being a student, Literacy, new year, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, Student-Led, tools

A Work in Progress: Digital Notebooks for Reading Identity Development

Just the front cover, to see the whole notebook, press this link

While my district gathers information as we try to determine what the fall can look like my wheels have been spinning. While I may not know whether I will be in a hybrid setting or completely virtual, I know that it will not be school as usual and so a huge question I am wrestling with is how do I translate what we do as a community face-to-face into this new mode of teaching? How do I continue to center our classroom on reading and writing identity when we won’t have the same opportunity for daily discussion and community exploration? When I won’t be right there to kid-watch and adjust my instruction and care of them accordingly?

Every year our readers’ notebooks become a trusted place for many of our students to reflect on who they are as readers, how reading impacts them, and how reading fits into their lives. It is all-year work that ties in with the overall focus on identity, how they see the world, how the world sees them, and how our lens of the world impacts our action. It is at the heart of what we do and yet, this year, I don’t know when I will be with them to do this work. How do we still do meaningful work in our notebooks without kids having to upload every image into our learning hub, how do we center our work in our identity and see how we grow throughout the year?

Enter digital notebooks which really are just fancy templates to make slide shows look like notebooks as my husband pointed out. And yet within the fancy template also comes a familiarity. These templates look like the notebooks we would use with kids, they can be organized in ways that will hopefully make it easier for kids to navigate the work and will ground our work for the year whether we are face-to-face or online.

And so last night, I created a digital notebook for our reading identity work based on a template created by Laura Cahill and while it is a work in progress I wanted to share it here as I know a lot of people are trying to wrap their heads around this work as well. As I write this, my former students are assessing it to give me feedback, I have also asked for feedback from other educators. I know it could be better, I know that collaboration will always improve my teaching.

In this work, I also know that I need to be careful with my students’ reading lives. That year after year they tell me how much they hate to write about their reading, how when we attach to-do’s to their reading it becomes a chore rather than a journey. That when we are constantly asking kids to prove that they are reading they start to not read. This is not anything new, I have written and shared the words of my students for years and it grounds me in every decision I make as the teacher who starts our journey and guides it throughout our year.

With this in mind, I had components in my instruction that I wanted to address as I created this tool.

How will I support kids through this tool? Each component is a separate lesson that we place the foundation for in the beginning of our year together and then return to throughout the year. I have written about all of them on this blog throughout the years as well as gathered all of my thoughts in my book Passionate Readers. So when I ask students to use their to-be-read list or reflect on who they are as a reader, they are not going into this unsupported, instead we weave lessons throughout these conversations such as about our reading journey, which emotions tied in with reading we carry, and many other things. It is also so much bigger than this notebook, this is work embedded in the conversations we have, the media we surround ourselves with, the quiet reflections, the surveys, the connections, the trust, the community, and everything else that we do with the realizations and questions we have. Please do not think that this notebook is all we do or encapsulates all of the work that happens throughout our year, it can’t be and it won’t be.

How will I know whether they are actually reading? I won’t. That comes down to trust, where they are on their journey, as well as which role reading plays in their life. There is no single tool that is worth me implementing for all kids that may not cause more long-term damage to their reading identity. When we are face-to-face, I usually have kids sign in for attendance with their page number that day, this allows me to get a quick glance at their reading that then is deepened in our reading conferences, that is not a fully viable option this year. So instead, the “Accountability” tab offers them an option to choose a way to show me when they have finished a book, and the “Reading data” tab gives them a way to keep track of what they are reading. I will be stressing to kids that their reading data is not meant to capture every minute or page read like a traditional reading log would, but instead to let them give a broad statement about their reading life the previous week. It is the two sections in particular I am still not loving, that will probably change as the year gets going and that I will be keeping a deep eye on as far as potential harm to reading habits. I also know that some kids will not want to use this reading notebook at all, that they would rather refuse than engage, so then that will simply be where we start our conversation. I will be utilizing reading check-in conferences as well, I am just not sure what they will look like yet since I don’t know my school year will look like. I will share my ideas for that when I have them.

How can we get ideas for what to read? Book shopping and surrounding kids with books is a cornerstone of what we do and kids need more than audio and digital books to really continue their reading journey. I have already written about ideas of how to help kids get books in their hands if in a hybrid or virtual learning environment and I will be sharing more ideas as I plan with our incredible librarian and other colleagues for when we know more. I know I will be doing live book talks whenever possible, but also dedicating time in our instruction for kids to book browse virtually, as well as continue to suggest books whenever I can to individual kids. Another idea that I am loving is that when students pick up or drop off books, we add extra books to the bag that they may also like, so that instead of just one or two books, kids get a bag of five or so.

