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

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Grading Thoughts Update Half-Way Through Summer

Summer is half-way gone already?

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

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

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

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

It's housed on our classroom website HERE.

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

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Another Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 29, 2018

Teachers as Presenters

As if we don't already have enough on our plate, right?

Sharing what we believe to be right and good should be our next step, right?

I've been told by many people in my presentations that "It's so good to hear from someone who's still in the trenches." That phrase rubs me the wrong way, because in my mind, a school should not be compared to a war zone, but I can see why they say these things. I, too, feel distant from those presenters who used to be educators and are now consulting full time. I know, however, that many of those same presenters should be respected for so many reasons, so I pay attention to the message, not solely the speaker.

My husband and I recently got back from a successful workshop and keynote at South Dakota State University. What a stellar group of educators there! It was a small, welcoming group that included preservice teachers and teachers up to about five years in, as well as other alumni of their REMAST program (math and science rural educators). I know the healthy grading workshop went well - especially when some educators argued over zeros for missing work and late work penalties. I know the keynote went well, as one man was crying afterwards as he thanked me. This was my first big presentation since the large one I had in January flopped. I learned a lot from that audience, and was able to make sure this audience was a good fit for me this time.

That was January, and this one was in the summer - BIG difference. First of all, I didn't need to take any personal days from work. I didn't need to make any sub plans. My students aren't even factored in. I could focus solely on my message. This trip took us six days. BIG difference. We got back yesterday, and my husband is worn out from the driving, even though we are glad we drove and didn't fly. Seeing America's small towns and landscape is enjoyable for us.

At what cost do teachers present outside of school?

What price should be charged for excursions that take so much out of us?

I then headed to ISTE on Monday to present. I did not get paid. In fact, my district paid over $400 for me to attend - for one day. I'm grateful that Carrie Baughcum texted me the night prior and asked if I'd ride along with her downtown. I was able to take the green line from half a mile away from McCormick Place to the blue line to the Rosemont station to get picked up by my husband that night. It was a massive venue, with over 600 exhibitors, over 1300 presentations, and rumor has it there were over 21,000 attendees. Presenters pay their own way, and also need to be a member of ISTE. I understand that the cost to use McCormick Place for so many days and to pay the myriad keynote speakers must be out of this world. However, I believe the cost to attend - even to present - is too much of a burden to put on educators. Consider those not from Chicago - to stay overnight in a hotel downtown? Just. Too. Much.

Oh, my goodness. The rockstar educators that showed up to ISTE. No wonder teachers clamor to go! I thought I met a few in the one day I was there - then I saw tweets from so many others! It was a day full of lines, chats with PLN outside the sessions (my favorite), lines, selfies, lines, sneaking lunch on the floor, lines, closed doors, lines, ball pit (seriously ??), lines, and genuine conversations about becoming better educators. I am grateful for being able to share part of what I've learned, meet familiar and new PLN friends, support from friends not seen enough, and star sightings of educators I've learned from for many years through the tool we call Twitter.

When does presenting become too much? Or when do teachers turn that corner, leave the schools, and consult or present full time?

I know educators who do not teach in the school system anymore. They either work for themselves, for an educational company, or they are in administration part time, and presenting as well. Some have taken to advertising only their books and presentations through social media - this could be a big source of their income (and retirement) if they don't now have a steady teaching job. I have heard of one presenter who has said, "I won't present anymore where they won't pay me." I wonder if these teachers would rather be back with us - in the classrooms - but the cost or burden of presenting during the school year was just too much and they felt that calling to share their message with more educators.

I hope to never get to that point. I have turned down applying to present at venues where presenters do not get paid when I need to travel there. If teachers are paying for a flight (or wear and tear on a vehicle) and a hotel, at the very least provide the presenters with access to the conference for free. I feel so very fortunate (and honored!) for conferences that want me to present, so they pay for my meals, hotel, travel, AND the conference - depending on where and when it takes place, that can often be payment enough!

