I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 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 my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day with Experts

We had the laptops today for more exploring, but it really wasn't too long of a time. No Mrs. Smith today... But we had Mr. Juskiewicz to help us navigate through Kidblog, and Mr. Hillmer to help us navigate the web appropriately, including EBSCO.

Mr. Juskiewicz - introduced students as to how to post a blog, how to add a picture, and how to comment on another's blog. I feel that we may need more standards... Capitalization? Punctuation? I did have three things I'd like students to write about, and I posted them (on the wall and on the blog). I separated these put by fiction and nonfiction, as well, because they're different types of journaling.

After we got onto the blog, and I was able to explain what to journal about, I actually had time to conference with two students, and so did Mrs. Bingaman! I really liked the conferencing, as it helped students see that they ARE responsible for reading each week, and that I (or another adult) will be asking them about what they are reading.

Mr. Hillmer - I really liked the first part of his talk, informing kids about what websites are reliable, and why they would or wouldn't be reliable. 3/4 seemed kind of sleepy, as he was just feeding the kids information. He included the kids more in 5/6, and I think they liked that. They were definitely more engaged! He talked about bias, relevance, current, detail, authority when finding a website. How do I reinforce this?

Other notes... Mr. Goldstein tried to Skype with us, but the kids just asked for him to come in. Today was nice! We had experts in here, sharing their expertise, and I really appreciated the help. Seeing students look at each others' posts and comment made me smile. I heard from Karolina in 5/6 - "I really like this.". We still have students freaking out a little ... "I don't have a book!" So I threw back the question, "What have you been reading when I assign 20 min for homework?" I let them know they should journal on that - whatever it is they are reading this week. If they haven't read anything, read tonight and tomorrow!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Questions from introductory day...

How easy or difficult will it be to have one-on-one conferences with all the kids?
Can I invite others to conference with students? I'd like to set up a Google Doc for each class, so other teachers can conference with students, too. If I have the Google Doc, then other teachers can see where the students have been in research up to that point, so students are less likely to tell stories about what they've learned, or are currently learning. I invited Mr. Hillier (LMC), Mr. Goldstein (LA Dept. chair), Mrs. Smith, and Mrs. Bingaman to join me for one-on-one conferences. I put guiding questions on the GoogleDoc, so they can use it when they are conferencing.
What does the one-on-one conference look like? How can I make it easy for guests to conference with the kids? Mrs. Smith suggested Skype for her to conference with them. :-)
Is it okay for students to just read fiction? For this year, I'd say YES. I will try to help them see connections to "big questions" as they read, but to just journal what they're reading about at first. I have thought of one question I might be able to tailor as I read more... "What is so intriguing about dystopian society in fiction these days? Why are so many authors writing about it? What are the differences, and how has it changed over the past few years?" I will journal on the Kidblog as well, so students can see my progress, or my thought process...

Friday, February 24, 2012


Mrs. Smith came and she was so helpful! I am so glad she was there! I felt that without her, I might have given up or at least felt so defeated!!! The first class went wrong in so many ways. I really leaned on Jen for her words to help calm students, and explain to them what I could not.

By the end of the day, we learned...
No need to share the standards with the students at this point.
Let students know we're focusing on the PROCESS, not the PRODUCT.
Some students won't like it (2 had melt downs), but some students don't like being told to read biographies, either. Classic case of "you can't please everyone all of the time."
It's easier with two teachers.
Let students know that they may be working on the research/exploration stage for a long time, and they may not present to the class this year.
Let students know that their topic may change many times, depending on what they learn.
Let students know how much time in class they will have for this. I told them I would have at least one period a week devoted to reading (or researching), and one-on-one conferences during that time, too.
It's hard to start something brand new in the third quarter. Students would probably be more receptive if we start at the beginning of the school year...!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A bit more planning...

