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.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fun in the Classroom?

It's been an entire day since our presentation on Justn Bieber, and I need to reflect on it one more time. We had two other presentations yesterday as well, in another class. Greg read from a paper about Mohammad Ali, and had stellar pictures projected during his presentation. Christina presented on violence in science fiction "these days," and engaged the students by reading aloud various passages that were proof. Which class was more fun? What makes learning fun? Were all the kids learning, even though the presentations were so very different? Take a look at the following article, if you're still wondering about school "these days"... I think we are learning AND having fun, at the same time. Having Fun... A Prerequisite For Learning?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Justin Bieber

Rachael's presentation was on Justin Bieber today... We had met a few lunch periods, because she wanted friends to help her with her Prezi, and because she wanted to know how to present it. I did not advise regarding organization - I only focused on student interest... Why is Justin Bieber important to the class? What will she do when some students don't care about what she's saying? Together, we devised a lead and a quiz of sorts to keep student interest throughout. When she started, I felt as if I needed to have audience points - she really involved the class, but it seemed as if they were talking over her. Or we're they? I watched the video to see if it's true... Glad I recorded it! Do I need to give the audience points? I don't want to, and this class was so good with Briana's and Sarah's presentaions... The more I wrote my reflections, the more I thought I should stick to no points for the audience.  After seeing the video, I noticed they were playing along with what Rachael was doing - asking for answers on whiteboards throughout the presentation. She was also quick with answering questions that were blurted out, which made it "okay" to keep it up. They were not being disrespectful.

Also, do I need a time frame for presentations? Rachael's was really long... 25 min. or so. Is that okay? I don't want to put a limit on something that could be worthwhile, or something that the students are really interested in. Just the time frame of the class period then, right? Another concern - now that Rachael is finished, she doesn't know what to read. I would hate to see her read "any old book" now that she's finished. She is not one of my book lovers, and I don't want her to just revert back to reading just because I said she should...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Which blog tool?

Today I saw a tweet from @gallitzvi regarding her students' e-portfolio. She has her students on Weebly. Mine are on Kidblog. I'd like to know what each can do... Can students keep their blogs for years to come? Is there a fee for Weebly? How user friendly is each? Are there teachers out there who have used one or the other and can comment here for me? Thanks!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Another week goes by...

Today, I'd say, was mostly successful. There are still come kinks to work out, but I believe we're making progress.

The reasons why I think we're making progress... We now have a set day to have our hour for independent reading. (Still not calling it Genius Hour until next year). Another boon - we were able to Skype again with Mrs. Smith during my 5/6 block - she helped two girls narrow their Holocaust search down, and gave them great websites instead of the videos they were watching! It's so great to have her in our class, even if she's not here in person! And one more thing - three students in my 8/9 block want to present soon! It's about time! They think they have something other students would want to know! Students were also helping each other out, and encouraging them to read certain things (example: Dennis suggested Fallen Angels to Brennan when he asked for a "war book"). Things are running a bit smoother, but there are still some issues. These issues lead me to the following...

More of what I'll change for next year - 1. I need to make sure there is a question or a problem that is interesting to the entire class. For example, one student wants to present on Mohammad Ali - GREAT! But will that hold each student's interest? Or is it my job now to have him, somehow, make it relevant to everyone? 2. I need to give points for bringing reading materials to class - we do not have access to computers each Wednesday, and students should know to bring something to read. Enough of this "I need to go to the library" baloney. I have less than a handful of students who still don't want to read ANYthing, and will waste away the 40 minutes with various things they "have" to do. 3. The computers need to be used solely for blogging, research, or presentations. If I find a student on it for any other reason, I'm taking their privilege for the day away.

I know it's not all peaches and cream, and you can't please everyone all of the time, but I still like this process, and think we can really refine it next year when I have more structured expectations of outcomes. I'm excited to start it again next year, but I'm sure I still have a lot to learn the rest of this year!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Issues Encountered...

April 10th - Why are all the presentations Prezis or Keynotes?? Let's get creative!

One-on-one conferencing - I need to make this more about HOW students are researching or preparing for their presentations - not WHAT they're reading. I KNOW what they're reading - I read the blogs! As for visiting teachers, they can either quickly browse student blogs, or ask them what they're reading. I know this focus will come when nonfiction is mandatory.

