My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve our lives through research based on our interests. What will we learn? What message will we share? This is a log of our learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Feedback in Lieu of Grading in ELA

The link to this video will be sent home with parents, to help explain our grading in ELA for the 2016-2017 school year.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Boston Full

I have one of the best lives... I was able to make it to Boston for the third time in my life this past week. (My lessons learned from the other three trips are posted under the tag "BLC.") It may seem sad to some, but Alan November says we need help if we think of BLC as a vacation...! We love learning from other passionate teachers, and I have found many people from my tribe here. Of course, Hubby came along and enjoyed the history of Boston - and helped me brush up on history lessons my own teachers didn't make stick!

I'm just going to share quick take-aways, or this post would be ten times as long... I'll try to not share all the great stories, but if you want to hear them, let me know!


Tuesday -
My Passion-Based Learning (Genius Hour) workshop this year had 19 participants! Oh, it was so great to have many voices sharing with each other. I enjoyed the four hours, and felt I was able to convey many messages, and share the myriad resources I've collected. Let me know if I can host this workshop somewhere near you! I've been invited back for next year, so put it on your calendar!

We then spent many hours in the North End! Cannoli, "One if by land...," a peek at the water, and a talk with a mailman about the relay boxes still in use.

Tuesday evening was a quick meeting for presenters... here are some of the presenters at this conference: Kathy Schrock, Kathy Cassidy, Kristin Ziemke, Karen Lirenman, Joyce Valenza, Reshan Richards, Laine Rowell, Amy Burvall... How did I get here?!

Wednesday's keynote -
Dr. Eric Mazur - Ask students to apply concepts, to DO the teaching, and get out of lecture mode as quickly as possible. He shared a great tool - Perusall - that ANY teacher who uses text in their teaching can use, as long as students have tech at home (or give them time in school).

Wednesday's sessions -
After the keynotes I presented twice today - and I learned from my audience! Mary Lou Buell came up to be at the end of my sessions, and thanked me for sharing the struggles I've encountered with Genius Hour, including the parent that thought it was "crazy," the students that hurt your heart because they'd rather "learn from the teacher," and the teachers who ostracize you. I was also very fortunate to meet and chat a tiny bit with Michael Albert (Al?!), as well - he's the only one in his school who's trying Genius Hour, and he, too, has the same issues. These are my people!

I needed a way to advance my slides on Google presentations, and I hadn't purchased a clicker. I downloaded and worked with Demobo at home. It didn't work on game day. My phone did not like the same wifi that my laptop liked. I asked Brian Mull what he used in his presentations, and then ordered this clicker before Friday's keynotes. Another issue I had was that my videos didn't stream beautifully the first round, but worked fine during my second hour. I received a tip from Jim (tech help!) I can use next time - download the videos first onto my laptop. (I hope I can do this with my two videos from TubeChop, as well.)

We then spent many hours at Fenway... what a blast! Red Sox won big against San Francisco.
Big Papi
Thursday's keynotes -
Prior to the keynotes, I was able to chat with Sylvia Tolisano once again - she updated me on her amplifyEDucation site - such possibilities!

Homo Sabet Tavangar - I need to find out where her grandparents are from - she told us an amazing story of their rebellious acts that led to her mother and herself being able to read and succeed. We need to learn other people's stories from around the globe so we can promote empathy.

Mike Pennington - He's a "wasabi mix of all the people's ideas here... at BLC." YES! Aren't we all a mix of the people who we surround ourselves with? After a shooting at his school, Mike started worrying so much about his students' frustrations that his teaching took a nose dive. After a few more months of dealing with this stress, he decided he had to move on and become an administrator. My take-away: Teach kids to notice and create perspective. Every child will struggle. Let them struggle, and teach them how to overcome struggles that they will encounter.

