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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Feedback - #TTOG Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 27, 2015

What Connected Educators Do Differently

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am a connected educator, 
                                   and proud of it.

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

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Midterms - #TTOG Update

Our midterms are going out this week already!

On our team, we ask the students to fill out this sheet, so that they (and their parents) are aware of what their current grades are. We collect them in homeroom.

Yesterday, after we passed them out to students, I questioned the reason behind this sheet, as students and parents both have access to their grades online, any time. I also feel like we bug the unorganized children about it daily until they turn it in, and some teachers go so far as threatening a detention if it does not come in by a certain date. After I expressed my dislike, I found out most of my team thinks they are still a good idea. We are the only team at the school that does this, but I will go along with the team if most are in agreement.

I didn't think much more of it yesterday, until my last class. I chuckled when one student asked, "What percentage should we put on our midterm for this class?" This was one question I had not anticipated, and it made me smile.

"I have no clue. Put on there what you think you should be getting."

Suddenly, bells rang in my head, as I remembered that I HAD thought of this during the summer! I already had a Google form for students to fill out so they could better determine their midterm grade! (I am sometimes what my mom used to call me often - "dippy.")

Today, students filled out this Google form (please do not fill it out...!).  I heard two quotes that I took the time to write down...
     "This is so hard."
     "I used to have more, but I still have SOME run-ons. I'm working on it."

Those little snippets and their responses on their surveys make the gears in my head go bonkers. They could mean so many different things.

As for grades, two students did not take the survey yet, so I have 17 responses.
       A+ = 3       A = 8       A- = 5       B+ = 1

Check out their responses to individual questions here. Go ahead - you know you want to!
We used a cart of iPads and were kind of rushed, so we lack some editing...

I need to begin using better language to describe what we're doing in class. It seems as if, when calculating their grades, many include effort. Teachers don't (normally) use effort in a grade. Should we? DO we, without admitting to it at times? Their comments really have me thinking once again - about so many dynamics of grading. They can be so arbitrary!!

I'm ready to tackle this next phase of our learning - I was prepared for this hard work, and am so glad to see some answers and potential obstacles!

Thank you, as always, for any comments or challenging questions. I learn better when others are involved!

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

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Update to #TTOG

Went to Disneyland EdCamp yesterday.

This was EdCampIllinois, in Northbrook. I was feeling frisky and was the first to propose a session - about students grading themselves. I asked for participants to come HELP me!

Three big ideas came out of this session for me...

1. Michael Matera proposed a place for students to curate their ideas on how to give proof for the four strands. I created this document on the spot, which, after more discussion, we decided should go to four more documents, so students aren't overwhelmed by too much on one page. I immediately posted this on students' Edline (our school's online grading system) page, and we'll talk about it Monday (hopefully adding to it).

2. Since students will be sharing a five-minute video with me explaining why they should receive any certain grade, another teacher asked, "Will students' videos be shared with parents?" Hmmm... I'll have to ask the kids this one. Maybe we can share on a student-by-student basis. Should I ask the parents this question instead? One thing we did resolve - if a student doesn't come up with a video by the due date, he/she will be meeting with me one-on-one, and we will record the session.

3. The third idea I came away with was the fact that ONE grade is so very arbitrary. What does an "A," a "B," a "C" even MEAN?! We could've had an entire session dedicated just to this question... over many days. It's my hope that students see this through their reflections, and come to realize that it truly IS about the learning, and not about the grade.

My Vine this day... showing the helpful group of six other people we had in the session, and Michael wondering if, once a student gets a "4 = mastery" on a skill, he/she should include this in his/her grade anymore for the rest of the year... ???

I came home, browsed Twitter, and saw Bill Ferriter's post titled "If Grades Don't Advance Learning, Why Do We Give Them?" After nodding my head at most of this post, I read the first comment. In it, Renee Moore, community college & high school English teacher, gives some of the HOW TO:
At the end of the course, they have to use the portfolio to take the final exam--which for my class is a reflective essay on a) what have I learned as a writer; b) how has my writing changed; c) what aspects of my writing do I think need more improvement. The essay concludes with the student telling me what s/he believes her/his final grade for the course should be based, not on the grades, but on the actual writing evidence in the portfolio.
Makes me feel as if I'm on the right track.

