Monday, February 1, 2016

The Importance of Learner Voice

Inspirational educators came together in #plearnchat on Monday, February 1st, 2016 as we had a riveting chat about Learner Voice. Our discussion enveloped around our Big Question:
"How can teachers offer structure and support to learners while encouraging them to own the learning?"

We invited Megan Harrington, @globaljigsaw, a Communication Associate at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation as our guest host on our topic of Learner Voice.

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, @nelliemaeEdFdn, is a regional foundation focused on advancing student-centered learning throughout New England. Learner voice and choice is 1 of the 4 tenants in their student-centered framework.

"We need a new student-centered vision of education; one that empowers students  to take charge of their learning and gives them the flexibility to work when they want, 
where they want, and how they want."

Megan shared with us many resources including; how learners can be co-investigators in their learning, and how learners have a loud voice at the table in two schools in Rhode Island.

We tapped into the pulse of educators' mindsets about learner voice and our chat began trending as resources and ideas from as far away as Australia were rapidly shared.  Here are some intriguing exchanges among our #plearnchat PLN on this topic:

Tsisana Palmer @TechTeacherCent
"By changing/moving from "Today you will learn...." to "What do you want to learn today and why?" Bringing #awareness." 
Jeremy Bond @JeremyDBond  "We spend too much energy debating the value of the end product. The learning is in the journey." 
Shelly Vohra @raspberryberet3
"Show learners curriculum and ask"how do you want to learn this?" & "how do you want to show your learning?" 
Casey @Casey_Metcalfe
"Student voice is the key to encouraging creativity to flourish instead of obedience."

We designed the questions for our chat around the Big Question and used the Q1, A1 format.


A few resources from the chat:
In Charge: Student-Led Conferences at Pittsfield Middle School 
Flipping Assessment: Making Assessment a Learning Experience 
College Unbound is tackling learner voice for adult learners

Congratulations to Karen Kuntz Ed.D., @KarenKuntz

Karen is Director of Data & Instructional Technology at South Western School District in Hanover, Pennsylvania, who won our book, Make Learning Personal.

Karen is a learner, dreamer and leader, not always in that order. She is inspired by many that have illuminated the journey to where she is today. She strives to make a difference and share the possibilities that others see in her.
"Curriculum provides the destination, student voice determines how we'll get there & what we'll see along the way." 

Join us for our next #plearnchat Topic is "The Power of Questions"
with Starr Sackstein, @mssackstein

Save the DATE in 3 weeks on Monday, February 22nd
7pm ET, 6pm CT, 5pm MT, 4pm PT

We would love to continue the Learner Voice conversation with you in our comments. We archive the entire chat below using #storify for you.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Growing a Personalized Culture of Learning

Building Learner-Centered Environments through Coaching 

Guest Post by Patrick Riley, Cognitive Coach, Green River Regional Educational Cooperative, kidŸ⋅FRIENDLy, Race to the Top-District Grant ( @priles3000 )

Flowers are blooming in Kentucky. And, while I can no more indicate the exact moment when the roots started to take hold than I can tell you the minute and second of when the petals began to blossom, I can now see and see with great detail the vibrant colors, ever so brightly, here and there, in and around Kentucky…

“Celebrate learners when they soar and catch them when they fall.”

Starting with One Seed


Ms. Jessica Morris’s Burns Middle School science classroom was not for the pedagogical faint of heart... Learners hustled with collaborative intent as they created prototypes for energy efficient model homes. Project partners huddled around mini iPads while experimenting with the thermodynamic properties of insulated cardboard houses.  And, learners hummed with the collective, captivating buzz of curiosity in the self-paced pursuit of scientific insight. Alas, Ms. Morris’s class possessed an electric alchemy that radiated a “culture of learning.” 

To be certain, this personalized culture of learning was not the traditional, typical environment marked by forerunners twenty years ago. The personalized learning strategies used in this classroom were not the methods taught to pre-service teachers ten years ago. In fact, it was not even the learning style that Ms. Morris herself employed as recently as two years ago. For Ms. Morris and her learners, the learning taking place in this seventh grade classroom was an amalgamation of learner-centered, curiosity-provoking activities, galvanized in the fires of learner passions, that transcended even the most stubborn traces of teenage apathy. In essence, this Learner-Centered Environment was the maturation, the development of one tiny seed planted in the fall of 2014. The seed of personalized learning…

Planting the Seeds of Personalization

Through the $41.5 million dollar kidŸ⋅FRIENDLy, Race to the Top-District (kF-RTTD) Grant ( awarded to 111 schools in 22 school districts in the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative (GRREC) and Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative (OVEC) in the spring of 2013, over 60,000 learners have been positively impacted by the personalized learning initiative and innovation. Fostering learner empowerment, project-based learning, and technology-enhanced instruction, the kF-RTTD Grant has enabled more than 300 principal-selected Teacher Leaders across GRREC and OVEC to “dare greatly” in their classrooms.

