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 is a log of our learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Don't Blink

As we write this (June 20), we are at a KOA in Poudre Canyon, CO, just north of Fort Collins. We've taken daily drives, alternating between town tours and landscape tours. We took our travel trailer on this 1,000 mile trip west, and Bob drove the entire way (with two-night stops in Omaha and Ogallala, NE) through all the wind and hills on our way here. (We did get somewhat of a friendly wind heading east...)

Today (Day 11??) was the ride up route 14 - the Cache la Poudre (hide the powder) Canyon. It goes right from our campground up and over the Rockies. The Cache la Poudre River is Colorado's first nationally designated "Wild and Scenic River." We decided to make it up a ways, eat our packed lunch, then head back down.

The canyon doesn't disappoint.

We've been in awe this entire trip. We've used myriad ways of saying the same thing - marvelous, miraculous, awesome, breath-taking, beautiful, gorgeous, amazing, unbelievable - all for something, to us, is indescribable. At one point today, Joy said, "At every turn, there's something new." Bob responded with, "Don't blink."

There's so much to see that looking to the right, you miss everything to the left. If you look down, you miss everything that's up. It's hard to take it all in. There's no way to take it all in, as long as you're moving.

We took "slow-vehicle turn offs" and drives that led to parking lots, and then we tried to take in more. As long as we were driving, however, there was no way to take it all in. If you've ever driven on a mountain road, you know it is required to keep moving along most of the road.

Last week (Days 1-3 of our first vacation this summer), Joy was feeling like a slacker when it came to learning with her PLN. You can only do so much without a laptop! This trip has reminded her that time with loved ones is an "all-in" gig. There's a time for work, and a time for play, and when we are together, it should be OUR time.

Joy is reminded of Dave Burgess's Teach Like a Pirate lesson on "immersion." Bob knows she is "all-in" when it comes to teaching. She has learned the lesson (again!) to be "all-in" when AWAY from school. Today's ride was another reminder of the reasons WHY you should immerse yourself where you are. Sure, we'll miss some things to the left or above if we keep moving, but if we STOP... stop and take it in when we have places to "pull over"... we'll have more fulfilling experiences.

For all of you who are #NotAtISTE, soak in where you actually ARE. Immerse yourself with the people around you. Yes, you will miss some ISTE lessons, but if they are good, teachers will share them and they'll come back around to you.

Just because we're on vacation does not mean we stop learning. What are lessons you are learning (or being reminded of) this summer?

~Co-authored by Bob and Joy Kirr

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

2015-2016 Year in Review

My 21st year of teaching...

I started the summer off with a BANG! Headed to University School of Milwaukee's Summer Spark conference and watched, enthralled, as Dave Burgess was on FIRE for two hours! More about the conference in this post...

I hosted the AHSD25 Genius Hour Workshop on 6/18 - only six people came, but I gave it my all, and my wish is they will incorporate student-driven learning into their days.

BOSTON! BLC15 Conference led by Alan November's great team. Presenting and attending, and enjoying the town! I held a "Master Session" on Genius Hour, and three hour-long sessions for the next three days!
I put my blood, sweat & tears into creating the "FaR" tabs of our class Weebly.

I was invited BACK to Boston for BLC16!
I was able to create and implement our first QR Code Scavenger Hunt!

Survived Parent Night - parents in my last class are on board with students grading themselves!

Attended and facilitated sessions at EdCampIL in Northbrook
Helped organize, then attended and facilitated sessions at EdCampChicago in Libertyville
My last class of the day graded themselves for the very first time! Wrote a portion of what I learned from these students and this experience in this post.
Sally Doulton was inspired by my scholars and wrote about it here.

The Best Lesson Series: Literature was published! Yes, I bought one for my mom for Christmas!
Gallit and Denise had their Genius Hour book published! And I was honored to write the Afterward!

Nothing spectacular happened. I am grateful for the consistency in my life!

Enjoyed another birthday. I like my 40s!
Received another signed copy of Teach Like a Pirate from a parent of a previous student! (She told me, "I was listening to him, and I thought - 'This is Joy! This is Joy!'" What a compliment.)

Presented a 50-minute session regarding Genius Hour in LaGrange
Presented a 3-hour workshop on Genius Hour at ICE
Attended my third EdCamp Madison (#edcampmadwi) and created my first memes!
Parents Enjoying Presentations

Enjoyed actual REST during Spring Break.
Finalized my NBCT renewal submissions!

Was spotlighted in the Daily Herald
Enjoyed helping to organize and then attend EdCamp Chicago in Elmhurst
Enjoyed the half day of EdCamp DuPage at Wheaton North H.S.

Enjoyed attending and facilitating sessions at EdCampIL in my own district
Celebrated when ten parents came to Genius Hour presentations
According to student and parent feedback (blog post to come), I successfully (?!) had one class of students give themselves their final quarter grades for a full year.

This upcoming year...
I've got nothing but VACATIONS scheduled for the summer, a couple of edcamps to attend in the fall, and my focus for the next school year will be on making those student connections once again.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Genius Hour - Year 4 Reflection

I am going to begin with this: I was not as focused on Genius Hour this year as I had been in previous years. My focus was on students grading themselves. Since I just can't do it all, I believe our time in Genius Hour suffered because of this. I will add, however, that at least two other seventh grade teachers also said that this year was tougher on them and their students, as well.

