One of the bright minds that I love learning alongside in my digital learning network is Pernielle Ripp, a fifth grade teacher in Wisconsin who writes with an engaging voice on both her blog and in her Twitterstream.
Pernielle’s work is practical and original. I almost always walk away from her blog with an idea that I can try. More importantly, I almost always walk away from her blog with an idea that I’m convinced I can actually pull off in my classroom because she’s provided strategies, suggestions and resources that make implementation easy.
That’s why I was completely jazzed to get a free review copy of Ripp’s first book, Passionate Learners: Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students, from John Norton, the lead editor at Powerful Learning Press. I knew that Ripp’s writing paired with the interactive features — video clips, links to external sources, interesting call outs — that make PLP titles unique would make for a fantastic read.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Passionate Learners left me simultaneously inspired and challenged.
Ripp’s goal throughout the text is to force readers to rethink the kinds of traditional practices pushed in college preparation programs and in new teacher induction programs that result in rule-driven classrooms where kids sit quietly and teachers preach for hours on end — practices that Ripp knows only too well, given the choices that she made in her first years of teaching.
“I was the teacher who did the first weeks of school just like Harry Wong said. After all, his philosophy fit perfectly with what I had been taught in college. Rules, routines, expectations. Tell, show, practice. Repeat. I spent a whole day in my classroom meticulously making a poster detailing what to do if you needed to sharpen your pencil, go to the bathroom, or ask a question….The Wongs had saved my self esteem and graciously showed me the path to great teacherness.”
For Ripp, the compliance-driven culture that she created never quite felt like “great teacherness” though. Worse yet, her students’ willingness to buckle to the teacher-first expectations of her classroom made Ripp sad:
“What baffles me to this day is how the students acquiesced. They never questioned the inane things that I made them do or even attempted to ask why I did them. Already by 4th grade they seemed to be content with the system, knowing what was expected of them—how to do school right and to get that A. Or, at the very least, they knew to not question my authority to my face, that nothing productive would come of it.”
Having grown up as a bored student in quiet classrooms, Ripp sensed that there HAD to be a better way — that teachers COULD create learning spaces where kids were inspired and where language arts and social studies COULD rival art, lunch and recess on lists of students’ favorite subjects.
So she started experimenting with simple changes to her practice. She rethought her decisions about student seating and classroom layout. She tinkered with her grading practices and discipline plan. She asked her students for input on classroom projects — and encouraged them to find new ways to prove that they had mastered key learning outcomes.
Passionate Learners is the story of that experimentation.
Ripp lays out the choices that she made and the risks that she took right alongside her successes, failures and frustrations in chapters that are approachable and full of suggestions that make change seem doable. Her goal isn’t to lay out a beautiful vision of what education could be. Her goal is to encourage teachers — whether they are new to the classroom or 20-year veterans — to start taking tangible steps to create student-centered classrooms tomorrow.
Perhaps the greatest compliment that I can give Passionate Learners is that it forced me to rethink the choices that I make on a daily basis as a classroom teacher.
While my guess is that Ripp’s primary audience is preservice teachers and/or teachers new to our profession — and while I think Passionate Learners would make for a valuable counterpoint to the “control your classrooms” lessons pushed in colleges of education and early-career mentoring programs — I found myself questioning the consequences of the practices that I’ve embraced over the past 20 years as a practitioner. More importantly, I found myself saying time and again, “I want to try that!” or “That’s something worth doing.”
In the end, Passionate Learners is worth your time. Give it a look. You won’t be disappointed — and neither will the kids in your classrooms.
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