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.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Pictures ARE Worth a Thousand Words

I wanted to share with you one more thing I learned in Boston at the BLC12 conference...

I had so many theoretical ideas swirling around my brain, I needed to take a step back. I had introduced myself face to face with Sylvia Rosenthal Tolisano (@Langwitches) the night before, and I decided to head to her session entitled "Presentation 21 Makeover." She'd told me she'd talk more about the impact pictures can have on an audience (or class) than the words projected.  Off I went. (See her slides from the presentation here.)

The biggest lesson I learned - Forget bullet points. The photograph is the most important part. The photograph is what the audience will remember. You have to figure out - what is your message?

Sylvia had some stunning photographs - some she'd taken from other sites (and given credit, of course!), and others she had taken herself.  One question everyone was thinking was raised - where do you get your photographs? Sylvia had a slide with sites to search, but what my brain heard, from all she was describing... "I've been taking my own." When I got home, I went to the library to check out a book, and found this...

I love my camera, but I only had the iPad with me with my list of books to check out. Also, I had to take the pictures from up above, or else I'd get the frame from the painting that was behind this cute pair in my picture. (It was right above her head - I've named her Emma...)

I posted one of my many pics on our Flickr T365Project group, and Sylvia responded, "The bronze book screams to have a quote on it!" Yes. I noticed that as well when I got home and uploaded them. I looked through my pictures, and noticed this one might be more conducive to "writing" on the book...

Alas. I knew I had to go back to the library, use my Canon Rebel XTi, and get a different perspective. (Is my passion for photography one of my geniuses?) I suddenly absolutely needed this picture for my parent night slides. I'd reviewed them after Sylvia's presentation, and knew I didn't have a ton of bullet points, but knew I still had too many. I wanted ONE idea on each picture. And I needed my own pictures, not pictures I had Googled! For shame! (I really was astounded at all the pictures I'd just plopped right into the Keynote! I did have the resources on each page, but were they really available for my use??? See Bloggers Beware!)

So I went back today, and captured this shot:

Now, you've seen the other two pictures, and you know that it's a boy and girl on a bench reading a book. But without the previous pictures to aid you, can you still figure it out from this picture? And just WHAT could I write on that book?

Here's where you could help - please join this conversation and put your thoughts on the comments. Do you think this picture could work? What quote would YOU put on the book? I won't write back, as I just want to know what you think, but I thank you ahead of time for your two cents!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Questions Answered...

I have a lot of questions in my notes about Genius Hour for the 2012-2013 school year. Since my Genius Hour is a replacement for my independent reading projects (and not a TRUE Genius Hour of learning whatever you'd like), my questions revolved around reading.
     1. Should it be ONLY nonfiction?
     2. Should I REQUIRE students to read any nonfiction?
     3. How often should I require presentations?
     4. What will grading look like?

I think I've got a good handle on most of these, and so I needed to write to reflect and see if I am on the right track.

1. Should my Genius Hour / independent reading be ONLY nonfiction?
     I've decided - No.  After hearing Erin Olson's (@eolsonteacher) presentation at the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston (#BLC12), I've realized that students can be inspired by anything they read. She gave her students an assignment with three parts: Read. Be inspired by what you read. Act on it / Respond to it.
     I've read many fiction books where I've been inspired. Acting on it? That's another matter. But Genius Hour can give my students that opportunity, as Erin's students have proved. Yes, her high schoolers are reading books such as The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, or Please Stop Laughing at Me, by Jodee Blanco. She even gave us ideas such as Books that Changed the World. My students might not be at that level yet, and I really want them to LOVE reading - anything. More on that in the next answer...

2. Should I REQUIRE students to read any nonfiction?
     I've decided - No. HOWEVER, I will have one-on-one conferences with my students, and will encourage them to read nonfiction at this point. I will use what they're reading and their interests to suggest, and if need be, bring in, books that each student might enjoy.
     I've been reading Donalyn Miller's (@DonalynMiller) The Book Whisperer, and I've taken her reading log suggestion and tweaked it so it is in sync with Genius Hour for me. This leads me to my next answer, and the two go hand-in-hand.