What I wish I had done:
  • had more one-on-one conversations... Students were so independent this year, I left many of them alone. It showed when they presented.
  • posted more of students' learning in the room
  • asked students to share their findings and ideas more often with others
  • given more examples of presentations and ways to present
    Some presentations were very interactive!
Changes we made this year:
  • We slowed down when it came to introducing Genius Hour. We did not have a project the first quarter, except for the Cardboard Challenge.
  • We added "Teach Me Your Talent," which went well. It could have gone better, of course. Sadly, I did not write a blog post reflection on this event. We WILL be doing this again.
  • We added a week's worth of speaking practice to prepare for "Teach Me Your Talent" and their final presentations.
  • We asked students to present during ELA class once again (having them all on one day last year was demanding, and I missed many of my students' presentations). We had many complaints about it, but felt it was great speaking practice. 
I gave students a three-page survey this year. I received 43 responses. Included in this survey were these five questions. (Thank you to Adam Schoenbart for many of these questions!)

I think Genius Hour was valuable.
     Strongly Disagree   O     O     O     O     O   Strongly Agree
                                     1      2      9     14     17     <-- The results (out of 43)

Students were asked on this survey - "What value did you find in Genius Hour?"
  • Getting to do things you usually do at home in class.
  • Learning and perfecting new skills and ideas.
  • Time to find out what you like.
  • It taught me to stay on task.
  • It let us learn about ourselves.
  • I learned a lot about myself.
  • I learned to not give up.
  • Creativity.
  • None.
  • You got to learn exactly what you want to.
  • It helped me learn to be more responsible.
  • It was time for me to do what I like.
  • I became a better reader.
  • I found a talent that I didn't know I had.
  • I found it valuable researching a topic that I enjoyed.
  • I researched something I've always wanted to know.
  • I found I was able to be creative and happy doing something in school.
  • I learned more about a topic I liked.
  • It showed us what we want to learn and what we've learned.
  • It was a good opportunity to work on personal projects.
  • I got to choose what I wanted to learn about.
  • I learned about time management.
  • We could show people what we did.
  • It helped me challenge myself.
I enjoyed Genius Hour.
     Strongly Disagree   O     O     O     O     O   Strongly Agree
                                     1      3      6     13     20     <-- The results (out of 43)

Students were also asked, "What advice do you have for teachers who are giving students time for Genius Hour in the classroom?"
  • Keep them busy and don't let them not work.
  • Make sure you check up on them and give suggestions.
  • Let them free.
  • Make sure they do Genius Hour, not homework.
  • Give them some ideas about what to do.
  • Give them a checklist, checking off stages of accomplishment.
  • Give them more outlines for what to do.
  • Make sure kids are focused on their work.
  • Maybe give more time.
  • Give them full periods. (We used 60 of our 80-minute block.)
  • Start earlier than we did.
  • Maybe allow 10 minutes of free time.
  • Leave the students to work at their own pace and let them learn.
  • No grading.
  • Present in your own classroom.
Students were also asked, "What advice do you have for STUDENTS who are given time for Genius Hour in the classroom?"
  • Use it to your advantage.
  • Make sure you use the time given.
  • Use your time wisely. x 6
  • Think hard about your project.
  • Don't just play games when you actually have work to do.
  • Focus and pick a topic that will really help you.
  • Work as hard as you can.
  • Do what you actually enjoy.
  • Always work on your project. Procrastinate AFTER you finish.
  • Brainstorm ideas that you are good at doing or want to be good at doing.
  • Take this time seriously. It's really fun if you do it correctly instead of goofing off.
  • Choose something that means a lot to you.
  • Really commit and pick something you actually want to do.
  • Don't play games. Mrs. Kirr will catch you.
A few successes I want to document:
  • We had our first rocket launch during a presentation - nobody even came CLOSE to getting hurt!
  • TEN parents showed up to watch presentations.
  • More actual products were shown during presentations. 
Changes I'm considering for next year:
  • After four full days of presentations and then reading Tony Klein's reflection on his year of Genius Hour, I'm going to try a gallery walk of some sort for presentations at the end of the year. I'd like to include the other teacher on my team, and maybe even the other TEAM of 150 more students! As long as we have more time in class for students to present short bits, I'm not too worried about losing the aspect of students speaking in front of many other students. We'll still focus on the message and how it's communicated.
  • Also because of Tony's post, I'd like to add a couple of categories for awards! Most interesting topic, most informative...... what else?! I think we'll see some themes develop once they start their final projects.
  • Because I'm implementing students grading themselves with all of my classes next year, I'm going to need time during the last week of each quarter to have conferences with my students about their grades. This means I'm thinking of four days of Genius Hour-type learning in a ROW, at the end of each quarter. I can also include three to four more days prior to these days, spread throughout the quarter (or the last 3-4 weeks before the end of the quarter). It would still be about eight days per quarter, just at different spots.
  • The first quarter I'd like to focus on creativity and collaboration. We'll end it with the Cardboard Challenge.
  • The second quarter we'll focus on ourselves. We'll begin with "Teach Me Your Talent," and end with a 20-day challenge (inspired by Matt Cutts). We will work on speaking skills this quarter.
  • The third quarter can focus on research. We'll work on the "how to," and end with our own research question that we can use for fourth quarter.
This is the plan for now. Of course, I need to talk with my cohorts, and two of the four of us will be new to 7th grade next year.  What always rings true with Genius Hour-type learning is that there is NO ONE WAY. My motto when it comes to Genius Hour is still, "Just keep tweaking, just keep tweaking..." It will be a challenging and fun year, and I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Making Thinking Visible

It took me a few months, but I just finished Making Thinking Visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison (2011).

I let a lot of these ideas percolate, and my classes even tried two of them ("See - Think - Wonder" when we read Where Children Sleep and "Chalk Talk" renamed "Marker Talk" prior to trying gamification).

