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, August 13, 2013

Summer "Break"

I've thought of my students each day of this summer break that is to end very soon. Most recently, my husband and I went on our vacation - 17 days with the F150 ("with EcoBoost," he adds) & travel trailer. Destination - Gettysburg. On our "way home" from Gettysburg, we were to visit friends in NW PA, then ride the best "roller coast" with friends at Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH, and finally play in the sand with the grandkids on the west coast of Michigan.

However, it was Gettysburg that taught me the most lessons. This was the biggest:

I couldn't believe all the fences in the broad expanse of fields in Gettysburg...
I wanted to see Gettysburg because my husband wanted to. His passion for history is infectious. Did I think I'd cry on the second day there as I tried to take it all in? Did I think I'd be in awe at the thousands of memorials all throughout the town? I thought it was going to be a field on which soldiers fought and died...

51,000 casualties (dead, wounded, missing) in this 3-day battle. In middle school, those were just numbers to me. All I remembered was that the North and South were fighting in the Civil War. At age 40, seeing this vast expanse of land, seeing the relics in the museum, and hearing the personal stories about the residents of the town of Gettysburg from the man leading the ghost tour, I have a tiny grasp of what those numbers mean. Seeing the new exhibit with articles from the GAR and the SCV put it into even better perspective.

I can't take my students to places in literature or nonfiction we read in class. They will (hopefully) some day experience these places on their own or with their families. How can I get close to giving them some experiences they'll remember? We'll start with Genius Hour the first day of every week. I hope that the choice they have during this time will help them stay invested and engaged and they'll remember what they've done during this precious time when they are older. I ask, though - How can I use the rest of the week and the curriculum I need to cover to make it memorable for my new students? I am not going to be the "sage on the stage," even if they might well remember a goofy production of mine. I'm going to give much of the conversations and discussions to the students.

What else can I do to make this year's lessons memorable? Please leave ideas...


  1. But these stories and personal reflections will inspire them to reach out, learn and make a difference. They are lucky students to have you infuse them with your passion.

  2. Joy -- We have to go beyond the books, worksheets, and even the classroom walls. Technology gives us the opportunity to do that in all kinds of unique ways. We also need to find ways to connect our students with people in other classrooms, cultures, and circumstances. Again, tech can make that happen. Even if we're not in a tech-rich environment, we can do a lot simply by involving the senses. What can we put in their hands?

    And, of course, we need teachers like you who see the importance of making lessons memorable.


  3. Nice post, Joy! And I love the comments by Faige and Gary. Yes, you are that kind of teacher and you will find a way.

    I just read a good book that reminded me yet again that I do not want to attempt to be the transmitter of knowledge, but rather I want to be the chief learner in a room of inquiry and learning. It's called: Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry : Promoting Deep Understandings in Language Arts and the Content Areas with Guiding Questions by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm. Have you read it?

    Thanks again,

    1. Well, hello, friend!

      I have not yet read that one, but I just added it to my Goodreads list! I have four on the shelf, though, so it's going to wait a bit... Thank you for the comment and the helpful suggestion. School starts for us tomorrow, and I really want to engage our readers and writers!!

      Take care,