Organically Growing a Safety Net of Support

Throughout my coaching journey, the most powerful professional resource I can give Teacher Leaders is a safety net of support, in conjunction with school and district administration, for each teacher to grow and thrive at their own pace and level of commitment. My job is to foster the growth of each Teacher Leader, personalized to their individual needs and passions, much like each Teacher Leader is asked to do for their learners. My role is to encourage Teacher Leaders to take risks, to celebrate when they soar and catch them when they fall.

Undoubtedly, my most important role as a Cognitive Coach in promoting a Learner-Centered Environment is listening to the needs of my Teacher Leaders. An extremely perspicacious Cognitive Coach colleague, Ms. Shanan Mills, once quipped, “When your job as a coach revolves only around completing items on a checklist, you are not doing your job.” Daily, I endeavor to truly listen to my Teacher Leaders--to what is said, and what is not said--in an effort to anticipate barriers to learning, while gently coaching my Teacher Leaders to plan and produce solutions to overcome these classroom challenges.

Additionally, matching Teacher Leaders to other practitioners in the field and coordinating efforts among colleagues, be it virtually or face-to-face, has been another invaluable strategy for organically growing this safety net of support within personalized learning. For Teacher Leaders in the kF-RTTD Grant, support takes shape in two distinct forms. First, Teacher Leaders meet monthly (and more often, as needed) with their respective Cognitive Coach to engage in personalized professional coaching that provides opportunities for risk-free communication regarding the implementation of personalized learning strategies for their school, their classroom, their learners. Second, Teacher Leaders are encouraged to attend Learning Forums across Kentucky, sponsored by the kF-RTTD Grant, several times each year. Learning Forums allow Teacher Leaders to connect with other Teacher Leaders to share Personalized Learning strategies, stories, and successes to further impact learners. These informal and formal Learning Forum connections take shape through Teacher Leader-led roundtables and Teacher Leader presentations, respectively, on a variety of topics from “Personalizing the Physical Environment” to “Passion-Based Learning” to “Self-Pacing”--with Teacher Leaders self-selecting which roundtables and presentations to attend. 

As the kF-RTTD Grant has evolved to meet the needs of our representative schools and school districts, one thing has remained the same… To challenge each learner at a high level through the creation of Learner-Centered Environments, emphasizing a “Culture of Learning” with trust, risk-taking, and effective communication. 


PatrickRiley_BioPic.jpgPatrick Kagan-Moore, Centre College professor and Kentucky dramatist, once said, “each step in your journey prepares you for what comes next.” Over the course of his professional tenure, Patrick Riley has assumed a variety of roles, some with a non-linear progression, but each connecting and interconnecting with their respective responsibilities: actor, director, learner, teacher, speaker, writer, and program administrator. Currently, all of the aforementioned roles and responsibilities intersect at this nexus called “Cognitive Coach.”
As a Cognitive Coach for the kF-RTTD Grant, Patrick Riley works closely with more than 30 Kentucky Teacher Leaders (working in ten schools and three school districts) to embed personalized learning strategies in the classroom, helping them to further inspire, challenge, empower, and engage learners through the constructive process of learning.

For further communication regarding this post, please contact Patrick Riley (GRREC Cognitive Coach) at or @priles3000 (Twitter). Also, for further details about the kidŸ⋅FRIENDLy, Race to the Top-District (kF-RTTD) Grant (, please contact Dr. Karen Barron (Program Manager) at

Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Transformation as a Teacher

Guest post by Pernille Ripp, 7th grade teacher, Oregon School District, WI

Beginning of the End of Supreme Bringer of Knowledge

Today I shared the story with my seventh graders of how I almost quit teaching. How I hated the kind of teacher I had become. How I was so sick of making learners conform to all of my inane rule following that I would rather have quit than harm another child’s curiosity. To say that my learners were surprised would be an understatement. “You used to do those things, Mrs. Ripp? Really? You took away recess? You gave “F’?s” You talked more than you do now…”

The learners were not quite sure what to believe but I made them understand that one of the greatest things I ever learned was that I could not keep teaching the way I had. That not only did I have to get rid of many of my rules, but I also had to take a long look at how my learners were learning. That me being the main vessel of information in the room, the supreme bringer of knowledge, and also the lead commander of all creation was not sustainable. Was not inspiring passion, nor was it creating opportunities for learners to actually develop skills beyond what I found necessary.

