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, November 14, 2013

The Spelling Bee

"I'm just going to say D-O-G if my word is 'chair.'"

This is just one of the complaints I heard my students say when I mentioned we were going to have the spelling bee. What could I say to help students try their best? What could motivate students who think they can't spell to even TRY? How can I convince them if I don't really believe it myself? I had to find some way to connect to the event so my students could, too.

24 Hours Later...

I sat students in a circle, and I joined in the perimeter. We had a discussion based on the following questions:
  • Why do we have spelling bees?
  • How long does the spelling bee last?
  • What good can come of the spelling bee?
  • Who is nervous or bothered by the spelling bee? Why?
Some of the best answers... 
  • We will (at the very least) learn how to spell one word - the word we got wrong.
  • ALL of us (except for the one winner) will "lose."
  • If we give up on the spelling bee in 7th grade (when all but one of us will lose!), what will we do when something really important to us comes along? On what else will we give up?
  • ALL of us are nervous. No one likes to be told they're wrong in front of others. But we will learn from making a mistake.
  • Even Mrs. Kirr is nervous - what if she doesn't hear a student right?!
  • Mrs. Kirr feels sympathy for all students - the ones who don't want to be in the spelling bee, yet don't want to make a mistake, and the ones who DO want to be in the spelling bee and are very stressed about it.
  • A lot of it is about luck - based on who begins, and what words come up next.
  • We will exhibit the genius "habitudes" of perseverance and most of all - courage.
Talk to your students about it. Children in different grades may feel differently about it, but I'd bet most of them are scared. Scared of being humiliated... scared of losing. Let's help them tackle the spelling bee like they could any competition.

Side note... One student asked to sit next to me - I haven't really connected yet with her this year, and I'm so glad she asked. I wanted to hold her hand, because I knew she'd struggle. Another spelled "apiary" right - just because he TRIED. I later told him he made my day. Today, during advisory, I received a small note from him - thanking me. These treasures are the ones that keep me heading back to school each day.

Update 8/22/15 - This post talks about spelling as an aid to communicating.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Heartbreak Maps

I read Angela Maiers' two books this summer, but the one I'm still getting a lot out of is Classroom Habitudes: Teaching Habits and Attitudes for 21st Century Learning...

For one week of Genius Hour, I was going to do the lesson on pages 61-62 - a heart-mapping activity. But then I saw in my Evernote notes a link to Angela's website where she talks about what BREAKS your heart. Forget Following Your Heart: Follow Your HeartBREAK. I followed this lesson, almost exactly.

This was my script:
We have experienced what a little of what it means to be Caine Monroy. The day prior, as we shared our writing prompts, we heard some people share very personal stories. Being able to hear these stories or experience something similar to what they've experienced helps us understand each other more, and helps us to build empathy. Because I don’t want to ever put someone on the spot, but we still need to know more about one another, I’m asking you today to create what’s called a Heartbreak Map.
One of the best ways we can get to know one another is through our story. We know Caine now more because of his story, and each one of us in this room has a story. Great writers and storytellers speak from their hearts. I've asked you to blog about your passion, I've asked you many times to let us know what you love in life, but today I'm going to ask you what breaks your heart. It is this pain in your heart, or this anger that eats you up inside that will help you to act. Some people still have no clue what they want to learn about for Genius Hour. Many of us are still reading fiction and just waiting for inspiration to come to us. Today I'm going to give you a tiny push towards emotions that will spur you to act. We don't always act if we're thinking of solely what we love. We act when we're sad, upset, or angry. So let's begin. Ask yourself: What matters to you?

This is what I put on the board, and I paused to give time to think between each one:
     What makes you happy?
     What do you love?
     What is the most fun you have ever had?
     What memory is your favorite?
     What things or objects are important to you?
     Who is important to you?
     What things in your heart are sad? Make you cry?
     What secrets are in your heart?
     What activities do you love?
          Now... what breaks your heart about these things?

I jumped in with my own example right about here...
     When I think of one of my favorite memories, I think of when my husband and I were dating, and we were in an awkward situation one time. We just started giggling. It was one of those infectious giggles that you have a hard time stopping. If you've ever heard a grown man giggle, you'd giggle, too - it's a precious sound that doesn't happen every day.
     What breaks my heart about this, though? (A student in each class answered, "It had to end.")
     Yes. He lived in Detroit, and I lived here, and we had to say goodbye.
     So what do I do about it? (One answered, "You marry him!")
     Well, yes, but every day - EVERY DAY - I do something so that it doesn't break my heart as much, as I know we'll be separated some day in the future... I make every moment with him count. I don't argue with him, I don't push him to do things he doesn't want to do, and I, corny as it sounds, give him hugs and kisses and do small tasks for him whenever I can, so that he knows how much he is loved.
     Now... what matters to you? REALLY matters to you? And what breaks your heart about it? THIS is what will motivate you to ACT.

I showed these pictures from Aaron Maurer's (@coffeechugbooks) students as examples. Here are even more from Karen McMillan (@McTeach).

Then I left this on the board for directions:
     Give it a try:
     * In the center of your map, write and/or draw the things that you are passionate about.
     * In the next level or circle, write and/or draw what breaks your heart about these things.
     * In the final level or circle, write and/or draw your ideas for the ways to resolve these heartbreaks.

I let students know they might not know what to put in their final step, and that's okay. We can work on that together if they want our help. If not, it's something they can work towards during Genius Hour. Or, sadly, it might be something they have no control over right now.

When students came up to me to ask, "Is this right?" I told them that as long as it includes things that break their heart, there is no right or wrong answer. It's all very personal.

This is how they turned out... Check out our slideshow! These are on our bulletin board right now.

Hopefully this is not all of them... Many students decided to keep theirs. But I think it's a very good start, and even though it makes me sad they have these heart breaks, I'm happy at the thought of them thinking they can do something about it. I wonder where they'll go from here...

Thank you to Angela or Karen McMillan for sharing exactly how it could be done. Thank you, also, to Karen - for teaching me how to incorporate the slideshow from Flickr.