Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What's so Bad about "Smart?"

I once had a student tell me they were not smart.  They would never get good grades, that they would never be a success. This 4th grader, already beaten down by the school system and themselves, thought they would never be successful.  That school was for kids that got it, for kids that already understood, for kids that were born smart.  Smart was not something you became, it was something you already were, and it was completely outside of their reach.

How many of these kids walk our hallways?  Those kids that no one ever told they were smart?  Those students that come into our classrooms thinking that they are not smart, have never been, and will never be.  Beaten down by lack of success in an overly rigid school system, having few academic successes and little curiosity left.  Those students need to hear the word "smart."

Research tells us that we shouldn't use the word "smart," that students instead should be heralded for their work ethic, their creative problem-solving skills and their perseverance.  The evidence shows (simply stated) that if you tell a child repeatedly that they are smart they will take the easy way out, give up more easily and not like challenges. But those students that already have given up?  Those students need to hear it over and over when they do have successes so that they can start believing it.  So for those I make an exception.

I tell them they are smart when they conquer a math problem, when they raise their hand timidly at first but then more and more confidently.  I tell them that they can do it, that they too know things when they grow, when they share.  So that they can believe that they are worth something, that they are capable, that they are smart.  And I don't regret it, no matter what the research says, because later on we can work on the creative problem-solving skills and never giving up, but for now; they need to believe they are smart.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Students Define Letter Grades

My students took some time today to discuss what the different letter grades mean to them in preparation for their determination of their own grades.  I was absolutely captivated by what they thought and to me it once again speaks clearly as to why letter grades are not the solution to reporting progress.  (Note: F's are not attainable in my class since I have yet to meet a kid that isn't learning something).

So an "A" means:

  • A students understands completely
  • Participates in the discussion
  • Is enthusiastic about school
  • Always gives best effort
  • Shows lots of progress
  • Understands almost everything
  • And has a great attitude 
A "B" means:
  • Understands concepts most of the time
  • Fulfills most of the things to get an A but not all
  • Has good effort but could do more
  • Shows a little bit of progress
  • Understands a lot and gives a great effort
  • And has a good attitude
A "C" means:
  • Pays little attention
  • Could try better
  • Developing as a learner
  • You are not trying your hardest
  • Could use some improvement
  • Average attitude
A "D" means:
  • Does not understand content
  • Do not show their knowledge and strengths
  • Needs to listen more to better understand
  • Only understands a little
  • Is not focused
  • Needs a lot of help
  • And works poorly by themselves
What a stigma change between "B" and "C!"  This definitely is providing me with food for thought.


Monday, November 28, 2011

We Pass on Our Wondering

My grandfather always told me that a little girl lived in the water-tower by his house and that if I paid enough attention, I would notice her stocking hanging out of the little window to dry.  To this day, when I go home to Denmark, I pass that water-tower knowing that his story is probably not true and yet I wonder.  My grandfather gave me that gift; that little spark of curiosity that kept me focused and interested even beyond my curious years.

I try to pass that on to my students.  I don't make up stories as much as he does, but rather leave them with a spark of curiosity.  I proudly exclaim that I do not know the answers and how will we ever find out?  I ask them to seek their wonder, to allow their mind to ponder, and to take some time to reflect.

The day passes by and we do our curriculum and yet we try to squeeze something out of every minute we have to give us some extra time to wonder.  We wonder out-loud, we wonder silently, sometimes alone, sometimes as a group.  We speak of it because that provides it a legitimate place in our classroom.  We cherish it and we laugh about it.  Not all wonderings are meant to be explored.  The gift that my grandfather gave me I now pass on to my students.  A fitting legacy for the man that means the biggest part to me, the man whom we chose to name Theodora after, the man who now is in the twilight of his life.  Every time I drive by a water-tower I wonder if there is a little girl upset that her stockings are always wet, looking for a window to hang them from and then I wonder whether he remembers?

As my grandfather slowly succumbs to ill health, I keep him in my thoughts, knowing that I made him proud.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

No Size Fits All - Some Thoughts on Prescribed Systems in the Classroom

I am sometimes asked what system I used in my classroom; which system do you prescribe to to get them to act this way, which system do you believe in for your philosophy.  I always feel like a disappointment when I tell them, "None."  It is not that I am pioneer within education, or a maverick, but rather that I don't believe in systems.  A system to me means prescribed, a system means rigidity, rules to follow, and scripts to use.  I tried that for 2 years when I first started teaching and it failed, horrifically and miserably.  My classrooms doesn't work that way, it doesn't fit into a book description.   So while some people may say I fall under whatever system they think, I always giggle a little because the truth is much simpler.

I follow the Pernille system.  The one that says to listen to your students, give them a voice, get out of the way, and then change your mind when needed.  The system I use has no book or no guidelines but only common sense and a lot of reflection.  I don't manage my children, they are not stress I must constrain.  I guide them, they guide me and we trade spots more often than I can count.   I do not read a book to see how I should train my students the first week of school; they are not circus animals getting ready for a performance.  Instead we get to know each other and we laugh a lot because laughter is a key ingredient in my life.   I do not hide the "real" Pernille from my students because I believe education must be authentic to be meaningful.  My students share their emotions and opinions whenever they can.

