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, October 28, 2018

Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning

Solution Tree sent me a book to review, and I was happy to - I've been following Scott McLeod's blog for awhile, and I love Scott's way of thinking and sharing. I quickly followed Julie Graber on Twitter after I read the start of this book.

This book is short, but hard to read all in one sitting. I needed to let the ideas sit. Everything in the book revolves around the "4 Shifts Protocol" found on page 13 and also here on the blog. The 4 shifts are guides to help teachers produce deeper learning - they do NOT focus on the technology used. This was the first thing I loved about this book. They took time to explain the TPACK, SAMR and a couple of other models I'd not heard of, and they also shared a list of many other frameworks they'd researched. They wanted more explicit guidelines about HOW and WHAT to change when we wanted students to use technology more effectively in our curriculum, so they've been working on these 4 Shifts for awhile.

The 4 Shifts Protocol focuses on A) Deeper Thinking and Learning, B) Authentic Work, C) Student Agency and Personalization, and D) Technology Infusion. Educators are encouraged to use ONE domain at a time to improve their lessons.

As I read through the specific lessons, I kept thinking of genius hour... and of what genius hour has done for my thinking (hence the reason for Shift This)... Sure enough, in the last chapter, the authors mentioned PBL. It's true - if you're not ready for full-blown PBL or something like genius hour, these shifts will help you get there some day. If you want to go big, and include a lot of deeper learning (that can very well mean more time), use all four domains of the 4 Shifts Protocol. If you are not ready, simply try just one. Each one will help you see how you can make your lessons more student-centered, more relevant, and more authentic.

After reading the explanation and ideas shared, my favorite part of the book was the last chapter - with tips as to how to better implement the protocol. In Scott McLeod's fashion, he goes back to pedagogy and relevance for teachers. This book will help educators "think more deeply and critically about instructional purpose." It's NOT about technology. It's about how to make lessons... BETTER.


What will I do with what I've learned? Look at one aspect of my lessons - I, personally, am going to look at the standard to which we attach our "article of the week." I could, possibly, totally revamp it, but I'm going to look at one domain at a time... When I do, I'll blog about it and share out with the hashtags #4shifts and #makeitbetter.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Stories in EDU

I will admit - I know Jason Bretzmann and Kenny Bosch. I've learned from both of them at edcamps or conferences in Wisconsin. I've eaten with one or the other at lunch! I traded Shift This for their Game of Stories. I feel they are good people.

Therefore, when asked if I would read and review Stories in EDU: Sail with a Fleet, I said, "Of course!" I knew some of the teachers who shared their stories in this collection, as well, so I was excited to begin reading.

What I loved about this book is that I could (and often did) read two stories in one sitting, and they could be from anywhere in the book. I chose them by author, then title, then section of the book. The sections include "Overcoming Obstacles," "Relationships," "Hooks," "Educational Technology Use," and "That One Kid..."

While I noticed Jason wrote seven of the 29 stories and Kenny wrote two, I also learned from both of them. Here's a snippet of what I will use after reading this book...

Because of Jason's "Salon with a View" story, I'm going to try something similar with my last class as a reward - they proved to me they're so good with fishbowl discussions, that I need to provide more time for them to try them - with their OWN questions! (My blog post about it is now HERE.)

As a result of reading Kenny's "You Had Me at Hello" story, I've added a link to the book to the #1st5Days LiveBinder because his idea is perfect for those who despise ice breakers.

If you are a Kahoot! fan, you'll love Jason's story titled, "Triple Moving Kahoot!" and if you know him, you'll be able to hear his voice in each of his stories.

Teresa Gross has me wanting to talk with our eighth grade teachers to see if I could be there when they read "The Monkey's Paw." I already know Josh Gauthier, but reading his "Hello Kitty" story helped me know him a bit more. Tracy Kelly reminded me to keep using sign language in the classroom. Brianne Neil and Leigh Anne Geib both reminded me of those students I wish I could take under my wing, and Patty Kolodnicki and Aubrey Jones remind everyone that our students need a clean slate each year. (Or each month. Or week. Or day.)

