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.

Friday, April 19, 2013


What does the word "genius" mean?

This question was asked during one of our monthly #geniushour chats on Twitter. There seems to be some confusion about what the word means.

We might start with the question... From where does the word originate? Denise Krebs tweeted this picture out...

The Online Etymology Dictionary says words such as "guardian deity or spirit which watches over each person from birth," "generative power," "produce." In fact, "person of natural intelligence or talent" and "natural ability" are not recorded until the 1640s.

By reading this origin of the word, does this not make us all geniuses? The sign I made for my window from the classroom to the hallway reiterates what Angela Maiers has been known to say... "You are a GENIUS, and the world expects your contribution." Are all of my students geniuses?

What does Merriam-Webster have to say?

If you're anything typical of a 7th grader, you'll look at the first line and say a genius is a spirit!  However, I tend to lean towards definition number 2 or 5 when I think of a genius. These definitions beg me to ask this: Is a genius even a person??

Then there are some that say Practical Genius is a Choice... If you read this from Michael McKinney, it shows that genius is a thing that we all have inside of us... A talent maybe... or a passion... already in us, and we just have to recognize it and work with it to be successful at something we love. This sounds much like Sir Ken Robinson's ideas from his book, The Element. Recognize your own genius or passion, find your tribe, and just keep pursuing what makes you happy to the core. It's that one thing that you can do for hours and not realize that any time has passed...

So... what do the geniuses have to say about it??

Genius is initiative on fire. ~Holbrook Jackson
Genius is eternal patience. ~Michelangelo
Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. ~Thomas Edison or Albert Einstein, depending on what site you deem credible...
The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm. ~Aldous Huxley
Genius is nothing more, nor less, than childhood recaptured at will. ~Charles Baudelaire
Neither a lofty degree of intelligence, nor imagination, nor both together, go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius. ~Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb trees, it will life its whole life believing that it is stupid. ~Albert Einstein
Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

And then there's this last one, by Plato...
“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” 

I need this quote above the door to the classroom!  Plato and these others have just given me more fuel for the fire... My passion to let students learn what THEY want to learn just grows and grows.

My question for you...
It's time to find out our students' geniuses... I've tried a few ways this year, and have less than a handful of students who I can't quite grasp yet... How do you investigate your students' passions? What are some things you've been doing this year to find out what your students' "peculiar bent of ... genius" is?

Addition - 5/19/13...
After reading this post on "The Disruptors" blog by Kevin Brookhouser (@brookhouser - a person in my PLN that I respect), I feel I need to make a few additions to my original post, so I'm not being misunderstood...

I don't call my students geniuses... I say they have genius IN them. I tell them they may need to work to find it, and when they DO find it, they still need to develop it. I then remind them of Malcom Gladwell's ideas about the 10,000 hour rule to mastery. I also remind them that they will ultimately fail, and that they will need to keep trying - thus this time in class we give them. Genius Hour is giving them the TIME (hour) to find their Genius. We don't call it 20% time, because it may not be that rigid - it could be any time during the week or month...

Possible implications of calling them geniuses and telling them they're smart? Well, I think it's better than calling our time for learning "Average Hour." Checking on Kevin's tweets to see if there was more talk of this post, I saw a conversation between him and Christine Baker (who I immediately followed).

--> Why I won't call it Passion Hour this next year - I have a passion for teaching reading and writing, and I hope to inspire my students' passion in the written word as well. I would hope all of our class time would be passion time...
--> Why I won't call it Purpose Hour this next year - Does the rest of our week not have any purpose??
--> Why I won't call it Think Tank this next year - I believe everyone thinks in all situations, not just in one room, for one hour at a time.
--> Why I will stick to Genius Hour this next year - I want my students to find out who they are - to find out what "peculiar bent of genius" they have. It's a matter of letting students find their passion, bring out their genius (and yes, geniuses fail), and let them learn what THEY want to learn.

Will it make a difference what we call it? Maybe.
Will it make a difference how we treat students? Most definitely.
I will continue to tell my students they have genius IN them, and it's up to them to nurture it and help it grow. I will continue to tell my students they matter, and that I will try my best to help them through struggles and failures.

After reflecting on this, I saw a new post (out today!) by A.J. Juliani - Purpose Over Passion... I am not a genius. I do have genius IN me, and most definitely passions. Few of these have become purposeful for me, and lead me to changes. My goal is always as it has been... to help my students be life-long learners, and ultimately change the world.

Thank you to Kevin for making me stop and think this morning... now I've got to go back to working (and possibly failing) with what matters!

Addition - 6/11/13...
Here's another great post on the word "genius," from Bart Miller (@BarMill), who currently teaches in Tokyo, Japan. He asserts that "genius is not granted, but built." Let's help future adults build their genius!


  1. I love that Holbrook Jackson quote!

    I think one of the best ways to engage what students' passions are include asking what they're reading!

  2. I love what you've added at the end of this based on Kevin and A.J's posts. I agree that I will not call our time Passion Hour or Production Hour... But it's still because of my issue with the word hour. Students' passions and interests should be important all of the time, not only for an hour, a block, or 20% of the time. However, I also know that teachers who are already implementing Genius Hour already know this and that the concept quickly spills over into everything you do :)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Joy, I always appreciate and respect what you have to say!


    1. Thanks so much, Beverly!

      You've got that right - an hour? That's IT? Nope. That was why I wanted to talk about how Genius Hour impacts so much of what we are doing the rest of the week in the webinar we had yesterday on Live Classroom 2.0 (http://live.classroom20.com/1/category/genius%20hour/1.html) I am a firm believer in student choice - I love how it is "spilling over" in all we do!

      Thanks again for the thoughtful comments!

  3. Hi Joy!

    I haven't started our Genius Hour yet, but this coming week my students are going to begin "Super Homework." I got it off of Teachers Pay Teachers. It's a self directed differentiated homework where the kids choose what skills they need to work on and what new things they want to learn about. The second part being where I want them to start searching out things that interest them so that when we do begin Genius Hour they will have some ideas of what topics they want to go more in depth with.

    I can't wait til the next Genius Hour chat, I missed the last one due to grad school work :-/ Fun & interesting stuff but boy does it keep ya busy :)

    Tales From Two 2nd Grade Classrooms