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!

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

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...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Parents in the Middle School ELA Classroom

What would you do if you were not afraid?

This question was posed by our new superintendent on Opening Day in August. Our principal then shared it again later that same day, and I heard it again in our ELA department meeting. In the last three years, I've tried so many things in my class (getting wheels on our tables, Genius Hour, the Cardboard Challenge, letting students decide so many things during our days, painting the tables with whiteboard paint, using iPads for whatever we could, trying to go paperless...), that I hadn't really thought I could answer that question when it came to education.

During our third annual Cardboard Challenge, however, I spoke to a parent (why do parents of my students scare me?!), and she mentioned that parents "don't really get invited into the classroom" after their children reach 6th grade. Hmm... THAT would be frightening! Inviting parents in? Why? For what reason could parents come into our ELA classes? Over Thanksgiving break, I made the decision to just TRY it. Here's what I did...

I decided parents could come in to give a book talk or read a picture book. I checked out the calendar. I created a Sign Up Genius site that included a "how to" on giving book talks, and all the possible time slots available. I posted it on our class Weebly. I added the invite to my two-week update email home to parents. And then...
I waited.

All good things come to those who wait... It's been so very good!

Responses have started coming in... Here are our results from January:
From January 13th - January 30th - only HALF a month of school, we've had the following visits:
     Book Talk - Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay*
                       - To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
                       - The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
     Picture Books - A Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams
                             - When the Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
                             - There Is a Bird On Your Head by Mo Willems

I have created a playlist of the parent book talks and have put them on our class Weebly. As for the picture books, you just have to be there to enjoy them! For the most recent, Mrs. L. asked the class if they'd read other books by the same author, and then even read it together with her daughter - just the way they used to at home!

It was so much fun to watch, that we had to recreate it with more students. In February, we have a grandmother coming in to read The Sweetest Fig, and in March we may have an author (parent connection) Skype with us to give a book talk on his own book!
*Bonus: Mrs. J. donated Sarah's Key to our classroom library, and a student is already reading it!

Am I still afraid of having parents come in? Absolutely!
Will I continue to have parents join us? Of course I will!
So... what's stopping you? What would YOU do if you were not afraid?
Let's step out (and stay out for awhile) of our comfort zones and face our fears!

Want to see more of what we're doing? Follow @KirrClass for updates!

Quick Tip #11 - Reluctant Readers

"Picture Books" - NOT!

Hook those reluctant readers with books such as these...
Note: Not all photos from Humans of New York are appropriate for all audiences.

Full Text

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Stellar Surveys

This is a "How-To" post for students.

You want answers to your questions. Should gum be allowed in schools? Is knuckle-cracking bad for you? What flavor cake do you like best? Which material should I use to make hats? Would you purchase my creation? What should I practice drawing? It's time to create a stellar survey!

Five Tips to Creating Stellar Surveys
1. Design your survey first. What is your goal? What do you feel you NEED to know in order to guide your research? Do you want to include opinion questions? Questions on a scale of 1-10 (with explanations of which is which)? True/False? Multiple choice? Rankings? Open-ended? How long or short should it be to keep the attention of the people responding? How can you word each question to ensure an honest answer? This step is a TON of work! Done right, it will pay off when you start seeing responses.
2. Use a Google form or a site such as Survey Monkey. This way, you can easily access respondents answers in a pre-made spreadsheet. You can also share these results with others, with one link. The best reason to use a Google form or Survey Monkey is that it's easy to share - through email, Twitter, on your blog, on your class website, or on this Survey Central document. The more results you get, the more accurate your research. Click here for Google form directions.
3. Do not make every question "required." You will turn off many possible participants if you do.
4. Include a question about age. Use age ranges, such as 5-10, 11-15, 16-20, etc. This way, you can organize responses to fit your needs.
5. Leave room for the unexpected. If you are using multiple choice, consider using "other" or "none of the above" as a choice.

If you use another tip, please let me know in the comments, and I'll add it to this list!