My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve our lives through research based on our interests. What will we learn? What message will we share? This blog is a log of our learning experiences, mine and the students'... HOME - SEE ALL POSTS . Check out the LiveBinder to see what other teachers are doing during their Genius Hour time! Want to have me speak with you or your staff? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

My Rock - Bob Kirr

This post was originally posted on The Power of Appreciation blog...

He is my #1 Fan...    (Well, he may be tied with my mom...!)

My husband, Bob Kirr...

When it comes to my teaching career, he is my biggest support. I won't go into the rest of our life together, as it would take a ton more than just one post, so this one is all about how appreciative I am of Bob's support of me as a teacher.

Here is the physical proof of what Bob has done for my students IN the classroom:
 I chose the fabric, and Bob did the rest...

I bought the books, and Bob gave me a place to put them... (Over a bulletin board...)

I wanted to find a way to display certain books, and Bob made me a way...

I wanted to get the headsets out of the box, and Bob made me a rack...

I found an idea on Pinterest for whisper phones, and Bob glued them all together for us...

Behind all the fun supplies he supplies (hah!), he also holds me up mentally. Some instances of when he's helped me become a better teacher (ahem - a better PERSON)...

When a parent called Genius Hour "crazy," and said, "You should do more P.R.," he let me cry. When I was finished, he asked, "What are you going to do now?" My answer? Create the LiveBinder.

When (recently) another teacher called a meeting with me and the principal over something I had said, Bob let me know, "You did nothing wrong." When it was over, he asked, "What have you learned?" He helps me reflect - EVERY SINGLE DAY.

When I want to try something new, he's the one who challenges with one word - WHY?

When I'm on the laptop too long, he comes by and shuts it on my fingers.

When I get a wonderful letter from a parent, he's the only one with whom I can share it.

When I feel knocked down because other teachers and I do not agree, he calms me and reminds me that I used to believe differently, too. He also reminds me that I don't need to change the world - I'm doing a lot with the kiddos I have.

When I have the BEST DAY EVER, he's the one I run to so I can share my stories of the BEST KIDS EVER.

And, of course, after a difficult week, he's the first one who helps me celebrate the weekend...!
He is my love, my life, and my rock, even when he helps me feel as if I can fly...

With all the respect I can muster... Joy Lynn

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Tracking Student Behavior in a Non-Threatening Way

I've recently read the Kindle version of Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School, by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez. (Thank you for the free copy, A.J. Juliani, Mark and Jennifer!) There are ten ideas in this book that many people can implement fairly quickly. I feel as if I've already tapped into many of them, so I'm writing about a new one (to me) that I had to run with right away.

I wanted to begin the idea of "Track Records" the minute I read about them. (I actually DID implement them the very next week!)

Background information... There are times when I KNOW - for SURE - that (we'll call her) Glinda was speaking the ENTIRE period with her friends. I know that on the days I am having a hard time, she must be speaking even MORE with her friends. I know I have biases, and I've always wondered how I could keep track of this - to see if it was really happening.

Another idea I've implemented the past two years is good emails home to parents. Sometimes it's easy to find something students do that make your (or another student's) day. Other times it's difficult to remember what happened in class once the students leave the room.

The idea of "Track Records" caught my eye. I created one, then another, and then tweaked it again. Finally, I settled on the format shown here. Behaviors that are distracting (or pet peeves, perhaps) can go on the left side of each day, and the positives can go on the right. I had my math brain going when I thought this - as on a graph, the left of the y axis is negative, and to the right is positive. I also created codes for certain behaviors. Here's what my own track records look like (this month - nothing is constant when you are reflective):

Click on this link to see the codes, then make a copy of the document to edit your own version.

Instead of shaming students...
     You can pull up their track record. You can see just how many times Glinda really is speaking when she should be listening. You can quietly pull the student aside and explain to him or her what you notice. Perhaps certain days are tougher on you (or her), and you can have this conversation about the data - not necessarily about the student. There is no need to shame students by pointing out disruptive behaviors in front of the class.

Celebrate successes...
     You can see who really contributes to class, and who you can rely on for their energy or optimism. Maybe one student has a TON of energy, and it can be redirected to help the class instead of hinder it. Use the chart to make sure you get in that positive word to students every day. Use it to send home positive notes to parents on the weekends. Use it to show students you CARE.

Great reflection and transparency...
     Try not to make this a surprise to students. Let them know that you keep track of behaviors - not to judge, but to have further conversations. We are all human, and we are all growing. Reflection is a huge part of this simple chart. This chart allows for the conversation to happen.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Dream Day...

This past Wednesday is still on my mind. It was truly a teacher's dream...

We started with independent reading - oh, how beautiful!

A student book talk next? Why not?! (All of ours are here!)

