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.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Close Reading using Paraphrasing

At a curriculum planning day today in our district, I thought I'd reblog my paraphrasing activity from last year's class blog to this current one... So this is re-blogged from February of 2013 of my "old" class blog...

Since we will be doing more of this particular close-reading activity throughout the year, it was time to blog about it, as it has "success" written all over it...

This week, we read a NewYorkTimes article about the teenage brain to accompany Phineas Gage and get us ready for The Outsiders. We read it aloud first, discussed any questions students had, and then tried a couple of close-reading activities. One of the activities we completed was a seemingly simple paraphrase of one sentence. We took the following sentence:

     "These (studies) show that the brain systems providing for impulse control are still maturing during adolescence."

Students looked at this sentence for a minute, then they were asked to put this sentence into their own words.  After a few minutes, I collected a few samples, and put them on the board, under the original sentence.

One class looked like this:

1                                             2                                              3                                         4
closest to the 
author's meaning

     "These (studies) show that the brain systems providing for impulse control are still maturing during adolescence."

A = During adolescence, your brain is still maturing and the way 
       you react during adolescence will not be the same reaction 
       as an adult.
B = During maturing of the brain, impulse control isn't developed.
C = Teens aren't fully developed when it comes to making social 
D = These studies show why teenagers are impulsive.

What did we do with these? Looking at one answer at a time, students took turns discussing where they would place it on the line and explain why. Students listened to each other, commented on each other's comments, along with adding their own, and we came up with a number range for each one that they were satisfied with. By the time we reached the fourth response, "D", students were demonstrating deep understanding of the original sentence. They knew which parts were the most important ("impulse control," and "still maturing during adolescence"), and they had strong discussions about the true meaning of the words "impulse" and "adolescence." Some expressed that their brains hurt when we were finished. Mission accomplished...

We did this as a class today, and will be doing this again as a class, in small groups, and students will also rate their own words on a similar scale.

This activity was adapted from Wireless Generation's lessons on The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. We use Wireless Generation / Writers' Express as a writing curriculum, which closely aligns with the Common Core Standards.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Genius Hour: An Avenue to Better Teaching

Genius Hour has gotten a lot of attention on Twitter, blogs, and in classes the start of this school year.

With all the success stories, there will be a few who criticize, or write to provoke conversation, at the very least.

I'm writing today to defend Genius Hour, and explain how it has affected the rest of my students' week.

The latest post that spurred this is from Sylvia Martinez (@smartinez) - "Design Thinking, Computational Thinking, Genius Hour, and Making in the Classroom - good, bad, worse." I will not pretend to know about computational thinking, and only know a teeny bit about design thinking, but I read the Genius Hour section with great interest.

The term "Genius Hour" came because a close Twitter friend of mine, Denise Krebs (@mrsdkrebs) saw a tweet from a passionate Angela Maiers. Denise's story is here in her blog post from November of 2011. In Classroom Habitudes: Teaching Habits and Attitudes for 21st Century Learning, Angela modifies Seth Godin's words and says, "You are a genius, and the world needs your contribution" (27). A big idea behind this time given to students is to show them that we value them. We think they should be learning what THEY want to learn, in addition to what we are expected to teach. This idea of letting students own their own learning and giving 60 minutes a week to "electrify your job" also comes from Daniel Pink's book, Drive. Whether or not Google gives their employees 20% of their time to work on personal projects, this time can be given to children if administration is supportive of the idea.

The two paragraphs that had me feeling the urge to write this were about the name. The first paragraph was about the name "Genius Hour." I've written about using this name prior, in this post called "Genius." I won't be reiterating it here. What I will do is tell you what's happened in my class this year, as a result of spending FORTY minutes talking about what genius is, and what it is not. We spent time discussing the seven "habitudes" of geniuses that Angela teaches about in Classroom Habitudes. Here are some quips from my 7th graders that I've actually written down for a post such as this.
     "These are great! We have some really creative people in this class!"
     "That must be his genius!!"
     "Look at what I did - it's genius!"
     "He's got perseverance, creativity, AND imagination."
     "I worked on being 'adaptable' yesterday after school..."
     "Please add me to the 'resident expert' list under 'neat & organized.'"
My students are realizing what they're skilled at, and with what skills they may need help. They have already started asking each other for help during our creative days (Dot Day being the most recent). They are relying on me less this year than any other group I've had, and instead going to each other. We have already started building a wonderful community of learners. I'm going to continue telling my students that they have genius in them. We all do.

Another paragraph focused on the "20% time" we are giving students. First I have to say that I'm very fortunate to work where I do. Many teachers do not have any time to spare - to hand over to their students. Others who are allowed time for this need to make sure it ties to standards, and that students are graded on it. I have the luxury of attaching it to standards my way (see this LiveBinder and specific plans I'm using in 7th grade ELA), but I am also allowed leeway on how to use the rest of our time during the week. Here is a list of how, by implementing Genius Hour ideas in my classes, the concepts have seeped into the other 80% of our time.
     Students can choose where (and how) to sit, as long as it's safe and not distracting to them or others.
     Students can write in response to a prompt of their choice, as long as they write in relation to our goal or focus for the day.
     Students decorate the room. Many put up their own ideas made at home.
     There is no teacher desk. It is converted into a student station, with supplies for students to use whenever they have a need. (They can also sit there!)
     The only front of the room is when we have the projector on. The rest of the room is fair game for where the speaker (me or a student) stands. (I'm actually always on the move.)
     Student passions are used as catalysts for discussions or writing, or reading, or...
     Students give book talks.
     Students read what they choose.
     Students take pictures for our movie updates for parents.
     Students have blogs for authentic purposes - not for grades.
     Students are asked, "Why not?" more often than they hear the word, "No."