So... Sunday came along, and I had yet to give any written feedback (to put in the online gradebook) to my last class on the writing they'd written this past week. After a bit of time (I will NOT time it - I don't want to know!), taking breaks after 8 pieces of writing, then 5 more, then finishing (small class!), I created a spreadsheet of these summary responses for Edline, so I could copy/paste, and save a teeny bit of time in this fashion:

I used one "summary" piece (ala Mark Barnes' SE2R) per skill (language usage / grammar, claim, quality of evidence, and analysis of evidence). In the actual document, I posted revision suggestions. Many of these began with, "I notice you ____. Consider ____." This leaves the decision to revise to the students.

Let's keep the conversation going! Please comment any thoughts, questions, ideas you have! I learn so much more when others contribute.

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

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Questions & Answers Regarding Grading...

Our second week of school, and I've asked my last class to give me questions and/or concerns over the idea of grading themselves.

Here are the questions from students (so far), and answers I have (so far)...

Q1: This idea is so different from all other ways of grading. It’s not like you get a B+ in this project and an A in this one it seems like we are just saying one grade for the whole thing. Is this true?
A1: Yes - ONE grade for the entire quarter. It's how our report cards report to parents right now.

Q2: I usually grade myself too low and it makes it hard in this case because maybe you think I deserve an A and I think I should get a B, and you like my reasoning and think I should get more credit though will you bump me up to a B+ or A?
A2: No - I will not bump you up automatically. If I feel you deserve a different grade than what you propose, we will have a conference and talk about it to decide on a grade together.

Q3: How should we prove that our grade is a good grade after a whole semester? Do we go and list everything we learned? I just don't know.
A3: (Here is where I need to share the chart below!)

Q4: How do we get a grade on HW and small assignments?
A4: We don't grade homework, as I many times it means grading a HABIT, and not what students learn. Rubrics will be provided for anything I would normally grade, and you may use those to help you grade yourself, or to switch writing with a partner, so you can give each other feedback.

As a result of these questions, I have also come up with another guideline to help us all. There are four very general categories for our ELA standards, and I believe students should choose what to use as their proof. Therefore, I've created this table students will fill in with their proof. Yes, they may choose one document for more than one category, if they wish. (How many? I don't know. I don't think they'll choose one document for four categories... I guess it depends on what they choose!)

Two minutes after I shared these questions and answers with students in class, we adjusted this chart for first quarter...  POLISHED became the word, instead of PUBLISHED, as we haven't even begun discussing blogs or digital portfolios. Also, they liked the idea of using the in-class journal as support for their independent reading practice.

Jessica (@JessLif) said that students could also highlight just what in each piece proves their learning. I've considered this, but I can imagine seventh graders highlighting the entire thing. Also, I'm going to try to be as authentic as possible with their published work. I wouldn't want to highlight my own blog posts to show proof of learning.

Teresa Lee (@mrsleeims12) said they use this type of documentation for parent/teacher conferences. I know I'll be using it for this purpose, for sure! Although, knowing me, I'll have already alerted parents to just WHY their children are giving themselves these grades prior to conferences.

Other thoughts from students... (copied and pasted straight from their responses!)
* I’m nervous about proving our grade, because there are so many aspects to it. I feel like I might miss something and not get the grade I think I deserve because of it.
* IDONT really know how its going to go but i would rather have a teacher grade me.
* I think grading yourself is very interesting. I can't wait it is going to be a lot of work, but it is going to be fun. It is something new so lets do this!
* I think it's a great idea as long as it's balanced and fair. I hope it's fair, well thought, and not to advanced.
* I'm scared about it because it's different from what I'm used to.
* I think that grading will be hard because I will want to give myself good grades because well I get make sure that I have a good grade. Also it will be hard because I will need to learn how to give me a bad grade if that is what I deserved.
* I think it may be a bit of a challenge but, it may be a new and fun way to do things.

What I LOVED... every student who answered the survey said that they agreed it was more about the learning, and not so much about the grade. I think we're on the right track with these conversations.

I'm looking to my students to teach me even more!

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

Thursday, September 3, 2015

"The Talk" - About Grades

Six full school days in... Today was the day my last class and I had "the talk!"

