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!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Three Bedtime Stories - For SEVENTH Graders!

Outdoor education - 
        with 7th graders - 
                for three days and two nights...

Tired just thinking about it? Me too! I used to be able to go the entire week, with both teams. That went on for eight years. I'm now in my fifth year of going just half of the week with my team. Although I may be used to sleeping without my family, many of these girls are not, and some are uncomfortable when it's time to go to sleep. The boys are in other dorms (oh, thank goodness!), and I'll bet some of them don't feel like going to sleep, either.

As I yawn writing this post, I need to get to WHY I'm writing. I want to share my favorite bedtime read alouds for seventh grade girls! A good friend / coworker told me about this idea two years ago, and I've now got my favorites to read. If you bring three books into a dorm room of eight to nine girls, they'll bug you until you read all three. This way, you can pretend to give in, while actually savoring reading each book.

Here are my three favorites, in order of how I would read them.

Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney

Just the cover illustration is enough to pull you into this book. Those pleading eyes from both the llama and his stuffed bunny! The problem with reading to seventh grade girls in a dorm room is that I need it dark, so they lay there and don't have to crowd around to see the pics. This book has large pictures in it, however, so even if they're hanging over their bunks, they can see it. If not, heck, just start with them all around you. They can get in bed for the next one! The point of this story is that llama gets tucked in, but then wants water. His mother gets busy and doesn't get around to bringing it until he's all in a tizzy! A line near the end is what I love best - "Mama Llama's always near, even if she's not right here." Some of our students need to be reminded of this, as it's their first trip away from home.

Who Will Tuck Me in Tonight? by Carol Roth, Illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev
This has another animal character, and it's Woolly, the little lamb. The sun is setting, Woolly is getting sleepy, but his mom is not home yet. When he asks, "Who will tuck me in tonight," various barn animals respond, but they just don't have his mother's touch. The pictures make me crack up, but the girls don't really need to see them in order to understand the story. Finally, his mother comes home and does everything just right. By now, the seventh graders should be ready to be in their bunks under the covers, as they think I'm leaving... but I can stay for "just one more."

It's Time to Sleep, My Love from Nancy Tillman (originally written by Eric Metaxas)
Although the illustrations are very rich, detailed, and vivid, I use this one so sing a lullaby. In the post I read about 40 bedtime stories (see below), she said she likes to sing this one to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Perfect. This also has the message at the end that "you are loved." Our kids need to know this.

I found these books from this blog post, and have finally been able to read them all and choose just three. Thank you, Allison McDonald!

Okay, okay, there IS one more that I love on that list that seems perfect for 7th grade girls...

Looking for Sleepy by Maribeth Boelts, Illustrated by Bernadette Pons
I might switch this one out for.... no. I don't think I can replace the other three. If it's a particularly feisty room of girls, I'll read this one first! ;)

My favorite part of reading to the girls each night? Hearing "I love you, Mrs. Kirr," and being able to tell them I love them right back.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Assessment 3.0

I have finally finished Assessment 3.0 by Mark Barnes. It's taken me a long time, and that's a good thing, as I've had to stop and sort through ideas in my head. I've written sticky notes, added to a notebook just for ideas and questions, and I've begun creating forms for students and I along with ideas for explaining "no grades" to parents.

That's right - "no grades." It's that way until report cards are due, of course. I haven't even gotten permission from my administration yet to see if I can pull this off, but I'm in the planning stages anyway, thanks to this book. My brain has to get out some kinks in my thinking and take the time and paper to brainstorm just how the heck I can make this happen. I'm finally finished with the book, yet I'll be returning to it time and again to read my notes alongside the text...

In order to make "no grades" happen, I need the following:

  • A way to create a digital portfolio. At this point in time, I'm thinking our blogs would suffice, as long as students use tags or labels so we can sort the posts by standards or other categories.
  • Some sort of chart to show each assignment, room for feedback, and columns for resubmission notes. There is a sample on page 69, but I think mine would look different. I want mine to include URL addresses where student work is located, and I'd love this to be filled automatically by a Google form of some sort...
  • A simple Google form for students to resubmit / turn in work. This will have to have an easy-to-remember link for students.
  • SE2R feedback examples ready to go for certain work we already do in the classroom.
  • Plans for students to work on during 3-4 days of our individual report card discussions at the end of each quarter. I'm already thinking that first quarter could be taking an online "Google Like a Boss"-type class to prepare for second quarter's Genius Hour.
  • A clean comment sheet so students can choose their own comments for their report card, as well.
  • Something like "Sign Up Genius" for students to make appointments with me to discuss anything we don't get to in class.
  • A general guide to distinguish between an A, B, C, D, and F. Each quarter might be different. This we'll use when there are discrepancies, or when students need a scaffold of sorts.
  • Research to have on hand for parents. Of course, this was a catalyst for a new LiveBinder...

