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, December 31, 2016

Best Books of 2016

My list is not extensive by any means, but I need to share out my favorites from 2016 like I have the past two years. I read a bit for myself this year, along with books I thought my 7th graders would enjoy.
     2015 Favorites
     2014 Favorites

Here are the books I would most recommend from my list of 75 books I've read this year... I tried to whittle it down to one or two per genre, but I read some genres more than others! Check out the complete list for this year here, including the five I abandoned.

Biography / Autobiography / Memoir
...for the kids
     Connor Franta's A Work in Progress - middle schoolers love YouTubers! Connor Franta is a great role model who shares many lessons learned in his 20-something years on Earth.
...for your spiritual self
     Todd Burpo's Heaven Is for Real - I needed this during this past summer. It filled me with hope.

Fantasy
...girl protagonists were strong this year!
     Victoria Aveyard's The Red Queen (#1)
     Rachel Hawkins' Rebel Belle (#1)
     Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys (#1) And then I read the next two in the series! Not like me at all anymore. I REALLY liked this series, and loved listening to them in the car, as well as reading the text.
...boy protagonists that need to be celebrated
     Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book
     Nancy Farmer's The Sea of Trolls


Graphic Novel
     Svetlana Chmakova's Awkward - This competed with Ghosts (Telegmeier) this year, but I think this one has a better message.

Historical Fiction
...from 9/11
     Tom Rogers' Eleven - It's the perfect September 11th book for my 7th graders.
...from what's happening in the world NOW
     Tara Sullivan's Golden Boy - Pretty unbelievable. The story needs to be told.

Mystery
...for readers (tons of references to other books)
     Jennifer Chambliss Bertman's Book Scavenger
...for reluctant readers
     Gordon Korman's Masterminds



Nonfiction (for kids)
     Susan Campbell Bartoletti's Terrible Typhoid Mary

Poetry / Prose / Novels in Verse
     Stasia Ward Kehoe's The Sound of Letting Go




Professional
     Ron Ritchhart's (and more) Making Thinking Visible - (My review --> here) All four professional books I read this year were great! This one can be applied to ANY class ANY where, and it really made me look at my goals for my students. Do THEY know our goals? Can they buy into them? What can I do to show them what we are learning? I needed to make our thinking visible, and this book has shown me many ways HOW. (I need to revisit my notes on it now!)

Realistic
     Leslie Connor's All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook - Don't judge it by the cover. Perry's story is sweet, heartbreaking, and hopeful. An easy read that even reluctant readers will want to experience.
     Jason Reynolds' & Brendan Kiely's All American Boys - Mature language with a mature theme. Students who read it come away knowing that things need to change in our society. Stories like this need to be shared.
     Gary Schmidt's Orbiting Jupiter - Just jump in and let the story come to you.

Science Fiction
...for the kids
     Louis Sachar's Fuzzy Mud
...for adults
     Andy Weir's The Martian

Sports
     Jason Reynolds' Ghost - One of the fastest books here, this one will appeal to sports fans and reluctant readers alike.
     I really need to read more sports books! This is definitely a gap in my reading!

I just can't choose one favorite. Please link your post regarding your favorites in the comments below so I can grab some new reads from you!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Even Evangelists Ask for Help

Four days left of Winter Break... This is when the pressure hits. Did I do enough over break so going back to school feels alright? Did I do all I could in the house and for my health?

I cleaned today. Mostly so the behemoth of a desk I have could be repurposed - so I actually USED it.

I found this note...

I remember some time last year asking Mr. Stocco if I could quote him, otherwise I wouldn't have found this note. "Genius Hour is the only time I see them thinking." I know his students think the rest of the week, but there was some reason he said this at the time.

I held the paper, and I sighed. It made me happy that he has implemented Genius Hour in his 8th grade science classes. As far as I know, he's the one teacher in 8th grade that does this. Hey, that's half the 8th graders at our school! That's a win.

Then I felt another sigh coming. I was sad. No. Disappointed. No. Wistful, perhaps. We hosted a Cardboard Challenge this year, first quarter, for our Independent Inquiry project. However, we are not planning a project for this quarter, and we have not planned for Genius Hour yet.