How can students set reading goals that matter to them? For too long, I set the reading goals for my students. Luckily, I saw the light several years ago and I haven’t looked back since. Having students set meaningful reading goals, though, takes time. Many kids, even kids who have fantastic relationships to reading, want to hurry through the goal part and set it just so their teacher will check it off on their to-do-list. This is why setting a 6-week goal at a time and following it up with conversation will be so important in our year together. This is why our goal is not just focused on quantity but habits. Yes, they should read more than they have in the past if they can, but “more” encompasses many different things not just quantity. Kids can use the same goal for more than one round of 6-weeks as needed, some of my students work on the same goal all year. I just want to ensure that we have built in reflection time for the goals and will add dates when I know what my school year calendar looks like.

How will they develop their thinking about who they are as a reader? “Who are you as a reader?” is a question we have used for a few years now in our work with students. At first, many of my students have no idea what to answer, they don’t know necessarily what the question means or are not sure what I am looking for in their answer. That is why this is a year-long reflection question and one that we unpack together, especially because reading identity really just equals identity and so when I ask who are you as a reader what I am really asking is who are you? Since trust is something we build, I see a significant change in students’ responses throughout our year together.

While this is not a finished tool, it won’t be finished until we start using it because my new students will surely impact the work we do and how we do it. For now, this is my best draft and so I share it with the world in the sense of collaboration. That also means that you can certainly make a copy of it and use it, but please do not sell it or forget attribution. This is the work that I along with others have developed over several years. I am grateful that Laura Cahill shared the template for free, so this work is shared, as always, in the same spirit. Feel free to leave questions or comments for me.

To see the full reading identity notebook, click this link.

Also, if your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in a virtual and hybrid model throughout the summer and would love to help others as well.

Student-centered, technology, tools

What Do Teachers Want From Tech Tools?

image from icanread

Too often when we discuss technology and what to use in  our classrooms we get caught by the flashy gadgets, the promises of something new, or the latest tool to be sweeping the community  We think we need the newest thing to keep us current and connected.  We think we need more tools to have better tech integration.  And yet, I often find that it is not so much about getting more tech, but rather using the things I have better.  So what does this teacher really want from her tech tools?

  • User friendliness.  I am not afraid of technology, meaning I will gladly play around with something until I make it work, but sometimes even I throw in the towel.  If a new tool is not something I can figure out a little within a half an hour then I doubt it will find a permanent home in my classroom.
  • Global Collaboration.  I love integrating things that can connect my students to the world.  So whether it is a Kidblog account, a Chromebook, or a digital camera, the tech I use needs to serve a higher purpose of creating global citizens.
  • Ease of Integration.  I like to bring in a new tool or site and then see how easily my students gravitate towards it.  How easily do they find ways to integrate it into our every day learning.  That is not to say that it all has to be easy, but if my students never use it (like our Livescribe pen) then I know it is not the best fit for us.
  • Multi-people-functionality.  I have many gripes about SmartBoards, but a huge one is that only one child can use it at one time.  I have 26 students, they need to be engaged in their learning at all times.  Watching one kid (or one teacher) write on a fancy board does not equal engagement.
  • Reliability.  For a tool to truly find a permanent home in my classroom it has prove itself over and over.  It needs to work when we need it to work, and although we will excuse the occasional glitches, if a tool proves to be unreliable then I am not wasting my time on it anymore.
  • Security.  I am entrusted with 10 and 11 year old’s as they venture online and get connected so whatever we use in our classroom has to provide me with a level of safety for these kids.  That doesn’t mean filters to block out the world, but ways to keep these kids’ information and work safe while exploring the world.
  • Accessibility. The best tools live in the cloud or are portable, most of the time.
  • Purpose.  The tools we use need to have a deeper purpose of enhancing our curriculum, not just be a flashy tool to get my students’ attention.  So if we are investing our time using something, then there needs to be a deeper purpose behind it.
  • Fun.  Who can forget fun?  Tech tools should also be fun to use (most of the time) otherwise they just become one more thing to do.  We don’t need more things we have to do.

What things do you look for when picking a tool for your classroom?


