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.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Who Owned the Learning Today?

Today I took a step back from curriculum, so students and I could focus on learning. Let me explain...

I've heard of "classroom conversations" from various teachers on Twitter, but the most memorable was this post written by a Canadian teacher friend of mine, Anne-Marie Middleton. I wanted to replicate it... some how.

So today, in each of my classes, we moved our tables to a boardroom-type set up, and focused on how we could learn more effectively in our classroom. I had an agenda, but was ready to veer off, depending upon student responses.
We began with a question that students answered on Today's Meet - What classroom issues would you like to discuss today?  After a quick reminder of keeping a positive digital footprint, students posted short answers to this question on the website, for all of us to view and respond to.  Fewer than a handful of students got off track, and had to step away from the laptop (still viewing classmate's answers, however) for a few minutes until they decided they could handle it and come back to the group. One student went looking for videos, and so had the laptop absconded until the second period. My priority was for quality classroom discussion, and I let them know I would not let off-track behaviors slide today.

The first question helped us come up with our agenda - I realized students knew that they were having issues with talking over each other, noise level, and paying attention. This was the number one issue in two of my classes, and the number two issue in the other.

Before delving into their concerns, I asked for a few more moments of their time for my agenda. I wanted to talk about democracy, and choice. Students voiced their opinions on what they thought democracy was, and then I showed this short video:
Next, I asked them if they were aware of who gave them this choice, and we came up with men and women of the armed services. I showed another short video, trying to appeal to their emotions....
We also discussed the men and women who do not come home.

This began the discussion about CHOICE.

The following discussions on Today's Meet and aloud made me smile. Students shared how they understood the choices they have in class - see their words here:

They also shared ideas about how to solve some of our issues - their ideas were the biggest portion of our decisions we made today. Students wanted to talk about talking, grades, seating choices (yoga balls), nap time, movies, rewards, extra credit... By the end of our first class, we came up with ideas to help students keep the privileges they already have, but also be rewarded as a class when they are listening to the best of their ability. Our second class really got into the idea that people have sacrificed many things so that we DO have choice, and also recognized that when one person decides to talk off-topic to friends, he or she is not only jeopardizing his or her own learning, but those around him or her as well. Our last class really got into a discussion about grades ("It's HARD to redo work!"), and brought up an issue I was not aware of - I have been "picking on" one student in particular, but not addressing other students that are a distraction to the class. My eyes were opened, and students have volunteered to help me in this matter.

I came in with an agenda, ready to take on the students' agenda, and I feel this was accomplished. There is more to do, and I will let students decide on another date to talk about unresolved issues they had, as well as be more aware of what I'm doing to provide choice and constant learning opportunities. What did students (our 7th grade geniuses) do today? They truly owned the learning.


  1. Nice, Joy! The videos in your post made me cry. I love the last boy in the first video. "It means you chose the right thing." Wise words. Democracy includes responsibility.

    I love "hearing" the learning going on in your room. And I love traveling this journey with you, from a distance.


  2. Joy,
    Your post brought goosebumps to my arms - you took the idea I shared and made it so much more. You have inspired me to make the time this week for another class meeting as it has been far too long since our last one.
    Thank you for sharing this journey with all of us. Your writing has touched a very deep chord within me. Your students are very lucky.