Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Tidbit of Success

In the first quarter of the school year, many teachers don't have a lot of grades. When you're "going gradeless," or not putting points or marks to be averaged in the grade book as I am, it's even fewer. Going into our sixth week, we currently have six assignments that have narrative feedback attached.

The "Article of the Week" actually already has three pieces of feedback embedded in the one assignment. I change the date on that one and move it up to the top when we have a new one to add.

I've got 7th graders, and first quarter for them is all rainbows and unicorns when they're not getting points or marks averaged.  In fact, I saw this on a locker the other day and thought, "Yup. That's where we are right now."
Time will come soon enough when I sit 1:1 with each student to look at their evidence and put it all into one little letter. So far, however, there has been no mention of grades. No extra credit, no late penalties... we've just been working at learning how to be better readers, writers, and grammarians.

Here's the tidbit I need to share that I heard from a student when we they went into the feedback they had for their article of the week...

"It worked! The feedback you gave worked, and I did better this time!"

THIS is why I put myself through the extra work of adding "next steps" to each student's personalized feedback.

That's really all I wanted to share today. Thanks to Jimmy Casas's latest post about blogging.  "Write like you talk. Start writing. Write for you." Tag - you're it! Time for YOU to share another story!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Another Shift to Curriculum Night

I don't remember when we started calling it "Curriculum Night" vs. "Parent Night" or "Open House," but I'd like to share what I tweaked this year, and how it went. (Previous posts about parent night are here from 2017, and here from 2013.)

I kept the same question of the day (night?) for parents to answer with their child's magnet - they seem to like finding the magnet and moving it, then discussions continue as they sit down while I'm greeting more arrivals. (How much did YOU enjoy 7th grade?)

One thing I felt I NEEDED to do was to cover the white board tables. I went for - and received! - grant money four (?) years ago for IdeaPaint for my classroom tables. We'd painted 12 of the 15, as some students didn't want it. Since then, they've been scrubbed with some super-amazing cleaner that has now washed off the protective layer they used to have. So... those goofy drawings of odd faces? Yup. They now look pretty permanent. The questions about the text we're reading? Yup. Still there. It doesn't seem to bother the seventh graders, but it bothers me. Hubby went to the dollar store and bought me six white table cloths, and we folded them twice to place on six of the nine whiteboard tables that are left (I swapped out three of them for two smaller - and square - tables last year - students decided which tables needed to go). If I don't get the gumption to purchase this whiteboard contact paper a colleague recently used to cover his tables, I'll go with the table cloths again next year, too!

Then I collected many books from home. I wanted parents to understand that I keep up with professional development. I also thought - what if THEY read what I've read? They may understand my teaching a bit more, and perhaps share with other parents. So.... I created check out slips for the books I thought parents might enjoy reading. (Here they are - make your own!)

Some books I kept at home, thinking they would be more beneficial to teachers than parents, but I did bring over twenty, so the box was heavy enough as it was. ;)

Was my plan successful? Three points that make me think it was... I was able to share that The Power of Reading really simply stated, "The only way to understand reading more is to READ MORE." One parent (who also teaches ELA) said I had some "awesome books" there, and another parent CHECKED ONE OUT!! Yes! The Feedback Fix by Joe Hirsch was the winner of the night.

Side note: My husband and my co-teacher were the ones who said I should bring Shift This. I just couldn't! Plus, it was not a text that had influenced my own teaching. It was a result.

The rest of Open House / Parent Night / Curriculum Night went very well. I let parents know I was available after the night was over for further questions, and no one showed. (I figure the ones that need to ask weren't able to show this night.)

The next day, one student shared with me that his dad said we had a "touchy-feely" class. He said this right after I had touched his shoulder to say hello when he walked in to class. So I sprang back and said, "Oh, I'm sorry - I just do that automatically!"
He replied, "No. He means it's a comfortable class." I'll take it!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The "G" Word - GRADES

For the life of me, I can't remember how I introduced going without grades at the start of last year. I guess I skipped writing about it, but two years ago I wrote about the day I introduced this idea to my seventh graders HERE. This year, the "discussion" (really - just me going on and on and on about how passionate I am about this subject) lasted 15-20 min. at the end of each period Friday.