I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, 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 Classroom Back to Our Students” will be released this March from Powerful Learning Press.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

global, global read aloud, tools

5 Reasons I Love Using Edmodo in the Classroom

Image representing Edmodo as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

I have long been a fan of Edmodo after it was introduced to me as tool in the Global Read Aloud.  This free social network specifically aimed at students and teachers is a fabulous way to integrate social media into your classroom, as well as setting up ways to collaborate with other classrooms.

While there are many great tutorials on how to use Edmodo such as this one by Jason Bedell, it is really one of those sites that needs very little how-to explanation, which makes it ideal for any techie newbie out there.  So here is my top 5 reasons for using this social network

  • Global collaboration made easy such as for the Global Read Aloud.  We have different groups set up for teachers and small student groups.  We love how easy it is for people to find each other, share resources, and even branch off on their own.  This is our fastest growing site used in the GRA and parents can even be invited in to see everything we do.
  • It is free!  Teachers love free things and particularly ones that are really well made.  Edmodo is easy to use, easy to facilitate, and does not charge us a dime.  
  • It is a great introduction to Facebook.  I know this may sound strange but I love how closely Edmodo resembles Facebook without it being Facebook.  Being a 5th grade teacher where students are legally not allowed to be on Facebook, Edmodo provides them with an opportunity to dabble in social media and getting used to using it well.
  • It is private!  I love the ability to set up different groups and the ability to add students to them.  I also love that this is something only teachers or administrators can do and not just anyone.  I also love how we have control over who joins the group, connects with us, and how we communicate.  You cannot find someone on Edmodo outside of it and yet it provides enough flexibility within its privacy that students can create meaningful collaboration.
  • It provides a direct pipeline to the teacher.  I love that students can use Edmodo for informal as well as formal classroom work.  My students often use it to ask for homework help, clarification, or just to boast of their latest achievement.  They also use it to reach out to me privately with questions or concerns and I love this capability.  Some students simply do not feel comfortable speaking to you about private things out in the open but this way they can contact me directly without anyone knowing.

Of course there are many more reasons, such as how easy it is to share resources, how it allows students to communicate with other classrooms and create polls, how parents can get a window into the classroom, and how I could use it to post and gather homework assignments.  So this top 5 is just that; my top 5.  Why do you love Edmodo?

being a teacher, Student-centered, technology, tools

Teachers Do More Than Teach – Why Technology Can Never Replace Them

I hate that technology and education seem to be at odds with each other as presented in some media.  This “either or” mentality is, in my opinion, detrimental to the future of education.  We should embrace technology when it serves its purpose, but not treat as a replacement for teachers.  Computerized tests may be better at accurately assessing which reading skills my student needs to focus on, but a computerized test will not know why that student has not mastered that skill.  It can dictate a learning program fit to fix that gap, or to propel them forward, but hitting rewind and watching it over and over will not always guarantee that a student masters a concept.   So when we let videos be the only teaching tool for a child, or a computer program, then we stop figuring out why that child is not understanding. We lose that human connection that teachers provide.

We need the human connection for that, we need some form of a teacher to sit down and figure out what is happening in that child’s mind.  To figure out how we keep them engaged and interested.  How we keep them invested.  A computer program will always analyze but forget about the human aspect.  It will assess the problem from a deficit standpoint whereas lack of understanding may be as easy as lack of vocabulary or lack of sleep.

In high school, I failed math and I repeatedly asked my teacher for help to explain the concepts to me.  She would explain it the same way she had explained it before and I finally stopped asking, it simply didn’t make sense to me no matter how many times she repeated it.  Mind you this was before YouTube and vast internet communities, before Google, and Twitter.  The only other place I could turn was the library.  And yet we let tools that do nothing but repeat take so much value away from the job that we do every day as teacher.  We have let the media portray it as the saviour of education.

A frightening future to me would be one where teachers are nonexistent or serve a secondary role to the almighty computer.  Where students are greeted by machines from their own private spaces and curriculum is served through a computer program.  Lunch is served by themselves and extracurricular activities are gone by the wayside.  Drastic sure, but scary nonetheless.  Teachers don’t just teach the curriculum; they process it, they analyze it knowing their students’ skills.  They invest their time in it so that students will want to invest their own.  They make it meaningful, relevant, and they make it fun.  Technology can help with that, but it shouldn’t replace.  Teachers do more than just teach; they shape, they mold, they model behavior, and they connect.  Often that connection is worth more than any curriculum.  Worth more than any computer program.

