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.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gratitude

I'm not going to write a "best of 2013" post.

In fact, I wasn't going to write another post this year. This break has been a true "break!" Still amazed at the power of sharing ideas with teachers from across the nation and the world, I thought I'd just let others write and share while I sat back and enjoyed reading them.

Alas, Michelle Haseltine inspired me last night. There were a few gems in her Sunshine Award blog post. Here's the one that was the catalyst for this post:
Many teachers choose one word for their year. I haven't done this...yet. I guess it's time, because I already knew my word.

Made with the app "Over" on a photograph of an apple a student gave to me this year.
I knew this, as I am reminded daily of how grateful I am - and I need to show it more. But what reminded me one more time that I am right where I'm meant to be...is that I received this piece of jewelry this year from a student, and it came with this explanation:
   GRATEFUL 4 
   We are all Grateful 4 something
   Many different things, each and every day
   Look at your wrist and 4malize your thoughts!



What was even MORE serendipitous, was that prior to me reading Michelle's post, yet on the very same day, I saw this tweet from Rik Rowe.


Appreciation / gratitude also makes people... happier. The person who is grateful, and the person who is receiving the appreciation (once you show it!) simply become happier.

This has spurred an idea a few of us are going to roll with in 2014, that will hopefully let others share their gratitude in a new format. We are very grateful for all of our PLN - passionate teachers who love to learn, question, share... You rejuvenate me in my 19th year of teaching, and I am very grateful for each one of you. 2014 will be the year I express this gratitude in all I do.

Authors's Note, January, 2014 - Here is the blog that has spurred from this one word 
Feel free to jump in and thank someone you appreciate!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Learning from Your PLN

The Sunshine Blog...
The PLN Challenge...
The Homework Meme...
Liebster - Discover New Blogs...

I've seen it called many things, and the idea is "a way to share and broaden our PLN" (@WillGourley).
Here is how it works:
     1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
     2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
     3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
     4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love! (The first one @CoughlinLaura shared with me back in July said 5-11 bloggers. This might be easier for those of us not connected as much!)
     5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

I've seen the trend going around for awhile now on Twitter, and I thought it was interesting, but I immediately poo-pooed it. Why would I want to write about myself in my blog? Is that what my blog was for? I was forced to think about my own blog - why do I use it? Who are my readers? What qualifies as a "worthy" topic to post?

This thinking has led to changes in blogging with my students, as well. If they are to have a blog, is it just to turn in assignments for class? Not ONE person has told me what I should post on my blog. It's mine. It's personal. Some people use their blog as a platform - to get their ideas across, their thoughts about an issue, their complaints. Some use their blog to share successes of their students or themselves, celebrate their learning, or share about their own personal lives. I left the options WIDE open for my students. Simultaneously, I'm finding out more about my own writing, and what ideas I consider "worthy" of posting.

Since two "nominations" (Or are they challenges? This was difficult!) came in during winter break, it made me think about this idea once more. I love reading about other teachers' lives - much like I enjoy hearing about teachers I work with, or meeting my PLN in person at an EdCamp. Who is this teacher personally? How can I connect with this person so I can understand him or her better? The questions posed and answered by these teachers are enlightening, and my favorite part is the "eleven random facts" people share. If these teachers are so open about their lives, does that allow me to be as well? Will this idea fit into my blogging parameters I've subconsciously set for myself?

I've figured some things out. Here are my parameters:
  1. Be positive. I've realized that not much comes out of being negative, except more negativity.
  2. Share what I've learned, if I believe it will benefit others.
  3. Reflect - to share my personal learning or growth.
  4. Show my gratitude.
  5. Add a photograph (one I've taken or created - I learned this in person from @langwitches).

With these parameters in mind, I'll tackle this task. (I've also FINALLY answered Laura Coughlin's first question!!) Read on if you will, but know I have learned from this experience - about myself, my writing, and my PLN. Teachers in my PLN are very open and honest, and they write from the heart. I wish I could thank them personally for all I have learned from them. Please help me thank them by visiting their blogs and commenting - we all love it when the conversation continues! I'm going to go against the grain and start with my list of bloggers I love - some may have already completed this challenge, but they're still on my list. Please visit them!

Bloggers I believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love (in alphabetical order!):
     Gary Anderson - An English teacher's dream blog!
     Garnet Hillman - Standards-Based Grading, and best practices for students.
     Denise Krebs - It's all about the kids.
     Shawn McCusker - A bit of this and that - ALWAYS useful for me.
     Hugh McDonald - Hugh thinks in a different way than I do - It's always interesting to read and decipher what he says - I love when it clicks for me!
     Fran McVeigh - Close Reading / Common Core for ELA teachers
     Allison Petersen - Something you can use that day!
     Amy Smith - Optimistic & grateful.
     Paul Stolt - Always reflecting on interesting points.
     Tom Whitford - Not in it for the fame. Just common sense for leaders.
     Gallit Zvi - Sharing what she learns to benefit others.

     There are so very many MORE!! How can I possibly name them all?!?! I love them all for many different reasons, as well. Ugh. Please see my RTs and check out those blogs/posts for all of them. There is NO way anyone can "catch up" with all the resources available...

Time to recognize those who have nominated me...
  1. Laura Coughlin - Laura is on my "first" list on Twitter. She didn't know it until she read this, but my "first" list is a private list of people. They don't know they're on the list. These are the people I don't want to miss. They don't tweet a ton, and what they tweet is valuable to me. So I keep this list on my TweetDeck so I don't miss out with all the tweets flooding in! She currently teaches middle school, and has not tweeted lately, but I see she's still blogging here. I hope she is doing well, and I hope she doesn't mind me blowing her off when she first asked me to do this challenge back in July!
  2. Kimberly Hurd - I was able to meet Kimberly face to face in October, and I'm so very glad! Not only is she as spunky in person as on her tweets, but she's much shorter than I imagined! ;-) She also sings karaoke - a girl after my own heart! Her blog is here, and she is very spiritual in what she writes - I believe this is because she, too, is very grateful for all she has, and she chooses to recognize it often. I'm blessed to know Kimberly, and have her on my "f2f" list on my TweetDeck - another column I check quite often!
  3. Will Gourley - I have Will on my "first" list on TweetDeck as well. I feel that he is very well-rounded and must be a stellar person, as well as a stellar teacher. He is thoughtful, thankful, and gracious in sharing / retweeting great ideas. Some of his ideas are here. I need to get to know him more - I was astounded that my name came up in his list! Hubby and I just got our passports and are heading to the eastern side of Canada with the travel trailer some time this summer - looking forward to a tweet up!