Here's the gist of what I KNOW I need to do with these thinking routines:

  1. Prior to trying any routine, let students know the reason WHY.
  2. When sharing the goal for the day, or activity share the THINKING goal, not the ACTION goal.
  3. Choose a routine and content you BELIEVE in, and be INVOLVED in the process.
  4. Have a student (or facilitating teacher) document the learning (notes, photos, videos...).
  5. Use the language of thinking and reflecting throughout the day (make the language just as routine as the routines themselves). Continually notice and NAME the thinking.
  6. Keep asking, "What makes you say that?"
  7. Take the time to reflect on the process, while setting goals for next time.
  8. DOCUMENT this learning, reflection, and goals so it's all visible to the students.

Favorite ideas from the book that I'll need to keep addressing...

  • Group success is dependent on the group’s ability to listen and respond to one another’s ideas. Successful groups engaged with the ideas of the group members, echoing back the ideas that were presented and asking clarifying and probing questions of one another. p36
  • When teachers capture students’ ideas, they are signaling that those ideas and thoughts have value and are worthy of continued exploration and examination. p39
  • These thinking routines help students to find their own voices and value and respect the voices of others. p213
  • I want my classroom to be a place “where a group’s collective as well as individual thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular, day-to-day experience of all group members." p220
  • ...without the benefit of others, our thinking would be severely curtailed. ... Our individual thinking benefits from being challenged, from the need to articulate ideas clearly and concisely to others, from the presentation of alternative perspectives and insights through others’ presentation of logic, the raising of questions, and so on… p220
  • The kind of modeling that creates culture is more subtle, ubiquitous, and embedded. It is the modeling of who the teacher is as a thinker and a learner. p242
  • Understanding benefits from listening to and taking in others’ ideas and viewpoints, evaluating them, making connections to one’s own thoughts, and then presenting one’s thinking to others, knowing that it, too, will be challenged and must be backed by evidence and reasons. p245
  • Learning is an active process that entails getting personally involved. p262

Online Resource for Thinking Routines

My Notes from the Book

Feedback for ME: End-of-Year Surveys

It's the end of my 21st year of teaching and I still will not end the year without getting feedback from my students. Their feedback helps form my teaching! Instead of waiting to blog about how they responded, I thought other teachers might want feedback as well, so I'm sharing the documents now. I decided to not put student surveys on a Google form this time, as I didn't know if I'd have the technology available in class. (I also like to sit on the living room floor organize the papers into certain groups when I start looking at the feedback!)

Many thanks go to Aric Foster (the survey he shared is HERE), Jarred Amato (his survey is HERE), and Adam Schoenbart (his survey is HERE), for sharing their surveys via Twitter in the past two weeks. These acted as the catalyst that got me modifying my own. I stole many questions from them (all high school English teachers), and merged them with questions I've had from previous years.

These are on Google Docs - feel free to copy and modify to make one your own.

(If you have a co-teacher, make sure you put his or her name on a version of this, as well!)

There is one question in this EOY survey that asks about students' favorite books. The day I hand out these surveys, we'll spend some time looking at the books we've read (I collected them HERE from our in-class independent reading log). We'll talk about our favorites and come up with a few to recommend to next year's seventh graders. I'll either cut out or type up their explanations on this survey for their favorite books, and add a photo of the book to go with it for our first bulletin board of the 2016-2017 school year.

(this one is a Google form I email)

I'm excited to pour over their brutally honest answers, and learn from them once again.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Gamifying CRASH

Crash by Jerry Spinelli...

An "easy" read. Short but sweet. I think reading it at the beginning of the school year would be better than now, but... I decided to read it now because I'd like to try out a few new things with this familiar book... Notice & Note review of ideas, Making Thinking Visible ideas, and I'd like to dip my toes into aspects of gamification...

Plus, we needed more work on how the author develops theme, and this book would be a good way to pursue that.

I didn't want to spend all of Spring Break on creating challenges or quests for the kids, so I waited. What I did do was to create teams - three teams per class. I have at the most 21 students (I am so very fortunate, I know!), so the groups are of six to seven students each.

I was very familiar with Crash, so I just took a copy home to look through while I prepared. I'm also pretty familiar with Notice and Note, so I just updated the notes sheets I'd had already created on those. A quick FYI - The notes I've written here are not our entire plans. We had more going on in our 80-minute blocks than reading Crash.

Introductory Day:
We started with an activity called "Chalk Talk" from Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchart, et. al. I wrote a different question on four pieces of construction paper that I would place on four different table groups. I prefaced this activity by explaining that we're trying something new... We're calling it "Marker Talk," because we're using markers (have them available for everyone), and we're not talking with our mouths. We're only writing in response to the question, then responses to each other - all about the topic at hand. ("What thoughts or ideas come to mind when you see the word 'team?'" "What thoughts or ideas come to mind when you see the word 'points?'" "What thoughts or ideas come to mind when you see the word 'competition?'" "What thoughts or ideas come to mind when you see the word 'game?'") When they heard the signal, they would move clockwise to the next question, and respond to it and the other responses. I'd decided that we'd start with four minutes at the first station, then move down to three, and then try two for the last two questions. (Next time, I'd put the word "lose" on one of the questions, and then recap by talking about the differences between "game" and "competition.") Click here to see a video of how "marker talk" went.

We then read this introductory article on gamification, annotated, and asked questions to each other about it (student-driven). This got the ball rolling on what we're going to try, and I got a feel for how students would enjoy it (or not).