First, when students walked in, the question of the day was regarding grades. "Who cares more about your grades?" Answers were - my parents, both / equally, or me.
Courtesy of @MrsSalsinger
Next, they answered how they were feeling (based on "energy" and "pleasantness") on our mock mood meter (thanks to Marc Brackett at BLC18 - more to come on this in a future post), and then we read independently. After we read, wrote about our books with a prompt, and quickly reviewed genres, it was time to talk about the G word... Grades.

I began this discussion this year by asking students to not say a word... I was going to give them ONE word, and I wanted them to write the thoughts that came to mind on a sticky note. I asked them for silence because I wanted 25 different ideas, not all one idea because someone said something aloud. They were fabulous, waiting for the word. I said, "Grades," and they all got to work. Some wrote just one word, some wrote phrases, and some wrote sentences. When pencils were down, I asked students to come to the board and categorize their sticky note as either positive, negative, or both/neutral.
Courtesy of @MrsSalsinger
I then asked if they would've written different things on their sticky, thus moving them, if I added words to the one word... such as "Grades - in ELA," or "Grades - in P.E.," etc. Many hands went up each time I said something different. In one class, almost all hands went up when I said, "Report card grades." I continued the discussion by explaining how grades are very complex, and can be very personal. We all have stories about a grade or points, or a particular teacher. Our parents and their parents all have stories they remember - some still bring up angst, and some are positive. Either way, grading can feel very personal, and I don't want it to be. I want grades to reflect LEARNING. I want grades to reflect ACHIEVEMENT. Not behavior. And not an average.

We went on to talk about averages. How, when one week you may receive 0/5 on your article of the week, but you learn from our reflection of it, and the next week you may receive 2/5. That's a 40% increase, and yet the grade is averaged out to be 20% overall. I had many different numbers on the board, and students saw how, if they were averaged, they wouldn't be able to overcome their first attempt quickly. However, if we did not average them, and instead just worked off of feedback and "next steps," they could show me how they'd learned. What if their last four assessments showed 5/5? What does that mean?

Then came the explanation of our 1:1 conferences at the end of each term. We'll be looking at all the evidence, and talking about what it means. We'll be looking at growth, revisions, and how students took feedback and did something with it - in order to learn, not for a better grade.

During these 15-20 minutes in each class, I did most of the talking, that's for sure. I had eye contact with all students, however - most seemed to be paying attention, and trying to soak it in. I asked for questions, and they were few, at best. I asked for thumbs up, middle, or down, and got quizzical faces and unsure thumbs. So... I passed out the newest parent explanation and asked them to look through it and share their thoughts or findings. One observation was, "This side (the back page right side) has more words on it than the other side."  Yes! That led me to explain that our way of grading this year is more work - on me, on them, and on their parents.

This was the time to ask them to talk with their parents about the grading procedure, as they are able to opt out if they'd like. I may have said, at the end, that, "After talking with your parents, you or they decide you want to opt out, that's fine. You can go back to having the computer average your grades, just like it has for years." It sounded a bit snarky, and I could feel it in my bones, as well. I don't drink coffee, and yet I was BUZZING with passion about how I felt we need to do this in order to portray a more accurate grade to reflect their learning. Phew! This was a LOT. I still need to refine how I present this to students - This may have been overload for many of them. Should I spread it out over a few days?

I had one more thing to try (new to me, but I'll be doing it again)... On the door, I quickly put up a green, yellow, and pink sticky note. (I've seen this same idea with green, yellow, and red hands on the door, but I didn't think of it ahead of time, and stickies work just as well!) On their way out the door, I asked them to high five the one that best fits how they're feeling about the idea...
  • Green = Good for now. I may have some questions later.
  • Yellow = Okay - I have a question or concern.
  • Pink = What are you doing to me, Mrs. Kirr??!!

And how am I feeling after this fabulous Friday with this new group of 7th graders? Ahhhh... I am pumped up once again believing that I'm doing the right thing for me and my students. I am still worried about parent night (this Wednesday), but having this current discussion fresh in my mind, I can let parents know that I understand grading can feel very personal - to all of us. My principal said he'd stay late during parent night so I could tell parents I will stay late to answer their questions and concerns in person. My hope is that they feel comfortable enough to ask me any and all questions now and throughout the quarter, so they come closer to understanding the reasons WHY.

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

Thursday, August 30, 2018

"Teachers have to do their job better."

This was the response I received from someone on Twitter.

I'm bothered, so let me back up.

I wanted to lend one high school student some support. Another person replied to this high school student who was tweeting with the hashtag #MyGradingStory.

This person said...

