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.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Genius Hour "Year One" Reflection

I'm a numbers person. 
I like to see graphs and charts. 
I kept wondering... 
     Can you quantify what happened during Genius Hour this year? 

Our first full year under our belts, I decided to just focus on fourth quarter for this reflection. Changes are coming for next year, but fourth quarter was "true" Genius Hour - I let students read, research, create... it was up to them.

I'll just get right into the number crunching I did. Keep in mind that I only had 62 students participating. Let's start with presentations.

Presentation Quality
  Here's the catch - we did not focus on presentation quality. I only spoke briefly with students 1-1 on their actual presentations. Therefore, because I didn't want to over-analyze, I quickly went down the list of students and gave the first "grade" that came to mind:
  0 = not good     S = solid           * = great

Anyone interested in what school subjects students learned about? I was...
I didn't know where a couple of these fit in... Video games? Animals? So they have their own category. This graph will look different, as I put the number of students studying each one instead of a percentage. (The small ones at the top are Music, Math, and LA/Lit.)

Just how productive were students during class time? If I'm using 20% of our class time for students to learn what THEY want to learn, this had better be productive... Here are the questions I asked myself:
Did students work on their project during this hour every week?
  0 = no               S = somewhat   * yes
If they did not work on their project in class, did they read or were they productive in some other way?
  N = no              Y = yes
I put these two together to see student engagement in class...

I automatically thought...
What about a "typical" day in LA class? What is student engagement like then?  If the numbers are low, it could be a mixture of things... My passion for the content, techniques I use to keep students interested, student preferences for content, student emotions, family life, etc. etc. etc... I could go on and on about student engagement in a middle-school classroom, but I still had to measure it to make any sort of comparison.  I took a typical reading and writing day, where I lecture, then facilitate, then students do independent work. What does student engagement in this setting look like?
I decided to measure student engagement in typical lessons in this fashion:
  0 = does not know where we are in the lesson
  S = can participate if called upon
  * = participates without prompting

Let's put the two side by side...
Genius Hour In-Class Engagement                   Engagement in Typical Lessons

Which would you rather have? In which setting would you rather be? The latest talk I've listened to that has really focused on why students need to be engaged in lessons is this one by Brandon Busteed. This is a 35 minute speech that was tweeted out by Denise Krebs awhile ago, and I have finally taken the time to listen to it today. This is what I've come to realize. It's all about student engagement, and letting students know you care about them. In this video, he says that from the last Gallop poll, only 61% of middle-school students are engaged during lessons.  I truly feel that all parents, teachers, and administrators need to hear this talk. Please take the time to listen to him - I cannot sum it up here, as there is so much he says that is vital to our students' education.

Speaking of student engagement...
Another number I wanted was student engagement outside of the school hours.
Is there evidence of work at home?
  0 = no               S = somewhat   * yes

I KNOW this type of engagement does not happen with "typical" LA/Lit lessons in our classes... One more thing - I need to share a quote from a student who was NOT engaged during class time. He said this during the presentations on the last week: "These Genius Hour projects really increase my knowledge about my classmates." No kidding.

Please tell me in the comments... What else could I try to measure for this reflection? What do these graphs tell you? What's the next step?
Wordle made from students' one-word reflections...

All graphs were created at this easy-to-use website: Kids' Zone Create-A-Graph

Thursday, June 6, 2013

2012-2013 Year In Review

I have 57 notes in my "2012-2013" Evernote notebook. FIFTY-SEVEN! I need to process all we did this school year that has been different from any other school year I've had. Granted, this was only my fourth year in an LA classroom, but it was my 18th year of teaching. I've learned so much in this past year from educators around the world, books about learning and children, and trial & error. Bear with me as I use my "train of thought" writing and just make a list of the top 30 or so!

* On Opening Day, I presented Twitter to cohorts... Some of them did decide to jump in to the constant waterfall of new ideas!
* I was selected to mentor our two new teachers to the 7th grade LA department.
* I came in to get room 239 (a new room for me) ready, and found my wish of wheels on the tables fulfilled. I started planning different designs for the room based on possible activites, and printed these out for students to see and use.
* The back bulletin board was left a blank slate for students to decide how to decorate.
* We had five yoga balls, three milk crates with pillows, and two rocking chairs for students to use. Students were allowed their choice of seating.
* I read Wonder (by R.J. Palacio) aloud, and it turned out to be one of the most popular books of the year.
* We had 1-on-1 conferences regarding our independent reading, and students graded themselves based on achievement of goals we set together.
* Student photographers taught me a bit about the photography apps we had on the iPads.
* We celebrated International Dot Day (how will YOU make your mark?) in September with The Dot by Peter Reynolds, and students created representations of how they will make their mark.
* Library books were on the tables throughout most of the year, and were read periodically by students (just because they were right in front of them??).
* We tried paper blogging before we blogged online - a big success when students shared what they love to do.
* One student's blog post about Wonder was noticed when they were all tweeted out.