I'll pose my questions next... things to think about and maybe BLOG about!
  1. What's been the happiest day of your life so far? (Yes, feel free to name more than one!)
  2. What's the latest success you've seen happen in your classroom?
  3. What have you NOT blogged about, even though you've thought so much about it? What's stopping you?
  4. Who has influenced you the most AT YOUR SCHOOL, and how?
  5. Write a letter to that person (in number 4), and read it aloud to him or her.
  6. If you had to choose just one song to listen to in your car, what would it be?
  7. What's your favorite holiday? Why?
  8. What is a favorite quote of yours?
  9. What is coming up that you are excited about?
  10. What will you do when you retire?
  11. What should you be doing that you're not, because you're reading this?

With
Next... questions nominating bloggers have asked...
From Laura...
  1. Why do you blog? --> To reflect, share, and celebrate. When a post comes out, it's mostly because it's been percolating in my brain. The more I write about it, the more clear it becomes to me. I find a way to connect it to my teaching, and it's something I want to share. I do not think I'm a skilled writer, but I am writing more, so I know I'm growing as a writer.
  2. Does your classroom have a "color scheme?" --> Nope. My classroom is decorated by the kids and their work. If they want to put up a piece of art, feel free. If they want to make snowflakes, here's some yarn. If they want to put something on the ceiling, be careful on that chair. The walls are full? Find a spot, or take down something else you have up. Color scheme? Chaotic or eclectic. ;-)
  3. What is one teaching goal you have for this school year? --> Do the best I can with each day given to us. That includes being a "on" with my last class as I am with my first. (Thanks to Dave Burgess for that reminder!)
  4. Who/what is your teaching inspiration? --> The kids.

From Kimberly...
  5. What app is the biggest addictive time waster for you? --> So glad you put in the words "time waster," or it could be Twitter! I have a love/hate relationship with a simple game called "Beat Beans." My current high score is 192, and I believe the highest I can ever get is 200, so I just keep plugging. My wrist hurts from holding the iPad & reminds me of when I was addicted Atari... My husband knows not to ever get me a video game unless it's attached to an exercise torture device.
  6. If you could have a personal mascot just for you, what would it be? --> A bird - I feel like I can fly most days (I'm high on life), and I try to soar away from negativity when possible. If a wing breaks, I have people in my life who can help me repair it.
  7. What would be the best field trip to take students - do not hold back! --> A bike tour of countries that do not have the wealth my students have. Let it be led each day by a different resident of these places, so they can give us insight into what happened there and what they need in order to get back on their feet. During this trip - no wifi, television, phones, and only the local food to eat and shelter under which to sleep. We would have a bus (or two or three!) with us to carry food & clothing to residents of our host villages.

From Will...
  8. If you could have lunch with anyone, living or deceased, who would it be? Why? --> I'd want to meet my husband's parents. They passed away just before I was able to meet them, and I would love to hear them talk about him and how he was when he was young. I'd like to see how Frank loved Stella, because I know that's the love Bob shows to me.
  9. What is your ultimate vacation destination? --> Somewhere sunny, warm, with a sand beach, waves to play in (and not get knocked down!), with my husband. The beaches I play in are all on Lake Michigan - COLD! ;-)
  10. What are you reading right now? --> I'm actually reading an ADULT book! Hah! Crazy unbelievable! The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult. I love this author, and I'm not disappointed in this one, of course.

And one from Pernille Ripp...
  11. What is one song you secretly or not so secretly want to sing at karaoke? --> My favorite song on karaoke night is "Broken Wing" by Martina McBride. I can hit the notes, and feel her words pouring through me.

And here's the picture I'm choosing for today - because the gifts I get from my PLN are more precious than these gifts under the tree - ideas can grow and bloom! (And none of these gifts is a ChiaPet!)


Eleven random facts that readers may not know about me... I saved this for last, because this is not why I wanted to write this post, and it's hard to put these ideas in writing, too!
  1. I am fairly recently divorced. It feels like yesterday, but we went through counseling in 2009. I learned a TON from my first marriage - and I wouldn't change a thing. If I did, I might not have met my soul mate, who I married on the beach in Holland, MI in 2011. This love we have seeps into everything I do. If I had a personal blog, you'd see the whole story & believe in soul mates!
  2. I'm seen in Catholic eyes as a "Chreaster..."  someone who only attends church on Christmas and Easter. I do, however, thank God every day for all I have, and pray that he help those in need. I know I am blessed, and I give Him credit for all I can experience on this great planet.
  3. I cry a lot. I cry when I'm happy, and when I'm sad. Of course, I laugh a lot, too!
  4. I have taught from age 3 to age 21... children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. I keep thinking I'm a special education teacher, but have been teaching reading now for 12 years, which is five more than the seven years I taught children who are deaf! Time flies...
  5. I love taking photographs of insects and flowers, but mostly insects ON flowers. I love my camera. Maybe some day I'll get a macro lens - my telephoto lens sure gets a work out, though, too!
  6. I have three blogs in addition to this one... One for what I've accomplished thanks to Pinterest, and one for my own Genius Hour ideas / projects. I was hoping I could share the latter with my students, but I don't require them to blog anymore... One more - for our travel bug, Corn Boy Jr. If you don't know what a travel bug is, look it up - you may acquire a new hobby!
  7. I'm very insecure & a bit of a worrier, although I can psych myself out of almost anything by singing along with Julie Andrews to "I Have Confidence!" If I can hit all the notes, I know everything will be fine. (I keep singing until I DO hit all the notes!)
  8. I love to eat. I'm currently wolfing down "Peanut butter ball screw-ups..." They didn't work as balls, so... but they are very tasty!
  9. I've run a marathon, biked a century, skied the Korteloppet, and done rolls in my whitewater & sea kayak. I used to have exercise as a priority. Things have changed. I now love to walk & showshoe. I'd love it if I knew how to wax my own cross-country skis, but... I also still love to ride my bicycle in the warmer months. I'm as heavy as I've ever been, but I'm just as happy as I've ever been, as well!
  10. I love to geocache! My husband and I try this whenever we are in a new area - what great fun for the whole family.
  11. After attending my fifth, I figured something out - EdCamps are my version of Disneyland! If you haven't been, GO!!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Coach Your Class

I live eight houses away from one of the 8th grade P.E. teachers at our school, Kathy. We've been over to each other's houses many times since I moved to the neighborhood three years ago. She's heard about our Genius Hour, but most importantly, she's caught a little of the bug...

This summer, Kathy and I concocted a way to have students own their learning in P.E. class. She grappled with the idea, tweaked much of it, then felt like she could share it with her 8th grade comrade. He liked the idea, so they sprung it on the kids first quarter! Students may teach about a sport they love, something they practice outside of school, or present on nutrition or exercise. They are beginning their presentations this quarter, and I've been fortunate enough to be able to witness a few.

I thought I'd lay out what she did in this post, because she's not on Twitter and does not have a blog (they just seem to go hand in hand these days)...

