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.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Fire Drill Frustration

It was time to exit. Didn't matter where you were or what you were doing, it was time to leave the building. The fire alarms were singing their song...

I went down a different exit this time. I'd never been out this side of the building during a fire drill. I followed the swell of students down the hall, down the stairs, and we got jammed up a little heading out the double doors. No shoving at all - the students were calm, quiet, and orderly. Suddenly a coworker was just to the front left of me, yelling "GET MOVING!" turning her head (and voice) - right - in - my - face.

I didn't hesitate. I yelled back, "WE ARE!" and kept moving forward.

I could feel the smoke coming out of my ears. I was furious. Furious with her yelling in the midst of the calm, with the message of her words (we were moving just fine - we're not supposed to run, correct?), with the irony of making sure kids are calm and quiet, and with myself.

I yelled back at a coworker. What is WRONG with me?! I hadn't been emotional lately. I hadn't been stressed out. I hadn't been under the gun when the alarm went off. I wasn't worried that it was a real fire. I was just... royally ticked off.

I tell my team that I may be in trouble (or at least get some flack) from this coworker. I relayed the story. I guess I was preparing them for if they heard otherwise. I went home. I processed with Hubby. I fell asleep. (I'm a very good sleeper!) I woke up. And I felt guilty.

I tweeted this out to my PLN:

I went to school, hoping I wouldn't see her, even though I hardly ever do. I forgot about it for most of the day. Then, I received an email from an educator (I've never met in person) from my online PLN. She sent me a sweet message that included this video from Brené Brown:


I teared up when I watched it (no, I have NOT been emotional lately!) at school, then shared it with  my husband at home. This is how I'm trying to live my life. I've got a HOST of "permission slips" in my pockets. I am uncool. And I am okay with it.

When that teacher wants to chat about it, I'll be able to chat calmly.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Tidbit of Success

In the first quarter of the school year, many teachers don't have a lot of grades. When you're "going gradeless," or not putting points or marks to be averaged in the grade book as I am, it's even fewer. Going into our sixth week, we currently have six assignments that have narrative feedback attached.

The "Article of the Week" actually already has three pieces of feedback embedded in the one assignment. I change the date on that one and move it up to the top when we have a new one to add.

I've got 7th graders, and first quarter for them is all rainbows and unicorns when they're not getting points or marks averaged.  In fact, I saw this on a locker the other day and thought, "Yup. That's where we are right now."
Time will come soon enough when I sit 1:1 with each student to look at their evidence and put it all into one little letter. So far, however, there has been no mention of grades. No extra credit, no late penalties... we've just been working at learning how to be better readers, writers, and grammarians.

Here's the tidbit I need to share that I heard from a student when we they went into the feedback they had for their article of the week...

"It worked! The feedback you gave worked, and I did better this time!"

THIS is why I put myself through the extra work of adding "next steps" to each student's personalized feedback.

That's really all I wanted to share today. Thanks to Jimmy Casas's latest post about blogging.  "Write like you talk. Start writing. Write for you." Tag - you're it! Time for YOU to share another story!

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

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Another Shift to Curriculum Night

I don't remember when we started calling it "Curriculum Night" vs. "Parent Night" or "Open House," but I'd like to share what I tweaked this year, and how it went. (Previous posts about parent night are here from 2017, and here from 2013.)

I kept the same question of the day (night?) for parents to answer with their child's magnet - they seem to like finding the magnet and moving it, then discussions continue as they sit down while I'm greeting more arrivals. (How much did YOU enjoy 7th grade?)

One thing I felt I NEEDED to do was to cover the white board tables. I went for - and received! - grant money four (?) years ago for IdeaPaint for my classroom tables. We'd painted 12 of the 15, as some students didn't want it. Since then, they've been scrubbed with some super-amazing cleaner that has now washed off the protective layer they used to have. So... those goofy drawings of odd faces? Yup. They now look pretty permanent. The questions about the text we're reading? Yup. Still there. It doesn't seem to bother the seventh graders, but it bothers me. Hubby went to the dollar store and bought me six white table cloths, and we folded them twice to place on six of the nine whiteboard tables that are left (I swapped out three of them for two smaller - and square - tables last year - students decided which tables needed to go). If I don't get the gumption to purchase this whiteboard contact paper a colleague recently used to cover his tables, I'll go with the table cloths again next year, too!

Then I collected many books from home. I wanted parents to understand that I keep up with professional development. I also thought - what if THEY read what I've read? They may understand my teaching a bit more, and perhaps share with other parents. So.... I created check out slips for the books I thought parents might enjoy reading. (Here they are - make your own!)

Some books I kept at home, thinking they would be more beneficial to teachers than parents, but I did bring over twenty, so the box was heavy enough as it was. ;)

Was my plan successful? Three points that make me think it was... I was able to share that The Power of Reading really simply stated, "The only way to understand reading more is to READ MORE." One parent (who also teaches ELA) said I had some "awesome books" there, and another parent CHECKED ONE OUT!! Yes! The Feedback Fix by Joe Hirsch was the winner of the night.

Side note: My husband and my co-teacher were the ones who said I should bring Shift This. I just couldn't! Plus, it was not a text that had influenced my own teaching. It was a result.