Then came the groans... Any time we "have to" write, the groans come. We got our ideas ready to go, wrote the claim together, and then came our 4-minute break. Once back from break, we got to work writing about Phineas Gage...

I was able to go around and give over-the-shoulder conferences ("OTSCs" as Amplify calls them) to many students. I have gotten better at this the past four years. I spot something the student is doing well, and let the student know how their writing affects me as a reader. I then find something they can improve upon and ask them to "consider changing ______ to see how it will affect your readers further." Or... "I notice you did this _____ - what do you think would happen if you ________?" This way students still keep the control - they are treated as the writers they are - they have choice in the matter. (If you want guidance on how to do this, read Choice Words by Peter Johnston!)

At two minutes left, I reminded them to do a "once over," reading it through to check their capitalization, punctuation, and use of evidence. I took photos of student work (we were sans laptops this day - you can still do a lot with just one iPad in the room), and tried to be quick about uploading them to a document we would project on the screen.

We were then ready to share. "THIS is where the learning happens," I informed the class.

The first two classes went fairly well. Students were brave to share, attentive while listening to others, and took turns giving feedback and quality boosters. (Thanks for that great term, Paul Solarz!) We graded them on the spot for quality of evidence and grammar/conventions - as a CLASS. We discussed the difference between "developing," "proficient," and "mastery," and the writer could either argue peer ideas or accept them. If we graded them as anything less than "mastery," we gave suggestions as to what they could do to improve their writing. What we were doing was having discussions about the craft of writing, and NOT about the writer. I was a happy teacher.

Then came my last class. This class, as you might know, is grading themselves at the end of each quarter. Work goes in the grade book, but grades do not. Instead of a grade, specific feedback is written (often copied/pasted from the rubric) in it's spot. I believe this has made a huge difference already. When students were sharing their feedback and quality boosters, many of their words came right from my specific feedback that I've been putting in the grade book in place of grades. They said things such as this...
"You have strong evidence, but it would be stronger if you added ..."
"I notice your evidence supports your claim and connects to your reasoning."
"Only some evidence (specific evidence pointed out) supports your claim. You might want to add ___, so your claim is supported better."
"You have sufficient evidence, but what if you used __________ (insert new text here) instead of ________ (written evidence)?
I think you could prove your claim easier if you used different text."
"I think this is 'publish ready!'" (No grammar mistakes.)
At one point, I thanked them for their bravery and honesty, and using this opportunity to help each other become better writers. One student (Anna) said, "Well we're not stressed about the grade. We just want to do better." (I'm telling you - it was a DREAM day!)

At the end of this class, I suggested they turn in their writing if they did not share with the class, so I could give them some specific feedback.


One day later (Thursday)... I hadn't received some of the writing prompts from my last class. As they were working independently, I asked them, one at a time, if they were going to turn in their writing for feedback. The first two turned them in. The next student asked, "Do we have to?"

I responded, "Did you want to use this piece of writing for proof of writing or language usage skills?"


"Okay. Just know you can't use this piece for evidence if you don't receive feedback on it."

"That's fine. I don't want to publish it on my blog, and this quarter our proof has to be published, right?"

"Yup. I hadn't thought of that. (Pause... Thinking...) I totally understand. Let me know if you ever want feedback on this piece." I went to the next student.


These kids get me thinking. THIS is why I'm teaching. These are the days I live for at school.

The next day (Friday/yesterday), I decided to offer additional (and optional) independent practice for my classes. "Write about Phineas Gage in a blog post."

What this means - Students can write a letter to the author, an opinion piece, a book review... They can create a video, a vlog post, or a poem. Should they choose to take me up on it, I believe they will stake a claim, use textual evidence to support whatever they write (or say), and explain their evidence in relation to their claim.

What this means for my last class - Whatever they decide, they can use this published piece towards their proof of learning for writing, language usage, or speaking & listening skills. I'll give them specific feedback, and they can revise it if they so choose. (If we can get comments on their blog posts, they'll get more feedback!)

As we went over the independent practice listed on the board, I halted. I erased "Phineas Gage," and left it blank. I suggested, instead, that they begin to write on their blogs, and then let me know which posts they'd like feedback on. The posts they shared with me for feedback could be used towards proof of their skills in class. (This weekend I will figure out HOW to give this feedback - on one spreadsheet per student is what I'm thinking - I don't want to give the feedback in a blog comment. I will also have to figure out how they can then let me know that they revised, if they choose to do so.)

Source unknown - This image was sent to
me via Erik Kipling yesterday.
Hopefully this will be writing they WANT to do, using what we practice in class to write what THEY want to write, not prompts I provide. I can just imagine it now... We do the work we're supposed to do in class in order to learn the skills, and then they APPLY that work outside of class on something they enjoy... Hmmm.... Isn't this the way learning is supposed to work?