This is a quick read. One that you won't need to annotate. One that you can pass on to other teachers when you're finished. One that reaffirms some of what you're doing, and may challenge some of what you've done, as well.

My wish... I hope that their next book includes Twitter handles for the teachers sharing their stories, so we can connect further. I also think it would be possible to split these stories. The "Educational Technology Use" could be its own book, along with "Overcoming Obstacles," etc. Personally, I'd like to read an entire book about "That One Kid."

YOU can be part of Stories in EDU! Head to the website and submit your own story. Share your own lessons learned, so readers can benefit.

November 2018 Update: See my "Salon with a View" Spinoff post!

Side Note: Fueled by Coffee and Love is another anthology of short stories from educators. Check out Mari Venturino's post about how it came about and where the proceeds go. I have not yet read my copy, but will be sure to post about it when I finish!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

I Have Confidence...

Well... not as much as I could.
In fact... I've learned to "fake it 'till I make it" when it comes to confidence.

When I was becoming an adult, before every interview, I'd blast Julie Andrews in the vehicle - "I Have Confidence." You know the one...

It continued with, "What will my future be... I wonder..."
I used this song to remind myself that I may, in fact, not get this particular job, but then it may not be right for me. I was going to go in, however, with the confidence that I SHOULD have this job! And, really, the only job I was not offered after singing this song was the job at Payless Shoe Source. đŸ˜‰

"I've always longed for adventure - to do the things I've never dared..."
And I'm doing the "things I've never dared" - I've been able to jump into Genius Hour, I'm currently going through the year without marks/points during each term (until the end when students and I come up with one letter for the parent report), and my colleagues and I are trusted to determine the curriculum (for now). I have a dream job - three 80-minute ELA classes of seventh graders.

"Captain with seven children. What's so fearsome about that?"
This song is also blasting in my vehicle the first day of school. Believe it or not, I get nervous about meeting children! After the first day, the nerves disappear.

I've realized, lately, that my nerves and my lack of confidence arise every October. When the grade is posted for my class, and I dread parent responses. (Oh, how I look forward to the day we have standards-based grading throughout the school!)

You see, even though I make it a point to send two-week updates and good notes home to parents, often the only time I receive emails from parents is when there is a problem.

Grades are personal. Sometimes parents care / worry / stress about their child's grade more than their child. And they let you know it.

Last October, I had a parent who hadn't read anything I'd sent home regarding how we were doing grades. I received the first email on a Friday after school. I finally felt mentally healthy enough to write in response to it this past January. My stress had manifested itself into a migraine, and they've come and gone since then. I had one this past week, in anticipation of backlash of what I've been practicing in class during parent/teacher conferences. This should NOT be the case. These conferences are for teachers and parents to discuss how each student is doing so far. Yet I get worried. Because I'm doing things differently from the other teachers. Even if I believe it is right and good for my students, I worry worry worry. The attack I received via email last year hit me hard. Since I don't want to give that parent any (more) power over me, I have got to learn to let the worry go.

"I must dream of the things I am seeking... 
I am seeking the courage I lack.
The courage to serve them with reliance. 
Face my mistakes without defiance. 
Show them I'm worthy, and while I show them, I'll show me. 
Soooo... Let them bring on all their problems.
I'll do better than my best.
I have confidence they'll put me to the test, but
I'll make them see I have confidence in me.
Somehow I will impress them. 
I will be firm, but kind."

I used to think this part of the lyrics were about the children (and they are, really). This year, however, I see them as referring to the parents when we meet - IF any issues arise.

What I've tried in the '17-'18 school year:
  • I don't check email after 4pm or on the weekends.
  • I take time to stop. And breathe. I had an app for a bit, but now I just need to remind myself to sit and focus on my breathing.
  • I go for walks.
  • I sing at the top of my lungs.
  • I dance around the house.
  • I get eight hours of sleep each night.
  • I focus on all I have in this life.