I know that if I wanted a book-deal or masses of followers I should call my system something, my husband jokes about that all the time.  That way people could refer to it and ask themselves, "Well what would Pernille do?"  And then they would be confused as to why my system wouldn't work as well for them, because  a system has to be as personal as your classroom.  You borrow, you steal,  you get inspired by others, but in the end your voice and that of your students is the one that needs to  shout the loudest and it needs flexibility and adaption skills.  So trust in yourself, sure read the books, ask the questions and then reflect; what will you do and what will your students do?  Hint:  It requires conversations with your students to create your own system.  Good luck.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Why the Report Card Should Be Getting an F

Several days ago I quickly jotted down thoughts on how one of the major components of education; the report card, may just be becoming obsolete. Immediately the discussion that followed was one that spurred me to think a little deeper on this institution, particularly as I approach the deadline for writing 25 of my own.

The report card used to be useful. Before the age of Internet and faster communication with parents, the report card was the communicator of success or lack of it from school. We have all heard the stories of what happened when a bad report card was brought home and can probably remember our own anticipation or dread when it was handed to us. This was it; the ultimate report on how hard we had worked, how much we knew, and how much we cared about school. The was no conversation, no goals, just grades and teachers recited missives which on mine included the usual, "Pernille should really try to apply herself more.". Whatever in the world that means.

Yet now, faced with the ever-evolving tools for communication and also teachers own increased visibility and feedback giving, it seems it has lost its purpose. That is if its purpose was to report how the child is doing academically.  Instead many teachers have running grades online; which I don't actually think is necessarily progress either, or feedback is given to the students or sent home regularly.  In my own classroom, I meet with students regularly setting goals and discussing how they are doing, not even handing them a letter grade but rather feedback and meaningful conversation.  This does get communicated to parents as well either through email, phone calls, or even small meetings.  Conferences also act as a communicator of progress and goals.  I may be in the minority of how I handle progress in my classroom, but I think I am in the growing minority.  So why also do a report card?  It seems to be a duplication of all of the work we already do although it does provide an easy out for those who choose not to communicate throughout the semester.

So if the report card's purpose is solely to communicate to parents how their child is doing, there are certainly other alternatives.  How about a weekly email or note, penned by the student?  Or a shared Google doc where parents and students can add notes and questions?  Conversations can be recorded using a Livescribe pen and emailed to parents as well, which also creates another record.  In my team we already send home unit math scores breaking down each skill the student has been practicing.  Writing assignments are handed back with a rubric attached and comments on them.  To me, it seems that we already do all of the reporting that is duplicated for the report card.  What about a report card created by students?  I often wonder what they would put weight on and choose to report, and also how it would look.  Either way I think it is time for a change, do you?

So is it time for the report card to disappear or at the very least lose its formality?  Is it time for it to no longer be the final product and instead be a piece of information in a long line of information.  Should we hand back the power of goal communication to the students so that they can take more charge of their education?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Is the Report Card Obsolete?

Today I was asked what I have against report cards and as I stood there explaining my stance on grades something dawned on me; if we keep parents informed throughout the semester or trimester, do we really need report cards?  After all, I continuously meet with my students and offer them feedback and we set and work on their goals.  I send home more detailed feedback for parents to peruse so then doesn't the purpose of the report card become obsolete?  In fact, the report card may work against our philosophy of students as developing learners since we chunk their development and their learning into artificial calendar dates as determined by the district.   Something unnecessary and just a tad bit redundant.

So I leave with this thought; could we abolish report cards altogether?  Or are they a necessary component of our reporting to students and parents?  Are they simply an overview or a snapshot rather than the entry ticket into college and free pizza?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Awards for All Means Students Still Lose - No Matter How Well Meaning They Are

I recently read Matt Ray's post titled "Awards for All" (and I encourage you to read it as well) and although I know that his intent is pure, after all, he loves those children like no one else, I question the idea of providing an award for all.  Awards can be a sticky mess for me.  I know I don't want them to be a part of my classroom, particularly from an academic standpoint, but I am also starting to believe that really we shouldn't be concocting "fake" ones either   However, I got the impression that Matt created these rewards because otherwise his students may never actually receive any form of reward. So then that makes it ok, right?

This society with its emphasis on making someone the best means someone is always the loser.  This competition for adoration starts young, when students are subjected to enforced spelling bees and honor rolls in elementary school.  It is not that I am opposed to celebrating students, I just don't understand the need to always give them something.  To hand them a diploma stating that they are indeed number 1 at whatever we decide.  While personality awards like the ones Matt discussed may seem harmless, I wonder, how does the child feel that really wanted to most improved in math and didn't get it?  Or the child that has been working hard to be kind toward all but is not recognized for it?  We are also making losers out of them.

Awards are a slippery slope and while we as teachers think that it boosts students self-esteem, how often does it hurt it?  How often does the innocent title that we give a child in order to raise their self-esteem end up boxing them in instead?  When we choose to focus on one trait of a child's personality, no matter how kind our intentions were, we in essence tell the child that this is the one thing I have noticed and all of these other things, you did not quite excel enough in.  Why the need for recognition?  Can we not through our own words and actions give these children enough recognition without having to do it in awards form?  Is this society so entrenched in awards and making losers out of someone that we have to make up awards just to reach all children?  If that is the case, then I guess I am not doing my part.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

