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, February 1, 2015

Parents in the Middle School ELA Classroom

What would you do if you were not afraid?

This question was posed by our new superintendent on Opening Day in August. Our principal then shared it again later that same day, and I heard it again in our ELA department meeting. In the last three years, I've tried so many things in my class (getting wheels on our tables, Genius Hour, the Cardboard Challenge, letting students decide so many things during our days, painting the tables with whiteboard paint, using iPads for whatever we could, trying to go paperless...), that I hadn't really thought I could answer that question when it came to education.

During our third annual Cardboard Challenge, however, I spoke to a parent (why do parents of my students scare me?!), and she mentioned that parents "don't really get invited into the classroom" after their children reach 6th grade. Hmm... THAT would be frightening! Inviting parents in? Why? For what reason could parents come into our ELA classes? Over Thanksgiving break, I made the decision to just TRY it. Here's what I did...

I decided parents could come in to give a book talk or read a picture book. I checked out the calendar. I created a Sign Up Genius site that included a "how to" on giving book talks, and all the possible time slots available. I posted it on our class Weebly. I added the invite to my two-week update email home to parents. And then...
I waited.

All good things come to those who wait... It's been so very good!

Responses have started coming in... Here are our results from January:
From January 13th - January 30th - only HALF a month of school, we've had the following visits:
     Book Talk - Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay*
                       - To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
                       - The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
     Picture Books - A Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams
                             - When the Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
                             - There Is a Bird On Your Head by Mo Willems

I have created a playlist of the parent book talks and have put them on our class Weebly. As for the picture books, you just have to be there to enjoy them! For the most recent, Mrs. L. asked the class if they'd read other books by the same author, and then even read it together with her daughter - just the way they used to at home!

It was so much fun to watch, that we had to recreate it with more students. In February, we have a grandmother coming in to read The Sweetest Fig, and in March we may have an author (parent connection) Skype with us to give a book talk on his own book!
*Bonus: Mrs. J. donated Sarah's Key to our classroom library, and a student is already reading it!

Note: I think it's a nice touch to have a note ready for parents in the office when they're coming to visit. I wrote on an index card a simple message with a thank you in advance and directions to our room.   --->

Am I still afraid of having parents come in?
     Absolutely!
Will I continue to have parents join us?
     Of course I will!
So... what's stopping you?
What would YOU do if you were not afraid?

Let's step out (and stay out for awhile) of our comfort zones and face our fears!

Want to see more of what we're doing? Follow @KirrClass for updates!

Update as of May 31, 2015...
     Ben's Grammie read The Sweetest Fig.
     Jenna's mom read Goodnight Moon, Goodnight iPad, and the poem "Sick."
     Elise's mom gave a book talk on The Wishkeeper, and we Skyped with the author, Maximillian Timm.
     She later came in to read us a story she and Elise had written - with student names as characters!
     Ben's Grammie read The Right Word (about Roget's Thesaurus).
     Ashly's dad read Dream Big, Little Pig
     Max's mom read More Parts
     Blake's mom read The Circus Ship
Totals: FOURTEEN visits from parents in five months. Success!

2 comments:

  1. Love your enthusiasm and courage. Keep up the good work

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  2. As someone who works at elementary & high school, I often hear parents say they do not feel welcome at the middle school - almost like they are met at the door with a "Thanks, we've got it from here" attitude. As a parent of two middle schoolers, other than performances and conferences, I don't think I've been invited in. However, I do get to see lots of projects thanks to technology, and that makes me feel included.

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