Difficulties 
   * setting up the projector for those students with a slide show presentation
   * trying to get kids to NOT rely on the Keynote/PowerPoint slides
   * giving up class time when it's not an ACTIVE presentation
   * giving up class time during a specific unit - they have limited days for each unit
   * SCHEDULING & RE-SCHEDULING - This is the big problem. Each 8th grader needs to be in health at a certain time. What if two students want to present together, but they have health different quarters? Rescheduling if a student is absent is another problem... I can only imagine how they struggle with this issue!

Grading
   See the rubric here. I'm not always a big fan of rubrics, but it's a huge step when two teachers can agree upon one! Feel free to copy and tweak as you please, of course.

Best news to date -
Today, a group of five 8th graders presented on bowling. Each had a script, access to the microphone (they presented in the large gym), bowling lanes, pins, and balls from the elementary school, and a large, very captive audience of two P.E. classes. Each had a subtopic: the history of the game, the ball, the rules, and the adaptations of bumpers and the ramp. What did they practice today? Oh, sure, they had to research the sport, write what they would say, and then show their part in front of the audience. But what did they demonstrate today in front of two classes of peers?


These students had never held a microphone before.
They had never spoken in front of so many people.
They had never taught anyone a formal lesson.

Here's the kicker - these particular students are in the Individualized Learning Program at our middle school.

I really enjoy seeing students share in a different way about their favorite sport or hobby, but today really takes the cake. To see the smiles on these five students' faces when the applause came for their turn was priceless. They are very fortunate their teachers decided to take on this type of learning.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

#nerdlution - Taking My Student's Lead...

On November 15th, I celebrated a student of mine on our class Weebly. Izzy had taken Matt Cutts' 30-Day Challenge, and created her own 50-Day Challenge - to draw something new each day. This was great for her - she was going to go out of her box with something she loves. Students (and I) gave her ideas for themes to use each day, and she just started checking them off, one by one. When I finally published it, she'd been working at it for 15 days already.

Fast forward another 15 days. I wake up today to find a new hashtag on Twitter - #nerdlution. I quickly found this post by Katherine Sokolowski (@katsok) to describe it, and I thought on it. I've tried things like this before, and they always end up going by the wayside. But then I thought of Izzy. She took the video I used in class to inspire her. Why didn't it inspire ME?! I guess I needed a little push.

Tips:
  Start small.
  Don't over-promise.
  Do what is healthy for you, but something you know you CAN do.

Since I'd taken almost four full days off of Twitter to be with family in Michigan for Thanksgiving, I knew it gave my brain a much-needed break, & I realized how much of a time-sucker it really could be. I'd been trying to read INSTEAD of tweet, and I'd read three YA books!

So... I'm in.

What's your #nerdlution? Will you take the challenge? Thanks to Matt Cutts, Izzy, and my PLN!

If you want to jump in, add your post to Colby Sharp's (@colbysharpblog post comments here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Spelling Bee


"I'm just going to say D-O-G if my word is 'chair.'"

This is just one of the complaints I heard my students say when I mentioned we were going to have the spelling bee. What could I say to help students try their best? What could motivate students who think they can't spell to even TRY? How can I convince them if I don't really believe it myself? I had to find some way to connect to the event so my students could, too.

24 Hours Later...

I sat students in a circle, and I joined in the perimeter. We had a discussion based on the following questions:
  • Why do we have spelling bees?
  • How long does the spelling bee last?
  • What good can come of the spelling bee?
  • Who is nervous or bothered by the spelling bee? Why?
Some of the best answers... 
  • We will (at the very least) learn how to spell one word - the word we got wrong.
  • ALL of us (except for the one winner) will "lose."
  • If we give up on the spelling bee in 7th grade (when all but one of us will lose!), what will we do when something really important to us comes along? On what else will we give up?
  • ALL of us are nervous. No one likes to be told they're wrong in front of others. But we will learn from making a mistake.
  • Even Mrs. Kirr is nervous - what if she doesn't hear a student right?!
  • Mrs. Kirr feels sympathy for all students - the ones who don't want to be in the spelling bee, yet don't want to make a mistake, and the ones who DO want to be in the spelling bee and are very stressed about it.
  • A lot of it is about luck - based on who begins, and what words come up next.
  • We will exhibit the genius "habitudes" of perseverance and most of all - courage.
Talk to your students about it. Children in different grades may feel differently about it, but I'd bet most of them are scared. Scared of being humiliated... scared of losing. Let's help them tackle the spelling bee like they could any competition.

Side note... One student asked to sit next to me - I haven't really connected yet with her this year, and I'm so glad she asked. I wanted to hold her hand, because I knew she'd struggle. Another spelled "apiary" right - just because he TRIED. I later told him he made my day. Today, during advisory, I received a small note from him - thanking me. These treasures are the ones that keep me heading back to school each day.

Update 8/22/15 - This post talks about spelling as an aid to communicating.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Heartbreak Maps

I read Angela Maiers' two books this summer, but the one I'm still getting a lot out of is Classroom Habitudes: Teaching Habits and Attitudes for 21st Century Learning...

For one week of Genius Hour, I was going to do the lesson on pages 61-62 - a heart-mapping activity. But then I saw in my Evernote notes a link to Angela's website where she talks about what BREAKS your heart. Forget Following Your Heart: Follow Your HeartBREAK. I followed this lesson, almost exactly.

This was my script:
We have experienced what a little of what it means to be Caine Monroy. The day prior, as we shared our writing prompts, we heard some people share very personal stories. Being able to hear these stories or experience something similar to what they've experienced helps us understand each other more, and helps us to build empathy. Because I don’t want to ever put someone on the spot, but we still need to know more about one another, I’m asking you today to create what’s called a Heartbreak Map.
One of the best ways we can get to know one another is through our story. We know Caine now more because of his story, and each one of us in this room has a story. Great writers and storytellers speak from their hearts. I've asked you to blog about your passion, I've asked you many times to let us know what you love in life, but today I'm going to ask you what breaks your heart. It is this pain in your heart, or this anger that eats you up inside that will help you to act. Some people still have no clue what they want to learn about for Genius Hour. Many of us are still reading fiction and just waiting for inspiration to come to us. Today I'm going to give you a tiny push towards emotions that will spur you to act. We don't always act if we're thinking of solely what we love. We act when we're sad, upset, or angry. So let's begin. Ask yourself: What matters to you?

This is what I put on the board, and I paused to give time to think between each one:
     What makes you happy?
     What do you love?
     What is the most fun you have ever had?
     What memory is your favorite?
     What things or objects are important to you?
     Who is important to you?
     What things in your heart are sad? Make you cry?
     What secrets are in your heart?
     What activities do you love?
          Now... what breaks your heart about these things?