I wanted to support the other student, so I got involved. I'm not one for confrontation, yet I felt I could share without being a jerk about it.

I replied that the student was not the "only one who has a...

I thought this would lend some support, and also share some resources.

I couldn't let it go. So on my way into school, I replied...

The person replied very rudely, so I replied (one last time - Joy, when will you just let it go?!)

Snotty? My mom would think so. ☹️

Now that you have the background...

I believe teachers all around the world are trying to "do their job better." What's with the animosity over trying new ideas to help kids learn? When averaging points is out of the equation (standards-based grading, anyone?), educators can report a more accurate picture of how students are doing.

Once we know better, we're supposed to DO better, yes?

This morning I woke to another reply from this person...

And this just makes me have a gazillion more questions. Is this just the perception of this person? Is this true? What is the percentage of teachers who "don't care" about their students? How could it be "most" when it's their profession - why would they stay in this profession? Do non-educators think teachers are not trying their best?

We've just finished with one week with students. Teachers are making connections with them, are in the hallways saying hello to everyone who passes, stay late to chat with former students, and plan with peers to make lessons as relevant as possible for all students.

I wonder... how many of my own students think this? How can we change the tide if (since?) it's not true? At least this person kept the conversation going a bit. I didn't know how to respond to the last reply, so I left it. I didn't think any response would be helpful. I have a reply in my drafts... Any ideas as to how to make it better?

I DO know that there are a LOT of teachers (my heart wants to believe "most!") who want to do their job better and better each year. When I write like this, I know I need to switch my mindset to one of gratitude, so I can let the angst go by the wayside...

Thank you for all of you who read other educators' thoughts through this avenue we call "blogging." I am truly appreciative to those of you who keep the conversations going by sharing your thoughts, opinions, ideas, and questions. You help make me a better educator, and keep me motivated to do my best each day.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Getting to Know You...

Asking students for feedback is always a double-edged sword. You're going to get answers that you love and cherish, but they might as well be invisible, because the answers that are tough for you to read seem to eclipse anything bright and cheery.

This year is no different. I've got a fairly (very?) long survey I offer students. (It changes from year to year, but click here for this year's version.) Some complain about it, and some seem to enter their most deepest secrets as they type, type, type their answers.

Here are a few reasons why getting to know students is oh, so important...

Last year, during the last week of school, I asked students what went right this year in ELA - what could they celebrate? In one class, they started talking about all we did NOT do... I was actually thanked for not yelling at the kids, or telling them I'm going to chop off their knee caps or light them on fire. Their words - not mine. This year, I have students who are fearful of such a thing - yelling or embarrassing them in front of others. Granted, sometimes I feel as if I'm "too nice" - on days when I have patience, I can calmly let students know what I need from them, and then slide on over to students who need help or are acting out and quietly have a discussion. Hearing that students will be embarrassed if I raise my voice (or - Heaven forbid - threaten them) reinforces the fact that I need to stay patient. I'm sure, just as with every other year, there will be a day when my own issues or troubles creep into the classroom and I snap a bit and get loud and sound strict. Maybe it won't happen this year - maybe I can keep in mind that many of my students have specifically asked - through the survey - to not be yelled at or cut down in front of the class. Makes me think of Brene Brown and shaming once again...

More than one student has already written a cry for help for ELA class - either for reading or writing - sharing how difficult it is for them.

More than one student has an "annoying" sibling that makes it hard for them to do homework. And at least one of mine misses a sibling that just left for college.

One student has said that both parents are busy - please give him extra time to get in papers signed.

Many of them have great questions for our class that they didn't share during our first week together. Now I can share the answers this week, and calm some of their fears.

Some students are coming to our classes with a chip on their shoulders - they've not had positive experiences up until now, and they're already not looking forward to being with us. It's good to know it's not always personal - some of them come with some baggage that I wouldn't have been aware of had I not asked...

Here are their answers this year to "The perfect teacher is..." I'll be asking them to be the same.
Of course, this is changed and added yearly to our classroom blog here. :)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Pleasant Surprise

Second day of school - first "normal" ELA classes.

I've spent two days doing what I love - with a great group of students. It's the end of that second day, and a new staff member to our school appears in class. Yippee! I introduce her to students, and she easily becomes a part of our day. Students finish the reading challenge, we chat about what they did well and where they can improve, we go over materials needed for tomorrow, we chat for two minutes on building stamina for reading starting tomorrow, and we move to the front of the room for "storytime." ;)

I'm able to read The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown to my students, just as I describe in Shift This (and in this blog post)...