Nix the "Dream Day" title. This was a teacher's dream WEEK!

My resources so far: 
"FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder 
     for parents to inspect
My own reflections on this journey

Saturday, October 31, 2015

First Quarter - Students Grading Themselves

We did it! We got through one full quarter of not putting any grades in the grade book!

Friday was our last day of the first quarter of our year. Student reflection videos were due the Sunday prior, and a few trickled in afterwards. I did have three one-on-one conferences with my seventh graders, as they did not create videos. Thanks to a reminder from Mike Stein in his own reflection, I put students' self-chosen grades in the grade book for their final grade of the quarter. I also put two comments they chose (from the list our middle school uses) on the progress report as well.

Parent feedback (I will add more if/when more comes in from this simple form...)
I think it was tough for the students, but they reflected a lot and it was a great experience. My son can be somewhat of a perfectionist, so making a ton of revisions got a little hairy. I think that with more experience, this process will be easier and smoother. Thanks for trying something new.  
I'm still a numbers girl...
     So I have a spreadsheet that I created last year with numbers. At the end of last year, I documented the number of females and males that had As, Bs, Cs (and Ds) after each quarter. I got these numbers ready so I could compare this year's numbers, wondering if I'd have grade inflation overall due to one class grading themselves. Although our numbers are down this year, the percentage of As was surprisingly similar for this quarter:

I chose the last class of the day for this pilot, because normally this is my "rowdiest" group - it's after lunch and sometimes it seems as if none of us has any energy left for school at this point in the day. So... here are the numbers from the last class of the day:

I did not agree fully with two of students. However, according to their rationale, I can see how they came up with their grades. We have different opinions on what to use for proof. Next quarter will weed out (some of / all of?) these differences, when all proof must be published online somehow.

I know I could play with numbers until my brain hurts, so I don't know what else I will do with these facts. I only know that I wanted to be sure to document them. Another stat I could add - number of grades in the grade book. We had 12 assignments in the online grade book this year, and 10 of these had grades attached (two were just checked in). Actually... it was really only NINE assignments... two of them had multiple grades attached. See my issue with numbers? I have to step away from them, as they are not the reason I'm asking students to grade themselves.

So... WHY? Why am I asking students to grade themselves?

     So they begin to see how arbitrary grades can be.
     So they know more about what goes into (or SHOULD go into) a grade.
     So students revise more than they have before.
     So students come up with multiple ways to show their skills and prove their grade.
     Best part so far - So I can hear (and learn from) these types of reflections...
          I tried to change my writing because of feedback.
          I didn't feel comfortable sharing my writing with the class yet.
          I shared twice during Friday reflections - not the best, but it's better than nothing.
          I gave one good book talk, which is a good start.
          I didn't have much time to read outside of class because of soccer practice and games.
          I had a hard time giving evidence for my cardboard challenge reflection.
          I add a lot of apostrophes at wrong times.
          I have trouble with words that sound the same, like "their" and "there."
          I need to talk louder and not mumble so much.
          I always revise until I get the feedback I like.
          I read all the time - at home, school and weekends.
          Sometimes I make a few silly mistakes, but I need to work on that.
          I not only participated in fishbowl discussions, but I added to the conversations.
          I can work on listening to others.
          I'm an active participant in class.
          My goal is to get good writing feedback in the first place.
          I revised my writing of "A View from the Bridge" to add evidence.
          I left a cliff hanger in the "fear" big idea notebook for The Fifth Wave
                    (Many thanks to Penny Kittle for the big idea notebook implementation!)
          In my book talk, I hesitated a bit, and could've added more detail.
          In fishbowl discussions, I share good evidence.
          For independent reading, I'm not finishing a lot of books. I'd rather read articles.
          In fishbowls, I'm not afraid to give my honest opinion.
          I give feedback on others' writing to help improve their writing in any way.
          I read several books at one time.
          I never typed up my narrative, so I didn't receive any feedback on it.
          I make a lot of capitalization errors.
          I not only give feedback in class, but it is positive and constructive.
          I feel I can contribute or am strong in that area.
          Fishbowl discussions sometimes change my perspective on things.
          I do revise, but not a lot. Or not enough.
          I'm getting better at not doing run-on sentences.
          As for fishbowls, people will say what I wanted to say, so there's no point in
               repeating them.
          Monday and Wednesday I get really tired and sometimes almost fall asleep or
               don't understand.
          I didn't really read last year or in the summer, and now I'm reading more.
          I didn't really read 20 minutes a day. Sometimes my schedule didn't allow that.
          I read 20 minutes or MORE every day.
          On one assignment, I got the feedback "ready to publish."
          When we read "Streets to Memphis" ("The Night I Won the Rights to the Streets 
               of Memphis"), I gave a poll to the class to see how old they think the author
               was at the time. (More proof of speaking and listening skills...)
          I read eight books this quarter. (Then she lists them!)
          In fishbowl discussions, I went back to the source.
          I gave feedback and quality boosters, without repeating what was already said
               or making kids feel bad about their writing.
          I showed by using good descriptive adjectives and verbs.
          I wrote my cardboard challenge reflection twice, because the first time I just didn't
               do it well.
          I double-check and triple-check my grammar and look for words that aren't necessary.
          I don't bring a book every time we read in class.
          I have to be told to revise.
          Sometimes I don't use punctuation.
          I don't participate in fishbowls, but I listen good.
          I need to put more effort into writing.
          I need to check for capitals and end punctuation.
          I will join a fishbowl next quarter.
          I read 10-15 minutes a day, which is good considering I have after school activities.
          I gave one book talk. We shouldn't have to give book talks for all the books
               we read, so I did okay.
          I participate in weekly reflections.
          I didn't get a chance to share my writing with the class - if I could, I would.
          I need to work on run ons.
          I only read two books. I don't read every night.
          My claim was right to the point and I used as many pieces of evidence as I needed.
          I had one tiny error in my Baseball Great response.
          People deserve feedback if you've heard the whole story. I get distracted sometimes,
               so I don't give feedback then. If I can listen to their whole writing, I will give feedback.
          In "View from the Bridge," my claim was unclear and my evidence didn't reflect the claim.
          In my cardboard challenge reflection, my evidence was both explicit and inferential.
          When I read, I take a long time, because I want to understand the correct information.
          When I write or type an essay, I always go back and reread to correct any errors.