* We joined in Caine's Cardboard Challenge in October.
* We joined in the Global Read Aloud, reading The One and Only Ivan (which, coincidentally, happened to win the Newbery award this year). Joining the GRA meant we Skyped with other classes to talk about it, and discussed certain questions on a Weebly with classes from British Columbia and Ontario, Canada.
* When we had the technology available, students were always welcome to turn in classwork via technology or regular pencil/paper format. Choice was HUGE this year in our LA class.
* I put in for - and received - a grant for Idea Paint for our tables for next year - we'll be writing on our tables with dry erase markers soon!
* After creating a Google Document of Authors on Twitter, I was able to connect my students' book reviews to the authors, and some authors commented on reviews!
* When I turned 40, two lovely friends of mine snuck into our classroom and put FORTY BOOKS on the tables! Each had a bow and the students and I were so very excited to add them to our collection.
* I created the Genius Hour LiveBinder so I could have all my resources in one place, and they were then accessible to anyone else who wanted to read more about it. I hope to use this for P.R. next year for parents.
* I won an author Skype visit from Lynda Mullaly Hunt! Ten of my students read One for the Murphys, and then we "had lunch" with the author in April!
* In the car to and from work, I practiced for the district variety show to raise money for grants for teachers (one of which I received this year).
* WEXperts met fairly often to hone our craft of helping coach other LA teachers in the art of giving feedback to students on their writing.
* Interested students were able to participate in a Google Hangout in class with two other classes - one in Florida and one in Iowa. What did they talk about? BOOKS!
* I attended EdCamp Madison in Wisconsin and the ICE conference in St. Charles, IL in February.
* I attended EdCamp Chicago in April, and led a session about Genius Hour - and shared our LiveBinder bookmarks we received from Tina and Barbara!
* Denise Krebs, Gallit Zvi, Hugh McDonald and I were asked to speak with Vicki Davis about Genius Hour in a short podcast. The next week, Paul Solarz, Denise Krebs, and then I had a Google Hangout with Chris Kesler. Just after that, Denise, Gallit, Hugh and I were asked to host a webinar for Classroom 2.0 Live.
* I attended EdCamp Milwaukee in May, and led a session about issues with Genius Hour.
* Students gave us a week of presentations, sharing what they've learned the last quarter during their Genius Hour time (and/or time spent at home). This was my favorite week of the school year.
* Oh my.  All of this, and reading and writing as well, of course!! We read and wrote about many short stories, parts of novels, poems, and books:  Wonder by R.J. Palacio, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, Phineas Gage by John Fleischman, two chapters of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, and The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, written by himself.
Here is just one of the close-reading activities I actually recorded (still an amateur)...

And, of course, we had a full year of Genius Hour... That reflection warrants a separate post, as I'm still reflecting on it, and figuring out changes for next year.

Thank you for reading this and being a part of all the learning that has gone on in our ELA classes this year. Please share your post of your reflections in the comments section so we can celebrate together!

Inquiry Gone Rampant!

For the last month, it seems all I've researched and talked about has been Genius Hour.

The twitter hash tags #geniushour and #20time have been on fire, with teachers wanting to know more, and sharing what their students are learning. I've been involved in three separate planned online adventures -
      * a laid-back Q & A Google hangout with Chris Kesler, where I talk and talk and talk... He's building his website and is asking for interviews from other teachers who incorporate this valuable inquire time into their day.
      * super-quick group interview with Vicki Davis, Denise Krebs, Gallit Zvi & Hugh McDonald on Vicki's Every Classroom Matters show with Bam Radio Network. Vicki has 20% Time in her classroom (it's the same as Genius Hour, but with high school students), and she was the first one to get the four of us together in an interview - it was so great to be able to talk with my "tribe!"
      * a presentation on Classroom 2.0 Live with Denise, Gallit, and Hugh once again

Each adventure was linked to MANY resources (if people don't know about Genius Hour, they haven't put it into a search engine yet!) to help all kinds of educators. Kindergarten teachers on up through college professors are trying out some sort of inquiry-based learning in their classrooms.

This year has been such a whirlwind for my Genius Hour time. The students may not know this, but I've been tweaking it each week, to see what more I can squeeze out of this precious learning time.  It has morphed this past quarter to a "true" genius hour - where students choose what they want to learn about, not just what they want to read about (as was the case in our first three quarters of school). I still have a dream of asking students to read, be inspired, and act on it... I'm plugging away at this so some day we can make it happen in my classes.

The more I read about other classes trying it, and the reasons behind this movement, the more I feel it is a necessary component of any student's day. After our presentations last week, I've done some reflecting, and here is my list of benefits:
     It's fun to say "yes, you can" to students.
     Presentations were engaging for students to participate in, and to watch.
     Kids taught EACH OTHER.
     Students were able to learn what THEY wanted to learn.
     As Jack said, "I'm learning a lot about my classmates' interests."
This is what middle school should be about - the child.
Update to original post, 6/7/13: Check out "Conflict of Interest: Carving Time out for Genius Hour on our Way to Common Core" BAM Radio podcast with Tom Whitby, Angela Maiers & Nancy Blair here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/edchat-radio/id586119906