Kristin Ziemke - Listen to children. You need to know what's going on in their lives so that they can actually learn when they're with you. First grader Diego's blog post and father's response meant that they "preserved our next 7 hours" of class together, as Diego's fears were alleviated. What are our students thinking while we just go on with our curriculum? Even I was worried about when/where I'd get lunch on this full day! Destiny, another of Kristin's students, came up with this six-word story after reading about Ruby Bridges - "Segregation seems like it's never-ending." LISTEN to children's stories. They can teach US every day.

Jordyn Zimmerman - Attends Mentor HS in Ohio. Before attending Mentor, she'd previously struggled throughout her educational career at other public schools. Jordyn has autism, and has difficulty expressing her thoughts through speech. She has since been introduced to an app on her iPad that can help her communicate. She used this app to give her presentation. Some of her speech is on this Periscope, but the tears in the audience and the standing ovation proved how moving her message was. I had a tough time when she said she was suspended multiple times and then moved to a new school where she was being asked to touch her nose and head and given candy if she complied... This was AFTER she had mastered certain skills at her schools. She shared about many of her feelings in school, which were mostly a "combination of anger and devastation." Her five lessons for teachers: 1. Students want to learn. 2. Don't assume you know how your students feel or what they think. 3. Have high expectations for ALL students. 4. Always be kind. "Special" should never mean "separate." Say hello in the hallways, even if you don't know the student or the student doesn't respond. 5. Know one way or another, you will be a part of your students' lives forever. I was fortunate to thank Jordyn in person at the airport. She needs to know she matters!

Again and again, we were reminded of the significance of practicing empathy in our schools. I had a good cry with Rik Rowe after these four speeches!! Oh, so great to see this friend in person once again. Lesson - Take TIME to talk with children and listen to their stories.

Thursday's sessions -
Aaron Polansky - GeekSox: Beyond the Curriculum - When we focus on connections, test scores improve. Connection drives attendance and learning. The most important letters are: R. U. O. K. ? He told us about a freshman's story of eating by himself, and what his school did about it. In his school, they have three rules - Be kind. Be honest. Improve the situation. We should all walk around with bags over our heads so that we judge people by the exchanges we have, not by how they look. May your insides always outshine your outsides. (Our outsides could change in a moment.) When fear stops showing up in your life, it's because you are nearing your true self. ~Brendan Burchard. Treat people as if they're good. ~Todd Whittaker

Starr Sackstein - Empowering Learning Through Mastery - I'm on the right track. Others feel the "fingernails on a chalkboard" when they are surrounded by teachers who still use points as punishment and rewards. We come to BLC and are surrounded with teachers "just as crazy as us," and teachers who deal with the same struggles. Dan Welty and Rik Rowe were in this session - my tribe!

Brian Mull - Making Thinking Visible with Nearpod - I can now see the uses of this tool and would love to try to implement this type of instant feedback in class! I'm also thinking of using this in my next workshop or sessions on Genius Hour.

Sara Wilke - Q2 - Don't have "bogus inquiry" lessons - give students time to pursue what they want to know! Books to read: Make Just One Change, A More Beautiful Question, Blink, and Thinking - Fast and Slow. We go too fast. Stop. Listen. Ask questions. Ask more questions. Sara led this the way we should lead all sessions - if we want our students to learn / do in a certain way, our leaders need to do the same. I need to learn how to incorporate more DOING in my one-hour sessions about Genius Hour.

Friday's keynotes-
Bob Goodman - Get there early! (And borrow furniture!) Do not deny students science and math.

Linda Liukas - There is always something else to get excited about! Girls can do anything! Linda's character Ruby teaches kids about coding! Computers can never give an opinion or have a feeling.

Then it was time to go home... and I was drained. (And FULL!)