I purchased a binder today to keep student video reflection notes (and more) together. I'll be following up on some student comments, goals, and repeated issues so we can all learn even more this coming quarter. On Tuesday, I'll be asking students to come up with a goal for each of the areas on which our class focuses.

These will be in the new binder as well, for any of us to check throughout this next quarter.

My next goal - to help students publish everything they'd like to use as proof for their Q2 grade. They'll need three PUBLISHED pieces for reading, writing, language usage (grammar) and speaking & listening this time! We've got our blogs. It's time to make our work relevant enough to add to our blogs... Why do I do this to myself??!!

My resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

More Questions - NOW We're Talking!

Two weeks before grades for first quarter are due...

We discussed the video self-reflection portion of our work today in block 9/10. I adapted this from Jamie Born's AP Lit. self-reflection assignment - I really only changed a few things to make it work for us. (THANK YOU, JAMIE!) One thing I took out was effort. My students have been informed that their effort will show in their performance, and we had previously had the discussion of when effort is used in calculating grades. They understood it from the math teacher's perspective... do the homework, and you'll do better on the quizzes. Put in the effort (mostly in the form of revisions), and it will (most likely) show up in your performance.

While we talked through the sheet I handed out - and also put on Edline for their homework - they had a multitude of great questions...

S = Can I give myself minuses and pluses?
Me = Sure.

S = And if you don't agree, we'll have a conference? With our PARENTS??
Me = Just me and you. Before school, during lunch, or after school. You'll need to make an appointment.

S = Sometimes for my 20 minutes of reading some nights I read articles, because I've left my book at school. How can I prove that I'm reading each night?
Me = Maybe next quarter you can start a log of the articles you've read, or you can review a couple on your blog... You'll have to figure that out. Explain the situation in your reflection for this quarter.

S = What if I have three pieces of writing that I didn't revise? How can I use those for evidence?
Me = You can use those as evidence of what you have yet to learn, or yet to try. What do you think you deserve for each piece? Figure those into your overall grade.

S = What if I did really well on one piece for grammar, but not my other two? Can I average them?
Me = What do you think? Explain your thinking in your reflection.

S = What if I read really slow and I've only read one book this quarter?
Me = Are you reading at home for 20 minutes a night? If so, you should be getting a bit faster at reading. How can you prove what you've been reading each night? Explain what you can for this quarter, and then you'll have to figure this out for next quarter.

S = What if I have bad evidence for grammar, but good evidence for reading? Can I average these?
Me = Your grade will ultimately be an average of your reading, writing, language usage / grammar, and speaking & listening strands. You have to figure out how they all average out. (I hope this helps them see how arbitrary grades can be.)

The more questions they asked, the happier I became. 
I felt that THIS is why we're trying this.

I told them, "I am so geeked that you are asking these great questions. The fact that you KNOW your reading, writing, grammar and speaking habits is WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT. It's not about the grade. It's about the LEARNING. You are sharing with me right now what you've learned about HOW you learn. This discussion is better than any grade you could earn. Just tell me in your reflection what you believe you have earned, and why. Let me know your story, and give me the evidence to back it up."