3. How often should I require presentations?
     This question has changed - It should be, "Should I require presentations?" This was my first question when I started Genius Hour, then I decided YES! But now, I'm back to NO.  Here is my main reason: CHOICE. Who owns the learning? My students. Yes, I am asking them to read. But they will have choice (even with my suggestions!) about what they are reading, and how they will share it out.
     I had to go back to my goals. What do I want students to do? Read. And what 21st Century goal should accompany this? Share. As Erin said, "When we read something, we don't want to go out and make a diorama. We want to share it. We want to have a discussion." If we move this further, we could ACT on it. Respond to it.
     So I've decided again (oh, but everyone knows I'll probably change it AGAIN later!)... Here is a shapshot of the reading log I'm going to use with students:

Notice the "Share" column. I will ask students to share all they read - but they will have the choice as to how. If it's a book they abandoned, I'd suggest they just compose a blog post about what it was that pushed them to abandon it. But they can choose to give a book talk, create a poster, make an advertisement, create a PSA, put their book review on the announcements... I'm sure students will come up with more ideas that fit their books.  If students tackle one issue and read multiple sources, they may choose to put these all together in a presentation. [My next blog post will explain what I learned from Sylvia Rosenthal Tolisano's (@Langwitches) Presentation 2.0 session at BLC.] If multiple students want to join together, there is plenty of room for this as well.
     So how often should I require presentations? I'm not requiring presentations. I'm requiring students to share what they read, but leaving the choice in their hands. We will have time for other forms of presentation in class, so it will not be ignored, but presenting may not be their strong suit, and I want to capitalize on their genius, whatever it may be.
     I think this leaves options open - in many directions. This could be a true Genius Hour with the focus on reading and sharing. I can do this. All of this will be related to the standards, and very individualized.

4. What will grading look like?
     Ah. Here is the question that swirls around my brain, but there is no answer yet. Our district is working its way towards Standards-Based Grading, so I'll be looking for resources to help me on that front, but I feel that if students are reading and sharing, they've made the grade. Yes, I'll have to report out to parents, and I'll use the reading log for this. I think I'll add a column to it today where students can write the number of pages of each book or website, so we can use this to see how much they've read this year. This will also help when I'm wondering, "When will (student) be finished with that book already?!"
     If you have ANY ideas for an answer to this question, PLEASE leave me a comment! Teachers and parents and students alike! 
     Whatever we decide, I'm confident that these few changes to Genius Hour in our class will be appealing to students. Along with all the books I feel I need to purchase for the classroom still, these changes will inspire and get kids reading and acting on what they read!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The view in Boston...

Some background...

My district admin. asked me to attend the Building Learning Communities Conference (#BLC12) in Boston this week.  Even though it falls on the same week as the Michigander bike ride, I was not riding it this year. Even though I thought I've learned SO MUCH from Twitter in the past 6 months, I went anyway - it was a priviledge to be asked, for sure.  I live in Illnois.  Never been to Boston.  Not a history buff.  Not a big fan of airport security, or of being away from my husband, either.

A bit more background...
I follow Erin Olson (@eolsonteacher) on Twitter.  I don't know how I found her, but she is a pretty recent (last month?) follow. I love her tweets. She tweets about things that matter, not about the miles she ran today or the weather she's having. (Don't get me wrong - I still follow many of those people!) She's just what I call one of my professional Twitter friends.  I could go on and on about Twitter, but that's a long story.

This week...
I knew I'd meet Erin in the session she was presenting - Reading and Writing Aware. I didn't look too hard at the synopsis, as I knew I wanted to hear her, and I knew it had to do with my subject area.  I had no clue what to expect, but I knew I'd enjoy it. I stood outside the door to the session, and I hear, "Joy?" And I see her - and she's like she looks in her profile picture!!  I immediately thought, "Oh, no. I bet I don't look like my picture anymore - I got my hair chopped, and..." but we hugged, and I was happy to FINALLY meet one of the people from across the globe from whom I learn so much!!  My next thought... do I get her picture?  Everyone at the ISTE conference tweeted out pics of their PLN!  Well, I have a "dumb" phone, so I didn't. I really don't need a picture to remember our hour anyway. Check out her Lino here: Reading & Writing Aware

The picture I've included here is from my hotel room.  I have a CORNER ROOM!  I don't know how that happened, but I'm enjoying reflecting from here. I skipped the session after Erin's, because I wanted to sit here and reflect on all she said, and my mindset as it stands right now.

Teachers have a charge.
Teachers have such power.
Teachers have a limited amount of time in a child's life.

 I love quotes that get people thinking.
      "Be the change you wish to see in the world." - Ghandi
      "Attitude is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." - Swindol
A new one I saw today on Erin Olson's laptop cover...
      "Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct." - Mohammad Ali

Before she began speaking, I typed out that quote and pondered it. I knew that I had to model this more. I needed to be more active towards things I truly believe. She then began speaking, and she looked like a teacher - she spoke slowly, clearly, and waited us out when she wanted our responses.