Day 1:
After reading the first three chapters of Crash, we had this challenge:
Names included "Milkweed" (a book that Jerry Spinelli wrote), "Party Crashers" and "Crashinies."

Day 2:
After we had a few facts from the book, a game of "Crumple and Shoot" was in the plans. This game, explained by Jennifer Gonzalez (@cultofpedagogy) here, is one that is conducive to facts. I realized as we went on that many of the gamification games themselves are more conducive to memorization or review. This doesn't bode well for the teacher who likes discussion questions more than facts.

Day 3:
Observations: Today the kids decided they could not ask for points. THEY decided this. One thing we all noticed was that they were asking, "Can I get points for this for my team?" for many things. It sounded much to me like, "Can I do this for extra credit?" I guess their peers didn't like the sound of it either, because they nixed it from class themselves. :)

Teams of 6 or 7 may be too much. Today we had a couple of kids absent, and the groups that worked the best together were groups of FIVE. Our challenge today: Choosing the most significant events and putting them in order.

Day 4:
I loved today's challenge - finding similes and metaphors. I thought I made a mistake in not telling them what the challenge would be before we read our chapters, but they played so very well! I then realized that it was a GREAT review of these terms. The teams that split up the chapters performed the best.

Day 5:
We didn't have a group challenge this day. We did have a comprehension check, however, so I used the scores on these questions to add points to each team. Not having a group challenge was easier for me to handle during class, but harder to add up points after class was over. I decided to take the top five scores from each team, since there were a different number of players in each team.

Day 6:
Today our group challenge focused on character traits. One thing I love about gamifiying at the end of the year is that I can review literary terms and ideas we've been hitting all year. This challenge hit the spot, as students really dug deep to describe the characters. They also were given the option of challenging a trait if it was not obvious to the class why one team chose a particular word.

Day 7:
We did not get the results of this group challenge (coming up with a title/name for an important chapter in the book) until the next day, when all classes voted for their favorites. I liked this one, even though it took a bit of planning. While the students were voting, there seemed to be a sense of power in the room. I think they liked deciding which were the best from the other titles. They knew their votes had weight.

Day 8:
This challenge was my favorite, as it helped us to write about the theme the next day.  The mini lesson went well, and their answers reflected their learning.
Bonus Points: I was excited to have them create paper footballs and flick them through goal posts (which we made), but it never happened. Students wrote about the theme choosing from all of their answers combined, but they never had the thrill of flicking the paper footballs.

Overall Reflection...
I'm glad I waited until the end of the year to try this. This way, students don't expect me to try these all year long. When motivation was lacking, this came at just the right time of year. I don't know if I can do this for every unit, but I think group challenges throughout the year for review of what they've learned in 6th grade could be worth it - with SMALLER groups! Groups of four would be what I'd try next.

I didn't like how kids started wanting points - much like they want grades. The good deeds that suddenly came about (with eyebrows up, asking for points - without saying a word!) reminded me of Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn. What was good, however, is that when this unit was over, students just accepted their group's ranking and moved on with life.

We did try side quests - They were somewhat received well. The first one was searched for more than the last two, for sure.

One challenge I never got to - one that seemed just like "beer pong." My middle class really wanted another "throwing" challenge ("Crumple and Shoot" was a favorite of theirs), and so I told them I'd try for our next novel. Weeks later, it still hasn't happened. I've got it on my list of to-dos, and need to figure out when before the end of the year.

Questions I still have... If I tried this more, I'd create the groups again. However, does there ever come a time when I can let them create their own groups? Should teachers tie this into behaviors (plug in computer, push in chair, no complaints)? I can see the points being a pain to keep track of. Also, tying it to behavior doesn't seem right. I get a bad feeling in my stomach when I think of gamifying behaviors. I'll pass on that.

Plans... Find a way to incorporate more of these ideas. I don't need to plan an entire unit or an intricate year-long game. I do, however, see us trying small games every so often to keep kids on their toes and engaged in lessons.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

It's Called "LIVING"

No, I am not having a mid-life crisis.
No, I am not simply "lucky."
No, it didn't cost as much as you think.
Yes, I do deserve it.

My husband and I will forever be madly in love. You can't help it when you're soul mates. However, we've both been enjoying an affair with this hot chick...

I keep asking my seventh graders to think before they speak. Consider before they judge. And yet, I feel like many adults need these same reminders. I'm not writing this because I'm upset. I'm writing it because this car is just one way I'm really living this life I've been given.

"You must be having a mid-life crisis." 
I looked it up...
"Early middle age." I guess that's about right. But do I have an "identity" issue? Not really. I know who I am better than I have at any other point in my life. Then I found symptoms of this "crisis!" Ah, yes. Buying a "fast red sports car" is #11 on this list. Ah, well, then. I must be having a mid-life crisis.
I am LOVING life. I am LIVING life. I had the perfect opportunity to purchase a new car, so I considered my options. Hmm... not fortunate to have children of my own. That means no toys, college, marriages, etc. to spend on children. No real need for a back seat, even. We've already got a pick up truck, so why not get something fun, instead of "early middle age teacher" car?

"You are so lucky!"
Yes, I consider myself a lucky person. I am very lucky to have taken the paths (planned or not) I have. These have led me to my soul mate. I am also very lucky that no huge, unexpected bills or tragic events have come my way (so far). However, I'm not lucky to own this vehicle. I worked my fanny off to be able to afford this vehicle. I saved. I have been known to have more than one job. When money is tight, I still make sure I save, and then make PB & J sandwiches for lunch. I do not spend on a whim. I manage my income wisely. And gosh darn it, I've wanted a Mustang since I was a little girl. My dad said, "You want a Mustang? I'll go to the junk yard and buy the horse off of one and put it on any other car you get." I do consider myself lucky to be able to share this purchase with him.