10 Ways to Make it "Their" Room

  1. Visualize a flow - do you see students moving around a lot, or will they be more sequestered?  Either way, make sure people can get by each other without any issues arising.
  2. Create different spots - I learn best sitting in a comfy chair or sprawled out, as do many of my students.  Some though prefer the rigidity of a desk.  Offer options within your classroom to fit all of their movement needs, which leads me to the next point.
  3. Let them use your classroom in whichever manner they see fit, as long as it is within safe reason.  My students don't ask whether they can move, they know that they can, as long as it is not disruptive or unsafe.  I love that they feel like it is their room.
  4. Talk about it as our room not your room.  Language matters and how you label the classroom is huge.  Do you have a sign that says welcome to "my" room?  That sends a message.  I still catch myself saying "my" even though I know it is ours.  
  5. Have them set the expectations.  We all work better when we decide our working conditions.  I have the students discuss routines and expectations for the year and then we adjust them as necessary.  Again, this is their room, not my room.
  6. Un-clutter.  At the elementary level there seems to be a need to cram as much stuff on our walls as possible to help the kids or inspire them.  I chose instead to give them room to create and to only put up things that are vital for our learning at that time.  Our room is by no means bare but it does reflect what we are working on and then provides calm.
  7. Get rid of your desk.  I cannot tell you how the energy of my room changed when I did.  I still have a table for my computer and planner but it is against a wall.  The students use when I don't and they also use the computer.  I was worried I wouldn't have a place to put all of my stuff and it turns out I have had to get a lot more organized because of this.
  8. Give them space.  Make sure the students feel they have enough room for their things, we just have bins and cubbies but it works for us.  The kids spread out more when they need to but they also clean up after themselves.  I had to let go a bit of how clean the classroom is but have noticed that the kids now take more pride in the room.
  9. Stop managing and controlling them. You control animals and manage tasks, not children.  How about guiding or leading them instead? Language matters because it changes your own mindset.  I don't do classroom management, we instead have classroom routines and expectations.  The power of words is immense.
  10. Believe in it and prove it.  You cannot talk about their room but then act like you are the queen bee.  It just doesn't work.  So if you truly want students to take ownership of their learning and their room, get out of the way.  Let them experiment with how the tables are set up or where they gather for a lesson.  Let them figure out how it works best for them.  You can direct obviously but have them discuss and try.  


    Saturday, November 19, 2011

    From the Mouths of Babes - My Students Discuss Homework

    Note:  Some older posts did not survive the transfer from Blogger to Wordpress, but still add fuel to the homework discussion.  This is one of them re-posted.

    Thanks to a wonderful Time For Kids article this week, my students engaged in a 30 minute discussion on whether or not teachers should assign homework (we ran out of time or it could have gone longer).  I started out taping the discussion, hoping to share it, but the camera stifled them, so I turned it off and instead just listened and asked a couple of questions.  And the result?  Well, it was mixed.

    Many students believed that homework was a necessary evil at first, and by that I mean, they think they should be assigned it so they can learn responsibility.  However, when I asked them whether they could be taught responsibility in a different manner they all agreed they already were responsible in school.  After that they started changing their mind.  Some highlights for me were:
    • We already work our hardest at school and deserve to be done with school when the bell rings.
    • We are tired when we get home so homework does not represent our best work.
    • Some times our parents cannot help us and we end up more confused.
    • Teachers do not own our time outside of school, but why do they think they do?  They can't for example order us to go to Target.
    • I want to have a life outside of school and pursue my activities.
    • It is ok to have homework during the week but never during the weekend or during holidays.
    • If a student works hard during the day and is responsible, they should be able to not have homework after school.
    • It is ok to assign reading and special projects but they have to be super fun and have student choice.
    • Homework does not teach us responsibility but instead teaches us to get it done fast.
    • Homework should not be graded since it is just practice. 
    • Homework should be assigned because school has to come first and that is our job.

    I love the level of thinking I am seeing in these students as they develop their discussion habits. They are figuring out when to speak and reacting to each other's comments.  I also love how they are evaluating the world and learning to speak their minds.  I believe the camera stifled them because some were nervous in stating their opinion, after all, they are only 5th graders, what do they know?


    Friday, November 18, 2011

    The Global Read Aloud - My Session From The Global Education Conference 2011

    This week I had the thrill of presenting at The Global Education Conference on my passion; The Global Read Aloud.  This 30 minute or so presentation was recorded, so if you would like to hear it "live" here is the link.

    You can also see my slides below, I am not sure they will make much sense though without the audio.  I tend to not do a lot of text.


    Want to Shut Educators Up? Tell Them "It Is For the Children..."

    The oldest excuse in the book for change in education is, "We do it for the children."  And it works!  Throw that baby on the discussion table and people just go silent.  After all, if it is for the children then it must be good.  If it is for the children then if we decide against it we are deciding against children.  If it is for the children then it must be researched and proven to benefit them.   And yet, we have all been fooled by this statement.  Purchasing a Smartboard - it is for the children.  Creating more tests - it is for the children.  Slashing school budgets - it is for the children.  Proposing merit pay - it is for the children.  Common Core standards - it is for the children.  Asking teachers to take pay cuts and freezes - it is for the children.  Bigger report cards with more homework and tests to report - oh yes, it is for the children.

    Except most of the time it is not.  Because when were the children ever asked?  We say it is for the children and yet they never enter the actual decision-making or even discussion.  If you asked a child if they wanted more "rigor" in their education, I can almost guarantee that most of them would look at you like you were crazy.  If you ask them if they needed more grades or more tests, their answer might surprise you.  When teachers are asked to take pay cuts because otherwise our children will get hurt, most children would be sad to hear it.