(Have a sheet with these expectations on it ready to hand out!)
-explore a topic of choice
-find out what you want to know about that topic
-generate a question that you believe many students will want to know the answer to (RIT.9)
-this question may be modified at any time
(share Bloom's taxonomy questions at this stage)
-research to find the answer to that big question (W.7 & W.9)
-you will need at least one book and one article to cite evidence that helped you formulate your answer
-present your findings to the class (SL.4 & SL.5)
How to grade progress?
Weekly journal check-ins
One-on-one conferences
Presentation of findings
TED videos?
Set up Today's Meet for general research questions
Time for students to research

For a later date...
- Scheduled dates for one-on-one conferences
- Mr. J. comes in to help students navigate Kidblog, and to remind students of the acceptable use policy
- Mr. Hillmer comes in to help students navigate EBSCO, and any other research ideas...
- Brainstorming session on how to present findings, along with citations from sources
- Include TED talks

Friday, February 17, 2012

Introductory Day... Planning

Introductory Day
Videotape the process
Invite Jen Smith to help
Put the tables in a circle
Set up "Today's Meet" so kids can ask questions of each other during research/conference time
Set up way of note taking (Evernote?) so we can conference with the kids and share notes
Questions to pose to students...
Why do teachers want students to read independently?
- because they have to ... certain standards teachers have to cover
- to be able to learn what you'd like, whenever you'd like
- to be successful in life
If you could design your own curriculum, what would you want to know?
Common Core Standards to cover -

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Asking staff for help...

Sent email to all staff, and subsequently began an Excel document that can (and should be?) shared with staff...
Hello, valuable TMS staff! (Yes, that's EVERYONE on the staff!)

My students will be starting another type of "pilot" on Friday... I would love your help - no - I'd love your expertise, to be more precise.

Students are going to be researching a topic of their choice, and I'd like them to be able to come to you for a lead to find more answers. For example, I would consider myself a good resource for learning more about sign language, biking, and children's literature. Therefore, if a student were researching mountain biking, I'd direct them to the WORS website, Vince at Village Cycle in Arlington Heights, and favorite trails of mine from a reference book. I would not be teaching them anything about mountain biking - I would only be directing them to a place or resource where they could find out more information. (I've already got Mr. Hamilton down for video games, Mrs. Damico and Ms. Burner for knitting, and Mr. Dansby for Motown music!)

Could you please reply to this email and let me know your expertise - in something other than your current position? I am going to create a list of staff members and the topics in which they have expertise. This would be to let my students use you as a resource to find more information. Of course, if you'd rather not be approached by one of my students for direction, please discard this message.

Thank you so much!!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Planning for the introduction...

Before we start
Some sort of tech where Ss can journal and share
Edmodo? - decided to go with Kidblog
Weebly? Only 10 users free? - decided to go with Kidblog
Kid blog - http://kidblog.org joykirr pw:f.....
Mr. Juskiewicz entered in all the kids and their passwords, along with setting it up so comments don't have to be approved by me first. He also separated them by class. I also added Mr. J. and Mrs. Smith as administrators for each class.
I set up a date for Mr. J. to come in and teach the kids how to navigate through the blog.
Get TED videos ready

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Brainstorming Ideas Regarding Independent Reading...

Met Ewan McIntosh in Bloomfield, Michigan for an all-day session on the "Design Thinking" process.
This is where it all started...

---Quarterly Book Project
How will students just keep reading on their own?
---How to read nonfiction / be exposed to nonfiction

Have students reading independently, across genres.
- This has been my goal, but the way we"assessed" independent reading is bugging me. Students are "forced" to read a certain genre, and produce a certain project (or choice of projects) once every quarter. This is to reading in real life. Yes, I want students to love fiction, and to love biographies (3rd quarter!), but that's not how adults read at all. I want them to be life-long readers, and thus life-long learners, but book projects are not the way to go. I need something that has students reading "20 min a day" like I ask of them...!

Student engagement
---issue now, is that some students just create projects that get a grade of an A even if they didn't read the book
---another issue is that some kids just don't like reading (fiction, mostly)

Troublesome thoughts about this project
---will students just do the same thing each year if this is done in multiple grades? I will not worry about that right now, as it's something I can't control anyway. The kids that do this will do it regardless
---grading... But I think I've got that figured out... Maybe!

Share books?
Get everybody reading independently?

Time, Space, and Assessment are the biggest barriers.
Conference Time... What are you currently learning? What have you learned already? What do you still need to learn? How can I help you get there? What are your next steps?