What I'll try during this '18-'19 school year:
  • All the things from the list above.
  • Stretch every day.
  • Repeat a mantra of some sort when I start to feel the stress.

I've got to remember...
"All I trust I give my heart to.
All I trust becomes my own."
I am so very passionate about teaching! So why do I dread a parent attack? Supposedly "no teacher goes unscathed," and I understand that parents SHOULD have a vested interest in their child's education. I have even received emails or hand-written notes in the past from parents and students that have melted my heart. I need to stop hiding them, and instead, bring them out and read them when I start to feel the stress in my neck that reaches around my head, makes me want to throw up and go back to bed. When this continues into a day or two literally full of physical pain, I need to stop and DO something about it. I do NOT have to have this stress build like this. I'm tired of this. I don't want it to become something that IS. I need it to be over and done. I need to have more confidence in myself. 

I need to make my mantra.
  • I do what I do for the children.
  • I am very passionate about my profession.
  • I give my students 103% every school day.
  • I make sure parents are kept up-to-date on all we're doing in class.
  • I've written a book on reasons WHY I've shifted my teaching.
  • I am a professional with 23 years of experience.
  • I have the support of my administration.
  • I read professional articles, books, and teacher blogs to help me learn and decide what's right and good for my current students.
  • I have been a pioneer at my school, helping other teachers try new things when it's right and good for their own students.
  • I will remember those parents who have thanked me profusely for teaching their children.

And IF. IF parents do get upset (which history shows they just might)... if it's my fault, I'll learn from my mistake. Big time. If it's not my fault, I'll have to wonder what's going on in their lives that they feel they need to attack. And then... I'll have to let it go (quicker than I've done in the past). After all, I'm not a surgeon. I don't watch to be sure a boiler doesn't explode. I'm not in charge of any part of the military. Lives are not at stake. I'm still doing all I can for the children in my charge.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Conference Musings

Seventh graders - what a mix of minds!

I've conducted thirteen one-on-one "grade" conferences with students this week. I need to meet because even though I've gone all quarter without points or scores averaged together, I still need to put a final letter grade in the online gradebook. The end of the term is next week Friday, so I've reserved five days to have 5 min. conferences with students. Some go faster, and some go slower, and they leave a paper trail for students to take home and explain to parents. The first conferences about grades are always tougher than the rest of the year. Students have never done this before, and it's quite the learning curve for some! We use this document (the first two pages) to discuss evidence so far.

Here are some snippets (all names are changed)...

Evelyn - 
     I see, on our documenting sheet, that she has earned an A. It's solid. She's gotten proficient or mastery on her writing skills, and she's got 90% or higher on her reading comprehension checks. I ask, "What do you think your grade should be?"
     Her response - again and again - "I don't know."

Cassie - 
     She knows she should get an A. I ask, "What is your evidence?" She can't find it. We need to look through everything and write it off to the side, so she can see what I see. We end up deciding a B- is more representative of her learning right now. I look at last year's grades when I have time. Uh oh. I might be hearing from parents. She had all As last year...

Jimmy -
     He starts by saying, "I've never done this before, so I'm going to do my best, but I might make mistakes. So...." and he goes on and on about his skills, how he's doing, where he could improve... He's got three goals for next quarter and wants to narrow it down to one that will have the most impact... I don't have to say a thing.

Norman -
     Has been in trouble this year. Only once from me. I "let him get away" with things that do not impede other students' learning. I pick my battles, and I think we have an "okay" relationship. He seemed scared, yet put on his tough face. He seemed surprised to know I agreed with his assessment of himself and did not bring behavior into the mix. Behavior doesn't belong in a grade. If it did, however, he'd have an "A" for looking me in the eyes the entire time we talked.