I did not become a teacher so I could present about ideas in my book. (I still can't believe I can say "my book!")  I am much more comfortable with seventh graders. When I get a good group however, who enjoy hearing of the ideas I bring, I feel over-the-top happy. I feel like I'm in the right place. I feel like I'm making a difference. I had this feeling when I was at ISTE for that one day. Some parts of my message were impactful to some educators. This helps me to keep presenting. I will retire from teaching in ten to fourteen years from now, and I will present when I can until then. I will also still attend edcamps, of course (with my tribe)!

I think we need to give a break to educators who present to other educators.

During the school year, it's amazing that they're taking time away from students to share with adults.
During the summer, it's amazing that they're taking time away from family to share with adults.
If presenters are not teaching anymore, it's most likely because it's just too very difficult to do both.

Thank you to all those in charge of conferences that help educators share their message.
7/2/18 Update... Gary Stager's two cents
     ISTE By the Numbers - 9,000 heart tattoos I never saw... and 23,000 balls? C'mon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Not Grading - Up Against So Much

I felt the pressure - big time - this past school year.
It was much tougher to go without grades this year than in the previous two.
One upset parent was the start of the pressure in October.
Migraines made the pressure worse.
I run into so many walls.
I feel up against so very much.

  - Students prioritize other classes first.
  - We still have to condense all they've learned into one arbitrary letter at the end of each quarter.
  - No matter how much I communicate home to parents, it never seems to be enough.
  - I do not know the percentage of parents who look at the feedback I provide.
  - I do not know the percentage of students who look at the feedback.
  - I do not know if students will remember these grading lessons learned.
  - I do not know if students challenged other teachers' grading practices this year.
  - I do not know if students will challenge future teachers regarding grading practices.
  - The old ways of grading are so ingrained in our students and parents.
  - In my opinion, standards-based grading can't come soon enough to my district.
  - I have written reflections and how to go without grades on my blog, but it will never be perfect.

I'm stressed out about trying this for the fourth year in a row.

So I'll look at what I've learned - again and again...

I DO know...
  - many students stop working in May, no matter the grading practices.
  - some students wait until the last minute to revise (just like when I was using points).
  - some students often see themselves as "A" or "C" students, no matter the proof.
  - video feedback on student writing is powerful - IF students watch it.
  - there have been no requests for extra credit the past few years.
  - some students (and parents) don't understand how arbitrary grading can be.
  - some parents appreciate the feedback instead of the averaging of points.
  - some parents care more about the final grade than the students.
  - I (most likely) keep parents in the loop more than any other teacher on my team.
  - students who want to do well will put forth the effort.
  - the more relevant our assignments, the more buy-in from students.
  - 1:1 conferences are non-negotiable. The more, the better.
  - it did sink in for some students that "It's not about the grade; it's about the learning."

I'm grateful for supportive administration.
I'm grateful for a supportive co-teacher.
I'm grateful for students who say not grading made a difference for them.
I'm grateful for the lessons students teach ME about grades and feedback.
I'm grateful for the 1:1 conferences we had each quarter.

What will I change and what will I keep next school year based on how this past year went?

I am considering going back to points next year,

IF I DID go back to points...
  - There will not be 100 point scales on anything.
  - Students can continue to revise writing.
  - Comprehension checks can be deleted/excused if/when students show progress.
  - Heck - ANYTHING can be deleted/excused if/when students show progress.
  - I will attempt as many standards-based moves as possible.
     This means homework, effort, compliance, neatness and behavior will not be included. Ever. It will probably always make me cringe just thinking about including those!
  - I will continue to have 1:1 conferences - about reading, writing, progress, and goals.
  - I will continue to do my best to make the curriculum relevant.
  - I will continue to share with parents what's wrong with grades along with keeping them updated on our lessons in class.
  - I will continue to be an evangelist of using quality feedback and goal-setting over points/marks.

I am considering an "opt-in" option (to no points), although it may mean different work for me - but less stress. Perhaps I could host an extra parent night to explain the reasons why and to share how it will look with just those parents who are interested. The plan would be that this would help parents and students make the most of the narrative feedback in the online gradebook. I would love to make this meeting mandatory to all who opt in. This idea seems like too much, but maybe it's how I can make it work for certain students.