April 11th - Briana has lost her verve, or her excitement to present on bullying to her 7th grade team. We met this Today at lunch (a different group), and she suddenly thinks her presentation was boring and classmates were just being nice to her at the time. We should have jumped on this earlier. I want to ask her for her Prezi outline and do it myself, but then where's the learning? SHE's got to to this herself, so she can feel proud of what she's done.

April 17th - @Hughtheteacher retweeted @virginiapav and @henricksent "Commenting IS as important as blogging! How have you contributed to the learning of others?" Makes me think again about requiring commenting next year - to create that community of teachers and learners in the classroom.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"New" Definition of "Flipped" Classroom...

From Steve Wheeler... Steve-wheeler.blogspot.com/2012/03/what-flip.html
If we want higher quality learning experiences, we simply flip traditional roles. Flipping learning for me means teachers becoming learners and students becoming teachers. I have already elaborated on this in a previous blog post. If teachers assume the role of a learner, and accept that they are not the fonts of all knowledge, but are there to facilitate learning instead of instructing, positive change in education would happen. Similarly, if we ask students to become teachers, and we encourage them to independently create their own content, share and present their work - either in the classroom, or on the web - we place them in a position where they must take responsibility to learn and develop their understanding of their subject. This is active, participatory learning. Students can aspire to become specialists in their chosen field, because in order to be able to teach, you first need to become intimate with your subject. We learn by teaching.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Observations & Reflections on Today...

First, some logistical notes...
-After discussions with my first block, it was noted that students were not blogging for a few reasons - 1. It's new, and they're not used to keeping up with it. 2. It's not important to them. 3. It's due on Friday night, and many of them wait until Friday to do it, and then Friday comes and goes and they've forgotten to do it. SO.... we moved the weekly blog due date to Sunday night - they loved that idea! Another idea my first block had was to turn in the assignment on paper. Mrs. Smith and I discussed this, and suggested to these students that they use a notebook if they are going to turn it in on paper. This way it's more of a journal, as is a blog, and they can reflect on what they've read and written, which we thought was important.
-As for commenting, they, again, did not consider it important, and it is not graded, so there's no motivation. I tried explaining how it makes people feel to get a comment, but it seems right now we're in the "all about me" phase. I will not push this for this year, but I think it is important enough to stress next year.

Opinions shared by students today...
-One student does not want to read at all - "it's not important, and I won't need to read more than I already know how to read."
-One student just wants to do a book project. (Probably more than one in this case...)
-Many of them don't see a point to the blog except to get a grade.
-Students can just read a paragraph a week and blog about it and get points.
-Students won't present unless they have to.

My opinions shared today with students...
-Reasons for doing independent reading in this fashion - anyone can read the book jacket or summary on Amazon and do a book project - I wanted students who don't read READING MORE.
-Even students who are reading a paragraph a week may be those students who usually don't read at all. I'm okay with that - at least they're reading SOMEthing now. The students who already read will continue reading, no matter what the grade is for.
-Students who want to share what they've learned will share - and we will benefit from it!

-Jamie presented on computer animation - the history of it - and included many visuals and manipulatives, even for us to see and enjoy. This made us understand what he was telling us! His last one - with the video of the Rubik's Cube - was the most appreciated, and Jamie had created that one himself! This was in block 3/4.
-Sarah presented on what we need to know about cancer. She addressed many aspects of cancer, such as who is at risk, what we can do to lessen our chances, how do cancer patients deal with it, and how it affects the family. Wow. So many students had questions, and that showed their interest. This was in block 5/6.
-We still did not have a presentation in 8/9 - this class is different, and during our one-on-one conferences, many did not want to present. This option will not be an option next year. Mrs. Smith reminded me about what Ewan said at our Design Thinking meeting, and it makes total sense - one of the big steps in learning is SHARING your learning. We tossed around the idea of setting parameters (every 4-8 weeks??) for next year. It is a MUST that they present throughout the year.

