being me, student choice, student voice, voice

I Wrote This Post

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I wrote this post three different ways, and none of them spoke my words well.  I wrote this post three different ways but none of them said what I really wanted to say.  I wrote this post three different ways all leading me to the same question; where are the students’ voices in our professional development?

Where are the voices of those we say we need to reach?

Because if they are not speaking to teachers as we prepare for yet another year.  If they are not on our committees.  If they are not at some of staff meetings.   If they are not there speaking to us throughout the year, then who are we really preparing for?

That’s it.

PS:  In my district today at our vision conference, we had a student-led panel for an hour and half talking about the good and bad in their education.  The whole afternoon was then spent reacting to what the students said.  I have learned more today about being a good teacher then I have at many conferences.  And that quote at the top came from one of our students today.

PPS:  To see all of the surveys I use with students and parents to get to know them better, go here.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.  

Be the change, being a teacher, new year, student choice, Student-centered, voice

Some Myths About Student Choice and Voice

If you ever listen to me speak, whether in a podcast, at a conference, or just over tea here in Wisconsin, chances are at some point I will mention student voice.  And then, if we continue discussing teaching, student choice will also pop up.  I can’t help it.  It is what I fervently believe in.  It is what I live for in the classroom.  Yet, sometimes when I bring it up, I get strange looks, like “Is she insane?” type of looks.  Or just confused expressions, nonchalant shrugs, or even indifference.  Sometimes though I get excitement, then confusion, then questions.  Those are my favorite types of moment.

So what are some of the most common myths about student voice and choice?

That it is hard.  Giving students a voice is not hard.  Asking them for their opinion is not hard.  Implementing it is.  Listening to it without judgment is.  But asking the first question, not hard, not even brave.  Acting on what they tell you, now that takes courage.

That is a mess.  Sure, students working on different things can be messy, but it is far from a mess. A mess would indicate no direction, no instructions, no real purpose.  Messy can indicate a variety of things; creativity in progress, exploration at hand, failure and triumph all at the same time.

That it is utopian.  Offering students a choice in what they are doing, even if it is a small one, is not an unrealistic expectations for students to have.  After all, as adults (which I believe children will be some day) we are given choices all of the time.  Sure, certain things are determined by things outside of our control, but so many things can be handed over to students to decide.  We just have to look for them.

That it stands in the way of learning.  Often choice is seen as a hindrance to cover what we need to cover, yet, in my experience the opposite is true.  Giving students choices and a voice in the world will help you cover more curriculum.  You can have students unpack the standards with you and come up with ways to cover multiple ones in projects.  Plus student engagement inevitably goes up when they are engaged in the learning progress.

That it will breed negativity.  Often the assumption is that if you give students a voice all they will do is complain, but that is simply not true.  Sure, there will be complaints, but there will also be constructive criticism, braistorming, ideas, questions, and hope.  We will not know what we get without asking first.

That it is the answer to everything.  I love student choice and voice, but there is more than this to creating a successful learning journey.  You can add it, but it won’t fix everything.  To do that you have to figure out whether you would want to be a student in your own classroom and then start fixing what you wouldn’t like.  Student choice and voice are just parts of the solution.

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.