    So let's cut the crap, sorry.  Most decisions in education is not for the children, but for the test company, for the district to look good, or for someone's life to be easier.  It is not for the benefit of the children.  And yes, of course, we know more than the children but the fact that their voices are left out of the education debate and reform should be frightening to us all.  So start small; ask the children in your room and then tell me it is for the children.

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    But How Do I Pick - EduBlog Awards

    The year is waning and that means we are getting ready for all of the best of lists and with that also the 2011 EduBlog Awards.  And while I had the honor of being nominated last year as best new blog, and I even nominated my own choices, I just can't pick this year.  There are so many blogs that uplift me, provoke me, inspire me, and there are so many blogs deserving of attention that I do not even know about.  So I thought instead of an official EduBlog nomination - sorry folks - I would just share some of my favorites...  If you have a moment, visit them and add them to your reader, they are worth it

    Are You Ever Going to Stop, Nope There's Another:  This goes to Matthew Ray who really picked up steam this year with his 60 days or something like that of blogging every day.  While you would expect that your posts would get diluted after writing so many days in a row,  his instead seemed to reach deeper as he started to question his own beliefs.  Keep writing Matt, and keep challenging yourself (and me!)

    The Coolest Cat Around:  John T. Spencer blows my mind weekly at least.  The humble ramblings of an inspired teacher who realizes that being human is one of his biggest strengths calls us all to action.  I cannot count how many times I have tweeted one of his posts and I am just a little bit excited that I get to call him friend as well.

    I Can't Believe They Wrote That and Why Didn't I: This has to go to the mind of Joe Bower who's eloquence and passion for getting rid of gradesandtests, and other insanity in education pushes my own thinking.  Thought provoking, always interesting, and definitely worthy of your time.

    You Mean This Can Actually Work?  Has to go to Chris Wejr and his blog where he brings on parents and students to discuss how to make a school a community while getting rid of rewards.  His leadership leads more than just his school.

    Dude, I am So Stealing that Idea:  Goes to Josh Stumpenhorst who recently won Illinois State Teacher of the Year, (whoa), the coolest thing about Josh is that he runs an insanely successful classroom.  No homework, focus on learning and students rather than your basic social studies curriculum is what makes him stand out among the rest.  And I cannot count how many ideas I have stolen from him.

    I Can't Believe I Get To Be a Part of This:  Has to go to both the funky Cooperative Catalyst where I once in a while post my rants and the whole #Elemchat group.  Both of these groups push my thinking while still taking care of me.  The work that both groups do is invaluable to my world and the world of many others.

    I Can't Believe How Much Your Top Ten Made Me Think:  This goes to Edna Sackson, who with her top ten lists impacts me and my students regularly.  Not only is she insightful and focused; she really thinks about the process of teaching and pushes us all to change, all with the power of the top ten.

    Man, You Must Not Need Any Sleep Because You Just Keep On Sharing:  Has to go to 3 people who share, share, and then share some more:  Kelly Tenkely, Larry Ferlazzo, and Richard Byrne.  How they manage to have day jobs and still share as many resources as they do is a puzzle to me, but I am grateful for what they do.

    Your Words Keep Running Through My Mind and That is a Good Thing:  Goes to Angela Watson and her book "Awakened" as well as her blog.  I read that book and just nodded the whole way through.  Banish those thoughts of negativity and steer yourself toward positivity, I am not one for messages, but this one stuck.

    Oh Dear There's a Person in that Sub:  Mike writes this blog set in Michigan, but it chronicles the life of a substitute teacher and is one of the best new blogs I have read this year.  Many blog ideas and how I work with my own subs have been spurred from these posts.

    Of course that is not all and I could keep on going, but that isn't the point really.  I just wanted to share some of my favorites.  I have many more so my deep apologies if yours is one of my favorites and I missed it; I am only human.  And to all of those who do want to be nominated for the EduBlogs; I am sorry I wasn't the one to do it.


    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    This is My Room - How Controlling Ones Classroom Can Send the Wrong Message

    I used to be the ruler of my universe; my classroom, the queen of the systems.  You need to sharpen your pencil?  There's a system for that.  You need to leave the classroom?  Here is the system for that.  How we walk down the hallway, how we get our jackets and backpacks.  How we act when others come into the classroom, how we borrow books from the library, how we borrow supplies.  Don't answer the phone, don't sit in my chair, don't eat your food now, don't, don't don't...Everything had a protocol, rules to be followed, always designated by me, and I was exhausted.  I was so busy keeping track of all my check out sheets and reminders that I forgot to just enjoy what I was doing with the students.  I was so wrapped up in managing my space that I lost focus on what was important and instead wasted time getting upset when my system wasn't followed.  It was time-consuming, overcomplicated, and downright ridiculous.

    Yet I feared what I knew had to be the opposite of my contrived systems; chaos.  I feared what would happen if I just let a kid check out a book without having them sign it out and leave it in their desk at the end of the day.  I feared what would happen if I didn't know who had which manipulative, or how many pencils someone had borrowed from me.  Add that fear drove those systems forward until they got me so lost that I didn't know the teacher I was anymore.

    So I stopped the endless control.  I "let" students borrow books from my library and take them home.  After all, the worst that could happen if a book was lost was that another child might read it.  I showed the students where I kept all of the supplies and let them grab what they wanted.  I had them unpack and come in from the hallway in the way that suited them best; some need one trip, some need more.  I stopped obsessing over our systems and gave the room to the students instead.