I will leave the decision open until September, because we never know how our next classes will go, how my outlook can change, and what I can learn from my PLN that will help me make this decision. As always, comments, suggestions, and links in the space provided below are so very valuable and much appreciated! I'm sure there will be more thoughts on this to come as they percolate through my head all summer - such things happen when educators are so passionate about something.

I've got to share this online binder once again...

Saturday, June 9, 2018

2017-2018 Digital Scrapbook

- Survived my first podcast interview with Principal Center Radio!
USM Summer Spark - left right after school got out Monday, hung out with the best Twitter peeps that night in Milwaukee, then gave three different presentations (with book signing with Jason Bretzmann at lunch!), and sped home for the second-ever #ShiftThis chat. I LOVE these people! (That's right - that's Kevin Honeycutt's badge I "won"!)

- Woke up the next day to enjoy breakfast with these lovely ladies - Marialice Curran from Connecticut, and Kristen Mattson from Oswego, IL. These two women are doing WAY more than I am to change education as we know it!
- Survived this podcast from Kelly Croy (The Wired Educator) because he was easy to speak with!

- July has us in Boston - soooo fortunate we were invited back this year to BLC17! I hosted a workshop on Genius Hour, and presented twice, with two book signings as well!
- Gladly joined TJ Parrish on his new podcast - he's a fan of Shift This!

- Taste of Tech (Technically July 31st and August 1st, but I really didn't do much else but vacation in August!!) At #TOT17, I was able to learn a bit of Scratch, meet wonderful educators, and provide a short workshop on Genius Hour. This was hosted at the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora, IL.

- found me at Ditch that Conference! #DitchCon2017 was in the perfect location, had such great sessions, and I laughed and cried. What could be better? My husband NOT hitting that deer!

- EdCamp Lake County - second year, second visit! I won Kristen Mattson's new book - Digital Citzenship in Action AND Trevor Mackenzie's Dive Into Inquiry!
- Participated (by watching) in the #DitchSummit for the second year in a row. Learned that Illinois is now offering online PD credits!!

- Found me near Peoria... my biggest presentation yet. Also the first one that - I believe - truly flopped. I learned so very much from this one when I reflected on what went well and what I need to change for next time.

- I was able to present again at the ICE conference! I facilitated a session on healthy grading practices. I was also able to chat with some of my favorite educators!
I was also honored that two teachers from my own school attended my session on "healthy grading practices, and that teachers left with more questions than answers. Let's keep these conversations going!
- Two of my classes participated in our first Mystery Skype sessions!! We got to connect with Debbie Holman in Wellington, Colorado, and Meghan Deegan in Oak Lawn, IL! This was a great activity for that "extra" time two of my classes had during PARCC testing week. We're ready to do better at the end of the school year. Once I get more practice with this idea, I'll be sharing it at school more so other teachers get involved.
- Held a book study of Shift This with my own district! (Out of my comfort zone!) Although 11 teachers from my own school were signed up, four of them never made the meetings. Made me wonder... Did they not agree with what was in the book? The meetings the group had were productive, and the conversations got us thinking!

- I figured out what was causing my migraines, and the last one was on April 5th!
- Joined a personalized learning panel for ICE members
- Presented a session on healthy grading at iEngage / Midwest & got to chat with Jennifer Casa-Todd before her keynote!

- Happy first birthday, Shift This! Still surreal...
- Two podcast interviews (not out yet)

- Survived my 23rd year of teaching. It was a tough year, but a good one, overall. I loved working closely with my ELA counterpart and also my co-teacher, and I have confidence we'll do even better next year. Even though I'm exhausted, our last day is Monday (teachers only), and I'm heading to a local edcamp on Tuesday.....

Let's never stop learning and sharing!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Breaking New Ground

I have (at least) five country music stations on my car radio settings.

I heard this brand new song yesterday on errands, and it made me think of the tough work passionate educators do...