Afterwards, I used Angela Stockman's idea of "Four Corner Feedback" (found in this post last week) for students to let me know more questions or concerns. (Side note - we use the plus/delta idea in this post for weekly reflections and it works really well! See a taste of it in this blog post...) Is it just a seventh grade thing - for you to have five minutes left of class for kids to come up and ask you questions, and yet they'd rather leave you a sticky note instead??? I'm glad I was able to provide this option to them, because I did get two more questions that hadn't been asked yet.
I'm confused...    I'm curious...    I'm questioning...    (I think these 3 are so similar...)   and   I'm clear - for now.
There was one more question as they were heading out the door...

S = Can I just have a conference with you instead of creating a video?
Me = Yes. Prepare your strengths and what you need to work on, and bring that evidence to the conference.
S = But can't we just meet?
Me = You need to prepare for the meeting, just as you would for the video. Be ready to tell me what you think you should get for your reading, writing, language usage / grammar, and speaking & listening strands. Then set up an appointment time.
S = Can't I just come unprepared?
Me = Nope. I want you to LEARN from this experience. Do the prep work, and we'll meet.

Ah... seventh grade.

My resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Easy & Effective Parent Communication

First, check out our two-week class updates on our Weebly

I hear your thoughts...
     It's just too much work.
     I don't have time to do that on top of everything else.
     No one else at my school does it, so why should I?

And yet...
     Parents have no clue what happens in the classroom.
     You know you'd appreciate it if you were the parents.
     We should model what we preach.

You know the reasons WHY you should...
     If parents share these videos/posts with their children, students may be more involved in class.
     Parents want to know what's going on in your class.
     Once you start share what you're doing with parents, you'll plan for even more effective lessons!

Here's the How-To:
     1. Get an Animoto account. The basic account should be free for educators. I have purchased the yearly subscription so I can get videos up to 10 minutes. Yes, I believe it's that important and that easy to use.
     2. Set up one device at school that one student will use throughout the day (or class period) for taking pictures. Give guidelines on these photos - horizontal works best, only 5-6 per period (I have three classes - more than this is too many for one Animoto video), and if you're recording, only up to 9 second videos (again, because I use Animoto).
     3. Every two weeks, quickly edit and download student-chosen photos. Put them in an Animoto (or other) video / slide show. Choose your music from their huge selection. (I choose based on length of the video and songs.) Post on your blog. Email parents in a mass email.

Want to go a step further?
     1. Write an actual blog post to go along with the movie / slide show. Yes - explain what you did the past two weeks. I've noticed this keeps me on task - we don't have a lot of "fluff" in our days, because we're working towards goals I write about in these posts.
     2. Next step - have students write the blog posts!! (I'm not there - yet. With three classes and kids doing so many things outside of school, I haven't had any takers...)

Parents DO appreciate it. Sometimes I get emails thanking me for the updates, and just recently I received a comment on the last two-week blog post:

It's worth it.
Try it.
Parents will appreciate it!

Many thanks to Jen Smith, who inspired me to try this at an AHSD25 Tech Academy session in 2013! Think like a parent, and you'll be jumping on board...

Update: Thank you to Amy Cody Clancy for your comment! Here is the email I send parents the #1st5days of school to ask for parent permission to create these videos. Technically, our district can post any photos of students unless parents opt-out, but I like to cover my bases. :)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Kids Ran the Show - 4th Annual Cardboard Challenge

The KIDS ran the show, and showed their creativity, perseverance, and adaptability last Thursday during our fourth annual Cardboard Challenge.

Highlights of my day: 
  • Many parents came to see creations and to talk about the day and their children! The kids were so very happy to have them play their games!
  • Mrs. Ryan, our new ALF (advanced learning facilitator), helped one group of students at the end of the day - one of the boys lost his phone outside during the fire drill.... She helped us locate it!!
  • A couple of teachers came down to visit and play!
  • Mr. Slowinski's class joined us all day this year - it was great to have his students collaborate with mine. I also got to learn a few more names and faces.
  • Check out the Storify archive of some reflection notes from scholars in room 239!

What I wish had gone better:
  • One student lost his phone during our fire drill. He brought it with him to showcase Google Cardboard. The kids in his group had even created a "Virtual Reality Booth" (pictured here).
  • Only a couple of teachers this year made it down to the library to visit.
  • I have to not focus on who is NOT at the Cardboard Challenge, and instead focus on WHY we do this. We do this for the kids - not for any notoriety. Their reflections were enlightening.
I love reading student reflections, and reflecting myself...