I jumped in with my own example right about here...
     When I think of one of my favorite memories, I think of when my husband and I were dating, and we were in an awkward situation one time. We just started giggling. It was one of those infectious giggles that you have a hard time stopping. If you've ever heard a grown man giggle, you'd giggle, too - it's a precious sound that doesn't happen every day.
     What breaks my heart about this, though? (A student in each class answered, "It had to end.")
     Yes. He lived in Detroit, and I lived here, and we had to say goodbye.
     So what do I do about it? (One answered, "You marry him!")
     Well, yes, but every day - EVERY DAY - I do something so that it doesn't break my heart as much, as I know we'll be separated some day in the future... I make every moment with him count. I don't argue with him, I don't push him to do things he doesn't want to do, and I, corny as it sounds, give him hugs and kisses and do small tasks for him whenever I can, so that he knows how much he is loved.
     Now... what matters to you? REALLY matters to you? And what breaks your heart about it? THIS is what will motivate you to ACT.

I showed these pictures from Aaron Maurer's (@coffeechugbooks) students as examples. Here are even more from Karen McMillan (@McTeach).

Then I left this on the board for directions:
     Give it a try:
     * In the center of your map, write and/or draw the things that you are passionate about.
     * In the next level or circle, write and/or draw what breaks your heart about these things.
     * In the final level or circle, write and/or draw your ideas for the ways to resolve these heartbreaks.

I let students know they might not know what to put in their final step, and that's okay. We can work on that together if they want our help. If not, it's something they can work towards during Genius Hour. Or, sadly, it might be something they have no control over right now.

When students came up to me to ask, "Is this right?" I told them that as long as it includes things that break their heart, there is no right or wrong answer. It's all very personal.

This is how they turned out... Check out our slideshow! These are on our bulletin board right now.

Hopefully this is not all of them... Many students decided to keep theirs. But I think it's a very good start, and even though it makes me sad they have these heart breaks, I'm happy at the thought of them thinking they can do something about it. I wonder where they'll go from here...

Many of these ideas are written about beautifully on Karen McMillan's post as well - and I don't know if I got the idea now from Angela or Karen! Thank you to both for sharing exactly how it could be done. Thank you, also, to Karen - for teaching me how to incorporate the slideshow from Flickr.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

EdCamp Chicago - Fall 2013

I've written about EdCamp before...
     My second - EdCamp Madison
     The International Phenomenon - EdCamp Home

But yesterday was the first time I'd ever helped plan an EdCamp, and I've learned so much more - I just have to reflect on how the day went from an insider's viewpoint...

Being Invited...
Ben Hartman (@bhartmanwd7) and Paul Solarz (@PaulSolarz) each DMed me back in... July?? I don't remember. But they asked me if I could help organize the next EdCamp Chicago, set for the fall. OH, YES! I'd love to help organize! I was put on a list, and was ready to be told what to do - I'm a great go-fer! ;-)

Our GHOs...
Oh, why are these so nerve-wracking for me?! I kept my microphone muted until I really wanted to say something, but I really tried to be quiet. It was great to see others who were ready to help plan.
What was left of the crew before we went out...
Our great crew:
     Jenna Hacker @jennahacker
     Bernice Homel @BHomel1
     Joy Kirr @JoyKirr
     Ben Kuhlman @bkuhl2you
     Allison LaFalce @Allison_Lafalce
     Shawn McCusker @shawnmccusker
     Eric Patnoudes @NoApp4Pedagogy
     Jen Vincent @mentortexts
     Bob (My hubby jumped in a
        TON to help out the day of!)

During these Google Hangouts, I tried to take notes in a Google Doc about what was said, and what we needed to do next. What I was able to help with was (a pretty large) sponsorship, small raffle prizes & items for the goodie bags, but I didn't feel too useful. So I volunteered to keep up the blog. Luckily for me it was Blogger! I also created a "Meet the EdCampers" Google form for the registration. I gave up the responsibility of figuring out lunch, though - out of my league. Setting up the day-of document, I put myself down for explaining what an EdCamp is all about, and also the raffle - I thought that would be FUN!

The Walk-Through...
Ben asked if any of us could help out with a walk-through, to see where things would be, how we'd set it up, which rooms we'd use for sessions, etc. I loved seeing the easy layout and becoming familiar with the place.
Mrs. Hartman's Design

What Ben (or some magical fairy in the night) did...
Acquired the wonderful Wood Dale Junior High School as our venue...
     This included insurance, custodial help, logistics about collecting sponsorship money, etc.
Eventbrite registration
Name tags
EdCamp Chicago stickers (his wife designed them!)
Made BIG signs thanking sponsors
Bought sticky notes and pens for the proposals (Hey, Ben - I still have the sticky notes!)
Acquiring sponsors, goodie bag items, raffle prizes, sorting all the money, keeping everything straight, and keeping calm through all of it!

Bag Stuffing...
Need I say more? This happened on the Thursday before, and we just walked around the table of swag, stuffing and talking, talking and stuffing. We used the nice bags Bernice acquired from the Wood Dale Public library first, then used the smaller bags from Barnes and Noble for the late comers. This was a great time to learn more about our crew as we shared some stories.

The Night Before...
Kimberly Hurd (@khurdhorst) came into town from Minnesota and stayed with Bob and me! We first went to dinner at Uno's with Bernice, her husband, and Tasha (@tasquires). Went back home for a few minutes to figure out what I was going to say about EdCamps, then went out again to the Sponge Reef in Schaumburg for some karaoke! I was not nervous at all, but could only imagine what Ben was going through...

The Day of...
Up early, at the school at 7am, and helping set up. Coffee and donuts were put up, tables and chairs were scooched over a bit, registration tables and name tags set up, direction signs were set up, and raffle prizes just kept coming my way. Set up the extra free swag on the tables in the foyer, panicked as people started coming because I'd just remembered the raffle tickets, then calmed as we found them, got invigorated just seeing people start to arrive...

Loved seeing NEW faces of the names I recognized from Twitter! Here's a list of SOME of them:
     Julie McGovern (@jamcgovern), Mary Jo Cline (@WDJHLMC), Susie Highley (@shighley), Adam Moreno (@USMDrama), Merri Beth Kudrna (@mbkudrna), Jason Hanrahan (@Teamhanrahan62), Brendan Murphy (@dendari), Matt Coaty (@Mcoaty), Brianne Koletsos (@B_KOL), Samara Silverman (@SamaraSilverman), Renee (@frnlrwme), Ed Casey (@ecasey77), Erin Jackle (@ErinJackle), Joy Olenick (@JoyOlenick), Christine Collins (@cmcollins13), Meg Van Dyke (@docV216), Mary Klepper (@MaryKlepper), Mary Yockey (@MaryYockey), Gail LeGrand (@GailLeGrand), Andrea WilsonVazquez (@wilsandrea), Jeff Zoul (@Jeff_Zoul), Steve Wick (@nvwick), Michelle Russell (@michellerussell), Jill Maraldo (@jmaraldo), Karen Gluskin (@kegluskin), Tricia Brawley (@GiVeAhOoT) who I haven't seen since she was a student at Thomas, Nancy Blair (@blairteach) from Georgia, and Rik Rowe (@WHSRowe) from Massachusetts! OH MY GOODNESS!