My favorite idea from this song:

If you want it bad enough, no you won't back down
But it ain't easy, breakin' new ground

We know it ain't easy - but we're making a difference to SOMEone, SOMEwhere. Keep it up!

Saturday, May 26, 2018


My drive to school takes anywhere from 13-20 minutes, depending on the trains and when I leave. I do not have much time to listen to podcasts. When I'm home and Hubby is home, I try not to listen to them. He's home often - he's retired. Therefore, my favorite podcasts are 10-20 minutes long. That's kind of where my attention span is, too - any longer and I get bored or frustrated and I just want to do something else.

I'm writing this post for ME first and foremost. I need a clearinghouse of podcasts that educators listen to, and I need them in a quick-to-access list that I can update. I've had many on my "notes" list on my Mac, but now it's time to put them online so I can listen when I'm out and about. Feel free to add more in the comments section - what do you LOVE to listen to? These will be listed in alphabetical order.

Short podcasts that I listen to fairly regularly...
10-Minute Teacher Podcast via Vicky Davis, aka @coolcatteacher
     The 5-day a week show for Remarkable Educators Who are Very Busy
Ditch That Textbook via Matt Miller
     Education, Teaching, EdTech
Teachonomy Talks via Chuck Poole
     A Podcast to Encourage and Inspire You Each Week
Up First via NPR
     The News You Need to Start Your Day

Popular podcasts from my PLN that I have enjoyed when I have the time...
Control Alt Achieve via Eric Curtis (valuable webinars - not podcasts)
The Creative Classroom via John Spencer
Cult of Pedagogy via Jennifer Gonzalez
Ed - Conversations about the Teaching Life via Shane Lawrence
Google Teacher Tribe via Matt Miller & Kasey Bell
The Innovator's Mindset via George Couros & Katie Martin
Inside Innovation via A.J. Juliani
Kids Deserve It (and more) via Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome
Podcast PD - Anytime Anywhere Learning for Educators
Principal Center via Justin Baeder
Rethinking Learning via Barbara Bray
StartEdUp Podcast via Don Wettrick
Stories in Edu via Josh Gauthier & Mandy Taylor
Teachers Going Gradeless (My favorite so far was this one on motivation - with Alfie Kohn!)
Well PlayED via Michael Matera
Wired Educator via Kelly Croy

Student-Friendly Podcasts for Kids
Brains On! Science Podcast for Kids
The Chat with Mrs. Burns's Third Grade
Serial (High School)
Sparkle Stories Podcast
Stories Podcast - A Free Children's Story Podcast for Bedtimes, Car Rides, and Kids of All Ages
Storynory: Stories for Kids
The Story Home Children's Audio Stories
The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel
Wow in the World: NPR
35 MORE HERE - curated by Matthew Winner!

Other podcasts that were suggested to me (that I may move at any time to another category above after I've been able to listen to many myself)...
Across the Hall
Always a Lesson with Gretchen Bridgers
The BeerEDU Podcast with Kyle Anderson & Ben Dickson
Better Leaders, Better Schools with Daniel Bauer
Books Between
Coaching for Leaders with Dave Stachowiak
Curious Minds: Innovation in Life and Work with Gayle Allen
#EdChat Radio with Tom Whitby and Nancy Blair
Educators Grow with John Wawczak
EduCreativity with Jennifer Ledford
EduMatch with Sarah Thomas
Empowering Modern Learners with Jim Cash & Amit Mehrotra
Hack Learning with Mark Barnes
Heinemann Podcast
Hidden Brain (NPR)
The House of EdTech with Chris Nesi
The Human Restoration Project
I Wish I Knew EDU with Ramona Meharg
Manager Tools
My BAD with John Harper
Note to Self with Manoush Zomorodi
Personal Playlist Podcast with Noa Daniel
Pivotal Podcast with Paul Dix and Kevin Mulryne
Planet Money (NPR)
Principal Matters with William D. Parker
Radiolab (certain episodes may have some profanity)
Ready, Set, Teach with Jason Manning
Reimagine Schools with Greg Goins
Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell
Resonating with Zach Fromm
Scholastic Reads
The School of Greatness with Lewis Howes
Science Friday
Shukes and Giff with Kim Pollishuke & Jen Giffen
SocialLEADia with Jennifer Casa-Todd (NEW July '18)
Sparks in the Dark with Todd Nesloney and Travis Crowder
StoryCorps (NPR)
Stuff You Missed in History Class
Tea for Teachers with John Kane
Teach Thought
Teachers on Fire
The Teachers' Journey with Brian Costello
The Techbrarians
TL Talk Radio with Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss
Transformative Principal with Jethro Jones
Truth for Teachers
The Yarn with Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp

