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, January 19, 2019

Conference Musings Q2

Once again, it's my busiest time of the year. One-on-one conferences with my 7th graders to decide what tiny little letter represents all of our work and learning from the quarter. (Past reflections on conferring with students are here.)

I've conducted 61 one-on-one "grade" conferences with students the last two weeks. 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. Some conferences go faster than five minutes, and some go slower, and they all leave a paper trail for students to take home and explain to parents. This quarter, we used pages 6 & 7 of this document. These were the second grade conferences we've had this year, so they were a teeny bit faster than first quarter. It's still quite the learning curve for some! 

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

Alan -

     I know he's got an "A." There's no doubt. He had trouble with his writing, but followed the feedback and improved it dramatically in his first revision. He asked me if he could average the numbers for the scores he had. Sure - even though this is one thing I think is wrong with typical grades. He came up with a 94.5%. "Yeah, I'll take that," he said.
     Me - Hey, [Alan], since you like to average the numbers, would you like to just simply go with a regular grade next time?
     Alan - Hmmm... Will I get the same feedback?
     Me - Nope. It's either grades OR feedback, as it's too much for me to do both, and the research says it doesn't help, anyway.
     Alan - Then I'd rather stick with the way we've been doing it. I think the feedback helps me learn.
     Me - (with a tear in my eye, I swear) Thanks for making it all worth it. It sure is a heck of a lot more work, but when I hear it's helping you learn, it's all worth it.

Paul -

     Similar to the conversation with Alan, except Paul actually said he "crunched the numbers." When I asked him if he'd like to go to normal grading, he thought about it and finally said, "No. Let's wait one more quarter. If it doesn't work out in my favor, we can switch over fourth quarter." (Seriously. I can't make this stuff up. Oh - and this is the kid that reminds me of my one and only nephew.)

Ally -

     Oh, how Ally was nervous. Her legs were shaking up and down, her face was blotchy red.
     Me - [Ally], what do you think when you see all this evidence? What does it tell you?
     Ally - (quietly) I don't know... I don't know.
     Me. - Let me change the question. How does this make you feel?
     Ally - (straightening up) Proud.

Upton -

     This quarter, he's been blowing off directions, asking me every day to repeat what I'd already said (and what was on the board), going on YouTube so often that I had to block it for our class, and has been talking a ton while I'm sharing how we're going to work each day. I haven't talked with him about it, as he's not the loudest one in the class. He's also a huge reader, so I don't worry about him figuring out the directions or following through when he gets down to work.
     These were the comments he chose for his report card:
He knows. 
He knows. 
This, in itself, helps me to realize, once again, how important it is to take time to reflect.

Mike -

     He, too, has been ignoring my directions, distracted as heck at ANYthing happening in the room or outside the room. Head turning this way and that, busting out laughing at things I cannot see or hear. He's not distracting the class - only himself.
     For our "analysis of evidence" writing, he wrote three sentences. I marked it as "incomplete" and let him know I was available before and after school, and during lunch. The day before we were to meet about his final grade, he "wrote a new one." When we sat down to chat, I asked him where his paper was with the page numbers for the evidence he'd found for his writing. He mumbled that he didn't do it. When I asked who he went to for peer editing, he said he did it on his own. When I asked why there was a blog post about something totally unrelated to ELA, and yet he didn't yet post his reflections on our book clubs, he said he didn't get to it. We looked at his evidence. He did not try to inflate it. He was honest and reflective. We agreed on his grade. Then he set a goal to "use class time more wisely."
     Yes. Yes. Yes.
     I will help him with this goal as we move forward.

Friday, January 4, 2019

More Nonfiction

I decided last night, as I was soaking up Jack Andraka's Breakthrough, that I need to read and share more nonfiction with my students this year. I also finished Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder this week. I posted it on instagram, and one of my former students said she read it for a class her senior year. That one makes me simply want to do MORE to become a better person.

With Jack's book (I'm going to finish in two days), it's personal.

A dear friend of my husband was diagnosed (early, she says) in June with pancreatic cancer. A dear friend of my own's father passed from this terrible disease. I didn't really know about this type of cancer until June last year, and now I fear for our friend.

I've heard of Jack Andraka, and knew he did something remarkable with science, and I'd probably even heard it was for early detection of pancreatic cancer, but at that point, I simply didn't care enough to read it. It wasn't personal for me.

His writing is personal. Jack's close family friend he called an uncle passed away from pancreatic cancer. His work is personal. He spent months of his freshman year working towards this ONE thing. My reading became personal as soon as I stepped into this book. It wasn't simply "something on my to-read list" anymore.

There's so much more to say about this book (that I now need to purchase for the classroom), but I'm not here to write about the book. I'm here to explore - again - that this is how I'd love for school to be. I'm in the perfect position - ELA class - where we can read and write like crazy. I truly wish we could make it more personal for students - reading and writing MOST days about what we believe is important.

Some of my seventh graders need more guidance, I know. Some of them seem apathetic about so many issues; I get it. As I provide short video feedback on our last bit of teacher-directed writing however, I am catching some students who have the skills and asking them to move FORWARD. To not take my direction, but use the same skills to write about what THEY deem important. Great - you can tell me who the dynamic character is in your book and back it up with evidence and then explain it all clearly? Then NEXT time, write about a PERSON you know that is dynamic, and provide the evidence and explain. Better yet - write about something you want DONE - find your audience - and write to THEM about what you think needs to be done, and then share your evidence and your WHY. Make it personal. Do it because it's right and good for you and your life, or the lives of others.

What other nonfiction books are out there for our younger adolescent students? I need more nonfiction books that will get my middle schoolers (some of whom still think reading is not for them) feeling, thinking, and responding. Responding through writing, projects, actions... More along what I wanted our genius hour to be. More along the lines of Erin Olson's idea of - "Read. Be inspired. Do something inspiring."

Please add your favorites in the comments below - and tag another reader with this post so I may easily curate a bunch and pay for them when I can. Please share how you use nonfiction - and make it personal - for our students. Thank you!