This last class of the day actually acts differently from the first two - they are a gregarious bunch, and they actually react to what I'm reading instead of patiently waiting for me to finish. They make faces showing they don't agree with the text, asked a few questions under their breath or to a friend, and quickly did not agree with the author when she said the "most important thing about an apple is that it is round." THAT was refreshing to know. When it's like pulling teeth to get my first two classes to discuss, this class will be active, I'm sure.

Thank you to Lauren Salsinger for this photo to capture this lesson I love...

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Green Lights

I've been on a roll lately - green lights every time I drive, bike, and even walk! Oh, how sweet it is to not have to slow down and instead just keep cruising...

My 2018-2019 school year is full of green lights, as well. The start of our year so far has been very positive - the message has been to "build relationships," "share your strengths," and "love your work." Oh - and another one - it is not expected we are checking our school email after 4pm!

Meeting with my closest ELA colleagues and work friends, the message has been, "Why not?" and "We could try it!" Many years this message appears and then drops off, but this year it seems it may become constant - thank you to our administration for this leeway, as well!

I'm not going to question WHY. I'm going to imbibe in the HOWs.

My own personal goals for this school year - to revisit when it becomes more difficult:

  • Students come first.
  • Do not compare yourself to others.
  • Don't loan your brain out to negative thoughts.
  • Do not boast.
  • Exalt others.
  • Be a role model for students and peers.
  • Be grateful for all you have.
  • Listen to concerned parents and share what you love about their child.
  • Remember that you are a professional - continue to research and share findings.
  • The kids need you.
  • Go outside, put your shoulders back, head tilted up, and breathe.
  • Know that you are loved and blessed.

I seem to have this feeling at the start of EVERY school year. I'm full of excitement and anticipation and... dare I say it... I'm ready. I'm ready with the ideas of many other educators, previous students, an open heart, and more research to come.

There will be challenges; I'm realizing after 23 years that the year will not be perfect, no matter how hard I try. Gratitude gets me through challenges, so I thought I'd make another list that helps those red lights turn green once more. I'm so very grateful for...

I could go on and on. I'm also grateful I'm in a position where I can slow down and stop at those yellow and red lights, to reflect and recharge. We can do this. Teaching is most likely one of the most stressful professions. It can also be one of the most rewarding.

I truly believe - with all my heart - this will be my best year yet.
I pray that is it also my students' best year yet.

Here's to the 2018-2019 school year!

What are your green lights this year? What are you excited about?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

First Days Poetry

For a few years, my co-worker and I have been reciting the poem "If I Were in Charge of the World" by Judith Viorst to our classes the second day of school (our first day with classes is too short). We then provided students with a template, and they chose one or all stanzas and wrote their own versions. Of course, we'd model one, as well. The last few years, however, about 1/4 of my students said, "We did this last year!" So... it was time for a new poem.

We know many 7th graders like to share about themselves, and I'm sure we'll learn a lot from them by what they write. (This poem, however, reminds my husband of Toby Keith, and that just makes me like it even more.) 😉

I thought I'd share my version here, to mark the occasion of my students starting a week from today!

That's version 1.0. I'm sure I'll come up with other ways of writing it before the week is through!

What's YOUR "New ME"?

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Random Groups

There are many apps and ways online that you can create random groups for your classes.

I've had one I LOVED - until the iPad from 2011 busted last year. I had paid for that one ($1.99 or so?), and it was very cute. It could even keep data! Alas, it's gone, I can't find it again, and I don't know how to use my own account to pay for an app on a school-issued iPad. So when I happened upon someone was sharing about a way to use random groupings, I realized why I'd been saving my box of 500 "craft sticks" (a.k.a. tongue depressors)!

Here they are finished:

Here's a tiny bit of explanation, as you probably get the gist:

  • Each stick has a color (paint), number (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5), shape (circle, square, triangle, star, or heart), and letter (T, H, O, M, S - close to our school name). 
  • All the information is on one end of each stick, so they can be put in a cup w/o students seeing what's on them.
  • All the information is on both sides of each stick.
  • I rotated the shapes (on 1 for blue, 2 for green, etc.) and letters, as well.
  • The white-tipped are "extras" - they are the same number, shape, and letters as the blue. I will only need the white-tipped ones when I have 30 students (homeroom). Most of my three classes have been 25 students or fewer. If I have 26 or more, I'll add white-tipped ones as needed, and just not sort by color.
  • I can also ask students to organize by color of the ink I used (silver or blue) for two large groups.
  • There are four extra sticks - they say "color," "number," "shape," and "letter," so students can pull one for sorting prior to the activity.