More websites/blogs with even MORE ideas:
EDU Podcasts
Podcasts and Pedometers from Meredith Akers

Thank you to those who suggested some of these I had and some I had no clue were out there! @megan_hacholski, @kmwassmuth, @EuphoriaPilates, @MindfulHealthEd, @MrDsenglasss, @MrRondot, @Jwilliams0804, @catpetersbishir, @kimdarche, @DrZiro, @kevinmulryne and @RamonaMeharg.

Want some resources for HOW to podcast? Check out Larry Ferlazzo's resources.
FREE Teacher's Guide to Podcasting

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Polar Bears or People

My only niece and nephew turned the age of twelve earlier this month. Bob and I gave them cold hard cash - literally! We froze $50 in a baggie in water in sour cream containers. In order to find out what and where their gift was, they had to solve a riddle. Such is how we give gifts in our family if the receiver has everything he or she already needs...

My nephew Robert pocketed the money right away, and my niece Rosann announced, "I'm giving my money to the polar bears!"


After a time, I was able to ask Rosann, "Where will your money go? What will the organization do with your money for the polar bears?" She mentioned something about them relocating bears that had gotten too far away.

I tried to be a good actress and be happy for her - proud of her. I don't know if I was convincing.

The thing is, she's a giving person. She also sees that for my birthday we put together what some call "blessings bags" - see the post on how to make your own here. I donated money to St. Jude's in her name for her first communion. She volunteers with the Girl Scouts at Feed My Starving Children. What was my problem?! Why did her saying she'd give her money to the polar bears put me off? Why did I think - Maybe her parents will talk her out of giving ALL of her money to the polar bears. (It had totaled $140 by then.) Don't PEOPLE count more?

I saw my problem this morning (while washing dishes).

I was being a hypocrite.

EVERY time I speak or write about Genius Hour, 20% Time, Passion Projects, Personalized Learning... I have in the forefront of my mind that it is about the KIDS. It's about what THEY deem important. Who am I to judge? What if the biggest group of people helping polar bears financially are children? I revisited my post on the value of frozen marbles today. I'll promise to keep my hypocrisy at bay, and yet keep asking questions that keep the conversations going.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


It's May.

The seventh graders tell me there are 14 more days of school.

Our "torturous" plans? Reading The Outsiders at their own pace, bringing six ideas or questions to discuss with their book club groups. The best way to end the school year in ELA - no fabricated worksheets, posters, dioramas, whole-class discussions...

And yet... here is a snippet of my day today... (I'll be using "they/them/their" instead of "he/she.")

I just received an email from a student asking me if I'd looked at their revisions. Hmm... Since I'm not a mind reader, no. I did not know he revised. I never saw his name on the clipboard, and he never told me in person. So... I went to his document to check the revision history. There have been no revisions since May 1st. That revision on May 1st? MINE. I left him video feedback to show him how he could improve his writing. So... I left him more video feedback, basically asking him to not waste time for both of us. I replied to his email with this new link, copying his parent.

I had to give a short lecture today with my last class about how I need to make more decisions to help them learn (I made the seating arrangement), since they are not making good decisions themselves. They were mad at me, but they worked much better today than yesterday.

One student does not work. In any class. This student has the countdown on their assignment notebook and announces it each day. Won't even listen to The Outsiders on audio. Won't give it a chance. Has every excuse in the book to not work.