So the path of the future is our hands; we can show the way of how to use technology correctly as a tool to help propel us forward as practitioners or we can hide from it and lament its coming.  Technology was never meant to replace teachers, but it slowly is, it is up to us whether we let it.

assessment, goal, tools

Oh Wow – An Adventure with my Livescribe

Recently, thanks to a wonderful member of my PLN (I won’t name him so he doesn’t get inundated with requests) I was mailed a LiveScribe pen.  I have wanted one of these little wonders for a long time thinking it would help me assess my students, keep a record of their progress and also let them hear my thoughts about their work.  Having 25 students in my room means I simply do not get as much time to sit down one-on-one with them to give them all of their needed feedback.  The Livescribe pen allows me to record my thoughts and then have them listen to it so we can start a dialogue.

Life has gotten in the way a bit, though, so I haven’t had enough time to really get to know the tool and thus had not used in a professional sense yet.  The opportunity finally came Monday where  I was involved in an integration day for one of my students with special needs.  This is where the genius
of this little pen shone brightly; during the meeting I was able to take notes and record the goal discussion that was happening in the room. I, of course, informed the meeting participants that I was recording and then we started to work.  I now have notes and a recording of what we discussed should be this student’s main goals accessible to me at any time.  Sheer brilliance.

The recording has already been shared with other members involved in the child’s education and I am planning on referring to it throughout the year as we try to keep him engaged and involved in the learning. One click of the button and now my memory can fault me all i want, I have it all right there.

PS:  In a way you can say this is a sponsored post since I was given the pen for free to try out, but the enthusiasm is genuine.  I am already excited about the other possibilities of using the pen; hello post-observation conference!

learning, students, technology, tools

The Tools We Use (and Those We Don’t)

                    Photo courtesy of I Can Read

As I get ready to write my second set of report cards, I realize 2/3’s of the year has passed and I have some very technology savvy 4th graders.  And by savvy I mean critical, knowledgeable, and demanding tech users.  So what has stood the test of time in our classroom and what has died a silent death:

Some Favorites:

  • Kidblog – hands down the most useful tool we have integrated this year.  Through this blogging platform we have reached out to more than 20 countries around the world, have had an intimate view of the revolution in Egypt and created an ongoing writing portfolio.  I cannot believe something like this is free.
  • Animoto – a tool favored by my students to present video or still pictures as a way to give an inside view of our days and of our doings.
  • Flip Camera’s – Our fantastic PTO donated 8 new cameras to our school through the Digital Wish buy 1 get 1 fee program and we have one permanently on loan in our room.  Students have created grammar videos, learning snapshots and just documented really cool things.  
  • Glogster – some of my students have the glogster bug, begging to create projects using this medium, and one even created his own glog Christmas contest.  They have gotten more creative, and better at citing through this site.
  • Google Suite – well duh, most might say, but my students have become very savvy Google users, taking initiative to search for life cycle of the crayfish when our crayfish exhibited some peculiar behaviors, as well as creating Google maps of students they speak to, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  
  • Skype – oh yes, we skype and as the year progresses we do it more and more often.  From a quick check in with my husband (just to see what he is doing, they say) to classrooms around the world, we are bringing the world into our room.  Interested in skyping with us – let me know!
  • Wordle – ahh, yes we love our word cloud generator.  This tool has been used from everything to research, overused words, to poems about parents.  This free tool is pretty amazing.
  • Twitter – while my students are not on Twitter, this social phenomenon colors much of our every day learning.  From finding out about World Math Day to the Global Read Aloud Project, what I gain from Twitter is invaluable.
And some that seemed fun and then not so much:
  • Edmodo – this very cool social interaction site took off like wild fire and then died out with my students.  At first, they loved speaking to each other through the site from home and then they simply got bored.  Now, I think our last update was 2 weeks ago.
  • VoiceThread – I know of many educators that successfully implement this in their curriculum, but in my classroom, it wasn’t wort  it.  Perhaps it was because we didn’t have a paid for account and so it was rather limited usage or perhaps I didn’t give it enough of a chance, whatever the case, it has been months since we used it.
  • Voki – yes I know there is a Voki for education as well, and while my students loved creating avatars of their friends, saving and uploading them was cumbersome and time consuming.
  • ToonDoo – again, I do not have an educator account for this, which means I cannot provide the safe environment that I need for my students, however, students did do a test run and while some loved it, most found it ineffective and that they could do the same work by hand much easier.
What am I missing out on?  What do you love in your classroom?  What did you give up on?  Share, share, share.