The rest of Open House / Parent Night / Curriculum Night went very well. I let parents know I was available after the night was over for further questions, and no one showed. (I figure the ones that need to ask weren't able to show this night.)


The next day, one student shared with me that his dad said we had a "touchy-feely" class. He said this right after I had touched his shoulder to say hello when he walked in to class. So I sprang back and said, "Oh, I'm sorry - I just do that automatically!"
He replied, "No. He means it's a comfortable class." I'll take it!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The "G" Word - GRADES

For the life of me, I can't remember how I introduced going without grades at the start of last year. I guess I skipped writing about it, but two years ago I wrote about the day I introduced this idea to my seventh graders HERE. This year, the "discussion" (really - just me going on and on and on about how passionate I am about this subject) lasted 15-20 min. at the end of each period Friday.

First, when students walked in, the question of the day was regarding grades. "Who cares more about your grades?" Answers were - my parents, both / equally, or me.
Courtesy of @MrsSalsinger
Next, they answered how they were feeling (based on "energy" and "pleasantness") on our mock mood meter (thanks to Marc Brackett at BLC18 - more to come on this in a future post), and then we read independently. After we read, wrote about our books with a prompt, and quickly reviewed genres, it was time to talk about the G word... Grades.

I began this discussion this year by asking students to not say a word... I was going to give them ONE word, and I wanted them to write the thoughts that came to mind on a sticky note. I asked them for silence because I wanted 25 different ideas, not all one idea because someone said something aloud. They were fabulous, waiting for the word. I said, "Grades," and they all got to work. Some wrote just one word, some wrote phrases, and some wrote sentences. When pencils were down, I asked students to come to the board and categorize their sticky note as either positive, negative, or both/neutral. (Want to see what the students wrote? I share the sticky notes in a later blog post here.)
Courtesy of @MrsSalsinger
I then asked if they would've written different things on their sticky, thus moving them, if I added words to the one word... such as "Grades - in ELA," or "Grades - in P.E.," etc. Many hands went up each time I said something different. In one class, almost all hands went up when I said, "Report card grades." I continued the discussion by explaining how grades are very complex, and can be very personal. We all have stories about a grade or points, or a particular teacher. Our parents and their parents all have stories they remember - some still bring up angst, and some are positive. Either way, grading can feel very personal, and I don't want it to be. I want grades to reflect LEARNING. I want grades to reflect ACHIEVEMENT. Not behavior. And not an average.

We went on to talk about averages. How, when one week you may receive 0/5 on your article of the week, but you learn from our reflection of it, and the next week you may receive 2/5. That's a 40% increase, and yet the grade is averaged out to be 20% overall. I had many different numbers on the board, and students saw how, if they were averaged, they wouldn't be able to overcome their first attempt quickly. However, if we did not average them, and instead just worked off of feedback and "next steps," they could show me how they'd learned. What if their last four assessments showed 5/5? What does that mean?

Then came the explanation of our 1:1 conferences at the end of each term. We'll be looking at all the evidence, and talking about what it means. We'll be looking at growth, revisions, and how students took feedback and did something with it - in order to learn, not for a better grade.

During these 15-20 minutes in each class, I did most of the talking, that's for sure. I had eye contact with all students, however - most seemed to be paying attention, and trying to soak it in. I asked for questions, and they were few, at best. I asked for thumbs up, middle, or down, and got quizzical faces and unsure thumbs. So... I passed out the newest parent explanation and asked them to look through it and share their thoughts or findings. One observation was, "This side (the back page right side) has more words on it than the other side."  Yes! That led me to explain that our way of grading this year is more work - on me, on them, and on their parents.

This was the time to ask them to talk with their parents about the grading procedure, as they are able to opt out if they'd like. I may have said, at the end, that, "After talking with your parents, you or they decide you want to opt out, that's fine. You can go back to having the computer average your grades, just like it has for years." It sounded a bit snarky, and I could feel it in my bones, as well. I don't drink coffee, and yet I was BUZZING with passion about how I felt we need to do this in order to portray a more accurate grade to reflect their learning. Phew! This was a LOT. I still need to refine how I present this to students - This may have been overload for many of them. Should I spread it out over a few days?

I had one more thing to try (new to me, but I'll be doing it again)... On the door, I quickly put up a green, yellow, and pink sticky note. (I've seen this same idea with green, yellow, and red hands on the door, but I didn't think of it ahead of time, and stickies work just as well!) On their way out the door, I asked them to high five the one that best fits how they're feeling about the idea...
  • Green = Good for now. I may have some questions later.
  • Yellow = Okay - I have a question or concern.
  • Pink = What are you doing to me, Mrs. Kirr??!!

And how am I feeling after this fabulous Friday with this new group of 7th graders? Ahhhh... I am pumped up once again believing that I'm doing the right thing for me and my students. I am still worried about parent night (this Wednesday), but having this current discussion fresh in my mind, I can let parents know that I understand grading can feel very personal - to all of us. My principal said he'd stay late during parent night so I could tell parents I will stay late to answer their questions and concerns in person. My hope is that they feel comfortable enough to ask me any and all questions now and throughout the quarter, so they come closer to understanding the reasons WHY.

Want to know what those sticky notes said? Visit this post...

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