During our 4-min break in my block class, I have to keep an eye on one student so they don't sneak food or candy to friends and/or throw another pencil into the ceiling. This may mean leaving the classroom where there are other students I don't even know visiting friends. Which can cause more trouble? I'm not sure.

I've been showing book trailers for a week now - right before independent reading. One student today, after watching one for The Final Four by Volponi, asks, "Is this true?" Peers told them that it's a book trailer, and that we've been watching them for a week now.

Yet I keep coming back for more... for these students...

One student left the class a present - sticky notes - and put them on the student station for all to use!

One student happily moved over the magnets for the new "check in" for the day that Mrs. Rehberger set up for our co-taught class.

One student thanked me for creating the seating chart for my last class.

One student said they'll miss me when summer comes.

One student revised their writing and let me know - this student just keeps plugging along!

I learned how to create a password-protected Google form, and one student thought I was a genius!

One student - who struggles so much to understand when they read - is tackling The Outsiders.

One student made our question of the day - last-minute - "Yanny or Laurel?" **

Fourteen more days to make a difference. I'll search for opportunities.

The new lilacs that were planted by the back entrance/exit are blooming, and they smell beautiful.
**Yanny or Laurel debate - I hear "Yanny." Hubby hears "Laurel." Crazy, folks. Just crazy.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

She's Scared to Ask

Last quarter, as I conferred one on one with Christine (not her real name), she confided in me that she's scared to ask for help.

On her own, she wrote a new goal for fourth quarter: Ask for help when I don't understand.

This past Friday, she hadn't turned in an in-class assignment. I went to her and asked, "Do you need help on the assignment you haven't yet turned in?"

Her reply was a head nod.

I then asked her, "Do you remember what your goal for fourth quarter is?"

She softly replied, "Ask for help."

I asked her to take it out so I can help her with it, and help her get closer to achieving her goal.

Penciled in - right on the assignment - she'd written, "I'm still scared to ask for help."

I looked her in the eye and reiterated, "I'm here to help."


I'm so glad she was able to tell me her thoughts in our meeting at the end of third quarter. What great feedback for me!! I was aware that it was something to celebrate. However, I still confided in a coworker how meeting with Christine was upsetting to me, and that I didn't know what to do to fix it or help her. How can she be scared of me? ME? I feel as if I'm very compassionate in class. I feel as if I praise so many little things students are doing so we have a positive relationship. I feel as if I'm approachable and allow time for students to talk with me. How could she be scared of ME? My coworker tried to assure me. She, too, was scared (maybe that wasn't the exact word for her) to ask for help from any teacher. She, too, didn't participate. She, too, did her work, did well, and then went on with her day.

Yet here it is again. That feeling that I can't do enough. That feeling that I need to do much more.

I will continue to sit and chat with each child. I will continue to make great eye contact, smile, and praise for efforts, word choice, patience, etc. Yet it looks like I'll always need to do more.

I'm reaching out to my PLN today - what can I do to help students who are scared to ask for help?

Monday, March 26, 2018

Update to the Feedback LiveBinder

It's Spring Break.
That means spring cleaning to some.
It means spring organizing to me!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Teach Me Your Talent

     "Teach Me Your Talent" is one way for students to share what they love with other students. It can be a way to introduce genius hour-type learning, bring students' passions IN to the classroom, or just something fun to do so your students can learn more about each other!

     We started by introducing the idea to students the week of PARCC (standardized) testing. They had that entire week to brainstorm ideas and get feedback from peers. The next Monday, they needed to declare what they would present. Starting that Monday, we had four days of mini lessons and time to practice - presentation skills, such as volume, intonation, eye contact, gestures, poise... all thanks to Erik Palmer's Well Spoken book. We used videos, teacher models, and students signed up to do 15 second to 1 minute stints to practice their speaking skills, as well. These four days were also used for students to plan their own presentations. We used this sheet to guide us. (It was during this time that I met 1:1 with students regarding their learning for the quarter. We came up with the final grade and their comments for the report card.)