Phew! After seeing all these faces and shaking hands or hugging them, it was time to begin in the auditorium. My role was the explanation of EdCamp, and then getting people started coming down to propose sessions. Easy-peasy. I had everything I wanted to say written down, and I love a microphone. When the first session was started, I pulled 100 raffle tickets so we'd have those people with those tickets come down to the stage at 3pm and choose their small prize. The other 40 or so raffle prizes would be chosen with everyone in attendance after the Smackdown. I did take the time to put those in (what I thought was) order of value. I was sorta off on that...! Loved that I had previously met & had lunch with the person who won the Chromebook, too - Garnet Hillman (@garnet_hillman)!

I attended the second session, but was (literally) called out early by a phone call from my parents who were traveling - I wanted to make sure they were okay, so I had to answer it and quietly leave! Lunch was next - I ate with Bernice, Tasha, Meg, and Bob was back from helping pick up lunch and deliver the trays back to Mario's. He seemed to be having a great time, too - he even held onto Kristie Bleers's (@kbleers) tickets for her, because she had to leave! I needed to attend the third session, because a woman from Palatine told me she HAD to talk to me about her 5th graders and ask me all kinds of questions about assessments (bad taste in my mouth) during Genius Hour. Great people were there - Allison, Paul, Ben K., and Michael Matera (@mrmatera), among others I just can't remember right now.

Then it was back to the stage to set up the small raffle prizes and get ready for the larger ones. Allison helped me divvy them out and organize, but she had to leave early, so she couldn't stay to announce them. Jenna helped me out when it was time.

My Big "Take-Away..."
Everyone in your planning group needs to use his or her own gifts for a successful event.
This was a huge lesson for me. I got out of doing lunch duty, but felt guilty for doing so. I just didn't think I could do it right, thought I'd have lots of trouble, and just felt uneasy about it. Allison did a GREAT job of securing the deal. I helped where I could, however, and did the best I could with it. I could've been more timely getting the tweets out for "Meet the Camper," but many of the people I added the Thursday before didn't even show anyway. I could've added updates to the blog, but didn't feel it was necessary. I could've called more companies for sponsorship, but that wasn't my skill set either, I'd thought. Everyone had a part to play, and everyone played his or her part very well. I would list what they all did, but it's just WAY too much, and this post is WAY too long as it is, in my opinion.

I had to reflect on this day... I equate it to going to Disney World, really.

Thank you to everyone who made it happen - our inspired organizers, our stellar crew, the passionate teachers who came from near and far to learn from one another, the staff at Wood Dale District 7, and my biggest fan, Bob. I fed off of your passion this weekend, and you've invigorated me once again. I'll be heading to school with a huge smile on my face - THANK YOU.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

IATE - I'm over the hump...

I have learned my lesson fully this weekend at the IATE (Illinois Association of Teachers of English) conference.

I need to connect to people.
     It makes me happy, and I learn a ton!

If you knew me, you wouldn't think I was shy. I can be boisterous, loud, outlandish, and even (yes, it's true) annoying at times. But really, deep down, I am SHY.

This weekend, however, I presented at the IATE conference in Bloomington, IL, with three people I HAD NEVER MET. We were connected by one person I had met once before - at EdCampChicago in the spring. The other three I'd only "talked to" on Twitter.

Here we are!
Amy (@AJ_Pine), Jaclyn (@JaclynDHan), me, Gary (@AndersonGL) & Russ (@RAndersonFHS)
I've met Gary before, but not the rest of this great gang.
The hashtag sent with this pic was #whyrwestillworkingonthis ?!

Here is our presentation on Empowering Student Literacy through Choice.

The presentation was fun to plan, fun to present, and I'm proud of what we did. However, I'm actually more happy with making connections this weekend. I sat in on Stephanie Gates's presentation on teaching argument, participated fully (there were only 5 of us), and then sat next to her during the social hour and through dinner. Also during this time, I struck up conversation with four other teachers who came to sit down (each leaving a seat between them and the others). Great to meet you, @michelinaM06 & @mrpiper76! (Here is Michelina's blog post about the weekend...) I made a point to ask each of them at least one question. My husband has taught me this - people love to talk about themselves. I also made sure these were not questions that could be answered with a "yes" or a "no." ;-) In this fashion, we shared some great stories.

During the first presentation I went to today (given by Tricia Campbell - @tlcampbell2002), I heard a teacher next to me say something about saving the flip class videos on Edline... I had to know more, as I thought Edline got rid of all we'd done the year prior - No! It's not true! She quickly explained to me where it was all stored. No more re-posting helpful links each year?! Ahhh... This one interaction with Jennifer Keith (@pi2nyc) was priceless. As I tweeted out ideas from this session, Patti Strukel (@PattiStrukel) tweeted back to try Movenote - and sent me an example she's done - WOAH! Put your Google Presentation in here, add your ideas and boom! You've got a flipped lesson with your face and voice, too! Some day I'd love to meet Patti in person...

I was also lucky to meet local Twitter peeps from Conant High School - Asra (@Ms_Syed_reads) & Jordan (@BuffEnglish), even learning WHY he's "Buff" English! I even went out to write a line of poetry (well, I wasn't sure if it WAS poetry) outside using sidewalk chalk, thanks to @MrSujak. It's the personal stories that have made this weekend for me.

Even if I am shy, I don't have to ACT shy. In fact, to make my life even better than it already is (it IS glorious, if I do say so myself), I have to talk to people I don't know, and ask them questions. I'll have to draw on the habitude of "courage," but this will be my new Genius Hour project...for quite a long time, I hope!

Special thanks to Russ, Gary, Jaclyn & Amy for inviting me to present at this cozy event, and thanks for making meeting new people painless. Thanks also to my administration for paying for my attendance and allowing me to go... I love that I can continue to learn. Next week... helping to make EdCamp Chicago work!! 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Juggling

I started our day today... juggling. Yup!

I was thinking of how to review and reflect upon our Caine's Arcade Cardboard Challenge without it being boring. Last year I required a student blog post on the day, and I graded it, of course. This year, since our blogs are authentic, I'll suggest a reflection post, but won't require one. So how to start a lively discussion...? Juggling! For each topic, I juggled as I spoke, and they were entranced - they were listening, at least!

After a quick talk about how ONE young boy started a chain reaction, I spoke in "threes."

Here are the three topics I wanted to cover:
     --> what I learned
     --> what students learned
     --> what we could change, add, or omit to make it better next year.

I started with what we could change.
     I had them brainstorm in pairs first, then one person from each pair would come up to the board to write their best suggestion. I took a picture to archive each class's suggestions, so I could add their ideas to this post, and actually remember to USE them next year.