"How much did that cost?!"
First of all, you're not supposed to ask that question. Second of all, I'm happy to tell you how much I was given for my low-mileage five-and-a-half-year-old Escape ($8,000), how much I saved after the Escape was paid off ($7,000), how my husband got us the "A plan" because he is a proud Ford retiree, and how I put enough money down in order to get 0% financing. It's not the top of the line Mustang. It's just happens to be a beautiful vehicle.

"You deserve it."
And I'm going to love her until she is run into the ground. I live each day as fully as I can already. Every day I can put the top down, I will. I will enjoy each ride to the fullest. This is how my life is meant to be lived. Suddenly, I LOVE to drive! When asked, "Do you want to drive?" My answer is now, "Of course!"

Oooh! I'm finished with my blog post! I'm heading out for a drive... Want to join me?
(I learned about Bitmoji at EdCampDuPage last week!)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Reflection is Vital

When done right, reflection can make ourselves see the good, the bad, and the ugly. I get that. I try to reflect by way of this blog. How often, however, do I give my students time to reflect? Not enough.

I try to mix things up - I don't like to give the same reflection more than two weeks in a row, or students will just fill it out quickly without much thought. Sometimes we do "thumbs up, sideways or down," sometimes it's sticky notes on a graph, sometimes it's smiley, straight and frowny faces, sometimes it's "Hold your hand up - how much effort out of 5 did you put in today?" Last night I came up with yet another one for this week's genius hour (which was today). We'd pitched our ideas for fourth quarter two weeks ago, and I wanted students to get moving, as we only have seven or so more days worth of work in class.

Today I gave this 1/2 sheet to students - the front half was to reflect on what they've accomplished so far towards their fourth quarter genius hour project.
This was to be used as a guide - so students were focused today on one thing they had written down as a plan.

With the last five minutes of class available, I asked the to use the back of the sheet to reflect on their progress for today.

The last line was added last night as I was putting together this 1/2 sheet for students. I needed just one more thought. It turned out to be the line that gave me the most information about each student's progress. "I feel ______ about my genius hour project because ___________."

Here are those seventh graders that feel "good," because...
     "I have a good start."
     "It's coming along."
     "I'm sure about what I'm doing."
     "I know what I need."
     "I like doing it and I'm doing well."
     "I'm making progress."
     "I'm planning it well."
     "It is fun."
     "It is a topic I like."
     "I enjoy my subject."
     "It's not that stressful right now."
     "I love what my project is on."

Some chose different adjectives that made ME feel good...
     "...excited...I think it could really help people."
     "...confident...I think it will be a unique and effective way to show what I learned."
     "...confident...I have a friend in Utah who is helping me..."
     "...confident...Other people will be able to get a strong message out of it."
     "...proud...I am accomplishing a lot so far."
     "...great...I get to do something without my mom's help." (cooking)

And some were red flags that will get more attention...

     " seems boring."
     "...hopeful...It is very difficult to achieve."
     "...bored...I'm getting tired of my topic."
     "...uneasy...It's moving very slow."
     "...IDK...I kinda wanna do something else."

The last line was the most powerful for me. I hope it also got the students thinking, as reflection is meant to do.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

I Lied - My Students Aren't Grading Themselves

I teach 7th grade ELA. I used to write all over students' papers - telling them everything they need to correct. Then I shifted to only leaving one positive comment and one comment regarding a revision suggestion. I then became much more specific with my comments. I thought I was doing well. Now my last class is giving themselves a grade at the end of each quarter. I'm learning so much, constantly reflecting on so many aspects of it!

This year, I began to leave video feedback using Explain Everything or Screen-cast-o-matic during second quarter. I had one student say he really liked the video feedback. "It's like you're right here talking to me." I had another that, when it came time to give himself a grade, didn't know what he has earned because he "never looked at the links" (to the feedback).

I checked one of my videos this morning, and I saw that students had not watched the video feedback I diligently left for them. I came up with this conclusion: I need to provide time IN CLASS for students to watch the video feedback I've given. Here is my proof - NO VIEWS on 80% of this sampling:

Which made me pretty upset. Just ask my husband, who had to spend an hour in the car with me after I noticed these stats.

I've taken the time to create the feedback and upload it. The time it takes to give the feedback is actually the same as the "old" way - leaving a positive comment and a revision suggestion on Google docs or even on paper takes 5 minutes. It's the uploading that makes video feedback take twice the time on my end. And then copying that darn link and pasting it on the student's document, my master document, and in the online gradebook = more time than I've taken previously.

And then I got to thinking some more...

  • If students don't look at the video links I leave for them, do these same students ever look at the Google Doc comments I leave for them?
  • The ones that had been viewed multiple times have been REVISED multiple times (which is the goal).
  • I'm a fake. I say my last class is grading themselves... I lied!

I need to stop here and explain. I figured something out. I figured out something that Mark Barnes in Assessment 3.0 had already told me last year.

** I cannot leave ANY type of "final" "grade" on any assignment I expect them to revise. **

Here's what I do lately...

  • Give feedback on an assignment (video, on a Google Doc, or even in person) - what the student did well, and suggestions for the student to work on / revise.
  • Highlight on the rubric where the student's assignment currently resides ("needs improvement," "developing," "proficient," "mastery").
  • In the box for the grade online, I have been putting the link to the video feedback, or simply copying / pasting the typed comment.
  • ALSO in this box for the grade online, I have been putting the rubric feedback (ex: "Developing: Describes some explicit or inferential parts of evidence, but not both. I have to make some jumps to follow your reasoning.").