The best suggestions I got from this year:  From a student who enjoyed the day, but had some issues...
I think we should do cardboard challenges more in the future because it brings out the creativity in middle schoolers or in any age group.  This challenge is a type of homework that all kids of all ages will enjoy.  When I was building my game, my game failed many times because it was a slingshot and it would bend and break all the time.  My dad helped me find new parts to build it and it worked out perfectly.  When I did the cardboard challenge, it taught me to not give up and to try new ideas if something didn’t work.  When we did the actual cardboard challenge at school it was very fun watching people cheer when people were winning the cardboard games and getting those silly prizes. The only problem that I had with my game was that everyone wanted my groups’ prize so they were crowding around me and not giving me any space. Also they would not listen to my instructions, especially the one that stated that everyone could only play twice.  Since everyone was crowding around, they partly broke my game too which was very upsetting.  Because of the crowds around my game, I did not have any chance to play anyone else’s game, which was disappointing. I hope that the teachers can make sure to tell the students this. Next time it would be better if everyone is able to have a chance to play other people’s game and not have one group not be able to play the games. Also, it would be a good idea to tell the students to be gentle and not be so aggressive with other people’s games.

The biggest joy I got from this year:  Reading a reflection from a student who struggles with many aspects of my class, and life, in general. This student took the challenge, and conquered many obstacles during the 80 minutes. This student really showed persistence and adaptability. Here is the reflection:

I think it's a good idea to continue to do the Cardboard Challenge because we get to learn and have fun at the same time. The challenge requires planning, research, and teamwork.  It used measuring and testing to make sure the game actually would work.  The challenge forced me to adjust my original plan.  It's required persistence to make sure the game would work for others. If I ever have to do this again I learned what to do differently next time from my observations with this challenge.

The biggest lesson I learned this year: Some students were upset... by some other students' "great" creations. Two instances come to mind - one I observed, and one that a student wrote about in his reflection. In one I observed, the student walked around the room with the cardboard creation in a bag, and didn't want to put it out on a table after getting a glimpse at the other projects. This student did not feel confident at all when comparing his/her own completed project to the other students' projects. It was very disheartening, and made me wonder how many times this had happened in previous years and had not been noticed by me. Some students seem okay with not having the "best" project (we don't judge them at all as a class), but I can see now that some students are not okay at all with it. Here is proof of another student's feelings of disappointment...

The cardboard challenge has its up and down like a roller coaster. The rush of adrenaline filled me when I had sensed that I was building my own idea, and that the only limit was my creativity and cardboard. When you are going up, you feel happy about how many people get to play your game, a sense of enjoyment when the wandering eye stumbles across your envisioned work. You get to make someone’s day brighter, the simplistic cardboard manages through all odds to remove all school’s stress of grades. You can make people addicted to the game, playing over and over to manage to beat that one little issue you had, perhaps missing one of the throws in a basket hoop or tilting a ball into a hole of demise in a of game of a maze full of traps.
There is an issue though, which is the falling part of the roller coaster because when someone doesn’t do what all the other students call advanced, the game isn’t played. You could get teased for how much time most have been placed into the cardboard. If you game doesn’t have any interesting parts or difficulty then the game is rejected, torn by rejection while it sits on a table. If you don’t offer interesting prizes or an advanced model for a game, you might as well just move around, playing other games.
And if you break a rule, as if you found an easy way to beat the game, you are told to leave and never play again because it’s “Your fault if you do a trick that you noticed in the game’s architecture, not the creator who didn’t plan for such trickery.”
So in my opinion I would say, the Cardboard challenge game can be fun if your game is rewarding or attracting to your fellows, but when you game is called “easy to make” or “trash” and you're not having fun with anyone game, then no, the Cardboard challenge can just depress you.  
So in my experience, I believe the challenge could be a lot better if there were better guidelines.

I will ask this student what guidelines would be suggested, but I'm thinking that would take away much of the freedom that this activity provides. I need to do more research with these young learners, as the LAST thing I want them to come away with is disappointment in their own creation...

My favorite sentences in all of the reflections... all from one student who barely says a word in class:
My group and I had prizes and such but all that didn’t matter, the stuff that really did matter was how we got to see all the glorious faces of all the happy kids enjoying the game and having a spectacular time playing and giving themselves some sort of challenge.
When I played the games I had bonded with people that honestly I rarely had ever talked to, I got to know them better and I got to make them hysterical at times and I feel like I made some tight friendships. 
This cardboard box challenge changed me and me feel like a better person and really introduced myself to myself and to others and I had a phenomenal time.  

Next year, I will share these reflections with students. We'll talk about it. Hopefully we will grow from the experience. I know I grow from it every year.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Self-Reflection Example Videos

So... I did what I expect students to do this quarter...