Here are their suggestions:
     - More time in class to prepare
     - Charge money for games to donate to fight cancer
     - Have more time to plan it out
     - Every game should raise money for a special/good cause
     - Compliment people's artwork
     - Put it on the announcements
     - Look on the bright side of things and go that extra step to help make others happy
     - Advertise it
     - Add prizes to motivate people to play
     - Use class-based currency
     - Show Caine's Arcade one more time
     - Make the challenge a competition
     - Supply more cardboard
     - Have a cardboard restaurant
     - Have a social network page to promote the event

Next I told them about what I learned (see prior post). Here's the recap:
     - I need to help students be more prepared for the day.
     - Students used the Genius "habitudes" the entire time. At this point, I asked them what habitudes they used, and when, and we threw one of the balls around to get responses - of course they ALL wanted to share then.
     - I can stand back, say "create," and students will create wonderful products.

And then it was their turn. I split up "what students learned" into three more categories:
     --> students who came unprepared (24% of students in my three classes)
     --> students who worked on their projects during class (the majority)
     --> students who came with their project already finished, or close to it (16%)
I made it a point to say that students in each group learned many things, but they may be very different from students in the other two groups.

Those students were then able to choose from three ways to share:
     --> written down bullet points transformed into individual blog posts
     --> written down bullet points transformed into a mini-paper of sorts
     --> written down bullet points transformed into a quickly-produced & recorded speech

Here is a sampling of what they said:
     Something I learned while doing the cardboard challenge was perseverance. Me and Erin were trying to make a Skeeball game, but that didn't work. But we didn't give up on it. We just made a "modified version." If we gave up, we wouldn't have made our game that Nick loved. Perseverance is important because you can't just give up on things in life, you have to keep working at them. 

     If we put our heads together and use our imagination then we can create things we never thought of doing before. We all brought materials to make our creation. We all supported each other by supporting others' ideas. We all helped out and it was fun. Other students played our game and when they figured out how to win at the game, a smile crossed their faces. 

     We learned how to recycle objects and use them for other things.

     We learned how to run our own mini-booth, or business.

     We learned that being prepared can be beneficial to our learning.

     If you are ever unprepared, you have to use what you can find or get help from friends. Also you have to make sure you have at least one idea.

     Including people who don't have supplies or a group will help get your work finished faster, it'll make the person feel happy and wanted, and it'll make you feel proud that you did something nice for someone else.

     People can be fun and creative.

     Building stuff with friends is more fun than by yourself.

     The first thing I learned from the Cardboard Challenge was that when working with other people, good teamwork and compromising are very important. Good teamwork is important because that way the whole group contributes and everyone works together to complete a good piece of work while in a group. Compromising is also very important while working because that way everyone's thought are contributed to the project and there is no arguing, just good suggestions. Another important thing I learned from the Cardboard Challenge was that you need to you creativity when creating something. If you're creative, your piece will be more unique and interesting. Something else I learned from the cardboard Challenge was never give up. If something doesn't work, try again. If it still doesn't work try something knew to accomplish the same meaning. One more thing I learned from the Cardboard Challenge was that you need to set a goal for yourself and come prepared. By setting a goal, you can strive for it and look forward to reaching for it. And if you come prepared, you have a better chance of reaching your goal. The last important thing I learned from the Cardboard Challenge was that you need to have fun and explore what you can achieve! Having fun means take risks and see what you can do! 

     ...we learned about passion, courage, curiosity, perseverance, etc. The most important one is imagination. We got to go out and explore other things. We also got to express our selfs. This is very important. 

     We did this to learn about expressing our genius and learning how to create using our resources.

I will add more to this post as they come in so I can keep a record of all the things students realized they learned.

Here is my presentation:

Deciding to juggle today was inspired by Dave Burgess's Teach Like a Pirate book. I put a teaser on the board the day before, letting students know we were going to have a "guest juggler" in class the next day! When I started juggling today, I said, "I never said the guest juggler was a SKILLED juggler...!" ;-)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Caine's Cardboard Challenge

WHY?

Why is Joy doing the Cardboard Challenge again this year? She teaches ELA. What do cardboard creations have to do with ELA??!!

I never heard the words, but I imagined them. Was I feeling guilty for not teaching reading or writing this day? Maybe. Guilt is ingrained in me. It didn't matter if I didn't hear the words coming out of teachers' mouths. What I did NOT hear --> support for this endeavor from coworkers after I sent out the all-staff email inviting them and their students to come for a visit (I even sent them "fun passes"). What I did NOT see --> coworkers coming down to visit and play with us. That speaks volumes to me.

So I'm laying it on the line here. If you don't agree with me - that's fine. I'm not writing for your approval.  I'm writing to reflect on the day and why I spend one class from my students' year asking them to design cardboard creations. Really, what is eighty minutes in the scheme of things?

What I noticed:
     - Eleven students (17%) had prepared and finished their project at home, and were ready to play today!
     - Students worked hard for 80 minutes - without any grade incentive.
     - The library was alive with noise and action.
     - Nobody was sitting down (unless it was on the floor to plan or create).
     - There was constant movement.
     - There were no arguments.
     - Students learned to use what they have in the time allotted, & change as necessary.
     - Students shared space & loaned or shared supplies.
     - They suffered natural consequences when they were not prepared.
     - Discussions about engineering & design were abundant.
     - Students were able to bounce around from one activity to another.
     - A very lively atmosphere, with smiles, laughter, shouts of excitement...
     - I was going to make a list of "What I heard," but it got too long for this blog post!

The genius "habitudes" students experienced today:
     - Imagination - Need I explain?
     - Curiosity - What is everyone else doing? How did they DO that? How can I change my own?
     - Self Awareness - Students KNEW what skills they had and what they didn't, and called on friends for help.
     - Perseverance - oh, so much trial and error! So much failing happening today!
     - Courage to display their work - completed or not.
     - Passion - Oh, the exclamations shouted today! They were INTO their creations!
     - Adaptability - When one thing wouldn't work, they readily changed the process.

We talk about these habitudes weekly during Genius Hour (thank you, Angela Maiers!), and throughout the week when I commend students for demonstrating these habitudes during guided lessons.

This ties right in with lessons I'm trying to teach this year regarding the Four Cs of 21st Century Learning:  creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, communication & collaboration. Do we not need these to thrive in life? Do we not need these when we attack a complex text or a challenging writing prompt? Will students not need these skills when they are figuring out their genius hour project for fourth quarter? Today's lessons will help us make those connections.