So in my admittance as failed teacher, I changed and the biggest part of my change was that our classroom had to have room for all of the ways my learners needed to learn. For them to be able to find their voice and decide how they would learn best, because no longer did I want to be at the helm of their learning journey, I needed them take control, to steer the ship so to speak and to make major decisions that would shape the very school year we would have. I taught 4th graders at the time. I was terrified.

Embracing Personalized Learning

Now, almost six years into my transformation as a teacher who embraces personalizing learning as much as possible, I would never go back to the way it was before. The drastic changes I made back then have now become insignificant in the best possible way; they are no longer terrifying, nor are they dramatic, but instead they are woven into the very tapestry of the way we function as a learning community. It is a given that there is choice in our classroom, that there is an ongoing conversation regarding the way they are learning, what they are learning, and how they will be assessed. That learners may utilize the environment in the way that makes the most sense for them, and also use each other as they try to engage with materials.

The changes we have now are so integrated that I sometimes fail to see the marvel in them; we just work as a learning community, yet to others to try to replicate this type of learning community may seem just as terrifying as it did to me so many years ago. Yet the beauty of personalized learning is that even the smallest changes can make the biggest difference. That you should keep the end goal in mind but always keep your eye on the steps right in front of you. Because if you do not, then personalized learning can seem overwhelming at best, impossible at worst. So how does one start toward a more personalized learning environment even within our sometimes regimented public school system?

Listening to my Learners

We start by asking our learners which needs they have that are not being met. We then listen to their answers and try to develop pathways that may include their requested modifications. One thing my learners asked for repeatedly was simply choice in what they created, something that is so easy to give and yet often overlooked. However, when it comes to creation the power of the times that we live in is remarkable; learners have access to so many tools that can support them in their explorations. No longer do our choices have to be between PowerPoint or poster, but instead can be left open to the tools that learners often access outside of school, outside of their supposed learning.

Simply by asking my learners more questions has my knowledge of what is possible expanded exponentially. Asking learners questions can be done in many ways. Now that I teach 7th grade, I do not have as much face to face time with my learners as I long for. Often our conversations happen through surveys or quick Google forms as I check in with them on their learning. Large group meetings, informal check-ins, small groups and one-to-one teaching all have a part in it as well as we grow comfortable with each other and start to trust the notion that we are learning together. And for that learning to be powerful, my voice cannot be the loudest.

Realizing Education is for our Kids and their Future

Six years ago, I set out on a journey that would challenge my belief that education was an institution that could not be changed, but instead had to be blindly followed no matter the collateral damage in its wake. I now know that the day I started asking my learners what changes they needed to become more engaged learners, was the day that I made a difference in the way education can be used. Yet this change is fundamentally not about me. It is about the learners I teach and it is for them that we must embrace a more meaningful way of educating. Call it personalizing learning or some other title, but in the end, we must make the very education that we are stewards of become about the kids that we teach again.

Screenshot 2016-01-23 11.33.30.pngMy pathway not a straight line, much like the pathways that my learners undertake to this day, but I chronicled it in my book Passionate Learners - How to Engage and Empower Your Students in the hopes that someone out there would find the courage that I so desperately needed when I realized that I was becoming another cog in the wheel of a broken machine. I wrote the book in the hopes that the voices of my learners would be listened to so that the voices of other learners may join them. That was my driving force 6 years ago when I decided there had to be a better way and it continues to be so today. We must never forget that ultimately the very education we provide is not for us, but for the kids, and that our future, indeed, depends on it.


Mass consumer of incredible books, Pernille Ripp, helps learners discover their superpower as a middle school teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin. She opens up her educational practices and beliefs to the world on her blog and is also the creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, a global literacy initiative that since 2010 has connected more than 1,00,000 learners. 

Her book “Passionate Learners - How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is helping teachers change the way learners feel about school. Her other book “Empowered Schools, Empowered Students” is meant to give others the courage to change.

Follow Pernille on Twitter @pernilleripp