Questions I have to ponder and ask for guidance:

  • I have three classes. Right now, one is co-taught. Do I pilot "no grades" with two of my three classes? One?
  • What do I do when eligibility checks come about every week? Do I ask the student if he/she thinks he/she is failing?
  • Does this mean I need to provide much more time in class for student independent work? This would include time for revisions, editing, peer and teacher feedback.

I'm very glad I read Role Reversal first. Mark Barnes got me to thinking that it is actually possible to have students grade themselves, and the seed was planted. This was almost TWO years ago! That means it's now time for me to act. Assessment 3.0 gives specific examples to make "no grades" possible. The feedback we will provide in lieu of grades will be transformative.

I'm excited to build this new LiveBinder with resources for other teachers to try giving more feedback and fewer grades. Many of the articles cited in Assessment 3.0 are already included.

Check the hashtag #TTOG (Teachers Throwing Out Grades) to see more teachers taking on this challenge. There is also a Facebook group by the same name if you want to stay current.

We have to stop pretending...

Challenges - rise to them or let them be. This one I had to try.

Earlier this week Scott McLeod challenged educator/bloggers to post their five choices of things we have to stop pretending in education and hashtag it #MakeSchoolDifferent. I'd read my first post by Robert Schuetz,  saw another by Tom Whitby, and then I was challenged by Tim Scholze on his blog to do the same.

I encourage you to read Scott's, Bob's, Tim's, and the collection of statements made by so many connected educators.

We have to stop pretending...
  • that we are REALLY LISTENING to students, and trying what they want us to try.
  • that we actually know what other teachers/classes are doing down the hall in their classrooms.
  • that we know half of what we think we know about what to do in our classrooms (aside from making students feel they matter).
  • that all students should be interested in our curriculum. 
  • that extra credit is okay. 

This was a difficult challenge for me.  I didn't want to offend anyone, so I started thinking about my own thoughts that I know could be disputed. I find myself still pretending these five sometimes, even though I know I'm wrong.

What do you think? What are the five things you think we need to stop pretending? I'm challenging the following bloggers to add their voice to the conversation. #MakeSchoolDifferent...

I know this is a tough challenge, so we'll all understand if you don't blog about it! Be sure to follow these forward-thinking educators, even so:

     Michael Matera
     Shawn McCusker
     JoAnn Jacobs
     Gallit Zvi
     Denise Krebs

Sunday, April 12, 2015

It's Not Perfect

Elisa Waingort left a comment recently on one of my blog posts...
Recently I have been feeling disheartened at what I see during Genius Hour with my students. I feel that all they want to do is to use their Genius Hour time to socialize with their friends at the same time that they pretend to be doing something important. I have been trying out different tools to help them reflect on their projects and to get them to elevate their purposes for what they're doing. I'm not looking for a cure for cancer. I am looking for some thought and genuine interest in what they're doing.   
~comment abstract from Elisa Waingort
I've been there.

I'll bet LOTS of us trying Genius Hour have been there. We don't see much of it on the Twitter hashtag, but that may be because most of us don't share our failures (yes, I see us not being able to motivate kids as OUR failures even though there are so many influences...). Most of us share our successes and celebrations.

This "apathy" towards projects happens with an average of one-two students in each of my classes. What factors might contribute to this?
          - Never been asked to do anything like this in prior school years
          - Driven by grades, and this is not graded
          - No authentic audience to share their work with (yet)
          - Parents are not very involved
          - Can't find that one thing that he/she really wants to pursue
          - Isn't really in to any type of activity at home outside of school
          - Laziness / Would rather sleep

A few of us had this discussion just last June due to this reflection by one of my students in January of last school year.
Published with Student Permission

In fact, I created a new tab on the LiveBinder just because we DO have students who struggle (or should be struggling instead of what I think of as "wasting precious time"). #20time guru Kevin Brookhouser says "mixed success" during 20% Time is "pretty typical" in this impromptu Google Hangout. A.J. Juliani suggests we help students find a new purpose in this blog post about when Genius Hour fails. Karl Lindgren-Streicher writes about those "do nothings" and "The Suck" during your Genius Hour / 20% time. We've been there. I have strong doubts when I hear a teacher say that EVERY single student is engaged during this time.

