Creating Passionate Writers – Some Ideas to Start With

The strange quiet that envelops my classroom is astounding today.  The normal whispers, hustle and bustle, shifts and blank stares have been replaced.  Silence, concentrated, thick silence fills my ears, so absolute you can almost touch it; my students are in the writing zone.  I want to run around the room and high five them all.

I wish this was my doing. I wish this awesome moment was because of some grand writing prompt or assignment I had dreamed up, but the truth is; its because of the students and their honest conversation.  This moment was made because of the students and their audacity to share everything they hate about writing.  Everything that has made them dislike something that they will need as a skill for the rest of their lives.

What they hate should not come as a surprise; being told what to write, being told to share with other peers, being told to present it to the class, being told how much to write in a day, and being told how to write it.  All things I have done to students, all things that I still have to do to students to follow my curriculum.  Yet, their honest answers made me think too.  How could writing be given back to them as a process they have control over?  How could we fit our standards around re-igniting a love of writing?  What could I do to change this dire situation?  Behold a few ideas currently working in my 7th grade classroom.

Know your purpose.  While the purpose of writing is often something that is beyond our control because of predetermined curriculum, in this case, I was able to challenge the students to master a standard rather than master a writing task.  The students have been asked to master writing a narrative using vivid word choice and strong organization.  Think of all the possibilities that opens up for students!  So if you have an opportunity to just have students write, embrace it.  Challenge them to show you mastery in a way that works for them.  They get that they have to learn how to write a variety of ways, but we have to take care of their inner writer as well.  Dont let that get lost in our eagerness to create stronger writers.

Give them control of the product.  The final product needs to be their best work to show that they have mastered the standard but what they create it up to them.  It has to be complete, it has to have a beginning, middle, and end and it has to be their best work.  I have students working on any type of standard story imaginable, but I also have students writing a collection of short stories, a story told in verse, several graphic novels, fan fiction, and even students extending books they have read.  The point is; having full choice within the narrative genre is inspiring my students to write, even getting some excited to come to class.  This is the first time I have had kids being upset that the bell rang because writing was over.

Give them control of how.  Some students are natural pencil writers, while other prefer a computer.  I even have a student typing their story on their phone because that is what they prefer.  When possible, allow students to choose how they write.  We sometimes get so caught up in thinking we know how to best write that we forget that even professional writers all draft in different ways.  If we want students to be writers then they need an opportunity to discover their own method.

Give them uninterrupted time.  I had been giving my students some time a few times a week to just free write, but they expressed their frustration with having to constantly shift focus.  Thursdays are now designated our write-in days and they get at least 40 minutes to just write.  Not listen to me.  Not do an exercise, just write.  We cover everything else we have to cover Monday through Wednesday.  Friday is reserved for reading.

Make the mini-lesson truly mini.  If the whole class does need a lesson, keep it under 5 minutes; short and to the point.  Otherwise reserve longer lessons for a mini-group since chances are that most students don’t need all of that support any way.  Ẃalk around your room and observe, assess while you speak and make groups in your head as you move.  If 5 kids need help with something, pull them together and get to the point.  What do you see that needs work and how can they fix it.  Then let them get back to writing, check in the next day if needed.

Allow for talk.  It was incredible to see the writing community that has been popping up with students sharing ideas, asking for comments, and also just writing side by side.  Students knew to keep voices to a whisper to not disturb the hush, I didn’t have to be the only sounding board.

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Allow for thinking.  My own hatred of writing came from being asked to write on demand.  I needed time to find inspiration, time to think.  So allow time for just staring into space and daydreaming, check in with students, help them brainstorm if they want your help, but give them time for their imagination to take over.  We are always in such a rush; most of us would not  write well under the same conditions we tend to impose on our students.

Set up appointments to ask what they need.  I plan on pulling students for mini one-on-one conferences starting next week and I can’t wait.  This will be my chance to ask them what they think they need, not what I think they need.  This is to help students take control over their own writing journey, not just be led by me.