What I learned:
     - Seventh graders are C-R-E-A-T-I-V-E! Was I ever that creative??
     - Next year, the sign I make for the outside should say, "Come in and design, create, and PLAY," because students did a lot more planning and creating than they did actually playing.
     - Because sixteen students (24% = way too many!!) were not prepared, I'll need to have some activities I choose for them to do. These students did not bring ANY materials. I felt as if they'd been sleeping under a ROCK. I'll also prepare them better - instead of asking them to write the "homework" of bringing materials to class, I'm going to give them colorful reminder slips, with a checklist on it for them to bring WITH their materials. Is this spoon-feeding? Maybe. But 24% is just too many for me. Those 16 students didn't learn all that the rest of the students did. They didn't just sit around doing nothing, but they didn't all create, either. Seven of these (still 10.5%) wandered around, playing other people's games, and then chatting until I chased them off to do something else... Suggestions?
     - Gosh darn it - at what other time in the school year is learning so ultimately open and FREE in seventh grade? At what other time in your plans do you give students the direction, "Create," and then step back entirely? I don't think they're given this direction at home, and there are many distractions from this type of learning - their afternoons and weekends are already planned for them, and if they're not, how many of them revert to the old standby of television or video games?
     - Sometimes I feel like I'm on the "lunatic fringe" at my school (thanks for the great phrase, Karl!). But you know what?! I'm not at school to please (or appease) other teachers. I teach because of children.  Lessons learned today, whether consciously or unconsciously, will help these children with the rest of our lessons throughout the year - in any teacher's class.

Here is a 15 minute glimpse into our day of learning...

After reading all this, are you going to tell me you don't know what the Cardboard Challenge is? I didn't provide background, but take eleven minutes to learn about Caine Monroy if you haven't yet...

Many thanks to the two teachers and three administrators who showed their support, and to Mr. Todd Hillmer for letting us make a mess in the LMC! The students noticed it, and we had room to breathe, share and flex our creative muscles...


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Close Reading using Paraphrasing

At a curriculum planning day today in our district, I thought I'd reblog my paraphrasing activity from last year's class blog to this current one... So this is re-blogged from February of 2013 of my "old" class blog...

Since we will be doing more of this particular close-reading activity throughout the year, it was time to blog about it, as it has "success" written all over it...

This week, we read a NewYorkTimes article about the teenage brain to accompany Phineas Gage and get us ready for The Outsiders. We read it aloud first, discussed any questions students had, and then tried a couple of close-reading activities. One of the activities we completed was a seemingly simple paraphrase of one sentence. We took the following sentence:

     "These (studies) show that the brain systems providing for impulse control are still maturing during adolescence."

Students looked at this sentence for a minute, then they were asked to put this sentence into their own words.  After a few minutes, I collected a few samples, and put them on the board, under the original sentence.

One class looked like this:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1                                             2                                              3                                         4
closest to the 
author's meaning

     "These (studies) show that the brain systems providing for impulse control are still maturing during adolescence."

A = During adolescence, your brain is still maturing and the way 
       you react during adolescence will not be the same reaction 
       as an adult.
B = During maturing of the brain, impulse control isn't developed.
C = Teens aren't fully developed when it comes to making social 
       decisions.
D = These studies show why teenagers are impulsive.

What did we do with these? Looking at one answer at a time, students took turns discussing where they would place it on the line and explain why. Students listened to each other, commented on each other's comments, along with adding their own, and we came up with a number range for each one that they were satisfied with. By the time we reached the fourth response, "D", students were demonstrating deep understanding of the original sentence. They knew which parts were the most important ("impulse control," and "still maturing during adolescence"), and they had strong discussions about the true meaning of the words "impulse" and "adolescence." Some expressed that their brains hurt when we were finished. Mission accomplished...


We did this as a class today, and will be doing this again as a class, in small groups, and students will also rate their own words on a similar scale.

This activity was adapted from Wireless Generation's lessons on The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. We use Wireless Generation / Writers' Express as a writing curriculum, which closely aligns with the Common Core Standards.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Genius Hour: An Avenue to Better Teaching

Genius Hour has gotten a lot of attention on Twitter, blogs, and in classes the start of this school year.

With all the success stories, there will be a few who criticize, or write to provoke conversation, at the very least.

I'm writing today to defend Genius Hour, and explain how it has affected the rest of my students' week.

The latest post that spurred this is from Sylvia Martinez (@smartinez) - "Design Thinking, Computational Thinking, Genius Hour, and Making in the Classroom - good, bad, worse." I will not pretend to know about computational thinking, and only know a teeny bit about design thinking, but I read the Genius Hour section with great interest.

The term "Genius Hour" came because a close Twitter friend of mine, Denise Krebs (@mrsdkrebs) saw a tweet from a passionate Angela Maiers. Denise's story is here in her blog post from November of 2011. In Classroom Habitudes: Teaching Habits and Attitudes for 21st Century Learning, Angela modifies Seth Godin's words and says, "You are a genius, and the world needs your contribution" (27). A big idea behind this time given to students is to show them that we value them. We think they should be learning what THEY want to learn, in addition to what we are expected to teach. This idea of letting students own their own learning and giving 60 minutes a week to "electrify your job" also comes from Daniel Pink's book, Drive. Whether or not Google gives their employees 20% of their time to work on personal projects, this time can be given to children if administration is supportive of the idea.

The two paragraphs that had me feeling the urge to write this were about the name. The first paragraph was about the name "Genius Hour." I've written about using this name prior, in this post called "Genius." I won't be reiterating it here. What I will do is tell you what's happened in my class this year, as a result of spending FORTY minutes talking about what genius is, and what it is not. We spent time discussing the seven "habitudes" of geniuses that Angela teaches about in Classroom Habitudes. Here are some quips from my 7th graders that I've actually written down for a post such as this.
     "These are great! We have some really creative people in this class!"
     "That must be his genius!!"
     "Look at what I did - it's genius!"
     "He's got perseverance, creativity, AND imagination."
     "I worked on being 'adaptable' yesterday after school..."
     "Please add me to the 'resident expert' list under 'neat & organized.'"
My students are realizing what they're skilled at, and with what skills they may need help. They have already started asking each other for help during our creative days (Dot Day being the most recent). They are relying on me less this year than any other group I've had, and instead going to each other. We have already started building a wonderful community of learners. I'm going to continue telling my students that they have genius in them. We all do.

Another paragraph focused on the "20% time" we are giving students. First I have to say that I'm very fortunate to work where I do. Many teachers do not have any time to spare - to hand over to their students. Others who are allowed time for this need to make sure it ties to standards, and that students are graded on it. I have the luxury of attaching it to standards my way (see this LiveBinder and specific plans I'm using in 7th grade ELA), but I am also allowed leeway on how to use the rest of our time during the week. Here is a list of how, by implementing Genius Hour ideas in my classes, the concepts have seeped into the other 80% of our time.
     Students can choose where (and how) to sit, as long as it's safe and not distracting to them or others.
     Students can write in response to a prompt of their choice, as long as they write in relation to our goal or focus for the day.
     Students decorate the room. Many put up their own ideas made at home.
     There is no teacher desk. It is converted into a student station, with supplies for students to use whenever they have a need. (They can also sit there!)
     The only front of the room is when we have the projector on. The rest of the room is fair game for where the speaker (me or a student) stands. (I'm actually always on the move.)
     Student passions are used as catalysts for discussions or writing, or reading, or...
     Students give book talks.
     Students read what they choose.
     Students take pictures for our movie updates for parents.
     Students have blogs for authentic purposes - not for grades.
     Students are asked, "Why not?" more often than they hear the word, "No."


