are grouped based on needs.  Typically students go in and out of small groups that crop up throughout a week based on how they are doing on certain skills.  This means that students don’t feel labeled as beign a “bad” reader because they are not in the same group day after day.  They instead see that we are helping them with the skill they need and then released once they have it.


Students shared their reading lives with the class.  I always knew I wanted a classroom that was focused on reading, one in which reading took a central role throughout all curriculum.  One where our reading lives were visible to each other.   But I didn’t think to share it with others.


We share our reading with the world.  Students share their books on our blogs, ask for recommendations, and ask questions of other students that are reading the same book.  Our reading lives are not just something we discuss, it is up for everyone to discuss, and the world has a lot to offer.

There are so many things we choose to do within our reading instruction, or any instruction for that matter, that we think will help students, but end up robbing them of the spark that carries them forward as readers,  While some of these things may work for other teachers, they have not worked for me.  I am just grateful that my students have had the courage to tell me these things but they would not have done so if I hadn’t asked.  So please, if nothing else, ask your students what helps them become better readers and then do more of that.

I am a passionate  teacher in 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.