I have a tendency to think of this type of student as a "slacker." I try not to label my students in any way ("He is ACTING like a slacker right now"), but this word keeps popping up for students who are not motivated to choose something to do/study and stick with it. My brain shouts, "This is supposed to be what YOU WANT TO DO! YOU are the reason we are trying this in class! It's for KIDS LIKE YOU!"
How I often feel... Photo by Joy Kirr.

Frustration mounts, and I try various tactics...
          - Have the student fill in these sheets to see what you like, and we'll conference afterwards
          - Have the student try out these websites, and we'll conference after they've tried a few
          - Have the student document what everyone else in class is doing and create a movie/advertisement to share
          - Have the student read through other student ideas and choose from there
          - Ask the student - what can we do about this?
          - Have the student reflect/document each week on what they did during this hour - if this still doesn't work, I attach a GRADE to it (against everything I've learned)
          - Have the student research "Why Genius Hour-type learning does NOT work for me"
          - When we get to fourth quarter, the threat of presenting in front of peers, teachers, and parents usually spurs on SOME type of project.

I feel that, although I am very calm with these one to two students in each class, they should be able to see the smoke coming out of my ears. I am THAT frustrated.

I agree with Elisa...
I'm having lots of second thoughts about Genius Hour. Phew! There! I said it.
I question what I'm doing EVERY SINGLE WEEK. Change which comes from some serious reflection helps make our classes better.

That being said, we've all got some students with great projects. Maybe our students aren't curing cancer, but many - no, I believe MOST - are doing what they LOVE to do, or trying many different projects to see what they think they might like to do. They are using this time to explore, plan, collaborate, create, make decisions, write, read, fail, and share.

Compare your students to adults you know. Some are very motivated self-starters. Others... are not. Some know what they want to do in life, and some are still struggling - big time. Some have the "go get 'em" attitude, and others don't mind sitting on their fannies and letting life come to them.

I will NOT give up on students who, during Genius Hour, act apathetic. These are often students who act the same way in "regular" lessons, but sometimes not. Sometimes these students just don't know what to do, and have a difficult time making decisions. I will not give up, because I believe it is our role to keep encouraging, keep challenging, keep modeling what perseverance looks like, if nothing else. If they learn one lesson from this struggle, it is that when I believe in something, I believe in in whole-heartedly. I believe if young people become self-directed learners and know HOW to learn, they can have the world in the palm of their hands.
There will also be people who cannot stand the happy mascot, and others who LOVE him (her)!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Let It Go

What are our issues with giving students control in classes?
Why do we have a difficult time letting go of control?
“There is no time to cover the curriculum I’m supposed to cover.”
“They won’t get enough preparation for the standardized tests.”
“Other teachers will walk by the room and think I’m crazy.”

It's time to get over it.

We are here to teach CHILDREN first.

If you say you want your students to be creative and prepared for the world ahead of them, you need to give up your control - at least for part of your school year! Our students need to be adaptable, flexible, creative, innovative and leaders. They can NOT practice these skills unless we give them the time. Allowing time during your class for students to pursue their own passions does get loud, confusing, and it just might be your most difficult and rewarding part of your week.

IMG_3733.JPGGenius Hour, 20% Time, Innovation Day, Passion Projects… By any name, this is student-driven learning. Your job is to give students the map so that they can create their own journey, with u-turns and break-downs along the way. They may fail, but we'll be there to help them reflect on wrong turns and show ways to get back on the right path.

Why should we “give up” part of the day or week to let students learn or create what they want? If you can’t answer, then try this question: What do you remember about your elementary and high school years? We remember the teachers who were nice, and those that were not. But really, what specific curriculum do you remember? And could you find that curriculum by Googling questions now? Did you ever get a chance to do what YOU wanted in school? We remember those things that are personal to us - those times we were truly engaged in the learning, because we were allowed some choice. Kids are naturally curious - they DO want to learn - but they probably want to learnof many things that are not in our curriculum.

I used to think it was all about the CHOICE students are given, and that’s a HUGE part of it. With more choice, they are more motivated to learn… but there is more.