My focus this year has been on learning over grades, feedback, and reflection. I haven't gotten it all figured out yet, and I know I never will. Genius Hour has taken a back seat. I haven't made it a priority, because I truly feel that we are actually further than where Genius Hour would take us... We are choosing what to read, and many times what to write. My students are focusing on the learning, and not just on what I deem important. And yet... I don't have that dedicated time for them to pursue their own projects.

What will I do to resolve this angst? I realized today that I need to talk to the ELA teachers on the other team and ask for their help. I think I remember them saying they were going to wait until second semester to incorporate Genius Hour. My ELA cohort and I haven't had the time to plan with them this year - we currently plan only two days ahead of what we need. I need to do what I don't like doing, but what I advise other teachers to do - ask for help.

My problem is this - as a "Genius Hour Evangelist" (zealous advocate), I feel that I should be the expert. Until I give myself the time to do so, I relinquish that role at my own school this year. Sure, I'll be "all in" when I present at ICE in March and when I host another workshop in Boston in July. I'll dedicate the time to do so. Right now, however, I need to take my own advice and ask for help. I am still a firm believer in the benefits of Genius Hour, and it rubs me wrong knowing we haven't started yet. I will go to the two very organized, forward-thinking women on the other team. I'm sure they'll be happy to oblige!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Two Favorite Tools After a "Break"

When I decide to take a break from Twitter during extended breaks from school, I have two saving graces that help me get back in the swing of things - slowly. I used to just start over from scratch - that's a good method, too! However, when I have a day or two during break where I feel I need a shot of my PLN, these tools help me believe I didn't miss anything. I secretly know I've missed a ton, but the "really good stuff" will come back around eventually! With these two tools at my fingertips, I don't experience FOMO (fear of missing out), and break is as close to a break as I can get. (Now I have to figure out how to eliminate nighttime dreams about school!)

TweetDeck
I've already written about how TweetDeck saves me time and energy - making me more efficient - when I want to use Twitter on my laptop. When I come back from a week off of Twitter, TweetDeck saves me once again. (If you haven't read this post, please do so now, or the next two paragraphs will have you wondering what I'm talking about!)

Before break: I make sure to shorten my "first" list (those educators I do not want to miss each day). I temporarily move some of these wonderful educators to a "first 1" list or other silly name. This list, too, is locked, so they have no clue they're being put to the side for a week. Really, EVERYONE is put to the side for the week, so it doesn't matter! Note: I often update lists using Twitter.com - I find it easier than using TweetDeck. After break, I can easily add these people back. Too many people in my "first" list after a long break gets me overwhelmed when I come back. I want to avoid that feeling!

To keep from being overwhelmed even more, I often just look at the last five tweets from each of my other columns, and then "clear" them so that I have a blank slate once again.


Feedly
I used to use Feedly to keep up with student blogs. We are not blogging (yet?) this year for various reasons, but I use Feedly to keep up with other educators' blogs - usually on a daily basis. Here is a very detailed post from Sylvia Rosenthal Tolisano (@langwitches) about how to keep up with student blogs through Feedly. You don't have to get that organized!

Before break: I just make sure I'm caught up with what was in Feedly before I leave. What's great about Feedly is that all the posts you "miss" will be there when you get back - no matter how long you're gone! Just keep hitting the checkmark at the top of the page until you've seen them all. I love browsing and weeding out the posts I feel I really need to read after break. It goes by quickly on Feedly, as I have them categorized.

See how the organization helps you keep tabs without being overwhelmed:



Here is how Richard Bryne (@rmbyrne) uses Feedly...

I hope these two tools help you eliminate FOMO. How do you keep up after taking a break to be with family? Let me know in the comments below - we can all learn from each other. We truly need to take breaks during our breaks!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Holiday Help

In order for students to learn the last week of school before break, they have to THINK. Thinking seems to be "too hard" for them this week!

So... to help them this past week, we did a couple of things...

1) We had a shelf of holiday picture books for those who forgot their independent reading book. Here is the list of the books I checked out of the library. Some kids picked them up, and some had no interest. They helped, however, when a student forgot their book at home, or was in between books and didn't want to start a new one just yet. Where YOU can help is by commenting on this post or on the list of books which ones YOU love to use around the holidays with your middle school students!