    And the result?  Not chaos as I had feared, but ownership.  It turned out that these students knew exactly how to take care of our space and actually were a lot more invested when they felt it was theirs.  They no longer come into my room, but into our room.  They no longer ask permission to use a stapler or use some tape, they just do it.  They fight me over my chair, and take pencils when they need.  They now welcome others to our room, answer the phone with their name, and take over the space every day.  I don't manage them, but instead focus on our learning.   Giving back the classroom to my students righted a wrong I didn't know I had committed; I had taken their space from them.  I often remind myself that teaching is not about me but all about them, and now our room reflects that.  Does yours?


    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    For the Kids Who Struggle with Division

    I need help; Some of my students struggle so with division. They get that division means to divide into equal parts, they get the concept, and we practice, practice, and practice long division until our eyes are weary. And yet,I can see their despair, they do not understand why we are doing the steps we do. So I need a different approach before we move on and put them further behind.

    What can I do to make them see the light? I have them explain it to each other but even doing that doesn't seem to change their understanding. We practice but that is not enough either. There are many smarter people out there, please lend me your ideas.

    Those that Matter

    I often think of the labels we bestow upon each other...hero, leader, expert, inspiration

    And those we give to our students...smart, lazy, underachiever, confused, creative

    And I wonder how often we miss the mark altogether?

    How often does the label describe the whole person?  How often do we truly know the whole person?

    I do not do well with labels, and I laugh when others give them to me, but there are some I carry with me always, in awe that that I have them; mother, wife, teacher.

    Those are the labels that matter

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Every Day I Make a Choice

    Every morning I choose how I see the day.  I could view it through the lens of most that I will not do enough to help my students, I will not be able to get them where I need them to be because the system is against us.

    I could view the students as obstacles that need to be conquered and my colleagues as people who take up too much time or none at all.  I could view my administration as the enemy, and my standards as chokeholds around my teaching.  I could blame the system for my lack of progress and I could feel good that at least I tried.  But I don't.

    I choose every morning to believe in my own abilities as a teacher and as a human being.  I choose to be positive, thinking that today will be the best day I could ever make.  Today my students will conquer mountains and guide me on new paths.  My colleagues will inspire me if I reach out, and then will support me through my journey.   My administration will hold me to high standards because they believe I will soar.  The standards are simply guides and they can be worked with much easier than worked against.  The standards do no tell me that I have to prep my students for tests, or even how I should teach, but only what our goals should be and those can be reached in many ways.  I choose to fight the system from within and change it the way I can.  I do it for my own sanity and for the curiosity of my students.

    Every day I have a choice in how I will view the world, and although I wake up grumpy (just ask my husband), and bogged down by all of the forces working against me, I slip on my teacher super power suit and I stay positive.  The last thing schools need is another person bringing it down.  The world is already trying to do that.  So what do you choose?

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    A Student-Led Conference

    There they sit, hands clutching the paper, eyes shifting a little back and forth; the responsibility clearly weighing on them and yet...If you look a little closer, you will also notice poise, presence, and a sneaking calm.  The students are ready to state their goals, to own their learning; welcome to student-led conferences.

    Most of these students have never been given the control of their conference so they are more nervous than they need to be, in fact, I think they get a little glimpse of how many teachers feel.  They want to do well, they want to be able to answer the questions, they want to offer their parents hope and positivity.  Yet they are not afraid to bare their shortcomings, they are not afraid to discuss what the path ahead looks like.  They own their education.

    I leave the meetings exhilarated and proud, we shared our journey and we previewed our path.  Parents had tough questions but the students were honest in their answers.  Parents leave feeling satisfied, proud of their children, and part of the process.

    As educators, we wonder how we lose the engagement of our students and then do conferences to them.  We do education to our students acting as if they have nothing at stake, pretending to be the one true expert that will fill the empty vessels.  Even if we do student-centered learning, we then forget to shape our conferences on the same model; less me, more them.  I could never go back to the old conferences.


    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Why I Make My Life Harder

    Sometimes I wonder why I make my life so hard?  Why do I let the students explore rather than just dictate what they are supposed to learn?  Why do I fight for them not to be graded at every turn when just writing that percentage or that letter would free up so much of my time?

    Why do I insist that we work things out rather than just punish them without a conversation?  Why do I force myself to get the learning done in school rather than sending it home as homework?

    Why do I fight for the creative spirit of these kids?  Why do I challenge myself to change and grow when really I know that I am a decent teacher, isn't that enough?  Do they really deserve the best of me so that my family only gets the rest of me?

    I make my life hard because our future is at stake.  We are modeling the future of the world and I want it to be a beautiful one.  I want it to be one where children believe in themselves as learners, where their creativity shines, and they are unafraid to fail.  I want the world to be one in which I do not fear sending my own child to school, afraid that our system will kill her curiosity.  I do this for my daughter and for all of the other children.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    And Then They Were Challenged

    Cross posted on Inquire Within 

    Today something amazing happened; I didn't have to teach.  Or at least I didn't have to follow the lesson plan to stay on track because all of this week we have been doing our state tests.  But today we were done and we had 90 minutes of time just for math so where some may have done review or front-loading, and yet others may have played math games, my team and I decided to challenge our kids instead.  So rather than their normal math problems where every single step it hammered out for them they were given problems to solve.  Problems that didn't tell them what to do.  Problems that weren't broken down into easily digestible bits.  Problems where they had to try and fail and try again.  Problems like we solve outside of school.