Finally, allow for space.  Many of my students prefer to sit at a desk when they write but others like laying on the floor, sitting in corners, or even in the window perch.  Again, we are trying to cultivate actual writers in here, they should be comfortable.

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If you are wondering how you can create passionate writers; ask your students.  What would they need to re-ignite or maintain their love of writing?  What can be changed?  Find out what you have control over, take some time to have the conversation, and then plan for the future.  Please share your ideas.

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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   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.

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I Hope They Notice

She picked the pinkest one, of course, it even had a little bit of sparkle.  This was important, and as Thea sat in the backseat, clutching her new backpack, she said, “I cannot wait for tomorrow.  I cannot wait to show my teacher.”  Not her friends, not her aunts, not her daddy; her teacher.  Because that’s who she hopes notices this new acquisition.  That who she cannot wait to show it to.

I wonder how many things my students hope I notice every day.  Those tiny little things that tend to get sucked into a blur of oblivion, rushed away in a fast-paced day.  I wonder how many of my 7th graders hope that I notice something small, something that means the world to them, and are disappointed when I don’t.  I wonder if there is ever something they can’t wait to show me.  Something they hope I see.

How often are the small things the things that need to get our attention.  Not their past school history, not their family life, not their grades, not their homework record.  Not the times they were late, or the times they were sent away.  Not the times they handed things in on tie, had perfect attendance, or even got it all right.  Not those times, we notice those.  The little times, the ones that make a difference to them but to us may seem inconsequential.

I will never be able to notice every little thing, but it won’t be for a lack of trying.  At least I can say that much, I tried, my team tries, even if we don’t always succeed.  I hope they notice that we see them.  I hope they notice that we pay attention.  Because even though they may be much bigger than Thea, I hope it matters to them still that we care.  I hope it matters that we try.

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.

The Forms I Use – Readers Workshop in the Middle School Classroom

image from etsy

Teaching 120+ students comes with its own challenges, one of them being, paperwork.  After all, how do you keep track of who is doing what, which child is participating, what they are reading, and all of those others things I would like to know so that I can have deep reading conversations with them?  While some prefer electronic methods of keeping track, I must admit I am more of paper and pencil kind of teacher (weird, I know).  When I have tried taking notes on a computer or my phone, I have seen it as a barrier between me and the child.  But a clipboard and a pencil, no big deal.  So what have I been using in the classroom?

A binder for every class.  I have a 2″ binder for every class I teach where each child has their own section.  I printed out their pictures, added old test information, and then tried to memorize their names (not so much their test scores right now).

My “What have I noticed form” – a sheet with this title on it sits in every child’s tab.  When I pop around the classroom, I take notes on address labels that can easily be placed on the child’s page after class.  My clipboard and I come to the kids, who are getting used to me popping next to them to ask them what they are working on.

A quick participation/focus/deep thoughts sheet.  I noticed that I was writing a lot of the same things down about certain kids after every class and immediately knew that I needed a checklist.  Thus this form was created, a quick check off sheet that again sits in every kid’s file and I flip through it after most classes.

Our yearly goal sheet.  I keep these as well but students fill out reading goals every month and then reflect on whether they met them or not at the end.  They also write down their goals in their notebooks so that they remember them.  To see them, click here.

Reading reflections.  We are working on taking ownership over our own reading journey so reflection is huge.  These are filled out and a copy is sent home in case parents wants to see their thoughts.  I encourage students to reflect honestly because otherwise they cannot grow.  Here is our “Halfway through the quarter” reflection.

In 5th grade, my forms looked a lot different.  They were meant for small groups and lengthier one-on-ones, I am still hoping to modify them for 7th grade.  To see all of my 5th grade forms, click here

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 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.

I am Home and I am Not Crazy Anymore

image from the glass walrus

For the past 4 years I have felt like I was an outlier.  Like my ideas were not normal, sane, and sometimes unacceptable, even if I knew they worked.  Like I wasn’t quite right in what I believed.  There have been days of doubt.  There have been days of genius.  There have been days where I have gone home beating myself up, dismantling my philosophy; questioning my belief in giving the classroom back to our students.  There have been days I thought I was crazy and was only doing harm.   

