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.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Dream Day...

This past Wednesday is still on my mind. It was truly a teacher's dream...

We started with independent reading - oh, how beautiful!

A student book talk next? Why not?! (All of ours are here!)

Then came the groans... Any time we "have to" write, the groans come. We got our ideas ready to go, wrote the claim together, and then came our 4-minute break. Once back from break, we got to work writing about Phineas Gage...

I was able to go around and give over-the-shoulder conferences ("OTSCs" as Amplify calls them) to many students. I have gotten better at this the past four years. I spot something the student is doing well, and let the student know how their writing affects me as a reader. I then find something they can improve upon and ask them to "consider changing ______ to see how it will affect your readers further." Or... "I notice you did this _____ - what do you think would happen if you ________?" This way students still keep the control - they are treated as the writers they are - they have choice in the matter. (If you want guidance on how to do this, read Choice Words by Peter Johnston!)

At two minutes left, I reminded them to do a "once over," reading it through to check their capitalization, punctuation, and use of evidence. I took photos of student work (we were sans laptops this day - you can still do a lot with just one iPad in the room), and tried to be quick about uploading them to a document we would project on the screen.

We were then ready to share. "THIS is where the learning happens," I informed the class.

The first two classes went fairly well. Students were brave to share, attentive while listening to others, and took turns giving feedback and quality boosters. (Thanks for that great term, Paul Solarz!) We graded them on the spot for quality of evidence and grammar/conventions - as a CLASS. We discussed the difference between "developing," "proficient," and "mastery," and the writer could either argue peer ideas or accept them. If we graded them as anything less than "mastery," we gave suggestions as to what they could do to improve their writing. What we were doing was having discussions about the craft of writing, and NOT about the writer. I was a happy teacher.

Then came my last class. This class, as you might know, is grading themselves at the end of each quarter. Work goes in the grade book, but grades do not. Instead of a grade, specific feedback is written (often copied/pasted from the rubric) in it's spot. I believe this has made a huge difference already. When students were sharing their feedback and quality boosters, many of their words came right from my specific feedback that I've been putting in the grade book in place of grades. They said things such as this...
"You have strong evidence, but it would be stronger if you added ..."
"I notice your evidence supports your claim and connects to your reasoning."
"Only some evidence (specific evidence pointed out) supports your claim. You might want to add ___, so your claim is supported better."
"You have sufficient evidence, but what if you used __________ (insert new text here) instead of ________ (written evidence)?
I think you could prove your claim easier if you used different text."
"I think this is 'publish ready!'" (No grammar mistakes.)
At one point, I thanked them for their bravery and honesty, and using this opportunity to help each other become better writers. One student (Anna) said, "Well we're not stressed about the grade. We just want to do better." (I'm telling you - it was a DREAM day!)

At the end of this class, I suggested they turn in their writing if they did not share with the class, so I could give them some specific feedback.


One day later (Thursday)... I hadn't received some of the writing prompts from my last class. As they were working independently, I asked them, one at a time, if they were going to turn in their writing for feedback. The first two turned them in. The next student asked, "Do we have to?"

I responded, "Did you want to use this piece of writing for proof of writing or language usage skills?"


"Okay. Just know you can't use this piece for evidence if you don't receive feedback on it."

"That's fine. I don't want to publish it on my blog, and this quarter our proof has to be published, right?"

"Yup. I hadn't thought of that. (Pause... Thinking...) I totally understand. Let me know if you ever want feedback on this piece." I went to the next student.


These kids get me thinking. THIS is why I'm teaching. These are the days I live for at school.

The next day (Friday/yesterday), I decided to offer additional (and optional) independent practice for my classes. "Write about Phineas Gage in a blog post."

What this means - Students can write a letter to the author, an opinion piece, a book review... They can create a video, a vlog post, or a poem. Should they choose to take me up on it, I believe they will stake a claim, use textual evidence to support whatever they write (or say), and explain their evidence in relation to their claim.

What this means for my last class - Whatever they decide, they can use this published piece towards their proof of learning for writing, language usage, or speaking & listening skills. I'll give them specific feedback, and they can revise it if they so choose. (If we can get comments on their blog posts, they'll get more feedback!)

As we went over the independent practice listed on the board, I halted. I erased "Phineas Gage," and left it blank. I suggested, instead, that they begin to write on their blogs, and then let me know which posts they'd like feedback on. The posts they shared with me for feedback could be used towards proof of their skills in class. (This weekend I will figure out HOW to give this feedback - on one spreadsheet per student is what I'm thinking - I don't want to give the feedback in a blog comment. I will also have to figure out how they can then let me know that they revised, if they choose to do so.)

Source unknown - This image was sent to
me via Erik Kipling yesterday.
Hopefully this will be writing they WANT to do, using what we practice in class to write what THEY want to write, not prompts I provide. I can just imagine it now... We do the work we're supposed to do in class in order to learn the skills, and then they APPLY that work outside of class on something they enjoy... Hmmm.... Isn't this the way learning is supposed to work?

Nix the "Dream Day" title. This was a teacher's dream WEEK!

My resources so far: 
"FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder 
     for parents to inspect
My own reflections on this journey

1 comment:

  1. I really like the specifics in your blog post. The writing conferences & share time sound very powerful. I am sure the students are taking away so much from your class. I need to start teaching like this :)