My big take away...
This year will be my best yet. I've come to realize my angst doesn't come from the classroom very often. Yes, I struggle with many things, but I see those as challenges, and I work on decreasing those struggles. My true angst comes from teachers (who are never IN our classroom) who don't think what I'm doing is right, or even best practice. I realized this week that I haven't taken the time to sit with them and explain the reasons WHY I still have Genius Hour or WHY I'm not grading my students' work and only giving feedback instead. That's on me. I cannot expect them to buy in to ideas or think I'm sane if I don't take that time to explain. I focus on the reasons why in the classroom so students can buy in, but I haven't done so with teachers in my own school. Instead, I react - and often with frustration. I know I let other people's opinions get to me. I have for years. It's become a habit. Well - I'm ready to break that habit. I am doing what I'm doing for the KIDS, and not to please the teachers. My goal for the upcoming year? When working with adults, do what I do with my students: Listen first. Take the time to process. Take the time to plan what I'm going to say, if anything. Say what I hear them expressing, then say what I feel/need slowly, and perhaps in question format to get them thinking further. If I cannot do this, I will ask that we finish a discussion on another date, so we all have time to think about certain aspects of it for a bit more.

One theme I work into my workshop = Let It Go. I advise participants to do what you know is right for the kids, even if other teachers ostracize you. I will be taking my own advice. I will work to find the balance, so that I do not end up being one of those veteran teachers who hide in her room all day and stop talking to anyone because we don't see eye-to-eye. Instead, I would still like to be a person who leads by example, and question other ideas. If other teachers are condescending and are open to discussion about the reasons why, I'm ready and willing to take time out of our busy days to share. If not, I'll just let it go, and be happy I'm able to do what I can to make my classroom culture of trust and inquiry thrive.

Find all of the session notes here.

Want my tweeted notes? There are some gems / quotes in my notes here in Storify.

Thank you to November Learning and administration in my district for supporting me on this journey! I've been asked to come back to host another workshop next year, and if you need a nudge to begin something like Genius Hour, I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Who Teaches YOU?

Getting my haircut today, I had to ask: "Who does YOUR hair?"
Hairstylist - "One of the gals here."

A couple of months ago, I asked my massage therapist, "Who gives YOU massages?"
Therapist - "Before I hire new therapists, they have to give me a massage."

Got me thinking... I teach 7th graders. Who teaches ME?

This summer, I've pruned my PLN a bit. I've made sure to center around those that teach me. And it's made me feel much better. Much like my hair cut today...

You may not be able to see the difference, but I can feel it. It's the same during the school year...


Tomorrow, I'm heading to my first #PatioPD, thanks to a generous teacher who likes to try new things and learn from others. How else do I make sure those that impact my teaching get my attention? I use a tool such as Feedly to follow their most recent blog posts. I put them on my "first" list on Twitter, so I'm sure to catch their good vibes (tweets). I check on the hashtags they're using so I can "hang out" (virtually) with those other teachers who have growth mindsets. These people teach me by being great role models, and I learn invaluable lessons from them that, in turn, impact my students.

So... who teaches YOU? 

Who helps you to be your best for children? Where do you go to keep refreshed, challenged, and positive during the school year? Please respond in the comments so I can always go back to this post when I need a pick-me-up! I can then share your ideas with more educators - thank you for helping me learn! A shout-out to Sean Scanlon and Rakhi Mistry for inspiring this post.

Update: PatioPD on Thursday had me like...

Saturday, July 2, 2016

TTOG (As Much As I Can) - Pilot Year Reflection

I'm excited about next year because of how this year went... One class of mine gave themselves their final grade and grade-report comments each quarter, using proof from four categories.

Here's what we did...