That's my problem!!

Students are seeing a "grade" of sorts online and on the rubrics! Why look at the feedback, then? Why do I expect they'll WANT to revise?! As Hubby says, "Revising is hard!" DUH! Every year we have students who revise because they're grade-driven, and then we've got students who really don't care about the grade or doing the work, so they don't revise. What makes me think that would change?! I haven't been able to change their mindsets about grades (yet), and I've been blinded by my own visions.

In order for students and I to truly shift our thinking to "It's not about the grade; it's about the learning," I need to only give them information on what they did WELL, and suggestions for improvement. NO "needs improvement," "developing," "proficient" or "mastery." (Well... maybe I can leave "mastery" on work that is at that level!)

Here is what I NEED to do...

  • Include in our curriculum articles about grading and mindset at the beginning of the year. Really set it up and have students discuss and reflect.
  • In each assignment, give students a summary of what they did WELL. What did I notice?
  • In each assignment, give suggestions for improvement (biggest impact stressed; minor suggestions can wait).
  • Change the feedback loop I created in December. I realize now that that loop was another STEP in the right direction, but still not focusing on learning, learning, learning.
  • Write grade-related information (NI, D, P, M) in my paper gradebook in case the student is not mature enough to grade him/herself at the end of the quarter, or in case we need "numbers" of some sort for problem solving or benchmarks.
  • Ask students to revise all work and turn it back in for more feedback.
  • Leave the summary and suggestions for improvement on the online program that kids and parents see (whether this is video feedback or written).
  • Make sure students know they can come to me at any time to assess together how they think they're progressing.
  • Give time in class for students to watch / read / listen to feedback.
  • Give time in class for students to revise and resubmit.
  • Ask students to reflect on what they learned from assignments - about themselves, their habits, their beliefs, or their learning. (How often would this be needed?)
  • Continually ask -->  "What did you learn...?"
  • Leave a week (3-5 days?) at the end of the quarter for one-on-one conversations with students about their grades (since they will virtually have NONE).
  • Plan for another activity to take place during that week (one idea is to move Genius Hour to one week at the end of each quarter, another is a reading or writing project of choice).

Here's what I still WANT to do...

  • Make every "assignment" relevant to the world - something students can put on their blogs for the world to see.
  • Give feedback in chunks - which means not one assignment coming in to me from all students at the same time. A year-long project would be great for this. Again... another idea from Mark Barnes in ROLE Reversal...
  • Have students truly grade themselves (since a final grade is still expected).
  • Get my coworkers on board.

Teaching is tough. I just want to know what to do and how to do it right. And yet the challenge is what keeps me coming back for more. I've jumped in to this glorious mess. I am still learning.

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, February 28, 2016

Meme Maker Me

Taking my own advice from my last "quick tip," I needed to write about one take-away from EdCamp Madison...

I was sitting in the "Google Sheets" session after lunch. The session had taken such quirky turns, it was entertaining, even if the session wasn't applicable for me anymore. I would stay just for the entertainment alone. One part that made it better was Jason Bretzmann sharing a meme with Andrea Kornowski, and then Andrea sharing another...

Heading into the next session about "Learning Targets" (grades, SBG, how to get kids to shoot for the targets), Chuck Taft heard that I had never created a meme. Why not? Because I don't have anything funny to say! So he created one on the spot, before the session even began.
Finding this absolutely hilarious, I took a screen shot of his Twitter handle and waited to hear this...
The explanation for this is that his learning targets are numbered one through four. Three is his goal for students, as a three means they've hit the target.

I decided to keep trying...
And, because I was encouraged with feedback from Ashley (who was in kahoots with Andrea!) and Trisha who was watching the hashtag from afar... 

...I had to try again.

This morning, I retweeted an idea about inquiry, and Phillip Cowell tweeted me a picture of cavemen, with the words under it "The Inquiry Cycle - (it's not a new idea)" - looked like he created it with

It reminded me of those motivational posters, so I found the motivational poster creation site and created this:

I've seen teachers ask students to create memes for books (such as Lord of the Flies), and I've cracked up at what they've created. I'd love to ask students to create some for our next larger piece of text! I'll be trying to add some creativity, wit and humor to class using memes...

Already making memes? Please leave me a comment as to where we can find YOUR favorite memes and your favorite meme tool! Want to make your own? Google "meme generator" for many free tools.

Quick Tip #20 - Teacher Motivation

Joy headed up to Madison to attend another EdCamp? You betcha.
If I look tired, it's because I had great fun learning with fellow passionate educators!

Full Transcript

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hacking Assessment

I'm already "hacking assessment" by asking one of my classes to grade themselves. How could this book help me improve? I was excited to get my copy from Starr Sackstein to see what gems I would be able to use...