It wasn’t that I didn’t have support, I did.  Some people cheered on my ideas, others cautiously watched from afar.  But I was alone in a lot of initiatives.  I was alone in taking some of the risks.  I was alone in defending what I knew was right; that students should have a voice, a choice, and that there is a way to help students stay passionate about school, learning, and their own learning journey if we only push ourselves beyond the ideas of a traditional way to do school.

Today I finally found the place I belong, the place I want to be.   Today I found my people, my home; Oregon School District.

New teacher days don’t tend to be inspirational, even though administrators nationwide work hard to plan them well.  They don’t tend to be filled with people telling you to take risks.  To fail.  To push yourself.  To not worry most about the test scores, but rather to worry about the kids.  But mine have been.  My days have been filled with visions of rooms where students are all on personalized learning paths, where homework is for practice not punishment, where grades are for feedback and not for labeling.  Where risk is applauded and new ideas are supported.  And they don’t just talk it, they walk it.

I never thought I would be lucky enough to work for a district that I envisioned in my book, “Passionate Learners.”  I never thought that I would be surrounded by people who were crazy like me.  I never thought I wouldn’t be alone.  But they are out there; districts that put the kids first, that push for innovative teaching, that don’t believe that the way things have been done in the past 100 years is the way to go forward.  I hope all teachers find their home.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 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” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

So My Kids Did a Reading Challenge and All I Did Was Lie…Almost

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It started as a great idea; new town, new library, let’s go explore!  We went, we fawned (yes, fawned) over the incredible library and then we saw what I knew already would be there; The Summer Reading Challenge!  Thea, my 5 year old, and the only one aware enough to notice it, saw it right away and began to ask questions.  “What’s the robot for?  How do I get a sticker?  I want a bookmark!”

So I signed them all up, even the baby, thinking this would be great.  No big deal, after all, we read a ton, a challenge and log will only cement that.  With our library books in hand, our new brightly colored reading logs, we went home to start the epic summer reading challenge.

At first, it was no big deal.  We read a book, I had our 4 booklets right there, and down they went onto the page.  Thea would ask to read another because she wanted one more title in her book.  Sure!  I couldn’t believe how much we were reading.  Then I started to forget, leaving the booklets in random places.   I often forgot and then had to really think hard about what we were reading.  It wasn’t that we weren’t reading, it was more that I didn’t carry a booklet with me when we did.  I can’t find a pen half of the time.  So although reading continued to surround us, I quickly noticed how much of a pain it was to write it down.  Oh well, I figured this was the least I could do to keep a focus on readin g this summer.

Off we went to the library, proudly handing in our booklets and getting our prizes in return; stickers, baseball ticket, and even a temporary tattoo.  More books came home with us and I couldn’t wait to just read them.  Then, Thea started to ask me to read so she could win stuff.  Yup.  My ferocious book swallower didn’t care what I read to her, it could have been the back of a can for all that mattered, but she wanted to make sure she would get stuff when she went to the library next.  When I asked her why it mattered, she innocently said, “Because I want to win!” with the look of a lion that’s about to devour its prey.  Reading was not our chill out time anymore, it was our competition.

Then I got sick.  And not just it’s a cold kind of sick, but flu sick, for 2 weeks.  Yes, we read, barely, some days my throat couldn’t swallow so reading was more of a miming game.  But we read because it’s what we do.  Reading is what we have always done.  Books go everywhere with us, books are the tapestry of our family, we recollect memories through books.  We read until we fall asleep.  Filling out a log was the furthest thing from my mind.  After two weeks of being sick, I knew we had read, but what we had read and when we had done it; no clue.  So I lied.  I wrote in whatever titles I spotted in the living room, circled 15 minutes on every day.  I was sure we had done it, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t pretend to read, but the details had completely escaped me.