Tech Help.JPGThe shift to Common Core invites creativity, freedom, deeper thinking and understanding. The only way for more of this to happen in schools is for teachers to give up the control. I want a student-centered classroom - one where my students learn how to become lifelong learners - how to seek out experts and ask the questions that will get them further along in their exploration… how to pursue answers, rather than memorize facts.

During Genius Hour, students have to first find their passion. This shouldn’t be difficult, but it is so very difficult for some, because we have beat that curiosity out of them. School has become a place (in some instances) where we don’t have time to find out what students like - we have too much we need to teach them! WE tell them what WE think they need to know. They get used to years of this, and by the time they reach us, they don’t know how to be curious anymore - they lose some of the urge to share what they know with us. In fact, some of the students that have the hardest time during genius hour are the ones who have learned to play the school game well. Your “straight A” students will have a difficult time without rubrics, deadlines, and the openness of this year-long project. They want to be told what to do. This won't work in the world in which they're heading.

For these students, you may have to scaffold their learning. It begins with a conversation. There are many questions you can ask students to lead them to ideas. First, you’ll need to generate ideas for their passion. You can ask a multitude of questions (list here) in your one-on-one conference. You can also, as AJ Juliani suggested in this blog post, ask students to create a “March Madness Interests” bracket. Once students find something they’d like to do, it’s time for them to set their own parameters. If they need a deadline, have them come up with it. They could create a calendar with dates on it when they’d like to be done with certain parts of their project, and select a date in which to present. If they want to be graded, they should be tasked with creating the rubric, and given parameters with which to do so. If they will be doing more than one project for the year, they may find it easier to begin in this fashion, with rubrics and deadlines becoming unnecessary for their next projects. What you should do, to make it easier on all of your students, is come up with steps to follow. It can be as simple as “Brainstorm ideas, research, and present,” or as complex as you’d like (depending on what you’re willing to manage).

Benefits for students: They take ownership of their learning. The develop social skills. They learn how to work smarter at solving problems. They become better at asking questions. They develop a more trusting relationship with you, which hopefully spreads to other adults. They have increased motivation to come to your class. They are more engaged during class, which leads to learning.

Benefits for teachers: Having time built into your week when you can sit down with kids individually helps them feel valued, and it will also help you. You will learn what makes them tick. You will learn what type of learner they are. You will learn what they are skilled at, and what they wish they knew. You will learn about their life outside of school. You can use all of this information during the rest of your week - and your students will, too. It’s suddenly all about the students, the way it should be - they’ll trust you because you know them. You’ll show them you trust that they can make decisions for the class.
Created with Festisite & Over

All of your lessons will revolve around your students - their skills and their needs. And isn’t THAT what it’s all about?

So… How do teachers pull this off? I recently wrote a post about decisions you’ll have to make - it may look daunting, but it will be one of those decisions you won’t regret.

Students' ideas will provoke change in your classroom & in your thinking!*

*Disclaimer: Be ready to be the loudest and most engaged class in your hallway…

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sharing Through Instagram

So many thoughts ran through my mind...

Erin Olson always inspires me. This tweet inspired a bit of action on my part. I wanted to know what my students thought...

     I am on Instagram.
     More than 75% of my followers consist of my students.
     I follow my students (when they let me).

Yes. How daring! Not really.

I am a role model for my students. I do not use any vulgar language, and I post about what makes me feel blessed. Parents know I'm on Instagram, and are glad I'm being a positive role model for their children. I decided to post this tweet to my account, and asked students to respond.

Here are their comments (without any edits):

  • It's fun to share your experiences and different things you are trying to other people/friends.
  • I like to share what I'm doing to all of my followers
  • It's fun to know what your friends are doing in their life. It awesome to see the pictures and its a way to communicate with your friends that live far away or are on vacation. I like to use it to show everyone what has/is happening in my life.
  • I like keeping in touch with my friends in other states, and communicating with my friends here.
  • I think it's cool to see what your friends are doing and you can share what you are doing with your friends
  • It's fun to share and relate with everyone.
  • Everyone has one and its less complicated then any other social media.

Sharing. Learning. Communicating. Relating to each other. And, yes, it's about sharing our stories.

Another thing I've noticed that is prevalent - birthday greetings, FULL of memories they've shared! I try not to read these, as sometimes they throw in a teacher's name, or class, and I feel like I'm intruding. They will compose a collage of photos of the birthday person and then write huge paragraphs with rambles about memories together! Instant writing prompt photos? Sign me up!!