If I were to do them again (and I totally can, as they're super easy)...

  • I'd change the letters - to X and E instead of O and S. Or maybe find something else to use besides letters. Stickers might work, but they might fall off, too. I probably won't change them, as I think seventh graders can figure out that a circle is not necessarily a letter O, and that we'll have number, shape, and letter in that order. Good for following directions, I guess.
  • I'd use different markers. My silver doesn't show up well, and my blue bleeds.
  • I'd ask someone with better handwriting to write on them. 

Goin' back to old school - even though I've used Flippity and have a spreadsheet that will group students randomly. I'll use that in some circumstances, for sure, but these are nice to just get out of the drawer and sort.

On a side note - yes, Karen and Yvette - I made you each a set, as well. 👍

Friday, August 3, 2018

The School Year Is Almost Here

The 2018-2019 school year is quickly approaching - so many signs that summer for many of us is over. There are so many things that were on my to-do list I did NOT do. I tried to promote the book a bit, had at least three podcasts, spent a few fun lunches and dinners with other educators, presented at two conferences, but most of the time - I spent loving the summer and time with my family. Before we head to our last vacation of the summer, I had to get these thoughts out, as I'm feeling like I did not do ENOUGH.

Here's what I haven't yet done, and most likely won't be doing...

  • I won't be starting a podcast - unless my students want to start their own.
  • I purchased 50 (teeny) stickers for Shift This - I won't be purchasing more. I understand the sticker is an advertisement. It can spark discussions - great! And even though I have myriad stickers on my school laptop, I just won't take time to design a sticker and send them out. It's just not me.
  • I won't be tweeting out a link for readers to fill in a form so I can send them "swag." As mentioned above, I don't have swag.
  • I won't be presenting if it's a conflict with what I'm trying to do in my classroom. My students come first once the school year is in session.
  • I won't be a full-time consultant. My place right now is in front of seventh graders.
  • I won't be setting up "summits" for other teachers. These are very valuable, and I sign up for as many as I can. I realize it must take a TON of time to set up and execute. Time I could use to improve my own practice. Thank you to those who take the time to do this (some - many? - are not teaching children directly anymore).

Here's what I have done and will keep doing...

  • I will be available for a video conference if you have a group that is reading Shift This and time permits. I will NOT charge for this half hour. I'd love it if educators took the ideas and ran with them, even after they hear first-hand about issues I've had!
  • I will still be available for podcasts. This will be dependent on time I spend preparing for students.
  • I will still be available for presentations - if it fits with my schedule and does not conflict with my current position as a classroom teacher.
  • I will still organize the #ShiftThis chat on Tuesdays. We have guest moderators who will bring their own voice, so I'll be able to enjoy this hour with contributors!
  • I will try to self-promote without going "overboard." I still think educators should read Shift This, so I will be sharing what others have said about it, and perhaps quotes from the book itself.
  • I will continue reading young adult and middle grades literature and sharing them with followers if I feel they will benefit our students.
  • I will continue saving quotes from this literature to use as mentor texts for use in our ELA classes.
  • I will continue to scour tweets for ideas for #geniushour, #goinggradeless (#tg2chat, #ttog), along with the #1st5Days, and add these ideas to the free LiveBinders I curate.
  • I will continue to take small breaks from social media - to reflect on where I am and where I need to be going.
  • I will continue to share - though blogging, too - ideas that I believe other teachers can connect with or learn from.

The school year brings its own struggles. These things listed are some of the things I can control in my life. I may not be able to "do it all," but I have to be okay with that.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Feed One

Looking back through my posts on the Building Learning Communities conference, I notice a theme. It seems as if every year I've gone (2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, and now 2018), educators and administrators and keynoters are talking about CHANGE. Here are all my reflections on the BLC conference, if you want to take a gander.

Last year's last day keynote speaker, Dr. Robert Evans, told us that humans resist change, especially if this change was not their idea.  He also said resistance to change is normal and necessary. I read his book, The Human Side of School Change, and wrote three more posts reflecting on what he said. Myriad factors come into play when people have to deal with change, and his book helped me become a better listener to those who resist changes in education.