I am sharing these videos to help my seventh graders understand how to create their (up to) five-minute self-reflection video to prove the grade they believe they should receive. Yes, I am in my sweatshirt, and yes, I have some mistakes. Some of this is off the cuff - a one-shot deal is all I really need from students, as long as they can explain what they believe they have earned, and why.

How I Prepared:
     Filled out this chart to have it with me as I speak:
     Wrote notes under my chart to help me figure out what grade I've earned for these pieces of proof.
     Made sure the notes were organized, from left to right, so that I could read from left to right when recording myself.  
     Opened up YouTube, click "upload," click "record" under "Webcam capture," click "Start recording." (You may have to "enable hardware accelleration" and then click "allow" for your webcam to be used if you haven't done this before.) OR... Learned how to create a video another way to share it with someone. Perhaps through Google Docs, iMovie, or just a video taken with their phone.
     ...Students will take this one step further, and share this video with me.

I believe I should get an A in ELA this quarter because...
I believe I should get a B in ELA this quarter because...

Looking ahead to second quarter, I'll be requiring one or more pieces for each standard. This is our first reflection, so I wanted it to be more open-ended. I hope students can see the ambiguity of our grading system, and I hope they focus on proof of what they are learning, and not their effort, as they did in their midterm surveys. I noticed I, myself, say a tiny bit about my effort in one video - such is the way I've been programmed, I suppose!

Directions for Students - on how to create a self-reflection video

My resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Feedback - #TTOG Update

When midterms popped up on us unexpectedly two weeks ago (already?!), students gave themselves As, mostly for "effort."

We discussed it the next day, and here were some of their responses:
   "_____ bumps our grade up if it's hard for us to run the mile, but we still try."
   "_____ gives us extra credit for not using our bathroom passes. I have to try to not use them."
   "_____ gives us a point for being prepared in class - isn't that just effort?"

So... they shot down my idea that grades are not based on effort. We didn't go down the route of SHOULD they be based on effort - we'd have to take a ton of time for that discussion! These students are aware that I do not "give" points, and there are no opportunities for extra credit. I do offer revisions for all of our work, and also let them use the washroom when they need...

I had to explain that in this class, effort PRODUCES product (their grades) - success or not. If we do not put forth effort, we will not be as successful.

This is not how I expected it to go this quarter. I expected to have students documenting on a spreadsheet or some other tool each day. I expected to have technology in the room as well. I had the tech for the first 2-3 weeks, but we were still building classroom culture at that point. Now that I have to reserve a cart for technology, we do not reflect on a consistent basis. Without this documentation on their part, I feel as if I haven't guided them much as I thought I would be when I planned for this class over the summer.

Students need help seeing what is "A" material, and what is not. So... I did a little backtracking this week. While the other two classes were revising their response to "A View from the Bridge" (by Cherokee Paul McDonald) because they didn't like the grade they earned, this class was not. The written feedback I'd given them - with language exactly from the rubrics - was not persuading them to revise. Nor did it let them know that they did not have "A" quality work (according to the rubrics). Backtracking for me meant to go back into each of their documents and highlight where (on the rubrics) I noticed they were at this point in time. Then, instead of just one revision suggestion, I gave one for EACH rubric we used (claim, quality of evidence, analysis of evidence, grammar/conventions). And then I decided to make it independent practice (a.k.a. homework) for them to revise this writing assignment. Sadly, they were not inspired to do this on their own. I think it is because I wasn't specific enough in my feedback.

As part of our learning process, each class evaluates themselves at the end of each week. (This idea is from Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz - His 5th graders evaluate themselves daily; we do this weekly.) A student stands at the front of the room and draws a T-chart. On the left is a "plus" sign, and he/she asks for suggestions on what we did well that week. On the right is a "delta" (triangle) sign, and he/she asks for what we could / should change for next week. We are still working on what is student-driven, vs. what is teacher-driven. For example, students will say, "We did a lot of reading and writing this week." Well, yes, this is true, but I have to ask them HOW they did it, as it was MY plan that they read and write, not theirs. They change their language to something such as, "We read quietly without many interruptions," or "We were really focused when we were writing." An example from the "things we should change" side - students say, "We should do another fishbowl discussion next week." I remind them that those plans are the decisions of the teacher team, and they should focus on what THEY can change. (Blog post on how this has been going coming soon!)

This week, each class evaluated themselves again. However, things were a bit different in block 9/10. I had a roster of their names, and I told them I'd be tallying when they contributed to the discussion. They can use this documentation (that I'll continue) as part of their proof for the "speaking and listening" portion of their grade. Suddenly, we had more ideas than in our previous four discussions.
This evaluation was great - they took the time to think about what they did well and what they could change. I believe this was a result of me taking tallies. Seeing this in green and blue, I realize they are still focused on the grade, which is NOT my intention. I started this journey with little guidance, however, and it wasn't working. So... I'll try to guide them more, then maybe by fourth quarter some, most, or all of the guidance can dissipate.

