Creating a Classroom of Passionate Learners

Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students, 2nd edition
By Pernille Ripp
(Routledge/Eye On Education, 2016 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Laura Von Staden

vonstaden3Passionate Learners is a very useful resource for both new and veteran teachers. While Pernille Ripp begins by telling some of her own story, talking to us from the perspective of What I thought then (as a novice teacher following traditional strategies) and What I think now (as an experienced teacher shifting to student-driven learning), this book also has ideas, steps, and suggestions that will be helpful to any teacher trying to create a more student-centered classroom of eager learners.

passion learners von stadenHer key question for the book is “Would you want to be a student in your classroom?” She describes how traditional ways of teaching are not meeting the needs of students and encourages us to be the change.

Ripp admits that changing and sustaining a student-centered classroom will be hard. It’s difficult for us to rethink our ways of instruction and give over control, or explain the changes to parents and administrators, or fight against the comfortable status quo. As difficult as this may be, however, change will only happen if classroom teachers make it happen.

Ripp points out that our goal as educators is to produce life-long learners who are able to think critically and express their ideas productively. If this is true, then we must start providing these types of opportunities in our schools. Students need to have both choice and voice in our classrooms, and classrooms need to belong to them as much as they do to us. “We cannot force children to learn,” says Ripp. “They have to be partners in their learning journey” (p. xix).

This is not a “how to teach” book

Ripp makes a point of explaining that Passionate Learners is not a how-to book but a narrative about learning meant to inspire us. She lays out a number of other aspects of student-centered learning for us to consider, including giving up our reward-and-punishment systems, doing away with homework, and completely changing our current grading system.

Each chapter is laid out in a pattern: how it has been (traditional); how it could be (student-driven); and what might happen next (the steps we can take to help us get there). Resources, ideas, questions and stories support our journey into the student-centered world of learning.

The appendix contains sample student and parent questionnaires for use at both the beginning and end of the year. There’s also a 50th day class reflection form, a 1st quarter student self-reflection and grading form, spring and fall conference forms (for student-led conferences) and a parent post-conference questionnaire. There’s also a chart for dealing with behaviors without imposing a reward/punishment system and a teacher reflection form. All of the resources in the appendix are also available from the publisher’s website in a digital format.

If you are, or want to be, an innovative teacher and create a student-led classroom, Passionate Learners is definitely for you and will serve as a great resource as you take one step at a time to “Be the change.” I recommend you get this book and start today.

Dr. Laura Von Staden is a Middle School Special Education Lead Teacher in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees both at her school and within her district and works closely with the local university where she is a Professional Practice Partner and a master mentor. Dr. Von Staden also facilitates both online and face-to-face Professional Development for her school district.


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