This year, my own keynote message was to stop asking why others won't change, and empower yourself. Take the risks, live up to the title of "educator," and do what you believe is right and good for students. Share these ideas with others, and explain your reasons WHY. Keep sharing - through social media, blogging, websites, presentations... keep the conversations going.

When Ted Dintersmith took the same stage the next day, he said that it's easier to start a new school than to change one that's already established. He added that we should embrace the pockets of change and grow by one teacher at a time. Leave other teachers alone - administration can try to make them change, but they'll just close their doors and keep doing what they've always done. Wasted effort on our part. Let's put the effort into celebrating those who are doing what is better for kids. Oh, and try not to say "best practice," because what is "best" today won't necessarily be "best" tomorrow. We can practice "better practices" with students. 😉

I go over and over with my husband Bob about what each session is about, and the things I've learned and want to take home and hold dear to my heart and head.

During our discussion about all this, he asked, "Is this whole thing pointless?"

"This whole thing" - referring to trying to get other teachers to reflect on their teaching and try something new, such as letting the students own more of the learning.

No. It's not pointless.

Trying to get other teachers to reflect on what they're doing, join in with what you're trying, and help bring students more to the center of all we do... is challenging for sure. But if you share ideas with just one... and just one teacher latches on and tries it and it changes his or her teaching, consider all the students you've affected. Mother Teresa said, "If you can't feed a hundred people, feed just one." I wouldn't say "just" one - because one can lead to another and another and the ideas can grow exponentially. (A few of the ideas I shared at BLC.)

I tweaked my keynote the evening prior, because I had to add this quote I'd heard from Darren Kuropatwa at his session - "The job of any leader is to make more leaders."

So take the lead. Share your ideas - through social media, blogging, websites, presentations... Share your reasons WHY. And feed ONE teacher. One at a time. Keep those conversations going!
Outside our house in the spring of 2017...

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Ambiguity as a Learning Tool

The Building Learning Communities conference in Boston always inspires and challenges me.

Even though this was my fourth consecutive year presenting sessions, I was also asked to present one of the keynotes. Wednesday and Friday are reserved for one-hour keynotes, and Thursday is for three-four 15-20 minute keynotes. Thank goodness I was asked to present on Thursday!

I'd known about this presentation since November. Ideas percolated around my brain for months before I started putting ideas down on paper. I had not been told what to speak on, and the closer it got to July, the more I got to thinking I was on my own to decide.

This ambiguity was so difficult for me. Sure, I could set my own sessions for the week - those were based on where I felt my strengths lie, and I had many resources to share for when participants had questions. The 20 minutes in front of 500 people?? It was like choosing the right song for "American Idol"! (mine would be "Broken Wing" from Martina McBride!)

As I wrestled with what the message should be, and who my audience was, I never thought that not knowing - this ambiguity - this uncertainty - was what was so difficult for me.

That is, until the day AFTER my keynote, Ted Dintersmith - author of What School Could Be - said that ambiguity scares students. Taking a path where they might fail is scary. He says that we have many "Go fetch a dog biscuit" kids. They are really good at following our directions. They are not good with ambiguity.

I immediately thought - that's why the keynote was so difficult for me! If Alan November had told me what he wanted, I would do it. If nobody cared for the idea, I could blame it on someone else...

I figured it out. I had to! I did have parameters - It had to be ready by July 26th at 8:30 am, and it could be 15-20 minutes long. I also felt I had to share something about shifting... shifting SOMEthing. I didn't want to talk about Shift This (which of course, you can purchase right here 😉).

I also knew I didn't want to use the ideas from my "Shift the Culture" one-hour presentation. I had to create something new.

With these parameters, I thought about the history of my learning at BLC, what I've learned from others, and I decided it should be about shifting the language.
(Yes, deaf education is part of my journey.)

I was geeked to say hello (again) to the other two keynoters - both passionate educators on the other ends of the spectrum - Aaron Polansky from a vocational school in Massachusetts, and Pana Asavavatana who works with K-2 in Taiwan! When I got to BLC on Wednesday, Aaron said he'd changed his message a few times already, and he even changed it further the night prior! I think he had a tough time with the ambiguity, as well. I think Pana had her message about literacy ready to go (I could be totally wrong about that - we didn't have much time to talk) - even though we all had nerves galore!