She spoke of literacy, of what it means to be a literate person (I remember answering her query on Twitter), and of ACTION.

She spoke of making a difference.
She spoke of the power of words.
She spoke of what we can do with the time we are given in a child's life.

I am a dreamer. Everyone knows it - I'm very transparent. Her words, what her kids are doing in her classes, the brutal honesty she showed us... made me want to change the world once again.

She asked me how the presentation was. Tears welled up, because I knew that what she said was possible in my classes as well. (It's crazy that she thought she might not have done well at presenting! Aren't we all our worst judge?!) So this is what I want from our Genius Hour...  This is what I want in lieu of book projects (and anything else that makes students' eyes gloss over)...

I want...
      ...students who read
      ...students who are inspired by what they read
      ...students who feel empathy when they read
      ...students who want to act, based on what they've read

As Erin pointed out, "When we finish a book, we don't want to run out and make a diorama of it. We want to share it. We want to discuss it."  This is what makes us literate people. This is what changes things that are not right in this world. (Update to this post - Erin wrote about her idea here.)

If this is the only thing I take away from Boston, it's worth it. Thank you, Erin.

I wish school started tomorrow. We could work on changing the world one day sooner...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Everyone's posting... What I learned!

Yesterday came a flood of blogs for me to read - about what everyone's learned this past year. Someone from #kinderchat put it out as a blog challenge, and many took them up on it!  Yes, I too learned about the importance of blogging, Genius Hour, and Twitter, but I'll putting a twist on my post - I'm just going to write about what I learned YESTERDAY!  Let's try a list, to make it easier to follow...

1. Flickr - Two great educators in my PLN, Denise Krebs and Laura Coughlin put me up to this. Denise has been on at least two "groups" in Flickr for awhile now - #365project and #JJAProject - where teachers go to post a picture they've taken that day. I LOVE my Canon. I love my long-range lens. But I hardly every upload pictures until the week-long trip is over, or it's time to print some out. So, I just looked at their pictures when they posted them on Twitter, and then moved on. But a tweet from Laura finally pushed me over the edge - she encouraged, "JOIN the group!" with the website attached. Okay, okay!  I had nothing else to do... I read the older posts Denise had about the group, and then jumped in, knowing I'd learn as I went. I uploaded my Detroit Zoo pics first, from Spring Break 2011 - just because I loved them so! 

2. Diptic - On the #365project group, themes were listed - and one of them was collages. This led me to my iPad, on which I'd downloaded Diptic. It was another tweet from Steve's blog - Teaching with iPad, that led me to download this app. I'd downloaded it, then left it. But it has a way to easily create collages, or combine multiple images onto one image, so it was finally opened and explored today. And this is what I downloaded to Flickr.

3. Dvolver - I then explored what was already on a growing list of tech to try during my summer - I started a GoogleDoc at the start of summer, and thought I'd better start playing at what I put on it! After all, it is 102 degrees outside... Just by stopping by the website, this is what I created. It's not the most versatile tool, but it's quick and simple. How would YOU use it?

4. Incredibox - More from my GoogleDoc... This was FUN! And so EASY! Check out the song I created! You can use this in your slideshows, or as background music for anything. I don't know how long your song can be, but it's great music - now I just have to learn how to record it so I can use it.

What I've learned this past year? To TRY NEW THINGS. Just experiment. The computer won't break. Explore what others say is valuable, and it may just work for you, too! Enjoy the journey, as always!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Small Acts

Found myself able to read a fiction book this week!  What a joy!

One quote stuck out for me from Gloria Whelan's Small Acts of Amazing Courage...
     "What did Father mean when he said he would himself undertake my education? Did that mean he would just empty into me all that was in him and then that would be me? Or would he share his experiences with me and let me mix them in with my own thoughts?" (201)

This blog post will not be a review of the book - you can find those elsewhere. I had to write about this quote, for it made me think of the teacher I always dreamed of being - one that stood in the front of the room and imparted my knowledge of how to read well, and learn from reading. It also made me reflect upon the teacher I've become - one that poses a question or idea and observes as students discuss, argue, or solve something. Watching them listen, process, and deliver their own ideas makes my day. Some days it goes smoothly, and some days students need encouragement or direction, but I find myself biting my tongue and not feeding them my ideas, or facts they can Google. No, I'm watching them grow and learn (hopefully). I'm watching them make their own decisions... develop their own opinions.

A big part of what Genius Hour means to me - students sharing experiences and letting them mix these in with their own thoughts...