Skills/Talents/Hobbies shared this year:

Observations I want to remember...
    Teachers presented one this year as a model - turned out to be helpful!
    Parents came in to provide feedback while I was in the corner conferring with students 1:1.
    When a student presenting said, "cut off the bottom of the paper" and another rudely responded, "seems like a big waste of paper," the student presenting countered with, "I'm sure you can find something to do with that extra slip of paper. A bookmark, perhaps." What class.
    Thanks to the observation of our co-teacher, when we only had three people presenting, we still created four groups - one just hung out for 4 minutes together in the rotation. When in that "station," these students took on the responsibility of timer and announcer when there was one minute left.
    Hearing a student say, "I haven't done this is so long."
    Hearing a parent say, "I feel like I'm in 7th grade again."
    Messes were cleaned up by students.
    Even when a presentation didn't go all too well, at least one student in the group would thank the presenter, and then the others usually added their own thanks.
    One student kept saying "I failed." (No grades - just in his mind.) I was able to reiterate at his parent/teacher conference that he kept getting better and better during the four rotations. By the time the fourth one came about, he had succeeded! Hopefully after our talk, he is learning that practicing before would make him more successful.
    When I would forget, students would take care of the timer (student responsibility next year).
    Parents came in, went through rotations, and even gave feedback!

I gave students a quick form to ask them for their feedback. What always gets me is the way some comments contradict others ("very easy" / "stressful" or "more time" / "make it shorter"). Here are the ideas they had:

What went well? (Student Views)
  It was fun to play with other's stuff.
  Everyone listened to everyone.
  The people I taught seemed to be interested in what I taught.
  Everyone was paying attention and we got through everyone.
  The speaking part went well.
  The whole idea was cool.
  I definitely learned new things.
  I learned about my classmates and had fun.
  It was fun.
  There were some really good things that people demonstrated.
  Everyone tried new things.
  Most of us had interesting things to show.
  I think the organization went well.
  Everyone brought in their projects on time.
  People had good performances.
  People tried.
  The "balanced" out groups.
  Most people learned something new and I liked when talents went over 3:30 min - we learned more.
  I liked how I could share what my classmates like to do, and I can share what I like to do.
  I learned many things about different sports.
  Learning new things, and new things about other people.
  Most people seemed prepared and seemed to be having fun.
  Everyone can learn about different things.
  It was very easy.
  We had enough time.
  Everybody was able to do the task taught.
  The time we had to prepare for it.
  Nobody cut off person talking.
  Fun trying the person's talent.

Suggestions for Students FROM Students:
  Don't overdo it.
  Cover main ideas and explain them.
  Speak clearer and louder.
  Pay attention to who's talking.
  Be more prepared / practice.
  Explain the talent better.
  Don't do things if it takes really long.
  Pick something that is actually a talent.
  Longer presentations are better.
  Teach for the whole three minutes.
  Take it more seriously.
  Put more time into planning.
  Try to at least seem interested in what you're doing.
  Find something really unique and useful.
  Don't have side conversations - it distracts the speaker.
  Think of outrageous ideas.

Suggestions for the Teacher from Students:
  Bigger groups. (This year we had both, depending on the day, and they liked the smaller groups.)
  Extend time for talent.
  Make it a little bit shorter.
  Don't grade this activity. (I didn't.)
  Not in groups - entire class presentations.
  Maybe a little more time for preparing and getting ready.
  We didn't need so much time to plan.
  It was pretty boring and stressful.
  Let students pick groups.
  Decide groups ahead of time.
  Don't take pictures.
  More organized way of presenting.
  Bigger spaces for each group.
  Let students go to stations you want to.
  Show all groups to the class.
  Have groups of different times - for instance, if some plan for 5 min., have them all go at the same time. (Students wanted slime to be all on the same day. I cannot stand slime, and always hope no one decides to make slime...This year we had three in one class - all different types of slime, all on different days. Maybe one shot would be better!)