Clearing off this shelf for these books makes me want to bring in more picture books each week!
2) We invited parents in on the last day before break. Oh, how we all love this! This year we only had two - Grammie (a grandmother I've written about before here) and one other mother. We reserved the rocking chair for them, sat around them in the front of the room, and basically just enjoyed good stories they brought. Since my first class didn't have anyone sign up, I asked one of our assistant principals (who'd been wanting to come), and she gladly came and read as well.




3) My co-teacher Yvette suggested we put on the "fireplace." So... this video was shown through most of the day! You gotta love it.

What do you do to help with the holiday fever in your classes? Please comment below - we could ALL use a little more help engaging kids this time of the year!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Reflection On 2016

In August, I had a revelation of sorts.

It applies to everything in my life - 
     teaching, friends, and family.
Since August, I've been focusing on...
Some days I do much better than others.
I know I have many faults. I am reminded of them constantly!
However, I am "on the potter's wheel."
I am NOT done. I'm not finished "becoming."
I have a long road ahead of me. 
We all do, hopefully.

I've got many things going for me...
     I am loved. By my husband, family, and I hope - my students. 
     I am healthy.
     I am reflective.
     I want to be better. In every aspect of my life.
     I have people I can go to for guidance and support.
     I am grateful for the little things that make up this life.
     I am "on the potter's wheel," and I've got a clean slate every day.

May 2017 be just as good. I will work towards improving myself, and keeping patience, kindness and caring at the forefront. We are all truly blessed each morning we wake to face a new day. May 2017 be your best year yet!


*This phrase is from Joel Osteen's broadcast this past Sunday.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Extra Credit

I haven't provided extra credit for a few years now (even before I learned from Rick Wormeli), but I thought I'd stress how WONDERFUL it is to not see these memes as even remotely funny anymore now that I'm only giving feedback in lieu of marks throughout the year!




Some teachers still provide extra credit - because it helps students learn. 
Isn't the work you already assign helping students learn? 
What's the reason you're not willing to allow students to redo or revise something they've already done? 
Is it time to re-evaluate the quality of your assignments and assessments?

When will this attitude that it's "all about the grade" diminish?
When can children truly start to believe that it's all about the LEARNING?

Reposting this photo of a painting done by one of my former students... Maddie M.
"It's not about the grade. It's about the learning..."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Blessings

I just wanted to quickly jot down all the blessings I can remember from this past week:

  • After Thanksgiving break, one student called me "Mom." Since I don't have kids of my own and consider these my kids, it always makes me feel loved.
  • We were able to read an article of the week that a STUDENT brought in - and all the kids were engaged when reading and beginning to discuss it. --> Online Behind Bars
  • The fishbowl discussions we had on Friday were spectacular. Students were respectful of each other and their opinions, built on their ideas, and asked more questions that kept the conversation going. I LOVE that we give them this discussion practice time this year - it's paying off! We are learning about how to communicate better!
  • The question of the day Wednesday was - "Are you a lefty or a righty (or ambidextrous)?" One student told me, "Mrs Kirr! I'm a righty, but I'd give my right arm to be a lefty!"
  • I told my coworkers at lunch Thursday about the massive tension headache I had (how do people deal with migraines?!), and one suggested I lay down in my room. I DID! It got me through the rest of the day.
  • I've connected with middle school ELA teachers on Voxer, and I feel like I've got my own little coffee clutch - on my own time.
  • Kids are picking up books I've shared.
  • When a student asked me, "Do we have to annotate?" I replied, "You don't HAVE to do ANYthing." He replied back, "But you strongly encourage it because it will help us understand what we're reading better."
  • One student, on her way out at the end of homework club, said her favorite part of our room was the picture (disclaimer) on the door. This is a student who struggles daily, and I was so happy to know she'd read and appreciated it. We were able to talk about it down the hall and out the door to the activity bus.
  • I was able to send some good notes home yesterday before school got out, and I've received the most beautiful replies already. Parents truly appreciate hearing good news about their children!
  • I am fortunate enough to have the time to attend EdCampLakeCounty today to meet and learn from other teachers in the area.
Just a few simple blessings I remember from the week that keep me loving life.