    At first the kids moaned, hesitated, and then they got involved.  Then they got excited, and then they worked on it for 90 minutes straight until they had solved every single one of them.  This was not by force from me, they were told to do as many as they wanted, but they wanted to solve them.  They wanted to share their solutions, they wanted to mess with them, to play around, to try something.  They beamed.  They couldn't wait to show me, they couldn't want to explain how they had tried something and then something else.  They asked if they could take them home.  Math!  Home!  Wow...

    So I ask myself, why can't math be like this every day?  I like our math program but that is exactly what it is, a program, something prescribed and broken down.  Where is the time for our real exploration?  For our trying and failing?  I have to find the time.  


    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    How One Idea Connected 4,000 Kids - I Present at the Global Education Conference

    I am super excited and freaking out just a little bit over being a presenter at the Global Education Conference happening November 14th - Nov 18th, 2011.  Not only is this another incredible professional development opportunity, it is also a chance to connect with educators around the world all from the comfort of your own home.  Oh and did I mention it is free?

    My session will be a window into the Global Read Aloud; how it started, how it grew, and ultimately how it continues on.  I hope to inspire others to create global projects by showing how easy it is with the use of social media, and also to promote getting involved in global projects. 

    So join me, join the conversation, and get inspired!  I will post a link to my session soon but it is Tuesday, November 15th at 8 PM CST.   Here is a link to the entire schedule.

    We Say And Yet

    We say we don't want to be micromanaged as teachers and yet then we do it to our students.

    We say we want democratic schools, where our voices are heard, and yet we rule our students with an iron fist.

    We say we are working as hard as we can and that merit pay will not boost our dedication or our effort, and yet we dangle grades in front of our students to try to incentivize them.

    We say we work too many hours as teachers without getting paid for it and yet we assign hours of homework to our students.

    We say our voices are not being heard in the educational debate yet we do not listen to the voice of our students.

    We say we want to be invited into the educational policy decisions being made and yet we do not invite parents and students into our own decisions.

    We say that we want freedom to teach and yet we allow little freedom to our students in learning.

    We say we want to teach in our own way, infused with our passion, and yet we expect students to all learn the same way.

    We say that we need to time to teach and to learn all of these new things being thrust at us and yet we expect our students to all find the time and to master it at the same time.

    We say we want to be respected as individual teachers and yet we show little respect to our students as individuals, expecting them to fit into whatever we have decided the perfect student should be.

    We wonder why our students are losing interest in schools and never stop to look at what we do to them.  Education should not be done to them, it should happen with them.  Give back your classroom to your students; give them a voice.


    Monday, November 7, 2011

    But Wait, You Didn't Tell Me I Wasn't A Disappointment

    Today I was embarrassed, so utterly left without words and ashamed that I didn't know what to say.  A child did this to me and I deserved every moment of it.  That child and I had had an interaction more than 3 weeks ago where I had scolded him for improper video camera usage.  The task had been simple; film a short film telling me everything you know about a topic.  This child had decided to goof off and create bloppers and then forgotten to delete the evidence.  In my best teacher voice, I had reprimanded him and told him how very disaapointed in him I was.  I had then left it at that and dismissed him thinking nothing more of it.

    Today, as he walked down the hallway, I stopped him to ask him about a rumor I had heard and whether it was true.  When he affirmed its validity I couldn't help but tell him I was surprised he had been involved, that it seemed out of his nature to make such choices.  He looked me straight in the eye and said, "Well, Mrs. Ripp, I thought you didn't care because you were disappointed in me."  Confused, I asked him what he meant.  "You told me you were disappointed in me back in social studies..." 

    And then it all clicked; this child had never been told that I was no longer disappointed.  This child, whom I care for deeply, had never been let off the hook but instead I had left him dangling, wondering where our relationship stood.  I stammered out a hurried reply about not being disappointed any longer and then walked away ashamed.  How could I have left him to think that for so many weeks?  How many times have I done this before?  How many other kids assume that I view them unfavorably because of how they have been spoken to?

    So as I sit here defeated, I vow to change, to speak to these kids and then follow up.  When we use such heavy sentences as "I am disappointed in you" do we ever come back to tell them that we no longer feel that way?  Do we repair the void we create with our words or do we just let it grow?  As for this kid, I wrote him a note saying I was sorry.  What will you do if this happens to you?

    Sunday, November 6, 2011

    Can You Help - Fulfilling my Brother's Wish

    My brother, Paul, is returning from Afghanistan this month where he has been stationed in the middle of absolute nowhere for the past year.  Paul is a trauma nurse, one of those guys that are on the front lines working in a tent with no running water saving the lives of soldiers.  To say that having him in Afghanistan has been hard for my family would be an understatement but now with the count down finally happening we are hoping to see him by Christmas.  This is where I need someone's help and I figured this would be the easiest way to do since it seems I have many connected people in my personal learning network.  Paul  is a massive Maple Leafs fan, in fact, I have not encountered many people who are more loyal to their team.  So I would love to get him a signed Maple Leaf shirt for Christmas.  It is a small gift but it would be the biggest surprise for him in the world.  This would be a way for my family to celebrate that he is around to watch another season of hockey...