I pumped it up yesterday, TLAP style...
     "Tomorrow we're going to have.... (this part whispered-->) the talk!" Of course, they wondered if this was really health class, and I had to let them know that it was about the "g" word = grading!

I had plans. After 3/4 of class was through, I was going to have my 9/10 block fill out this survey first, then we'd project some answers and start the conversation that way. I was also going to record our conversation. I totally forgot those two things (I suppose I was a bit excited). I started, instead, by showing them how our class website was linked to their grading website (Edline), and all the goodies that are on our website. When we got to the "rubrics" tab, I skipped the rest until we got to the "FaR" tab. This, I said, was solely for their class. My eyes lit up, and I started excitement coursed through my veins.


     "Did any of your parents tell you how this class would be different?"
     ONE child raised her hand. She simply said, "Grading will be different."
     "We're going to grade ourselves."
     "What?" was heard many times over, and my smile spread.

After hearing this, and settling down, they were really ready to listen.

     "I don't have all the answers yet, but I've been thinking of you all summer long. I asked for permission from Mr. Kaye last school year, and he had some great questions, and made me think more. We knew there'd be some obstacles, but I've been working all summer to try and make this work for us. Do you want to know why?"

A resounding "Yes!" from students

"Because... what happens when you get a grade on something?"

"You throw it away," said one scholar at the front. YES.


And so the conversation begins.

I am so happy we are staring the conversation. Here are some questions I can remember students asking...

     "Can I give myself an F?" (That won't happen. I won't let it.)
     "How can I prove I should get an A?"
     "What if we lie?"
     "Can I just TELL you what I should get and show you proof?" (Yes - in a five-minute video.)
     "Can we tell other kids?" (YES!! Let's get the conversation started!)

And here is the transcript from my quick interviews afterwards. I simply asked, "What do you think of the idea of you grading yourself?" (Check out our latest posts on Instagram or Twitter to hear their voices!)
* I think it will be fun, 'cuz I can give myself good grades. I'll make sure I'm honest with myself.
* It's cool, but I think some people won't be honest.
* I don't really know how it's gonna work, but as long as you have to prove that you deserve a letter, I guess it's just more work for you.
* I think it's an interesting way to do school, or English Language Arts. I guess it will be fun but more challenging at the same time.
* I have no clue, 'cuz I'm not very good at grading myself, but I hope I grade myself good so I get good grades!
* I think that it will be very different and cool.
* It'll be fun, but I'm also kind of scared.
* I think it will be cool, but scary.
* I think it's interesting.
* I think it's going to be very fun, and very interesting, too, because probably no one's gonna give themselves an F, so no one's gonna fail the class, or not even a D, so I think it'll be interesting.
* I think it's nice.
* I think it will be interesting and a new, fun way to do grading.
* I think it's cool because like everybody gets like relaxed, and just read, and just like be calm.
* It's cool.
* It's good. Okay. Not the best, but good.
* I think it'll be fun.
I'm looking forward to more conversations!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The perfect teacher is...

During the first week of school, I like to ask students to fill in the blank:

The perfect teacher is _________________.

Here are the answers I received this year. I put them into a Wordle.
The bigger they are, the more times students wrote them:

What will I do with this information?
   1. Share it with students.
   2. Ask students if they agree.
   3. Ask students if I can ask the same of THEM. (Eyes open wide at this point!)
   4. Post it as a reminder to all of us to practice these traits.

As one 7th grader wrote, "I don't think a teacher can be perfect, because that's hard." For sure! (Oh, how I love this age!) Therefore, I will keep these in mind, and keep trying, but know I can't be perfect. (I can't be both "calm" and "energetic" at the same time - a lot of balance is needed!) When this happens, I hope the students are understanding, just as they'd like me to be.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Our "Classroom Crib" for 2015

Here we go... I'm excited to welcome 7th graders tomorrow. All of the neck pain / headaches / sciatic pain will be worth it (and may just disappear!??!) once they arrive.

This is the updated version of our "classroom crib" video I made last year, and it just doesn't look right without students. They will bring the life with their inquiries, wonders, stories, and struggles. For my 21st year, it's my plan that this will be the best yet!

Sunday, August 23, 2015