I am no longer the "sage on the stage." I am truly the "guide on the side" for most of our lessons. Implementing Genius Hour in my classroom has made me ask these questions (from p34 of The Passion-Driven Classroom) every day: Who is in charge of learning at our school? Who does the most work in our classroom? Who does the creating, constructing, producing, performing? The answer must be: The learners.

Many teachers remain disconnected from their students. As Angela Maiers and Amy Sandvold share in The Passion-Driven Classroom, "96% of teachers reported that creativity should be promoted in the classroom. However, when asked which students they actually preferred to teach, teachers chose the students who were most compliant" (5). "Messy" learning, which is what Genius Hour is, and times when the learners are working the hardest, is difficult for me to see with my "old school" eyes. I like order. I appreciate quiet. ... But the things I HEAR from students during these "messy" times are precious gems. They alert me to the fact that students are learning, and enjoying the process simultaneously. That's what it's about. And that is how implementing Genius Hour has affected my teaching during the other 80% of the week.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Parent Night

I've changed the way I teach so much in the last 5 years.
It reflects in what I said to the parents tonight at Open House...

I’d like to start with asking you to think about a question:
Who was your favorite teacher in 7th grade?
Now try to come up with WHY this person was your favorite teacher.

I hope to be all those things.
I asked your children to finish this statement on the second day of school - A great teacher is...
Your children hope I am the following:
kind, funny, fun, helpful, peppy, understanding, friendly, respectful...
I let them know I expect the same of them:
kind, helpful, understanding, friendly, respectful…
Without these expectations, we won’t have much learning occurring.

One more question: What CONTENT from 7th grade do you remember?
      (Long pause... Nobody seems to remember!)
Your child won't remember either. What will he or she remember?

I am the most fortunate of all of your child's teachers you'll see tonight.
I get to enjoy your child’s presence for 80 minutes of every day - and I really get to know them.
I’m also the most fortunate because I don’t expect your child to memorize FACTS.

We get to explore great writing, share what we’re reading and writing, and figure out how to read to enjoy and learn, and how to write for an authentic audience - not just for their teacher.

Hopefully, by the end of the year, your children will have learned this in ELA:
Hopefully, by the end of the year, your children will want to continue learning outside of school hours.

We spent the first ten days of school building community, respect, trust, and understanding of why we need to read and write. I will continue to try to reach them through literature, nonfiction, and their own writing.

I will also be giving more choice than I was ever afforded in 7th grade.
One of those big choices - that centers around reading and writing this year - will be something we call “Genius Hour.”

Our mission for Genius Hour is to READ. BE INSPIRED. and ACT ON IT.
I’d like to show you a short video of last year’s students reflections on what THEY perceived Genius Hour to be...

In this class, it’s about the learning.
I will work my hardest to help your child become a life-long learner.
I know I didn't talk about specific curriculum, my teaching history, our homework or grading philosophies, but that is because I've put everything on the class Weebly. (Shown on the screen.)

I'd love for you to now please check out your child’s blog - if he or she has written one (or more), please take the time to comment. If not, please encourage him or her to write one for you. I’ll circulate and answer any questions you may have.

I had great feedback tonight. 
This year will be our best year yet...

Update 12/2016 - Don't have too much time to talk with parents at Parent Night? 
          Check out Catlin Tucker's ideas to flip your back-to-school night!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Close Reading with "The Night I Won the Rights..."

We've spent most of the start of the year prepping...

Students (hopefully) now know WHY...

Why do we need to read?
Why do we need to write?
Why do we need to be respectful of one another?
Why do we need to seize every day as if it was our last?

We had been building community for 10 days. It was time to get started now on the tough stuff. I was asking students to READ today - on their OWN! ;-)

Here was the full plan:

“The Night I Won the Right to the Streets of Memphis”
– By Richard Wright
Lessons for today:
1.   Re-reading a passage over and over again helps you notice intricacies in an author’s message. This is called “close reading.”
2.   Participating in discussions (when on-topic) will help you understand the reading selection even more.
Step 1: Read the story silently, annotating in the margins.

Step 2: Listen to the story being read aloud, annotating more.

Step 3: Answer – What did you notice in the second reading that you didn’t notice in the first?

Step 4: Come up with a question regarding the text, and ask it of the class.

Step 5: Read the story for a third time, with a partner or two other people. Jot down strong verbs, or phrases that catch your attention. Next to these words or phrases, jot down - Why do these grab your attention? What is it about them that makes you notice them?

Step 6: Listen to the last paragraph being read aloud again. What do you notice about this paragraph? Jot it down, and be ready to share.

