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, July 2, 2013

Genius Hour "Year 1" Reflection - Part 2

It's been almost a month since school's been out. Time to put the whirling thoughts about Genius Hour in writing.

What I had trouble with in Genius Hour this year...
   * Meeting with half of the students every week.
   * Shifting students' mindsets.
   * One student did the bare minimum and express dislike of Genius Hour.
   * One student ended up not presenting.
   * Students not citing where they accessed their information or their photos.
   * Students on YouTube videos that had nothing to do with their projects.

What I loved about this year...
   * I had (dare I say it - WAY) more engagement than in my "regular" lessons.
   * Students and I were able to have it the first day of the week - and I never missed it!
   * I'm convinced that students read more than ever during this school year, since they had a full sixty minutes every week.
   * I was allowing students to have more choice than ever - not just on Mondays.
   * Students didn't balk at not being graded on their presentations the last week of school - I only had one student ask me what his grade was! No one else even asked!!
   * Students graded themselves after reflecting on what how hard they worked in and out of class, what they learned, how they cooperated... YES!

What I want to do or change for next year...

   * Set up a LiveBinder of my Genius Hour plans - week by week. (If you happen to go to this link, know that it will be in a constant state of flux & I have a lot to add!) This will have videos in it, ready to go, in the order in which I want to expose the class to them. I'm starting a Google Doc as well, with week by week plans written out. One of the teachers I've connected with on Twitter, Amy Straus (@Amy_Teaches) was asking about lesson plans. One of her concerns for Genius Hour is that she needs to turn in lesson plans to her administration each week. What would she put on them for this time period? Hopefully this Google Doc will help her and others.

   * Meet with a third of the students every week, then role model reading and taking notes on what I read. I will keep my notebook accessible to students, and they can see it as one way of keeping track of what motivates me, inspires me, bothers me, etc. I have modified these goal sheets a few times, and know I will again, or even as I sit in a one-on-one conference with students. I am not sure if these reflections will go in as a grade, or if I will have students grade themselves at the end of each quarter, using these reflection sheets for reference. I'm thinking that first and second quarter I will put each of these grade in the grade book, then give students gradual autonomy depending on how comfortable they are giving themselves this grade. I really despise grading independent reading, but I think at this age, setting goals for themselves is asking a lot of them, and they may need the grade to motivate them to read at home each night. I still struggle with this, however.

   * I am going to stick to my original goal, thanks to Erin Olson (@eolsonteacher) - Read. Be inspired. Act on it. (She explains this concept in a podcast here and an article here.) I believe this will give students and I the structure we were looking for last year, and keep us on task. I also believe this may help to make my seventh graders life-long learners, which is my ultimate dream. When fourth quarter comes around, students will have copious notes from all they've read, be it fiction or nonfiction, and can work from there to pursue an action... I will continually ask them if what they are thinking of can inspire others, or help others in some fashion.

   * I will have examples to share with students. This summer I have begun to document my learning on another blog. I know it is true of reading and writing: we need to do what we expect our students to do. So I'm trying it for Genius Hour. My TRUE Genius Hour project was to give students time to read what they choose, and not have a fabricated project for them to complete each quarter. Now students have this time in class. Have I documented this proces? YES! It is this blog. If you start back in February you've got the entire timeline there of all I've done... you've got my ramblings. (I didn't even know why people would tag their posts back then! Maybe some day I'll go back and do this...) But I'm starting fresh with this new blog, so I can show students my thought processes for different types of projects. This new blog has also helped me see what's wrong with the rubric I used last year, and how a person really has to follow his or her true passion in order to make this project worthwhile.

A few students and I created this video to inform other teachers about what we do for Genius Hour in our 7th grade ELA classes...

If you've tried Genius Hour for the first time this year, please be sure to share your reflections under the #geniushour hash tag on Twitter. I will be on the lookout for them so I can add them to the LiveBinder. You could leave a comment here, as well, so others know where to go to see what you've done, and what you'll be changing up. The more we share, the more other students and teachers can benefit from what we've learned. 


  1. Thank you so much for writing about your experiences with genius hour. It is helping me so much to plan and prepare for next year! So happy to have you as a part of my PLN so we can learn together!

    1. Garnet, it was great meeting you and actually talking face to face about Genius Hour! I love the excitement teachers get when they begin to realize - I'm going to DO this! Thanks for the comment - and you keep blogging about your experiences, too, so we can all learn together.

  2. Joy,
    You are awesome! I've just been looking through your great "GH Lesson Plans" doc. What a wonderful resource with links to so many great videos and helps. I will be referring back to it, to be sure.

    Thanks again,

    1. Thanks, Denise!
      I know it's not a "true Genius Hour," but it seems like a dream to me. I really want to follow Erin Olson's idea, and I hope my students really become readers as a result. It's nice to have my plans al in one place, especially since the other three teachers in 7th grade LA will be doing their own! (Yippee!) I'm also very glad Angela Maiers graciously said I could link her resources on the LiveBinder. I'm hoping students will still have ideas that could change the world, as is Angela's dream... Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment!! It means a lot to me.

  3. Joy,
    The biggest take away here is you honestly reflected on what your year was like. Another consideration is this was also a new experience for your students too. They have been conditioned to expect learning to be one way. You altered that expectation and asked them to become responsible. My own kids had some issues at the beginning and some became more comfortable sooner than others but that's human nature.
    Thanks for posting and good luck next school year. For now, enjoy your vacation.

  4. As always, thank you for sharing! I am excited to see what happens this coming year!