  • I was forthright with parents from the start. A letter went out the first week of school, and I updated parents with an email to our ELA class updates every two weeks.
  • First quarter, we created a chart so students can fill it in with proof they've collected.
  • We came up with myriad ways (and one central location) to prove our learning (this document is always changing).
  • I began a document with comments I could copy and paste into the online grading system, thanks to Mark Barnes' SE2R idea. These are brief and not perfected, by any means, and I'm excited to add more this next year.
  • We used a survey at midterm (which I've already edited for next year) for one check in.
  • We discussed "effort," and how much impact that should or should not have on grades. Our final decision was to keep effort out of the grade. If students were putting in the effort, they should get the grade. One of the quotes students liked - "Don't be upset with the results you didn't get from the work you didn't do."
  • I created sample examples of videos students could create to explain their grade.
  • Students shared videos with me explaining their grade while providing proof. For students who did not prepare, or who did not develop this skill of reflecting in this way, I met with them one-on-one to come up with a final grade.
  • First quarter was fairly successful, knowing all we didn't know!
  • Second Quarter, students in this class gave better feedback and quality boosters than my other classes. We also decided that the final pieces for proof did NOT have to be published. Students did not want their essays about Phineas Gage on their blogs - totally understandable. This is more fuel for making our writing more meaningful for students.
  • I began giving video feedback - very valuable. I've learned how to use Explain Everything and Screen-cast-ify efficiently as a result.
  • The first parent inquiry was about revisions - did her son HAVE to revise his writing? This was the catalyst for the Feedback Loop, which I actually think I need to throw out or totally revamp for next year. 
  • The reason for revamping the feedback loop is that I realized third quarter that I AM STILL GRADING MY STUDENTS' WORK! Ugh.
  • I created a document (and they were on the board) of Independent Writing Prompts. One step toward making writing more meaningful for students...
  • I continued grading my students' work the rest of third and fourth quarter. Students were used to it, and we actually had fewer "assignments" fourth quarter due to testing, a three-day outdoor ed trip, reading The Outsiders Whole-Novels style, and presentations for Genius Hour.
  • All year, I felt like I was cheating my other classes who did not give themselves a grade at the end of each quarter. I have spent the first month of this summer excited that my other classes will be taking this trip with me this next school year!

Here's all the parent feedback received...

  • "I think that students have learned to reflect and improve more (w/teacher's help) minus the stress of 'grades.'"
  • "Twitter account was insightful."
  • "Small amount of homework is great."
  • "My son seems more interested in reading than recent years. If grading himself did that, then this approach was very successful."
  • "I don't know if it is luck or parent approach, that my children are, for the most part, self motivated to learn, or at least, do good in their classes. Especially ___ - she has always done a good job in school. I do like grades - I believe healthy competition for good grades is a motivation for kids (people) to raise their bar. We have a motto - Most of the time, the results reflect the effort. If tremendous effort is put forth, and child is still struggling, then intervention is needed. We don't mind As, Bs, and Cs, as long as effort is applied."
  • "When it comes to grading, while it is important, it's more important that the child is learning. Grades can be somewhat subjective so as long as the child is improving on the subject, being graded is secondary."
  • "Hopefully during the process the kids took more ownership of their results, they were always given a chance to correct, enhance or re-do - so if this happened grades should all be good."
  • "My attitude towards the grading process has changed with the introduction of a collaborative process between teacher and student. Much like a class with a more 'traditional' grading system, students were given ample feedback on assignments from the teacher. What made this class unique, however, is that students were also given a sense of ownership in this process. It was no longer a one-way communication of grade from the teacher, but the process became a tool for ongoing engagement between the teacher and student. I would like to thank you, Mrs. Kirr, for covering not only the classics, but encouraging students to explore their individual interests. It is very apparent to us as parents that you love to teach and that you are expanding 'traditional' boundaries in an effort to encourage reading, critical thinking, and self-reflection. Thanks also to the administrators at Thomas and District 25 for supporting these new learning methods. We are grateful that ___ had the opportunity to participate in this process."

Here's what I've already changed...