Validated what I was trying...
     Ask students, "What did you learn...?" (25)
     "How we spend our time in class is indicative of what we prioritize in education" (78).
     "...make sure that all assignments are purposeful and aligned to a standard" (46).
     "...keeping notes about a grade book that only a teacher sees seems counterproductive" (88). Make the learning transparent! Do this for students and parents.
     "Check in with students..." on a regular basis (91). We are now doing this every quarter of each quarter - thanks to students reflecting enough to be able to ask for it.
     "It doesn't really matter what I thought, so much as it matters what you [the student] learned (29).
     "If the teacher doesn't agree with the student, then a longer conversation needs to happen. ... If in the end, the student really believes he or she deserves a particular grade ... let him or her have it. After all, the grade itself doesn't mean very much" (113-114).
     From Sarah Donovan (who shared a story that sounded SO MUCH like mine!): " not focusing on grades, there was more learning and achievement" (38).
     From Aric Foster: "...this process...encourages learners to take risks and challenge themselves, as they know there will be no punitive words or numbers for their performance - only observations and suggestions for revision. ... No longer are learners trying to earn points or 'get a 3.0.' Instead, they are trying to Answer the Question and Use Style and Cite Evidence to Support a Claim" (53).
     We need to change our vocabulary. When I was reading Choice Words by Peter Johnston in 2014, I started shifting my vocabulary to be more precise. Instead of saying "turn it in so I can grade it," I now say "turn it in if you would like feedback from me." Starr writes about a "no-grades vocabulary." I have already started adding these words to my repertoire. Bonus - I then noticed students starting to use the same vocabulary. As Starr states, "...words are powerful, so I am starting by changing the language we use to talk about learning" (41). This is a great place to start.

Made me think of Genius Hour which was the catalyst for all we try in class...
     "...conversations were invaluable" (19).
     "Teachers need to involve students in choices and provide opportunities for them to modify a teacher's assignment or to create their own. When we say 'Yes' to our student ideas, we encourage autonomy and empower them" (44).
     "...their decisions help drive their learning" (45).
     "...honor student input" (45).
     From Adam Jones: "'ve succeeded when you...know the students no longer need you" (93).

Reminded me of why I'm doing this...
     "Grades are [too] often used to motivate or punish..." (114).
     "Grades ultimately end up being a power tool that serves the teacher but not the student" (37).
     "...we were talking to students about a system that they had no control over" (40).
     "All learning is subjective..." (50).
     "The scores, which are often averaged, give a poor explanation of what students know and can do" (121).
     "...just because work hasn't been completed, doesn't mean learning hasn't happened" (115).
     "...there is a deprogramming process that still occasionally causes me to pause" (16).
     "...change is challenging, but that doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile" (27).
     "Attention gets focused on the learning..." (37).
     "...not worrying about grades made them [students] more excited and eager to try things" (30). In my case, I'd say it made them less stressed, and complaints about doing the work were few and far between. They know they don't need to use every piece for proof of what they know, so they feel free to try it without fear of judgment.

When it's challenging, I need to remember...
     "With daily informal conversations and formal conferences, assessment and feedback loops naturally develop" (85). And then we start all over with a new group of learners...
     "...routines facilitate success" (81).
     From Adam Jones: "All assignments are opportunities to practice, receive feedback, and refine" (95). "It is an essential component of enduring learning that students revisit their work" (96).
     "If we are going to tell students this is an important activity, we can't assign it and expect them to do it on their own. Make time for students to work independently, with classmates, and with the teacher to ensure a more successful experience" (124).
     They know I care about their learning. (85)

Pushed me further...
     When introducing reflection, find out what students already KNOW about reflection! Ask THEM what it looks like and what it should include! Take time in class to allow them to create or add to a checklist to be included in a reflection. (101-102). Then make reflection time a routine. I've just started to implement this with D.I.R.T. (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time).
     Portfolios, Joy. Portfolios. I need to stop using the excuse of not having 1:1 tech for not having students organize their work. (Oh, how spoiled was I last year to have that iPad cart?!) I need to reserve those laptops and give students TIME in class to gather and organize evidence. Yes, using a class set of iPads and something like Fresh Grade or Seesaw would be a dream, but I can do without - since I need to - and it's good for the kids. With that being said, "Teacher comfort is important; it's a matter of finding a tool that will easily collect and transfer artifacts each year" (123), and a tool that teachers in grades below and above me would use. Even though portfolios are not for the teachers, students in middle school probably won't revisit them unless the teachers ask them to.
    Do you know Mike Stein? (Meaning - Are you connected to this teacher via Twitter or some other media?) He teaches English at the high school level. His students experience Genius Hour. His students grade themselves. He's now considering adding a gamification piece to his year. What if? What if? What if? How could it all go together?

This text, along with Mark Barnes's Assessment 3.0 and my original favorite regarding grades, ROLE Reversal, shows teachers WHY and HOW it CAN BE DONE. Yes, there will be pushback, and yes, it will be tough. Why not try it anyway, if you know of the affect it has on learning?

Go ahead - make the process transparent. Let others in on the conversation. It's how we grow.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Explore Like a Pirate

Michael Matera, a great EdCamp adventurer and cohort, finished his book about gamification. I have told him - repeatedly - in person, no less - that I could NOT attend one of his gamification sessions at edcamps until I was READY to implement it in my classroom. I knew, just from the type of teacher he is, that his wealth of resources and his passion for doing this in the classroom would push me over the edge and into the high seas. If I was not ready to practice my swimming all summer (planning for an extensive year-long game), I would NOT attend one of his sessions. (I did attend a TINY session at USM Summer Spark last summer - right after seeing Dave Burgess in action!)

Well... I guess he was done with me not attending his sessions.
He sent me his book!

I have read the book, marked it up, asked questions, added sticky notes, and dog-eared the pages.

Now what?!

My brain is reeling.

I'm steeped in students grading themselves this year, and still on the Genius Hour bandwagon, of course. I'm still trying to figure things out with these two HUGE ideas. And now? Now I want to offer experience points (XPs) to my students for doing side quests. I want to have a big jar of water in the room with a small target at the bottom so kids can drop pennies in. I want to have teams in the class. I want to have more...... fun.