I became more comfortable with the message in it as I went through sessions on Wednesday, the day prior to the most nerve-wracking thing I've had to do in a long time. Others at BLC were talking about change, and shifts they're trying to make, and how "others at my school" weren't on the same page.

The morning of the presentation, we were told our order (what a relief when I found out I'd go first!), and Alan said, "Your topic is genius hour, right?" My eyebrows went up and I froze for a moment. 

I said, "Nope. It's on shifting the language. Labels we're given and such."

He only said, "Interesting!" and went on explaining more plans for the next hour... Phew!

The ambiguity I was offered was a gift in disguise. I learned so much from brainstorming, trying different ideas, considering past conference messages, putting together much of what I've learned, and listening to the audience / participants the day prior. I tweaked two or three things based on what I'd learned Wednesday, and I was as ready as I'd ever be Thursday morning.

How did it go?

I'm happy with what I did. I have no idea what I actually said... I had my notes, but don't remember  using them. I did hear laughter in all the right places, and I saw many heads nod. Reactions and expressions of gratefulness from educators the rest of the day solidified that I had reached them in some way. They felt included. They felt as if I knew them. They felt empowered. Alan told me I'd done a "fabulous" job, and a few told me they had tears (which I didn't expect).

My lessons learned?

-Go with your gut. Say what you feel you need to say. Speak from the heart.
-Use the ambiguity as a learning experience. Research, reflect, brainstorm, tweak, get feedback...
-Provide students more chances every day to struggle with - and learn from - such vagueness.
-When they struggle with uncertainty, help them to notice all they are learning.
-Provide tools for them to persevere, so it will be easier for them the next time around.
-As always, these challenges should come without any grade attached...
-Um... hello - doesn't this sound a bit like Genius Hour? Or personalizing learning - ALL DAY?!

Challenge for all of us - How can we incorporate more opportunities for our children / students to struggle with ambiguity during our school days?

A HUGE thank you to Alan November and the BLC team for providing me this experience. More huge kudos to Aaron and Pana - we did it!! Everyone loved your messages! Let's put a handle on helping students and educators make more connections! I'm excited to read about your own reflections.

Here's the "moment" I made using Twitter - to capture some of the essence of my message. Stay tuned for further posts as a result of reflections from this fabulous conference!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Grading Thoughts Update Half-Way Through Summer

Summer is half-way gone already?

My brain rested yesterday - pretty completely. I went into reading mode again - a sports book, no less - and I'm LIKING it!

I think since my brain rested, I had a sudden burst of inspiration for my issues with not grading. I created a T-chart of all the things that are different - from the way I used to grade - when I do not put points/marks on grades.

This led to me looking at last year's parent letter - and revamping it. It now has an invite to meet one-on-one and a teeny opt-out option included - along with the T-chart above. My hope is to alleviate parent anger the first time they see a grade at the end of a quarter. I hope, if they're concerned, they choose to make an appointment with me to chat further, or simply opt out.

I'm back on the tracks, peeps.
I'm back in the groove.
I'm back to remembering just WHY I wanted to go sans marks/points through the quarter. What really pushed me back is the video I created for parents. It really says it all. It's based on research and years of teaching. It just makes sense.

It's housed on our classroom website HERE.

So. That's where my brain is today, in the midst of summer. A month after I shared my frustrations the day after school let out this year. (I LOVED the conversations in the comments!)

Check out the NEW (so far) letter for 2018 - I'd love feedback once again - let's keep the conversation going!

My "gradeless" 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, July 10, 2018

Another Blog

I've been sharing my (rambling) thoughts on another blog recently: Passion, Purpose, Product

These new posts have been inspired by two books I've enjoyed this year...

Image result for being the change by
Image result for small great things by jodi picoult

I don't want to call it a "project," but I'm categorizing it as my seventh "genius hour" project for the blog purposes. I started that blog to share with students my reflections on various things I'd tried. This new effort is to get me to think about my own assumptions, biases, and prejudices, with the hope I'll be more cognizant about them first (already working). The next step will be to help me have the tough conversations with my students. Finally, I hope to be able to find the nuances (that lead to stereotyping) in all I read or see and be able to help young learners see them, too.

Check it out if you'd like. Better yet - contribute to it. What biases do you notice you have as you go through your day? Why do you think you have these. They are a natural part of being a human being. The next step is to recognize them, and know that they may be wrong. Have the conversation with yourself, then be vulnerable and let me know when you're ready to contribute your thoughts.

We need to keep having the conversations that keep us thinking!