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.

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!


  1. Wow! You are asking and answering many of my questions too, Joy!

    I like your idea of giving them a choice of how to share. I may pick up on that. Right now, I've been leaning toward the "letter" response that Nancie Atwell describes, and I think Donalyn Miller uses too. (I'm just reading The Book Whisperer now, and not that far to know for sure.)

    I did try something with choice last semester. Here is my "Many Ways to Share a Book" post: http://krebs.edublogs.org/2012/01/06/many-ways-to-share-a-book/ Maybe you'll be able to use something here.

    However, during this next year, after reading Atwell and Miller, I think I may be leaning more toward the students working toward voluminous and voracious reading so I'm going for the 30 minutes of reading homework each night, time in class to read, and only once every three weeks to choose a book they want to respond to--not sharing every book they read. What do you think abou that? I wonder if the quality of the sharing would improve if they also got to choose which ones to respond to? Just a thought. It might prevent them from spending too much time on one book that way. More reading and growing as a reader.

    Thanks for sharing your thinking with us, Joy!


    1. Denise,

      I LOVE your list of "Many Ways to Share a Book," and the other links you provided, too. I think I'll leave these with kids if they need them, but I'd love to see what they come up with on their own. I think I'll be requiring SOME sort of share-out for each book, unless they'll use that book (along with others, and websites?) for a presentation at a later date. Even if it's just a quiet, quick blog post or book review (I have a Google Form ready for that), I'd like them to share. My plan is to put all book reviews on Shelfari as well, and have those show up on our class blog. If they want to abandon a book, I'll support them, as long as they give a two-three sentence explanation of why they did on their blog.

      Still looking for advice on grading... I thought you'd be my source!

      Still tons of questions... which blog tool? How do we accomplish quad blogging? How can the class Twitter account tweet out what we're reading?

      We'll get there - keep that conversation going!
      Thanks again,

    2. Joy,
      Thank you so much for sharing your questions and thinking. I am very new to Genius Hour and did not plan to focus on reading during my GH time but what you have done is rattled my thinking around my silent reading time.
      I have known for many years that any reading is so important but I have not been happy with the silent reading time. Too often the nonreaders are not really becoming involved with their novels, or non-fiction books because there has not been a purpose for them. You have given me much to think about and mull over. As well you and Denise have shared great ideas for getting the kids more engaged in their reading.
      I hope that through having a purpose to share, students will become more engaged and excited to read.

    3. Joy,
      I always vote for Edublogs as my blogging tool of choice. I have a pro account and unlimited student blogs under that. You can sign up for Quad Blogging at quadblogging.net. I am thinking about it. They are signing people up right now for Sept-Dec. 2012. I've tried it twice, though, and have been stood up by the others on my team, sad to say. They either weren't ready for it or had signed up without serious intent to follow through. Some didn't even have a blog I could find.

      @HughtheTeacher was great about tweeting out what his students were doing through Twitter. I'm still learning how to do that. Haven't really done much yet.

      @Mrs. M: I hope you are following the Genius Hour wiki to read about some of the other things folks are doing with Genius Hour. It offers students such fun, meaningful learning, and lots of freedom, of course. It's a way to help students follow their passion, inviting them to become engaged, lifelong learners.

    4. Denise and Joy,
      I need to change my blogger name as MrsM is @AnneMidd or Anne-Marie. I have read through almost all of the wiki and had a great talk with Gallit re Genius Hour. I am excited about August 1 chat.
      Gallit and I were talking of quad blogging but I have decided to do my own quad blogging this year in a more personal less formal level. I am hoping to find some other classes out in the global world who would like to blog on ideas and themes decided by the teachers but I do not want to let someone down on a scheduled time as you were as sometimes life gets in the way and schedules need to shift.
      I have seen the value of blogging within the four walls of my classroom so am now ready to develop the thinking of my students along with their peers (grade 6/7). The power of having others reply to their thoughts allows the kids to deepen their own questions around what they read. Some of the conversations I have witnessed have been beyond my expectations. I can only imagine their excitement of reading and responding to those they do not personally know.

      I have enjoyed your blogs; just wished I was introduced to you earlier than two weeks ago!

    5. Denise and Joy- What if the students had to respond to a book AT LEAST once every three weeks. That way students who prefer reading to writing don't have to respond to every book they read, but those who prefer to write can have the option to do some kind of response for every book they read or abandon... this might especially work if you teach reading AND writing like I will be this year.

    6. @AnneMidd,
      Wonderful! I'll look forward to getting to know you more through genius hour and blogging. I like Joy's idea of connecting through Ivan the One and Only.

      Good idea, Laura! I like that! (I will be teaching both reading and writing too.)

