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.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Genius Hour - Year 4 Reflection

I am going to begin with this: I was not as focused on Genius Hour this year as I had been in previous years. My focus was on students grading themselves. Since I just can't do it all, I believe our time in Genius Hour suffered because of this. I will add, however, that at least two other seventh grade teachers also said that this year was tougher on them and their students, as well.

What I wish I had done:
  • had more one-on-one conversations... Students were so independent this year, I left many of them alone. It showed when they presented.
  • posted more of students' learning in the room
  • asked students to share their findings and ideas more often with others
  • given more examples of presentations and ways to present
    Some presentations were very interactive!
Changes we made this year:
  • We slowed down when it came to introducing Genius Hour. We did not have a project the first quarter, except for the Cardboard Challenge.
  • We added "Teach Me Your Talent," which went well. It could have gone better, of course. Sadly, I did not write a blog post reflection on this event. We WILL be doing this again.
  • We added a week's worth of speaking practice to prepare for "Teach Me Your Talent" and their final presentations.
  • We asked students to present during ELA class once again (having them all on one day last year was demanding, and I missed many of my students' presentations). We had many complaints about it, but felt it was great speaking practice. 
I gave students a three-page survey this year. I received 43 responses. Included in this survey were these five questions. (Thank you to Adam Schoenbart for many of these questions!)

I think Genius Hour was valuable.
     Strongly Disagree   O     O     O     O     O   Strongly Agree
                                     1      2      9     14     17     <-- The results (out of 43)

Students were asked on this survey - "What value did you find in Genius Hour?"
  • Getting to do things you usually do at home in class.
  • Learning and perfecting new skills and ideas.
  • Time to find out what you like.
  • It taught me to stay on task.
  • It let us learn about ourselves.
  • I learned a lot about myself.
  • I learned to not give up.
  • Creativity.
  • None.
  • You got to learn exactly what you want to.
  • It helped me learn to be more responsible.
  • It was time for me to do what I like.
  • I became a better reader.
  • I found a talent that I didn't know I had.
  • I found it valuable researching a topic that I enjoyed.
  • I researched something I've always wanted to know.
  • I found I was able to be creative and happy doing something in school.
  • I learned more about a topic I liked.
  • It showed us what we want to learn and what we've learned.
  • It was a good opportunity to work on personal projects.
  • I got to choose what I wanted to learn about.
  • I learned about time management.
  • We could show people what we did.
  • It helped me challenge myself.
I enjoyed Genius Hour.
     Strongly Disagree   O     O     O     O     O   Strongly Agree
                                     1      3      6     13     20     <-- The results (out of 43)

Students were also asked, "What advice do you have for teachers who are giving students time for Genius Hour in the classroom?"
  • Keep them busy and don't let them not work.
  • Make sure you check up on them and give suggestions.
  • Let them free.
  • Make sure they do Genius Hour, not homework.
  • Give them some ideas about what to do.
  • Give them a checklist, checking off stages of accomplishment.
  • Give them more outlines for what to do.
  • Make sure kids are focused on their work.
  • Maybe give more time.
  • Give them full periods. (We used 60 of our 80-minute block.)
  • Start earlier than we did.
  • Maybe allow 10 minutes of free time.
  • Leave the students to work at their own pace and let them learn.
  • No grading.
  • Present in your own classroom.
Students were also asked, "What advice do you have for STUDENTS who are given time for Genius Hour in the classroom?"
  • Use it to your advantage.
  • Make sure you use the time given.
  • Use your time wisely. x 6
  • Think hard about your project.
  • Don't just play games when you actually have work to do.
  • Focus and pick a topic that will really help you.
  • Work as hard as you can.
  • Do what you actually enjoy.
  • Always work on your project. Procrastinate AFTER you finish.
  • Brainstorm ideas that you are good at doing or want to be good at doing.
  • Take this time seriously. It's really fun if you do it correctly instead of goofing off.
  • Choose something that means a lot to you.
  • Really commit and pick something you actually want to do.
  • Don't play games. Mrs. Kirr will catch you.
A few successes I want to document:
  • We had our first rocket launch during a presentation - nobody even came CLOSE to getting hurt!
  • TEN parents showed up to watch presentations.
  • More actual products were shown during presentations. 
Changes I'm considering for next year:
  • After four full days of presentations and then reading Tony Klein's reflection on his year of Genius Hour, I'm going to try a gallery walk of some sort for presentations at the end of the year. I'd like to include the other teacher on my team, and maybe even the other TEAM of 150 more students! As long as we have more time in class for students to present short bits, I'm not too worried about losing the aspect of students speaking in front of many other students. We'll still focus on the message and how it's communicated.
  • Also because of Tony's post, I'd like to add a couple of categories for awards! Most interesting topic, most informative...... what else?! I think we'll see some themes develop once they start their final projects.
  • Because I'm implementing students grading themselves with all of my classes next year, I'm going to need time during the last week of each quarter to have conferences with my students about their grades. This means I'm thinking of four days of Genius Hour-type learning in a ROW, at the end of each quarter. I can also include three to four more days prior to these days, spread throughout the quarter (or the last 3-4 weeks before the end of the quarter). It would still be about eight days per quarter, just at different spots.
  • The first quarter I'd like to focus on creativity and collaboration. We'll end it with the Cardboard Challenge.
  • The second quarter we'll focus on ourselves. We'll begin with "Teach Me Your Talent," and end with a 20-day challenge (inspired by Matt Cutts). We will work on speaking skills this quarter.
  • The third quarter can focus on research. We'll work on the "how to," and end with our own research question that we can use for fourth quarter.
This is the plan for now. Of course, I need to talk with my cohorts, and two of the four of us will be new to 7th grade next year.  What always rings true with Genius Hour-type learning is that there is NO ONE WAY. My motto when it comes to Genius Hour is still, "Just keep tweaking, just keep tweaking..." It will be a challenging and fun year, and I'm looking forward to it!


  1. Wow, Joy, as usual, great post! You are so good about sharing your learning and making it accessible to so many others. I'm learning from you, as I've been out of the Genius Hour habit for a while with my KG and 2nd grade students.

    Now I'm on to 5th grade, so we will definitely be doing genius hour! I'm excited to glean from your experiences. I will definitely work on speaking skills, as they are all English language learners. I am intrigued by the "Teach Me Your Talent" project. Maybe you'll write a belated post with your plans for the next time you do it!

    Congratulations on the chapter in the best lessons book. I will have to read that and get some ideas for teaching literature to fifth grade.

    Keep up the great work! You are a role model.


  2. P.S. Has it really been 4 years!?

  3. Hello, Denise! I feel that my reflections are lacking - so much I want to write about, but those kids sure keep us busy. Heading to 5th? Super fun age!

    Yes, four full years, thanks to you and Gallit. There was half a year starting in Feb of '12 when I really got on Twitter and decided that the following year it would take on the name "Genius Hour." I'm actually considering changing the name next year, as I don't think it will be one hour each week... Maybe even a new name each quarter. I'm not sure. Something to let percolate in the brain this summer!

    I'll see if I can work on that post about Teach Me Your Talent... ;)