Again we went to the library, completed booklets in hand, Thea ready to harvest her prizes.  I handed the booklets to the librarians, sure that they would see through my deceit.  Sure, that they would question why it was all written in the same color pen, why my initials looked the same every day.  They didn’t, they meticulously checked each entry, then guided Thea toward the trinkets she had earned.  I breathed a sigh of relief, we were done.  Reading could go back to being about reading, not about winning.

I thought we were stronger than a reading challenge.  That something like this would only enhance the experience we already have with our books, going against my own teacher voice.  I thought we were better than this.  That our reading would never be a chore, a competition, or something to lie about.  I never thought that our joy for reading could be replaced with an eagerness to read simply for the act of writing a title down, not for the experience of the book itself.  I was wrong, it was proven, and I ashamed.  I should have known.  I should have thought about it.

We are about to leave, Augustine wants a bottle and the twins need a nap.  Then Then spots it; a shelf full of books with a pink poster.  Win these!  Do the Extra Reading Challenge!  “Mama, what’s that?!” she exclaims eagerly pointing.  “Nothing, honey, now let’s go find some books…”

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 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” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

So How Do You Manage Your Classroom When You Don’t Punish?

image from etsy

 

Following the debate over public behavior charts, many people wondered what they could do in its place to still keep students engaged and on track?  I referred to a few posts but then realized that I did not have just one post that laid out exactly what I do in my own room, tips and ideas are in many different places.  And then I realized, I don’t really have one system because my approach changes every year depending on the needs of the students and the type of community we strive to make.  And yet, there are threads that run through every year with my students of what we do.

  • I don’t set the rules.  The students know how to do school, in fact, by 5th grade they are experts at it.  So instead of me telling them what the rules of the room is, I ask them to make them.  They discuss expectations in their table groups and then share with the class.  Nothing is written down on paper but instead we get a feel for what type of classroom we want.
  • We create a vision.  Every year, I ask the students to create a vision of the room.  Sometimes a theme emerges and other times it is just our hopes and dreams.  This is one of the first steps in our community building.
  • We do community building all year.  Even on the last day of school we are trying to create family, and so we do challenges throughout the year, we have “huddles” (meetings led by me or students), we discuss how our room is doing, we change our rules, we set up new expectations, we sometimes even call people out.  Building community is not a beginning of the year thing, it is an all the time thing.
  • We do challenges together.  The very first day we do a bloxes challenge simply so I can get the students working together, this has to do with seeing them grow together and how they function without my guidance.  I love what this simple challenge shows me about the students.
  • When a problem arises, I consider my option before speaking.  Rather than call out a student for misbehaving I often pull them aside, ask them to leave the room to think about it, or do a quick check in.  Humor also gets me far in many situations.
  • When a larger problem arises, I stop if I can.  Often when a students is very, very angry, it needs my intervention or if more than one student is involved.  There is a root to the anger and something needs to be done to uncover it.  While it is very hard to stop what you are doing if you are the one passing out the information, often my students are engaged in a self-driven project r investigation.  This therefore frees me up to discuss/deescalate situations.  Not always, but often.
  • Engagement matters.  If my students are engaged, they misbehave less.  So if behaviors seem to be out of control it is often because of what we are doing.  If we need to stop, reevaluate, and re-think whatever we are doing then we do just that.  Yes, there is curriculum we need to do, but there are many ways to get through it.
  • I ask the students point blank what is going on.  I used to assume I knew why a child was misbehaving, now I ask them instead.  If its because they are bored, I dig deeper.  If it because of some other reason, we find the time to figure it out, even if it means for now they sit and take a breather for a bit.
  • I ask the students how they think their day is going.  If a child seems off, I can guarantee I am not the only one that notices.  That child, more often than not, is acutely aware of it as well.  So why not take this opportunity to build a deeper relationship?  If a child is acting out, there is a reason, we have to try to find the time to work with them and uncover it.
  • I look for the good.  I used to get so fixated on all of the things that were going wrong in the room, all of the “naughty” things a child kept doing that I forgot to see all of the good.  I now remind myself to look at the moments of kindness, the hard work, the laughter and learning that happens within a room on a daily basis.  I hold that up higher in my mind than the bad.  Sometimes it is all about mindset.
  • Every day is a new day.  Rather than label my students, I try to wipe the slate clean every day (of course, this is easier said than done).  Just like I want a new chance every day, I afford that to my students as well.
  • There are consequences, but they make more sense.  When I tell people I don’t punish they assume kids get away with whatever they want in our room, but that is not it at all.  There are consequences yes, but they are not meant to publicly shame a child, but rather to have them reflect and work on their behavior.  This can certainly still be viewed as punishment in the eyes of the child, but I do try to have a growth opportunity for them instead of just a  one action fits all solution.