  2. Joy,
    Not many grading ideas from me! (Although, I see that is the question you asked for answers to! Ha! I didn't read very well the first time.) I'll take another crack at it...I love the Standards Based Grading you will be doing. I am actually going to be piloting a bit of that this year. In our classroom handbook, I will have all the standards printed out for them. Sometimes my lessons will include giving them a standard and having them work on it to learn and show their learning. Those were some of my and the students' favorite lessons last year, and ones I believe they will remember. They all got good grades if they could show me through presentation and interview that they understood the Core standard.

    I'm fortunate I don't have to do high school grades, as I know those are "more important." :( I can get away with different grading in the junior high. Students definitely help me assess their learning. They will know if they are reading 30 minutes a night. And I will too. I'll know about how many pages they can read in a half hour (give or take some if they are reading an easy or difficult book). Nancie Atwell suggests each time you conference with them make a note of what page they are on. Then when you see them next--four days later, perhaps--you can expect that they will be 80 pages further along in their book. We will talk and they will help me decide what grade is fair. As you said, "...if students are reading and sharing, they've made the grade." That's what I expect. I'll have many notes and artifacts to share with parents at parent-teacher conferences.

    Another question...have you considered letting them post their own summaries directly to Shelfari to share with the world? You don't want to have to retype them or even cutting and pasting from their blogs is another step. Could you have a class account? I was thinking of doing that with GoodReads, although Shelfari may be more kid-friendly. Not sure?

    Thanks for a great conversation!

  3. I am writing my comments without reading the previous, so excuse me if I repeat some ideas. I love the sharing instead of presenting. I did something similar to this at the end of last year and I had kids who just wanted to summarize what they read in a few paragraphs of writing and one student who created a board game inspired by his reading. It really varies by kid.

    The BEST idea I got from this post is having the kids share when they either finish OR abandon a book. That way abandoning a book isn't the "easy" way out. I have never been one to force a kid to read a book they didn't like, but I do always have a few that want to switch every day, just to avoid reading, and I have never really known what to do with those kids.

    As for grading, we do mastery grading, and I just choose one objective from each quarter and ask them to make sure they include it in some way in their sharing. For example, it's "making connections" first quarter and "theme" second quarter.

    School is close. I'm getting pumped! Thanks for the GREAT idea!

  4. Joy,
    As a primary specialist I have to say that my kids always loved to read and would read all day if I would let them especially since the room was filled with books. The most I would do was engage them in casual conversation and observe while they were in their discussion groups. I think kids stop reading in school when it becomes "work." As one of my favorite presenters said, "how many books would you read if you had to go to your bedroom and make a diorama just because you read a book?"
    Reading is an enjoyable act and to have it continue kids need to make choices and we need to support them.

  5. Joy,

    I love the idea of doing one on one conferencing with students about the books they are reading on their own. I certainly don't do this enough...how often do you do it? Are the rest of the kids reading while you talk to one? I don't know if I realized that this is how you do Genius Hour...very interesting!!

    By the way, I LOVE your blog...the links, the voki...it is just so well done!

    :) Gallit

  6. Wow...excellent discussion. I suggested to Denise that we should do a hangout and talk about our ideas, questions, etc., for reading. I, too, am revamping my reading for the upcoming school year. I love Denise's idea of having a class account on GoodReads, so the students can write about the book. And Laura's idea of presenting why a student abandon a book...I, too, had a few who changed books as much as they changed their socks. Also, Laura's idea of choosing a standard for each quarter and show how they met that standard. Great post, Joy!! Has everyone thinking.

  7. Joy,
    I see you use blogspot for your blogs. Will you help me with mine. I hate the look and thought you might have some pointers. It's 8lateacher.blogspot.com. Thanks!!

  8. I like the focus on sharing, and I wonder what "counts" as sharing, in your system. I'd like to require my students to share every book they read, but I wonder what that would mean--does having a brief conversation with a couple of friends count as sharing?! Maybe it could count, but then the student would have to note down WHO he shared with... And I might, as Denise suggests, more rarely require a "product" like a poster or a formal booktalk.


    1. Hello!

      I actually created a page for students - IF they need ideas as to how to share about their book. I'm hoping they'll come up with their own ways, as some of these aren't very authentic. Check the tab above that says, "Sharing Ideas." I used some of Denise's ideas, some from the sites she recommended, and added some of my own. I won't be sharing this page with the students unless they are really having trouble choosing something for themselves. Some are fairly easy, and some more time-consuming. But I REALLY want them to share in an authentic fashion. So I hope they'll give me more ideas that are along that route. (Sharing with other classes, writing a class blog post, tweeting out the most important quote, etc.)

      Is this what you're looking for? Thanks so much for commenting! I hope this helps!



Thank you for adding to the conversation!