Other notes...
Rachael helped Sarah show her Prezi. Sarah helped Rachel develop her Prezi (on Justin Bieber). Paul helped Jamie by showing one of the examples of older animation. The audience was very receptive to Jamie and Sarah, and it seemed that more students in these classes are motivated to present now. Jillian has decided to NOT read about "Dance Moms," and has changed her topic of research to the Holocaust! John has gone back to his Star Wars books because he's finished with the Hunger Games series (the one I practically forced him to read). He was upset because I had stopped reading the first chapter of books on Fridays. I think this stopped in November when we had the four-week iPad pilot. It made me sad to hear he missed it, but also made me wonder if I can re-instate it at this point in the year. I digress - I was so very excited to have Mr. Goldstein and Mrs. Smith in class - they can talk to the students in different ways and make relationships that work and get the kids reading!! Also, I need to give students at least one period a week for this "Genius Hour" (which we haven't called it, but I am calling it this next year!) - I decided today to make it Wednesdays, after work we "have" to do. More reflections later, I'm sure...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Tonight I checked in on students' blogs, and was disappointed. TWENTY FOUR of my 57 students have not blogged in three weeks. That is too many. Our principal, and the district administration, has been asking the question, "Who owns the learning?" Well, these students are not reading independently. No one is owning the learning...! Ugh. I know, I know, I'm a dreamer. I think that I can get MOST kids to enjoy reading, but 24/57? That's 42% not reading! I ask them to read 20 min, a night - of anything - and they STILL aren't reading? Or is it that they're just blogging about it? I hope that's the case. I will check with them tomorrow when we have our one-on-one conferences. If we need time in class to blog, I'll give it. But if they're not reading, I've got to get them motivated. Maybe I'll pull out those beginning-of-the-year interest surveys... I am very fortunate I'll have two other teachers passionate about this tomorrow in my classes! Any ideas out there?

Friday, April 6, 2012


This morning I had an idea... I decided to create a new blog, created right from the notes I've been taking on Evernote. So, I noted the dates, copied the content, and posted each as if it was that date. I wanted other educators to be able to learn from my mistakes and celebrations, just as I have recently been learning from the Twitter educators I follow. When I finished this copy/paste activity, I let my British Columbia Twitter friend and my Iowa Twitter friends know, so they could post this blog on the #geniushour wikispace they've created (web address in last posting). Later this afternoon, I received a reply from one - asking educators like me to read her blog. I'm posting it here, now, so you can read it as well. The network of teachers I'm learning from is amazing, and the sharing of ideas always keeps my dream alive - that I CAN reach students... That I CAN get my 7th grade students to love reading, and learning... That my students WILL write for a purpose.. And that great ideas will be shared. Please check out this website: Integrating Technology: My Journey

To do before next we meet...

TO DO for April 11th...
Sign up for laptops
Get TED talk ready - short and done by child (if possible)
Teach how to write an engaging subject line - by looking at blog and sharing some

Thursday, April 5, 2012

More ponderings...

Questions I've been thinking about... Do I need to push the nonfiction? Not at this time. I think next year I will require it for two quarters... Q2 & Q3? Then they can continue with nonfiction for independent reading, or revert back to fiction if they'd like. When doing nonfiction, I feel like I should require analysis of websites, and citing quotes directly from cites and/or books. They can keep their notes on Kidblog, and then use them when they present. What bothered me about Briana's prezi is that I don't know what information she had was reliable... I still worry about it - should I have her show me NOW? I don't think so. I will have this more structured before next year. Should the students be expected to present? Not this year. But next year, I believe they should - at the beginning of Q4? It IS an experiment this year, to be refined, as always!! Another concern is Kidblog. At the start, students commented on each others' first two blogs, but we're supposed to have four by now, and it's already stopped, for the most part. Is there another website that will encourage more comments? Do I need to teach how to write an engaging subject line?? I think I might do that on Wednesday.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Just notes...

Mrs. Smith and Mr. Goldstein will be at our next full block for independent reading - April 11th. I REALLY need to make sure I schedule at least one period a week. Hence the full block next week, because I "can't" fit it in this week.

Jamie and Sarah H. Are presenting on this day, as well! Soooo excited! Briana will present to our S.S. classes regarding bullying, after we work on her Prezi really popping!