We have different seating options in our room. I make sure to sit on a chair that is the same height as the student's chair. I want them to know this should not be scary. It's just a conversation about how they're doing right now, and where they can improve. I LOVE these conversations. Some are tougher than others, but I feel like I learn so much about the students, and I feel that we build more of a bond of trust with each other. If (when?) we do go to standards-based grading, I'd love to keep these conversations going at the end of each term.

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

Sunday, October 7, 2018

SBG Committee Meets!

This week, before I headed out to our district office to be in the "Middle School Standards-Based Grading Steering Committee," I found post-its on my desk at home. Post-its from our class discussion on August 31 this year.

I hadn't taken the time to read them, so I'm going to post them here to see if there's something new I can discover.

In the "positive" column...
  • hardwork, persistavitivity (sic)
  • I try my hardest to keep them all A's!
  • A+, school, doing my best, working hard
  • A+ the best grade, 100%, 10/10
  • A's and B's, 4.0, GPA
  • Getting As and 4.0 GPA
  • I like to get grades can se it shows your progress (sic)
  • Are very important
  • letters / numbers
  • They may be important.
  • important
  • letters, important
  • more import things

In the "neutral" column...
  • homework
  • important, work hard, do good, meaningful, try your best
  • A+, subjects, stressful, prepared, honor students, quiz, worried, tests, study
  • low? high? good? bad?
  • school, classes, teachers, parents
  • parents, school, A
  • A, B, C, D, E, F, Ma, Pr, De, Be, Work
  • Grading policy, As, Bs, Cs, Ds, Fs, parents, school
  • GPA, school, homework, stress, tests
  • hard to get
  • school, academics, my classes, my teachers
  • How your doing in school (sic)
  • importun and useful, can help U (sic)
  • important, harsh, good, GPA, Pennstate (sic)
  • good, four point o
  • They make you anscious, some people care and people don't care about them. (sic)
  • Important, Good grades, you have to work hard
  • try to keep them high I think trying is more important
  • Grades are what you get in school, they can be bad or good, A, B, C, D, F
  • I care about my grades, but I also believe you are not a letter or #. You do not define what your grade is.
  • Powerschool, A, B, C, D, F ("F" is circled, with a check mark and smiley face by it)
  • Good and badd (sic)
  • grades are something that are different.
  • important, something you work for, assignments/tests
  • A, B (good), C, +, - (average) F, D (Bad)
  • Something that measures your academic ability, but it also defines you with a letter.
  • classes
  • A+, B, C, D, F
  • hard work, should be good

In the "negative" column...
  • Worrying about grades
  • There ok I don't stress about them too much but when I do its not good (sic)
  • As Bs Cs Ds, I hope I don't get any bad grades
  • Intence, scary, change (sic)
  • I think they're kinda stupid. I'm getting graded on stuff I don't really like and people kinda treat them like they're this super important thing.
  • Burn it!!
  • stressful (x 2 post its)
  • F (see pic)
  • G3 = Get Good Grades
  • A-F, A=good, F=you're a failure
  • Stress, anxiety
  • Wait, what are my grades like? When will this grade come in? Do these people all have better grades than me?
  • Pressure, stress, homework
  • Something that shows you what understanding your in like a scale. But also can make you feel very sad & happy. (sic)
  • I don't like them when they are lower than an A-. They are good when you work hard.
  • 6th grade report card / PowerSchool. Meh.

I love this.
I remember these feelings. The successes and the fears.
Their quick thoughts / writing brings me back to when grades mattered to me, personally.

And this is the reason I wanted to be on the Standards-Based Grading committee for our district. The elementary one is finished, and they'll have their first standards-based reports coming out in this fall.

We had our first half-day meeting this week, and I had a difficult time not throwing my two cents in after every person spoke. We chatted about how we felt about it, what it was, read some research (how reliable was it?), and came away with this book we'll be studying:

I'm excited for this next part of my journey in this profession!

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