  • Next year we'll have THREE categories to prove - reading comprehension, writing, and grammar. I have changed the language to say "grammar" instead of "language usage" (from the CCSS) to make that section clearer to students. I have also taken out the "speaking and listening" portion, as most students proved they were "listening," and some students still never speak in class. I've read some information about introverts and reflected on my own 7th grade year when I never spoke in class. Although I will continue to encourage each student to speak up (and give myriad opportunities, of course!) and add to our class culture, I will not ask students to include this in their grade. Sometimes they over-inflated this portion of their grade, and sometimes they seemed embarrassed that they had not participated vocally. I'll try it out this way for this coming year. I will still keep track of who participates / contributes through speaking, just in case some students may want to use that to tip their grade one way or another.
  • The new feedback loop in my head just says - write, get feedback from a peer, revise, get feedback from a peer, revise, turn in to teacher for feedback, revise, etc... I'll add it here when I complete this version.
  • I will not put a "NI, D, P, or M" (Needs Improvement, Developing, Proficient, Mastery) on student work, rubrics, or the online gradebook. I will continue to keep these notes in my own paper gradebook, just in case students need guidance giving themselves their final grades.
  • Effort... A gray area. I have decided to keep track of many aspects of student behavior, including but not limited to being prepared for class, and speaking up with contributions in class. These will only come into play in regards to students' grades if they bring it up on an individual basis. We'll address effort at that point.
  • Our plans for genius hour (to be renamed?!) will be moved to the end of each quarter, as I will now be involved in one-on-one conversations about grades with EACH student at the end of each quarter. This past year, I only needed to meet with a few students. Next year, I plan to meet with all of them, even if they choose to create a video ahead of time. I found this time to be very valuable.
  • We'll have a "plus/delta" chart up in the room every day for students to add what went well and suggestions for change.

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

Make every "assignment" relevant to the world - something students can put on their blogs for the world to see. Since many students do not come up with writing on their own, I need to create more writing options for them throughout the year. I am currently reading Kelly Gallagher's In the Best Interest of Students: Staying true to what works in the ELA classroom. I'm hoping for more writing workshops and fewer larger assigned pieces of writing.

Give feedback in chunks - which means not one assignment coming in to me from all students at the same time. A year-long project would be great for this. Again... another idea from Mark Barnes in ROLE Reversal... I also need to provide students with more time to give feedback to each other! I'm collecting resources here to figure out how to best use our time.

Get my coworkers on board. However, I can empathize with why they don't want to do this. I am also tired of hitting my head against brick walls. So I will continue to speak of our successes and tribulations, but getting other staff on board right now is not a priority of mine, especially those not within our ELA circles.

Continue to keep tabs with the language I use with students, other teachers, and parents. I need to make sure they know I'm most interested in how students use feedback for reflection and revision in all four areas of ELA - reading, writing, grammar, and speaking.

Phew! What a glorious mess! Please comment with your favorite student-to-student feedback tool, and add any hints or advice or words that show we are in the same boat! Or... please challenge these ideas, as I, personally, learn best when my ideas are challenged!!

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

Designs for this post were created using Paper and Explain Everything.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Don't Blink

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

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

The canyon doesn't disappoint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Co-authored by Bob and Joy Kirr

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

2015-2016 Year in Review

My 21st year of teaching...

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May
Enjoyed attending and facilitating sessions at EdCampIL in my own district
Celebrated when ten parents came to Genius Hour presentations
According to student and parent feedback (blog post to come), I successfully (?!) had one class of students give themselves their final quarter grades for a full year.
Ended the year sending out 266 good notes home to parents. (130 last year!)

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

Monday, June 6, 2016

Genius Hour - Year 4 Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Making Thinking Visible

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

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

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

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


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

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

Online Resource for Thinking Routines

My Notes from the Book

Feedback for ME: End-of-Year Surveys

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

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

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

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

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

(this one is a Google form I email)



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

Update: Need more encouragement? 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Gamifying CRASH

Crash by Jerry Spinelli...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

It's Called "LIVING"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 18, 2016

Reflection is Vital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 5, 2016

I Lied - My Students Aren't Grading Themselves

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

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

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


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

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

And then I got to thinking some more...

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

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

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

Here's what I do lately...

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

That's my problem!!

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

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

Here is what I NEED to do...

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

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

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

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

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