My kids are always up for trying new things. (I think that's why we're pretty loud - we're still figuring things out.) I believe I can incorporate my first efforts when we read The Outsiders at the end of the year. I've already switched those plans to work the Whole Novels way. I know what we're doing for that unit. Just think about it - the Greasers against the Socs... Girls against the boys. I could do it up right. I have enough time to plan (??), and we could end the school year with something they'll really remember. Stay gold?? Hmmm... Golden sunsets? Blue Mustangs? There's a lot I could do here... I hope to see Michael at EdCamp Madison this February so I can pick his brain, and then again in April at EdCamp Chicago so I can update him with my progress and get tips!

Until then, I think I'll get that big jar and some pennies ready... Or should I pack the golf ball, putter, and cup? You don't have a clue why I would? Time to pick up Explore Like a Pirate... Not too intrigued - yet? Time to join the weekly Twitter chat #XPlap on Wednesday nights at 7pm CST to catch the sparks so you can ignite those ideas.

And, no. I don't get paid to review books. Michael is a caring, innovative teacher who loves to share his ideas - in person, and now in paperback.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hacking Silent Reading Time

This school year, I tried four new "hacks" to get my 7th graders to read even MORE. These are in addition to TONS of book talks, reading alongside students, passing around a clipboard each day so students can write in what they're currently reading, and having set non-negotiable times each week for students to read independently for 20 minutes (in my beautiful 80-min. block) at a time.

Here are four types of students I have that do not exhibit habits of readers... yet. I have then listed the hack I've tried. I've experienced success with each one, and that's why it's time to share them with you.

The Great Pretender
She says she reads. At home. Each day in class, she chooses a different book. This book is usually one from my "browsing" shelf - Guinness Book of World Records, The Big Book of Gross Stuff, picture books such as Jumanji... I wouldn't keep these books on my shelves if I thought they were bad books, by any means. But this child exhibits all the habits of a non-reader. She'll try to fool you into thinking she reads. She might go so far as to give a book talk about a book the teacher read last year in class.

Get the audio version of books, and download them to the classroom laptops (if you have them). I have six old laptops in our class (and two chargers that work - I rotate which get charged each night). On the top of the laptop, put a picture of the cover of the book. Book talk it, and let students read along while listening. My experience -- every time we read in class, my "Great Pretender" quietly gets a headset, opens iTunes, and is engrossed for 20 minutes.

Forgetful Frances
She's disorganized. She reads at home. (This is evident in the books she knows and her spelling, vocabulary, and grammar.) She doesn't remember to bring her book to class. Ever. She chooses a different book off the shelf almost every day, but then leaves it somewhere in the room and it takes me awhile to find it to put it back where it belongs. She can't find it the next time she wants to read it, so she chooses another book.

Check out books you love(d) from your local library. Put a sticky note in them that says, "This book stays in room ___" so students cannot check them out. (I've been burned and had to pay for a book that never returned.) If this type of child is truly disorganized, she will not mind that the books have to stay in the room, because she would forget to bring one home or back to school anyway. Place them on the whiteboard (chalkboard?) shelf or another display. Make sure the covers face out - just like the end caps at the grocery store - make them VISIBLE! Have bookmarks on hand so she can save her spot in the book. My experience -- she's reading one book at school and one at home. In the books pictured below, there are THREE bookmarks (one for each of my three classes) in Fuzzy Mud (thanks for the rec, Sandy!). One bookmark is simply a corner of a piece of notebook paper. Now that I'm returning the book to my library today, students have said they'll check it out of their own library. (I will probably renew this copy, however... Am I an enabler??) I purchased a copy for the class, and it's currently checked out, with a sticky note inside of students who want to read it. 

The Distracted Diva
She only wants to read short, easy books. She starts books, and then abandons them after 20 pages. She'll read half of a graphic novel. She doesn't always bring a book to class. When she does bring a book, it might be one she's read before, or one she in which she's had her bookmark on page 15 for a week or two before she abandons it. She likes to whisper and giggle with a friend during silent reading time, or simply look anywhere but the pages of her book if her friends too busy reading.

Create an "article of the week" document that is viewable by anyone. Make a shortened, easy-to-remember link to it. Let students read the articles online using a device. My experience -- Our document is, and Scott Hazeu helps me add to it. My requirement if students use this source - they must tell us about the article(s) they read when silent reading time is over. Very few students have used this option, but a couple of them have, and that's good enough for me. Frankly, I think they've forgotten about it. I'll remind them of the link and where it is on our class website on Monday.

The Sports Hound
He loves sports. Sports. Sports. He doesn't bring his own book to class. He chooses fiction books from the sports section of our classroom shelves. He pretends to read. He succeeds at this until I decide to observe and then intervene. (I use this easy system, revised from Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild.) He's got a bit of the Great Pretender in him, because he sometimes gives a book talk to the class based on the information on the back of the book and the first chapter of the book. If you have a good relationship with him, he'll admit that he reads the first and last paragraph of each chapter. "That's enough to know about the book," he confesses.

Use the computer at the front of the room for browsing articles. Have the student mute the volume so if there's an ad or video, it won't disturb the class. This student doesn't have to pretend to read anymore during silent reading time. This may even help him develop a daily practice of reading the news - at home. My experience - he comes in, excited for silent reading, heads to the computer, mutes it, finds his favorite sports site, and reads for the entire 20 minutes.

These children still may not read at home, but I'm going to do my best to be sure they DO read when they're in room 239. If nothing else, they know that developing the habit of reading for a solid block of time undisturbed is important to me.

P.S. This is all done without grades attached. Of course.