    So can anyone out there help me get a signed shirt for him?  I would pay for everything, he is a size large, but it is the signatures that would make the whole world of difference.  I would appreciate it if you would pass this on to anyone who could possibly help.  I hope you don't mind me asking.

    Update:  2 days after posting this I was contacted by both Dallas Eakins, Head Coach of the Toronto Marlies and Jon Sinden A social media marketer for the Maple Leafs.  They have promised to help me fulfill this wish.  This could not have been done without the massive power of my PLN, there was no official route to do this through since I am not a charity.  I cannot tell you how absolutely thankful I am to all the people who have helped. 

    I will update more when I know more.  This again shows how we must all pay it forward.  I look forward to helping someone else out.

    Does Teachers Having Background Knowledge on New Students Harm Them?

    Early on in my life, I was labeled smart, something I have discussed in other posts.  This distinction wasn't given to me because I proved myself in class or because I excelled in all academics.  The label had in fact been bestowed upon me because I had started school when I just turned 5, rather than the normal age of 6 in Denmark.  Unfortunately, I was the perpetual underachiever that just floated by unless I really, really cared about something such as creative writing and yet the label stuck through all of my years of schooling.

    That label "smart" though had its advantages; teachers viewed me with a favorable lens, even when I really had no clue what I was doing.  I was assumed to be not working hard when in all actuality I really was so lost I couldn't explain many things.  And the teachers did most of the work for me,  it worked perfectly since from year to year my old teachers would tell my new teachers that I was smart and so the year was set.  I didn't have to prove anything to anyone, just sit through the barrage of parent teacher conferences where my mother was told numerous times how I wasn't applying myself.

    Some may say that my teachers saw something in me that I had not recognized myself yet, and to them I say, sure...  But what is more intriguing here is really that label teachers bestow upon children and how it tends to stick with them.  They say that first impressions count and nowhere is that truer than in an educational setting.  Often by the time our students start in our classrooms, we know a little about them, maybe not all of them, but most.  We may have spoken to their previous teacher or we may know their family, or in the very least have heard of them.  Sometimes they come with a file thicker than my arm, other times they are a vast mysterious until we have our first class.  And yet, we think we have them pegged very quickly.  I often wonder how much of a different perspective one could get of a student if the first class you had with them was one in which they excelled?

    So can we move away from our assumptions?  Are we, in fact, creating a barrier between us and the real student by having "background knowledge" about them?  Can we stop labeling students or is this hardwired into our nature?


    Saturday, November 5, 2011

    Proud to Present - Creating Global Citizens with Meaningful Blogging

    On November 12th at 3 PM EST, I am proud to be presenting for SimpleK12.  A description follows of this 30 minute learning opportunity that you don't want to miss.

    How would you like to invite the world into your classroom and expose your students' writing to an authentic audience? Do you want your students to be global citizens who are connected with other children around the world? If so, then student blogging is for you! In this webinar we will show you how to get started with student blogging, as well as how to connect with others throughout the world. We will explore some examples of how global blogging can be used in the classroom and share some tips to make it easier.

    To register for this webinar, just click on this link

    The Emerging Age Bias - a Post for Edutopia

    This was posted on Edutopia this week - what a thrill

    "You know I was worried at first, because she was so old, but it turned out she was really good..." A friend and I are discussing her child's teacher. Her words resonate with me because I have heard them a lot lately; she was so old...old... and I wonder since when did being a veteran teacher become a negative quality in America?
    Rewind to my first year of teaching and how I wished to be a veteran, how I yearned for years of knowledge and experience that could really wow parents and engage the students at such a high level that they would love coming to school every day. Instead, I bumbled my way through, figuring out my style, using the students as test subjects to all my untried ideas and staring wistfully into veteran teachers' classrooms. I envied their orderly, calm lessons, their seemingly endless project ideas and angles to reach every child. I could not wait to be a veteran.

    The Case for Veteran Teachers

    Now it appears a new trend has emerged; veteran teachers are no longer "experienced" -- they are simply "old," with every negative connotation of that word. The media and politicians portray these older teachers as stubborn and stuck in their ways. They are labeled static and washed out. The way to resuscitate America's "failing" education is now to get rid of the veterans and pave way for the new teachers, those with boundless energy, passion and fresh ideas. It's truly a case of out with the old and in with the new.
    But those working in education can see just how flawed this method of thinking is. Those of us who breathe education recognize what these veteran teachers really bring to us all -- knowledge, expertise, methods that work, and a deep-seated passion for a job that has done little to reward them. We realize that by creating a bias against experience, we are all losers in the world of education. Now before I forget: yes, there are experienced teachers that do fulfill the stereotype, much like there are new teachers that do. However, the majority of experienced teachers do not.
    Thanks in part to the rhetoric of the "reformers," the anti-veteran bias seems to be taking root in society, too. Now when teachers are searching for work, the more years they have, the less likely it seems that they will get an interview. Some districts say tight budgets are to blame, which as a teacher in Wisconsin I can appreciate, and yet, you would think that a district would spend the bulk of its money on getting experienced teachers in front of our students. Instead, we see a stigma that says the more years of teaching you have, the less open to new ideas you must be. Parents eagerly tell us how they want that new young teacher because he or she will have something new to offer. Students hope for the young teacher because they are sure he or she will be more fun.