**Is there anything else you’d like to ask or any observations you’d like to share?**

Step 7: On your own, answer each of these questions.
1)  How does the boy’s attitude change from the beginning of the reading, to the end of the reading? Use examples from the text to support your answer.

2)  Is the conflict resolved? Do you think the boy “won the right to the streets of Memphis” as the last line states?   Use examples from the text to support your answer.
* When you finish, put a star by the question you would want graded, and leave it open on your desk for Mrs. Kirr to see. You may then read quietly.

These were connected to our Common Core State Standards for reading literature in grade 7. My absolute favorite step was Step 4 - I could've stayed on this step the rest of the period! During this step, students were asked to come up with a question related to the text, but not a "right there" question. The answer had to be hidden in the text somewhere... Some questions were stellar, and really had the students going back to the text to support their answers.

[2014 modification: Students came up with three questions, shared them with a partner, then chose their favorite of the six questions. These questions (on sticky notes) were put on the board, and we discussed which we'll never know the answer to, which we could probably figure out, and which we already sort of knew. Then, as a class, we voted on the one we wanted to discuss. Two out of three classes came up with the same question as in the video below, "How old was the boy in this story?"

2015 modification: Check out the lesson on this Google presentation. Students could either answer one of their own questions at the end of class, or one of the "teacher" questions. We moved to a part of the room that would be our answer, tried to defend it, and moved to a different corner if we changed our minds because of something a peer said.]

Finding text support was one goal for students. I had a goal for myself, as well - stay out of it! I was going to be that "guide on the side" teachers are always talking about. I've had lots of practice at this since December of 2011, but I wanted students to recognize at the end of this lesson how I was just a facilitator. I made sure when we were finished that I never told any student he/she was wrong, and I never told anyone he/she was right, either. After all - am I the author of the piece?? We were building more community - for all of us together are better than one of us.

The lesson went so well all day long; I had to document the last class - and here is a snippet...

[2014 - This year we actually researched how old he was when he experienced this. Students were amazed at how old he was!]
[2016 - The questions students decided to have a fishbowl discussion this year all revolved around the mother's decision. 1-Would you agree with the mother's actions? 2-Did the mom change him for better or worse?/Is this way of disciplining right or wrong? 3-Was the mom right or wrong to want him to fight?/Did his mother do the right thing for her son?]

Friday, September 6, 2013

Book Speed Dating

Since my genius hour is centered around independent reading, I've GOT to get these kids to read. I've already done three sets of book talks (keeping track for the students here), but I wanted to spice it up. Here's one way I tried this week...

First, I did my research. 
The following two blogs I found tucked away in my Evernote notes were extremely helpful!
Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading: Book Speed Dating
          by Erica Beaton (@B10LovesBooks)
Building Our To-Read Lists: Book Speed Dating
          by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp)
I then found a note I'd saved about putting a sign out on the door, so I decided to create the sign: 
"Be prepared to fall in love..."

From these two stellar resources, I created my own "How To" list.

That was the easy part. Now I had to implement it.
I had buy-in from the four other 7th grade ELA teachers, and we decided to meet Wednesday after school to pull books off the shelves. We didn't all make it, but we DID choose a TON of books! Next, we organized them by genre, knowing that our realistic fiction books were myriad, and we'd have to create sub-groups.

Here are the groups upon which we decided:
     2 tables - realistic fiction
     1 - sports/adventure/survival
     2 - nonfiction
     1 - memoirs/biographies
     1 - fantasy (in a realistic setting)
     1 - fantasy (not on this world or of this time)
     1 - science fiction
     1 - historical fiction

Todd H. moved the tables, Amy created the signs, Ashley cut off the lamination and helped hang them, and Todd S. and I put the books on the tables.

What I overheard...
     "Oh my gosh - that is SUCH a good book! You HAVE to read it!"
     "I already read these."
     "I don't want to read any of these."
     "Have you read this? It is soooo good!"
     "Mrs. Kirr, have you read this?"
     "I don't like the cover."
     "This book is too big!"
     "Woah! This one has ___ pages!"
     "Can I check this out now?"

One-liners from the 7th graders...
     "Mind if I 'check you out?'"
     "Fine! You're not my genre anyway!"
     "This book is out of my league."

What we learned:
     * If you are going with table groups, number them so students know where to go with each rotation.
     * If you are going with genre groups, know that some students will have a difficult time looking at books in a genre they "don't like" (yet!).
     * Three minutes per group may actually be enough! I thought it would be too short, but it seemed to be just right.
     * No more than 5 students per table group. Any more and students aren't as focused on the books.
     * Students who read often will LOVE this activity.
     * Some reluctant readers... will still be reluctant. I will keep working to find the book that hooks them!

What I might like to change:
     * Mix the genres so everybody has at least one book that interests them at each table. Maybe they can explore that one book in more detail.
     * Figure out a way to have my timer app automated so the alarm goes off and then resets the time once again.

Additional note 10/8/13:
I found another great wiki to help with Book Speed Dating here! There's even a score sheet! Enjoy.
And another from 12/9/13: Book Speed Dating: How I did it and why I'll do it again