kidblog, student blogging, voice

How to Create Successful Student Blogging – Taking it to A Deeper Level

One question that pops up in my conversations with people whenever I highlight the blogging I do with my 5th graders is that of safety and commitment.   How to keep them safe while online, how to prevent cyber bullying and also how to get them invested so it is not just another chore on their massive to do lists.  While approaches differ, this is what has worked well for me.
  • Open it up to the world.  One huge fear people have when they have their students blog is opening up the blog to the world but those global connections are exactly what make blogging such a phenomenal experience for everyone.  If I had a private blog I wouldn’t have to teach the students much, it is the vast possibility of the unknown that forces us to really think about how we present ourselves to the world and how we conduct ourselves.
  • Stay on as moderator.  While this may be an “oh duh” comment just leaving you as moderator of both comments and posts and then doing your job (reading everything) is a huge deterrent to anything.  Comments don’t just slip through.  Posts have the right tone and students present themselves well.  And I have only once in my 2 years of student blogging had to intervene in a post.  That’s with more than 1,600 students posts.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare.  I don’t just set up their blog and let them do it, we prepare through many steps.  We learn about safety and we approach it like any other skill; one we must develop in order to fully understand it.  But it goes deeper than safety, we have to get to the “why” of blogging, otherwise it will just be another demand from the teacher.
  • Treat it with reverence.  Blogging is not an automatic right in my classroom.  It is something the students learn about, build toward and ultimately have to prove that they are mature enough to handle.  We discuss how much of a privilege it is throughout the year which means the students get that this is important.  They know they represent our school district on our blog and that adds weight.
  • Have conduct rules.  Just like in any other situation we talk about what good commenting, good posting, and good conversational skills are.  Students know that their sense of humor can be taken out of context and that they need to represent at all times.  So we discuss how to engage in a dialogue without hurting others and we talk about how to offer appropriate feedback as well.
  • Revisit.  I say this all the time, just like in any other big life lessons, how to blog appropriately, safely and well is not a beginning of the year lesson, it is an all the time lesson.  And you need to make the time for it.  
  • Build community.  Blogging is only really successful if you have the trust of the students.  We use our blog to discuss happenings in our classroom, do curriculum, but also to write about big issues that affect the students.  If they didn’t trust me and their audience, my kids wouldn’t bare their hearts like they do.  Asking a 10 year old to tell them how they really feel about your classroom can be viewed as a trick question, one asked to get them into trouble, so before you get to those big questions, the foundation of honesty, reflection, and trust has to be present in the physical world.  
  • Walk the walk.  I blog extensively and I share it with my students.  I talk about what my take aways are from blogging and why it is a necessary part of my growth as a teacher.  I do not hide what I blog about and I even highlight some posts that revolve around my students.  I show how I comment, build relationships and respond appropriately.  I am right there with my students, doing the same thing they do, sharing the experience.
  • Listen.  I have students suggest topics, I have them give me feedback, and I let them blog about whatever they want.  All of that adds their passion to it and that is why they keep blogging even now when school is out and they are on summer vacation.  They still have stories to tell and people to connect with.  

By no means a complete list, but hopefully food for thought.  Student blogging can be such a powerful learning experience and one that shows students that they have a voice and a place in the world of importance.  They are indeed connected within our class, our school, and in the world.  What else can you do for free that teaches them that?

Be the change, education reform, Student-centered, voice

When Students Speak Do We Even Really Listen?

Get us out of our seats.  Less homework.  Not so many tests.  More projects, more hands-on, more fun.  All things students will tell you if you ask them how school should be.  All things we have heard for years and yet many of us have yet to react to them.  We chalk their statements up to students being lazy; they don’t want to work, that is why they want less homework.  They don’t know their curriculum so they don’t want to be tested on it.  I have too much to cover so they have to listen and stay in their seats while I lecture.  We have a plan, a program, and students are just another piece to plan for and to fit into everything we need to cover.  They are obstacles to be conquered, to be molded and shaped until they fit perfectly into our round holes whether they started out square or triangular.

So as the education debate rages and more and more voices join the discussion, I wonder why we don’t listen to the one that should carry the most weight; the student.  Where are the children at these meetings.  Where are the future generations?  Not even invited.  And I don’t mean just the high school students but the young ones, the ones that have just started school that still like to come, that still like to be excited, the ones that haven’t been burned by a system that progresses whether they are with it or not.   Those students should have a seat at the table and when they speak we should really listen.  We should stop with our excuses and our assumptions of why they say these things and want these changes.  We should listen to their message and then actually believe it.  Let them speak, let them be heard, and let us change.

It is possible to make school fun through projects and student choice.  It is possible to cut out homework and still cover everything you need to cover.  It is possible to not test and still know where your students are academically.  It is possible to stop talking and let them be the leaders, the guides, the teachers.  It is possible…if you believe in it.

education reform, voice

We are Part of Something Bigger

We are part of something bigger.  Those of us who choose to ask the hard questions, those of us who dare to raise our voice in the face of testing, rewards, and sanctions.

We are part of something larger than us, something that is taking root in America, in the world, and educators are standing up and saying “No more.”  Our children are the ones who suffer under politicians latest ideas.  Our children are the ones we experiment with, hoping that someday we will get it right.  Our children deserve something better than having school done to them.

It is time to listen to the passionate teachers that actually have ideas for change.  It is time for us to raise up and join together, reclaim what is ours, education,  and let our voices be heard.  It is time.

So join the discussion, write your editor, blog, speak up, discuss with anyone you can.  We are not failing as educators, changes need to be made but they need to come from us, not from the politicians.

blogging, reform symposium, Student-centered, voice

Meaningful Student Blogging – My RSCON Presentation

Last night, I had the privilege of presenting at the Reform Symposium on something I am very passionate about – giving students a voice through blogging.  In fact, I find whenever you can give students a voice in your classroom leads to a much more engaged learning environment.  While the archives will not be up for another week or so I did want to share the slides I used for my message.