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.

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!

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