My language is slowly changing, as well, and I like the changes...
     Homework -->
          Independent Practice (and no, I still do not check it in)
     Revision assignment -->
          Revision suggestion
     "Turn in your half sheet when you're finished." -->
          "Turn in your half sheet when you're ready to receive feedback from me."

Next... I need to plan how to guide them towards creating their (up to) five-minute video reflection explaining their grade. Our grading period ends October 30th, so I'd like these the weekend prior (October 24/25). That way, if I feel there's a discrepancy, I can schedule a conference with the student and we can have a discussion in that last week. I will provide a list of the work they can show to prove their grade, and show them how to organize prior to beginning their video. I, too, have been keeping notes on feedback I've given students, so I'm not in the dark when it's time to provide a final grade for the report card. (This is another name I'd like to reframe - I need to start using the name "progress report," in order to emphasize progress, not finality.)
     Report card -->
          Progress report

Another plan... I will create my own 4-5 minute video on how I believe I'm doing with this process of students grading themselves. I will share the preparation for the video, and then share the video itself. We can then create time in class to prepare for their explanation of what their grade should be.

We still have a ton of work ahead of us. What bums me out is that all of this is still leading up to that arbitrary grade. That grade is still the carrot hanging in front of these kids. I'm simply doing what I can in the constraints I am currently up against.

My resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

Sunday, September 27, 2015

What Connected Educators Do Differently

Yesterday was another great day of learning - this time in Libertyville at #EdCampChicago.

I tried to listen more than talk (well, in the sessions, at least!), and I met many new faces to add to my personal learning network. I learn so much from passionate educators everyday, because I'm a connected educator.

One comment, from a teacher I haven't seen in (as she let me know) about seven years, really irked me, and has stayed with me until I felt like I needed to write about it.

She said, "I didn't know you were so techie."
     (Is it spelled "techy?" I don't know how to spell this one...)

I scoffed and told her I'm not really "techie." I just learn what I need to know in order to teach well, I explained. I've heard this before, and it's never really gotten to me, but coming from her, it left a bad taste in my mouth. I've spent the morning wondering why.

My life has been rearranged the last six years. No - scratch that. I have rearranged my life on my own terms - it didn't just happen to me. Becoming Joy "Kirr" was a new start for me. In 2009 I moved out of my soon-to-be-ex-husband's house and went to live with my sister and her two 3-year olds. In 2010, I purchased my own house in the neighborhood where my mom always thought would be great for me. In 2011, my soul mate married me, retired, and moved into this house that is just perfect for the two of us. That August I got on Twitter, and let the account sit dormant. That November I was chosen to pilot 1-to-1 iPads for a month for a unit in ELA class. That January I received an iPad to use (compensation for the pilot), and in February learned from Ewan McIntosh about hash tags on Twitter. Joy Kirr did a lot of soul-searching before getting active on Twitter. Then she did a TON of learning, and hasn't stopped. I realized that this woman doesn't know Joy Kirr. She only saw a glimpse of what I do.

Yes. I know some tech. I tweet, blog, curate, create resources, collaborate on resources, present, and share. I even have a huge spreadsheet of tools for teachers that I created my first summer on Twitter and add to each month. I learn, practice and model what I feel I must in order to be the best I can for students. Many teachers do this. I don't consider myself "techie."

Yes, I was the one with the idea to create documents ahead of time for participants to edit, so not everyone has to have editing rights to the EdCamp schedule. I think it was this fact that Shawn McCusker pointed out that led this teacher to believe I was "techie." Here are all the sessions, by the way. ;) This, however, I see as thinking outside of the box... thinking of an effective solution to a common problem. I work at solving problems, like a lot of educators who want things to work smoothly.

I learn.
I care.
I try to do what's best.
I share - the good, the bad, and the ugly...
                    if it helps me and others to learn.

I do what connected educators do, and it's often technology that helps me do what I feel I must do.

And although the adjective is not a negative one by any means, I do not consider myself "techie." Since this woman has known me (and really... we didn't really know each other at all!), I've become connected to thousands of other educators.

I am a connected educator, 
                                   and proud of it.

If you are wondering about the myriad benefits of becoming connected, check out What Connected Educators Do Differently by Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas. (I've met Jeff & Jimmy - such passionate connected educators!) If you are new to being connected and don't want to be too overwhelmed, consider starting at chapter five - the first few chapters are full of great ideas that might seem to hefty at first for you! Jump around, dip your toes in, and enjoy the journey that comes from being a connected educator. Your students will thank you!

Thank you to all those who make EdCamps a success - it has truly spoiled other professional development for me, Shawn!