“Many of us fight every day for school to be meaningful and not just something being done to students.” – Pernille Ripp, USA

“Books, by themselves, spellbind people, particularly children, and allow them to travel to new places,” says Pernille Ripp. Ripp, a fifth grade teacher, wanted her students to understand that they were a part of the global community – something bigger than their town or classroom. So, she created the Global Read Aloud. “Books become such a personal experience that to take a book and have children listen to it around the world at the same time could open up the world,” Ripp says. “They would understand that the experience they were having with the book was perhaps the same experience as another child in another place was having.”  The Global Read Aloud has helped make cross-cultural collaboration easier and has also given teachers a way to introduce and integrate technology in a meaningful manner. It was also nominated as “Best Edu Social Network” for the 2012 Edublog Awards.

Ripp is a passionate advocate for her students, and is a fierce believer in allowing them a voice in her classroom, and in their studies.  She shares her thoughts, challenges and perspective in her blog, where she is not afraid to speak her mind. “I think I make a difference by being brutally honest in my blog posts, even when something is an epic failure,” notes Ripp, “because it then tells other teachers that it is OK to talk about the things that do not work.”

One frequent topic of discussion by Ripp is the fact that she doesn’t assign letter grades or homework, and she does not believe in punishment or rewards for her students. “Giving feedback rather than a letter leaves room to start a conversation,” says Ripp. “It leaves room for the student’s voice to be part of the deliberation.  It leads to more learning situations as I cater my curriculum to fit the needs of that particular student.  It leads to much more time spent with the student rather than at home going through their piles.”   But just because she believes fiercely in her education philosophy doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, Ripp speaks candidly in her blog about how difficult it can be, including in this post titled, “Not grading is awful.” But Ripp believes that sharing her efforts – both the good and the bad – only helps others. “By struggling with my battle against homework, grades, and rewards I think I have been able to add nuance to a debate where those fighting against these institutions often are overpowered by institutions,” says Ripp. “Yet my most important contribution has to be giving my students a voice in the classroom so that when they move on from me they are not afraid to speak their mind. I hope that they expect a better education than one where they are mere participants.”

It’s my pleasure to share today’s Daily Edventure with Pernille Ripp.

What has changed as a result of your efforts? 

I think younger grades have gotten introduced and comfortable with technology because of the Global Read Aloud.  I know I have inspired many people to try not grading, not giving homework and stepping away from rewards.  I also think I have helped some people become more reflective in their practice and how students are educated.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

To reach out to others like myself that are going through and trying many of the same things.  To not give up if it doesn’t work right away and above all bring the focus of school back on the kids while you trust your own gut.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work? 

I don’t know if it is innovative, but the students have digital cameras and video cameras to use whenever they want.  We use Skype a lot for Mystery Skype, author visits and general shenanigans.  We blog as much as we can because I want my students to have global collaboration and dialogue.  I don’t think that tech use has to be innovative; it just has to be effective and worthwhile.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

Trying to protect from the madness of testing and them becoming just data numbers on a wall.

What is your region doing well currently to support education? 

Living in Wisconsin, we are not protecting education very well at all with our current direction.  I think what I see my colleagues do every day is to put the students first, use the data as they are expected to but then also keep the focus on school being fun and informative.  Many of us fight every day for school to be meaningful and not just something being done to students.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education? 

We have to include the teachers and students in the debate and listen less to wealthy people and politicians.  School has to fundamentally change where we are not so enforced by the old ways, or by testing, and get into curiosity-based inquiry learning.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education? 

We must keep fighting as a group and get parents involved.  We have to make students believe that their voice is worthwhile and should be heard above the noise.  How they feel matters, after all, this is all being done to them.  We must help teachers feel powerful in their pursuits of different ways to teach, where the learning stays in school.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

To trust themselves and remember that their students are someone’s child.  We cannot control what happens outside of school but we can create incredible environments where students feel loved and heard in our classrooms.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

Flipping the classroom is not helping students learn, at least not in the broadest term of assigning videos to watch outside of the classroom; we have no right to continually infringe on our students’ time outside of school.  I think the trend to think more project-based is definitely a huge step in the right direction, rather than the old drill and kill or lecture style of teaching.  And the trend of standardized testing – like all students are cattle – needs to stop before it kills the desire to learn in our students.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

Books and the ability and time to read them.  I know many people would say technology, but even just arming children with books will open up new worlds for them both academically and in their minds.  A well-educated child is a strong opponent indeed.

About Pernille Ripp

  • Birthplace: Naestved, Denmark
  • Current residence: Madison, Wisconsin, USA
  • Education:  Schooled in Denmark until I was 18, then dropped out of college here.  Went back to school part-time at 21 and then finally full-time at Edgewood College and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2008.
  • Website I check every day:  Reddit, Twitter, my students’ blogs: www.kidblog.org/mrsrippsclass/
  • Person who inspires me most: I am always asked who inspires me most but honestly it changes.  My husband inspires me to believe in myself, my mother inspires me to be a strong woman and teacher, my children inspire me to care about others, and my students inspire me to push myself as a teacher and make their fifth grade year the best it ever can be.  My incredible sister inspires me to stay true to who I am and care about others.  There are so many that inspire me in different ways.
  • Favorite childhood memory:  Climbing in an apple tree in the backyard and just running around outside with my siblings.  The Danish summer nights don’t get dark until 1 a.m. or so, so many memories revolve around staying up, much too late, and playing outside during the summer.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure):  Not quite sure, perhaps ISTE in San Antonio or NYC for training but with family it will be a return to Lenox, Massachusetts where we lived 20 years ago.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why?  Tonight with our four-year-old Theadora; she tells crazy stories and comes up with very random sentences.  In fact, I think I get the most laughs from all of the children in my life or my husband; we laugh a lot.
  • Favorite book:  The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is phenomenal, but there are so many; Divergent, Coraline, Harry Potter, anything by Jussi Adler Olsen, The Little Prince…
  • Favorite music:  Johnny Cash, Pink, Mumford & Sons and right now I am digging City and Colour.
  • Your favorite quote or motto:  “Nobody likes a Spanish Inquisition.” -Monty Python; or “If I were to command a general to turn into a seagull, and if the general did not obey, that would not be the general’s fault. It would be mine.” – The Little Prince

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