My Sad Note:
   I've got some students who don't like ELA (say it isn't so!) and/or struggle with reading and writing. One reason I love this project is that many of those students shine during these presentations. I will say that this year I did have some of those. I also had four students this year who ... blew it off. I am reminded once again that school is not a priority in their lives. I'm just sad that even this activity couldn't encourage them to bring their passions in to our classroom. I will continue to implement this activity, however, because of all the success and/or learning most students have.

Want to see it in action?
   Check out @KirrClass tweets! You can also find our learning on Instagram.

Here's our video from 2017...
   I loved looking at it, as we set up the room differently this past year based on feedback from last year, and I don't know which way is better! Next year, the students can decide once again. :)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Conferring Once Again - Q3

The end of each quarter, I sit down with my students, one-on-one, and we talk about their learning from the past seven or eight weeks. Ultimately, we have to come up with one letter grade that represents learning they've shown. This one little letter is all they get for their work, but that's how the system is for me at this moment in time.

These conferences are my most stressful time of each quarter, and also my favorite. They're stressful because I need to make sure I have time to see each child, and I hope to goodness that they're not absent the day they were scheduled. They're also stressful because I then have to enter that one grade in the online gradebook, and I worry about parent reactions. THANK YOU to all those supportive parents who have read my myriad two-week updates and emails home. One more stress? The rest of the class is working on their own... or are they?! Letting go of that control is tough, but most students are doing what they need to be doing during this time.

These conferences are also my favorite time of each quarter. This is a result of the conversations we have, the learning that is demonstrated and celebrated, and the reflections and goal setting.

Here are some tidbits from this past quarter... All names are changed and do not even closely resemble the child's name.

Abby's goal for next quarter is to ask more questions. She didn't know where an assignment was, and was too nervous to ask me. ME. I wonder how she functions in other classes.

Bill's goal for next quarter is to set his alarm on his phone so he remembers to read every day after school. He went to his locker and set it right then.

Cliff realized, although he's doing very well academically, that he has a tough time with theme and the author's message. He decided he's going to write about the theme of everything he reads in class and at home from now on.

Donny is proud that he's now reading at home and that he found a genre he enjoys (nonfiction).

Edgar thought he should get a "D" in class, because he never reads at home. We had a great discussion about how reading habits affect comprehension, but that I don't think habits should belong in a grade. It turns out we agreed on a "C" because his comprehension was in the 70% range. He asked, "If I read more, will it go up?" I got to tell him that the only thing that helps improve reading comprehension is more reading.

Frank revised then revised then revised once again to improve the grammar in his writing the week before we met. His new goal? --> Revise as soon as he gets feedback!

George, once again, admits to playing video games all afternoon and evening. Talking with him helps me know that I can NOT do it all alone. It also helps reaffirm that we should be reading (books of students' choices) in class every day.

Helga's goal for next quarter is to stay away from distracting friends during independent reading time.

Issac is proud of his improvement this past quarter!

Judy has stepped up her participation this past quarter!

Kelly realized (without my help) she is distracting other students when they work in a group! Her new goal is to focus on getting the task accomplished when she works with friends.

Leo was nervous about his meeting with me. He came and said, "I'm nervous." It turns out that he was hyper-focused on one part of the grade. When we looked over the other evidence, he said, "I'm not as nervous anymore." We discussed averaging points in the gradebook versus taking the evidence for what it is, and he was happy he had revised his writing.

Molly's new goal is to head to our class website reading challenge page to look through the myriad lists of books and create a large one for herself so she can begin to choose what to read on her own (instead of coming to me each time she finishes a book).

Nick thought he should get a "D" because of his behavior in class. We then had the discussion about how behavior will impact his learning at some point, but for now the evidence for his academics shows he's in the "B" range. We then talked about how his behavior might be impacting OTHER students' learning...

Olga's new goal is to stop doodling during classwork time. She didn't do as well as she'd hoped this past quarter, and blames it on "not getting down to work."

Patrick told me he really wants to change seats so he's away from a certain someone who distracts him.

Those are the stories I remember offhand, without going back into my notes. When I feel as if my class is slipping away from me (let's call it "spring fever"), I can go back to these conversations and realize that we do have a connection, and we can have discussions about what's going right, and where we can improve.