In the end, I believe student motivation is a huge part of why students behave in a certain way in our rooms.  In fact, so much so, that I wrote about it in my book, “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students.”  I therefore leave you with an excerpt from the book to help you peek into my brain some more.

Not punishing students does not mean letting things slide or letting them walk all over you. It simply means handling situations calmly and figuring out the “why” behind the behavior and then working on that rather than enforcing a set of rules. How you react changes from situation to situation — something that’s much more difficult to do when you have cut rules into stone the first week of school.

Much of misbehavior comes from students’ perception of control within the classroom. That perception also affects their intrinsic motivation for wanting to be successful participants. A problem with punishment and reward is that it often only motivates in the short term. And yet many teachers do not know how else to get students to behave. I certainly was not consistently successful until I realized that the problem wasn’t the students, it was more often the curriculum and how I taught it. Meaning, it was really me. While I may not be the one who decides what to teach, I am most certainly the one who decides HOW to teach it. If I thought that mostly lecturing (which even put me to sleep in

college) was going to capture the imaginations of 9-year olds, then I was in the wrong job. So I began to think and learn a lot more about motivating learners.

My lessons in motivation

Here is what I know about motivation from shifting my own teaching practice:

  • Choice matters. When students choose not just what they will do for a project but also what they would like to learn about (within some boundaries), you get buy-in. This continues to be one of the most simple and exciting realizations I have experienced.
  • Motivation is contagious. When one student gets excited and has an opportunity to share that enthusiasm, the contagion spreads. My students get to blog about projects, we have huddles where we share, and we are a bit louder than we used to be. But guess what? Those loud noises are usually indicators that my students are super excited about something inside those boundaries I mentioned.
  • Punishment/reward systems stifle learning. This short-term approach to motivation proved to be more harmful than helpful. It created a toxic learning atmosphere. Now we have class parties when we feel we want one. I have lunch with all my students several times a month because they ask me to. No one is excluded from anything. When homework doesn’t get done (I have limited homework when kids don’t get enough time to do it in class or they don’t use their time well), I ask them how they plan to fix it, and most students choose to do it at recess. This is fine by me; they are free to go out and play if they choose.
  • Be excited yourself. The fastest way for kids to lose interest is if you are bored. I faced up to the fact that I hated some of the things I taught and how I taught them (goodbye grammar packets). Something had to change. Now my students joke about how I almost always introduce something new with “I am so excited to do this…”
  • Consider outside factors. Some students have a lot more on their plates than we could ever fully imagine. We need to ask questions, get to know our students, and be a listening ear. When my husband lost his job, it was hard for me to be excited about everyday life. I was too busy worrying. I understand how outside worry can influence the way we function within our school. I’m sure you do, too.
  • Manage and guide what’s in front of you. We will never be able to control what our students go home to, but we sure can guide what happens in the room. Good teachers choose to create a caring environment where all students feel safe. Students let their guards down and feel it is okay to work hard and have fun. It’s the first essential step toward building a learning community.

And finally, read more about old and new ways to deal with common forms of misbehavior in this chart I’ve put together.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 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” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.