I am no longer the "sage on the stage." I am truly the "guide on the side" for most of our lessons. Implementing Genius Hour in my classroom has made me ask these questions (from p34 of The Passion-Driven Classroom) every day: Who is in charge of learning at our school? Who does the most work in our classroom? Who does the creating, constructing, producing, performing? The answer must be: The learners.

Many teachers remain disconnected from their students. As Angela Maiers and Amy Sandvold share in The Passion-Driven Classroom, "96% of teachers reported that creativity should be promoted in the classroom. However, when asked which students they actually preferred to teach, teachers chose the students who were most compliant" (5). "Messy" learning, which is what Genius Hour is, and times when the learners are working the hardest, is difficult for me to see with my "old school" eyes. I like order. I appreciate quiet. ... But the things I HEAR from students during these "messy" times are precious gems. They alert me to the fact that students are learning, and enjoying the process simultaneously. That's what it's about. And that is how implementing Genius Hour has affected my teaching during the other 80% of the week.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Parent Night

I've changed the way I teach so much in the last 5 years.
It reflects in what I said to the parents tonight at Open House...

I’d like to start with asking you to think about a question:
Who was your favorite teacher in 7th grade?
Now try to come up with WHY this person was your favorite teacher.

I hope to be all those things.
I asked your children to finish this statement on the second day of school - A great teacher is...
Your children hope I am the following:
kind, funny, fun, helpful, peppy, understanding, friendly, respectful...
I let them know I expect the same of them:
kind, helpful, understanding, friendly, respectful…
Without these expectations, we won’t have much learning occurring.


One more question: What CONTENT from 7th grade do you remember?
      (Long pause... Nobody seems to remember!)
Your child won't remember either. What will he or she remember?

I am the most fortunate of all of your child's teachers you'll see tonight.
I get to enjoy your child’s presence for 80 minutes of every day - and I really get to know them.
I’m also the most fortunate because I don’t expect your child to memorize FACTS.

We get to explore great writing, share what we’re reading and writing, and figure out how to read to enjoy and learn, and how to write for an authentic audience - not just for their teacher.

Hopefully, by the end of the year, your children will have learned this in ELA:
Empathy
Hopefully, by the end of the year, your children will want to continue learning outside of school hours.

We spent the first ten days of school building community, respect, trust, and understanding of why we need to read and write. I will continue to try to reach them through literature, nonfiction, and their own writing.

I will also be giving more choice than I was ever afforded in 7th grade.
One of those big choices - that centers around reading and writing this year - will be something we call “Genius Hour.”

Our mission for Genius Hour is to READ. BE INSPIRED. and ACT ON IT.
I’d like to show you a short video of last year’s students reflections on what THEY perceived Genius Hour to be...


In this class, it’s about the learning.
I will work my hardest to help your child become a life-long learner.
I know I didn't talk about specific curriculum, my teaching history, our homework or grading philosophies, but that is because I've put everything on the class Weebly. (Shown on the screen.)

I'd love for you to now please check out your child’s blog - if he or she has written one (or more), please take the time to comment. If not, please encourage him or her to write one for you. I’ll circulate and answer any questions you may have.


I had great feedback tonight. 
This year will be our best year yet...

Update 12/2016 - Don't have too much time to talk with parents at Parent Night? 
          Check out Catlin Tucker's ideas to flip your back-to-school night!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Close Reading with "The Night I Won the Rights..."

We've spent most of the start of the year prepping...

Students (hopefully) now know WHY...

Why do we need to read?
Why do we need to write?
Why do we need to be respectful of one another?
Why do we need to seize every day as if it was our last?

We had been building community for 10 days. It was time to get started now on the tough stuff. I was asking students to READ today - on their OWN! ;-)

Here was the full plan:

“The Night I Won the Right to the Streets of Memphis”
– By Richard Wright
Lessons for today:
1.   Re-reading a passage over and over again helps you notice intricacies in an author’s message. This is called “close reading.”
2.   Participating in discussions (when on-topic) will help you understand the reading selection even more.
Step 1: Read the story silently, annotating in the margins.

Step 2: Listen to the story being read aloud, annotating more.

Step 3: Answer – What did you notice in the second reading that you didn’t notice in the first?

Step 4: Come up with a question regarding the text, and ask it of the class.

Step 5: Read the story for a third time, with a partner or two other people. Jot down strong verbs, or phrases that catch your attention. Next to these words or phrases, jot down - Why do these grab your attention? What is it about them that makes you notice them?

Step 6: Listen to the last paragraph being read aloud again. What do you notice about this paragraph? Jot it down, and be ready to share.

**Is there anything else you’d like to ask or any observations you’d like to share?**

Step 7: On your own, answer each of these questions.
1)  How does the boy’s attitude change from the beginning of the reading, to the end of the reading? Use examples from the text to support your answer.

2)  Is the conflict resolved? Do you think the boy “won the right to the streets of Memphis” as the last line states?   Use examples from the text to support your answer.
* When you finish, put a star by the question you would want graded, and leave it open on your desk for Mrs. Kirr to see. You may then read quietly.

These were connected to our Common Core State Standards for reading literature in grade 7. My absolute favorite step was Step 4 - I could've stayed on this step the rest of the period! During this step, students were asked to come up with a question related to the text, but not a "right there" question. The answer had to be hidden in the text somewhere... Some questions were stellar, and really had the students going back to the text to support their answers.

[2014 modification: Students came up with three questions, shared them with a partner, then chose their favorite of the six questions. These questions (on sticky notes) were put on the board, and we discussed which we'll never know the answer to, which we could probably figure out, and which we already sort of knew. Then, as a class, we voted on the one we wanted to discuss. Two out of three classes came up with the same question as in the video below, "How old was the boy in this story?"

2015 modification: Check out the lesson on this Google presentation. Students could either answer one of their own questions at the end of class, or one of the "teacher" questions. We moved to a part of the room that would be our answer, tried to defend it, and moved to a different corner if we changed our minds because of something a peer said.]

Finding text support was one goal for students. I had a goal for myself, as well - stay out of it! I was going to be that "guide on the side" teachers are always talking about. I've had lots of practice at this since December of 2011, but I wanted students to recognize at the end of this lesson how I was just a facilitator. I made sure when we were finished that I never told any student he/she was wrong, and I never told anyone he/she was right, either. After all - am I the author of the piece?? We were building more community - for all of us together are better than one of us.

The lesson went so well all day long; I had to document the last class - and here is a snippet...



[2014 - This year we actually researched how old he was when he experienced this. Students were amazed at how old he was!]
[2016 - The questions students decided to have a fishbowl discussion this year all revolved around the mother's decision. 1-Would you agree with the mother's actions? 2-Did the mom change him for better or worse?/Is this way of disciplining right or wrong? 3-Was the mom right or wrong to want him to fight?/Did his mother do the right thing for her son?]