    Our Most Valuable Asset

    So what can we do? Youth is the ultimate desirability in America, and it is warping the educational world as well. Youth now seems to be the one trait that everyone agrees will save our schools. Get rid of tenure, and with it the more experienced teachers, which frees school districts to hire as many brand new teachers as they want. Brand new teachers that also happen to cost less. Brand new teachers that come off as confident and brimming with new initiatives. Brand new teachers that lack the foundation that only years of teaching can provide them with.
    I think back now to what I put my students through my first year -- and I shudder at the thought. There were the make-no-sense rules just to ensure control, tests upon tests because I thought that was the only way I could assess, and just a small stockpile of ideas to pull from. I had the confidence but lacked experience, and the only thing I knew that would make me a better teacher (besides more years) was turning to my mentors, veteran teachers that shared their knowledge and inventiveness. In those master teachers I saw everything that had drawn me to teaching: passion, dedication, innovation and an unstopping sense of urgency to reach all students.
    That is what we'll be removing from our educational system -- experience; because in the view of society, old = bad. So when we dismiss and run out our master teachers, we drain our schools of one of their most valuable assets -- knowledge. When we place teachers with experience at the bottom of our respect pole, we set students up to be every new teacher's test subject over and over, throughout their years of schooling. Yes, new teachers bring new ideas to the table, but so do veteran teachers. How anyone can claim otherwise baffles me.
    Thankfully, there are others in our profession who agree with me. Veteran teachers are joining social media such as Twitter to reach out to new teachers. They are blogging about their experience, thus creating a database of knowledge accessible to anyone in need. They are creating networks within their schools, ensuring that new teachers have someone to turn to. They are not being run out of education quietly, and we should all be grateful for that. We are only as strong as the weakest link in our schools, and our mentor teachers are doing everything they can to empower the people they work with. That power transfers to our students.

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    Are You Smart?

    Every day we journal in our classroom, sometimes it relates to our curriculum, sometimes it is to start a discussion.  Yesterday I asked my students to answer the question, "Are you smart?"  Stunned students looked at me.  Then the comments came flodding in...what do you mean...I don't know....what kind of smart....in fact one student was so flustered by the question that he was unable to journal about it. 

    Now make no mistake, I knew the question would be difficult and yet we, as teachers, often use the label "smart" to describe students in conferences and on report cards.  So can we answer what it means to be smart ourselves? 

    My students struggled through the journal prompt and today I had the opportunity to read their thoughts.  I was blown away by their insight.  Many lamented the fact that they did not know which smart I was referring to; was I referring to the school smart or to the logical smart?  By smart, who was I comparing them to?  They feel smart compared to a 3-year-old but not compared to a teacher.  Many kids disucussed that school can make you smarter but one pointed out that it is not the only thing that makes us smart and my heart rejoiced. 
    Some discussed, again so thankful at their wisdom, that smart is something you grow into, not something you are born with.  Some unfortunately compared their smartness to how well they do on tests, and my spirit dropped a little. 

    In the end, no one student had the same answer but they made me think; how do we define smart?  How do we show our students that they are indeed smart?  Is their any point in even discussing it with them or should we be focusing instead on the abilities they have; their problem solving skills, their work ethics, their creativity?  Do students need to feel smart to succeed?  And how do we stop tests from robbing them of their self-esteem and faith in themselves?

    I may have asked my students one questions, but they asked many more of me.  It was a great day for thinking.


    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    But We Get So Excited....

    We are in the middle of writing boot camp, that back to basics training that my 5th graders all need.  They have these incredible ideas just bursting onto their blogs, their journals and anywhere else they write, but they lack the basics.  The organization, capitalization, and other things that make readers stumble and lose interest.

    So as we go through another lesson on paragraphs and the students correctly put all of the pieces together, I ask them, "Do you all know this?"  A resounding "Yes!" greets me.  "Well, then why don't you use it in your writing?"  Silence and then this answer, "Well, we just forget because we get so excited..."  I smile and move on.

    I wonder how many times students don't show their best work because they are so excited...

    Why Giving Second Chances Should be Second Nature

    We have all had the phone call, "Tommy studied so hard but didn't do very well on the test, is there anything we can do?"  How many of us have said, "No, sorry..."  I know I used to.  I used to be the queen of no extra credit, no re-takes, no second chances.  That is until then I realized how this didn't reflect adult life.  In my job I get second chances all of the time.  If a lesson doesn't go as planned, I re-do it or teach it again.  I don't get observed only once to have my teaching career decided but instead multiple times by various people. If we have a bad day, we go back, fix it, and then move forward.  Every single day I get to learn from my mistakes. So why is it we are so hellbent on not giving our students the same second chance?  Yes, I know that standardized tests have inane rules we have to follow, but nothing else does.  We decide the rules and for some reason a lot of the time those rules do  not involve allowing students to learn from their mistakes mistakes.

    Last year, my students got to fix everything they handed in.  Stupid mistakes became teaching moments, sloppy work was enhanced, and gaps of knowledge were filled in.  It was certainly more work for me, but what it taught the kids was invaluable; perseverance, dedication, and not being afraid to try something.  More learning occurred in my room last year than ever before.  And this year is no different, my students give me their best and then we figure out how to learn even more.  By giving them second chances, they are proving to me how much they really know, outside of the anxiety, the pressure, and the rigidity that can occur. So why not try it?  Give your students back that test and tell them to fix it, give them back their work and tell them to enhance it.  Give them another chance to learn.

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