I currently follow Humans of New York, and learn about many people's stories - their successes and their struggles. I just found Ugaaso Abukar Boocow's Instagram account. She posts beauty from war-torn Somalia. I have so much more to learn...

Many teachers are using Instagram to share what they're doing in the classroom, and at home. Some have classroom Instagram accounts. (I might, but it's blocked at our school.)

Like most social media, it is what you make it.

I know some of us on Twitter get frustrated by those teachers who are not on Twitter... yet.

Do you remember your misconceptions about Twitter? (Or do you still have some??) I remember thinking it was for celebrities. I thought it was people tweeting out pictures of what they're eating. It wasn't until I was at a workshop when the leader suggested we continue sharing our ideas on a certain hash tag. That's when I started learning more...

I get frustrated, too. I like to think of Vygotsky, however, when I get frustrated. Remember the "Zone of Proximal Development" (ZPD)? According to Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development is
"the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers"
We joined Twitter when we were ready. Someone guided us when we had a reason to ask. If it's meant to be, and teachers want to learn more, they will find their way. They know they can count on us to be there to help guide them once they are ready.

When I share on Twitter & on Instagram, I always have my students and transparency in mind. I want to share questions, concerns, celebrations, and blessings. What about you? Are you "self-absorbed" enough to join?
Instagram - @joykirr1
Twitter - @JoyKirr

UPDATE 4/1/15...
I thought I'd spin a bit of #TLAP (Teach Like a Pirate) last night... I received a $50 gift card from a business, and since my 5/6 block helped me receive it, I thought I'd let them "spend" it. When I asked what they wanted, they had many ideas, all CLASS PETS! Yikes... After sharing this idea at home, Hubby suggested an ant farm. I did the research - no thank you. Brought that idea back to school, and 5/6 suggested sea monkeys... Ugh. No thank you. Finally, at lunch one day, one student suggested a robotic fish. Now THAT I can get into!

I received three in the mail (one for each class = $45 = perfect). I decided block 5/6 should be the ones to see this gift first, so I had to hide it. I got the excitement going in class yesterday, letting them know I'd have something for them - and no, it wasn't an April Fool's joke. I had one student on my mind that I wanted to come back to school. This student misses school quite a bit. I think this student has a lot of sway with the parents. This particular student also follows me on Instagram, so I posted this photo and comment:

With that, I had my fingers crossed this student would return... I did not expect all the comments from students! One was heartbreaking, and it was from a student who is almost always at school: 
Only reason to look forward to schhool (sic)
This particular student came to school, and was excited to see the RoboFish. :) What's more - the student who'd been absent came back, too!! I said, "I was hoping that picture on Instagram would get you back here - welcome back! It's so good to see you! How was your break?..."

Instagram, Twitter, "social media" in general... 
We've found uses for it that show it's not just about being "self absorbed."

Other teachers blogging about Instagram in the classroom:
Mrs. Callahan - 7th and 8th grade

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Phantom Tollbooth - Quotes

I've had it on my list for years... then good ol' fate stepped in!

I checked out three books from my local library, and two were semi-random. One of these was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It's been on my list, and I remember Paul Solarz saying he loved reading it with his kids. It was also on our "BOB" (Battle of the Books) list for our local library, so I grabbed it... not really wanting to read it, but feeling like I should.

As fate would have it, I was able to visit Paul's classroom this past Friday after a doctor's appointment! (Yes, he's local - in my district! How is it that I only see him at EdCamps?!?!) I could write all about all I noticed in his classroom, but that's for another post. Of course, I had to look at his fabulous library along one wall of his room, but then he showed me all the other books he had stashed away... Literature circle books for the year, and whole-class read alouds (and "read alongs," because he had enough copies). One of these, of course, was . When I got home, I began the journey that is called The Phantom Tollbooth.

Two days later, I've got my favorite quotes to share with everyone who hasn't yet read this one:

"...the way you see things depends a great deal on where you look at them from." p108

"...there's always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing." p213

"It certainly pays to have a good look at things." p217

"you must never feel badly about making mistakes, as long as you take the trouble to learn from them." p233

"What you can do is often simply a matter of what you will do." p247

My favorite, that last one, is going up on our ceiling in room 239 where we tape quality quotes from books we've read. My next step? Finding a photo I have taken (or take one!) that helps emphasize that quote. After that? Remembering that it truly IS a matter of what we WILL do...