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, December 31, 2013


I'm not going to write a "best of 2013" post.

In fact, I wasn't going to write another post this year. This break has been a true "break!" Still amazed at the power of sharing ideas with teachers from across the nation and the world, I thought I'd just let others write and share while I sat back and enjoyed reading them.

Alas, Michelle Haseltine inspired me last night. There were a few gems in her Sunshine Award blog post. Here's the one that was the catalyst for this post:
Many teachers choose one word for their year. I haven't done this...yet. I guess it's time, because I already knew my word.

Made with the app "Over" on a photograph of an apple a student gave to me this year.
I knew this, as I am reminded daily of how grateful I am - and I need to show it more. But what reminded me one more time that I am right where I'm meant to be...is that I received this piece of jewelry this year from a student, and it came with this explanation:
   We are all Grateful 4 something
   Many different things, each and every day
   Look at your wrist and 4malize your thoughts!

What was even MORE serendipitous, was that prior to me reading Michelle's post, yet on the very same day, I saw this tweet from Rik Rowe.

Appreciation / gratitude also makes people... happier. The person who is grateful, and the person who is receiving the appreciation (once you show it!) simply become happier.

This has spurred an idea a few of us are going to roll with in 2014, that will hopefully let others share their gratitude in a new format. We are very grateful for all of our PLN - passionate teachers who love to learn, question, share... You rejuvenate me in my 19th year of teaching, and I am very grateful for each one of you. 2014 will be the year I express this gratitude in all I do.

Authors's Note, January, 2014 - Here is the blog that has spurred from this one word 
Feel free to jump in and thank someone you appreciate!
** January, 2024 update: This website is no longer accepting submissions.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Learning from Your PLN

The Sunshine Blog...
The PLN Challenge...
The Homework Meme...
Liebster - Discover New Blogs...

I've seen it called many things, and the idea is "a way to share and broaden our PLN" (@WillGourley).
Here is how it works:
     1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
     2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
     3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
     4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love! (The first one @CoughlinLaura shared with me back in July said 5-11 bloggers. This might be easier for those of us not connected as much!)
     5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

I've seen the trend going around for awhile now on Twitter, and I thought it was interesting, but I immediately poo-pooed it. Why would I want to write about myself in my blog? Is that what my blog was for? I was forced to think about my own blog - why do I use it? Who are my readers? What qualifies as a "worthy" topic to post?

This thinking has led to changes in blogging with my students, as well. If they are to have a blog, is it just to turn in assignments for class? Not ONE person has told me what I should post on my blog. It's mine. It's personal. Some people use their blog as a platform - to get their ideas across, their thoughts about an issue, their complaints. Some use their blog to share successes of their students or themselves, celebrate their learning, or share about their own personal lives. I left the options WIDE open for my students. Simultaneously, I'm finding out more about my own writing, and what ideas I consider "worthy" of posting.

Since two "nominations" (Or are they challenges? This was difficult!) came in during winter break, it made me think about this idea once more. I love reading about other teachers' lives - much like I enjoy hearing about teachers I work with, or meeting my PLN in person at an EdCamp. Who is this teacher personally? How can I connect with this person so I can understand him or her better? The questions posed and answered by these teachers are enlightening, and my favorite part is the "eleven random facts" people share. If these teachers are so open about their lives, does that allow me to be as well? Will this idea fit into my blogging parameters I've subconsciously set for myself?

I've figured some things out. Here are my parameters:
  1. Be positive. I've realized that not much comes out of being negative, except more negativity.
  2. Share what I've learned, if I believe it will benefit others.
  3. Reflect - to share my personal learning or growth.
  4. Show my gratitude.
  5. Add a photograph (one I've taken or created - I learned this in person from @langwitches).

With these parameters in mind, I'll tackle this task. (I've also FINALLY answered Laura Coughlin's first question!!) Read on if you will, but know I have learned from this experience - about myself, my writing, and my PLN. Teachers in my PLN are very open and honest, and they write from the heart. I wish I could thank them personally for all I have learned from them. Please help me thank them by visiting their blogs and commenting - we all love it when the conversation continues! I'm going to go against the grain and start with my list of bloggers I love - some may have already completed this challenge, but they're still on my list. Please visit them!

Bloggers I believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love (in alphabetical order!):
     Gary Anderson - An English teacher's dream blog!
     Garnet Hillman - Standards-Based Grading, and best practices for students.
     Denise Krebs - It's all about the kids.
     Shawn McCusker - A bit of this and that - ALWAYS useful for me.
     Hugh McDonald - Hugh thinks in a different way than I do - It's always interesting to read and decipher what he says - I love when it clicks for me!
     Fran McVeigh - Close Reading / Common Core for ELA teachers
     Allison Petersen - Something you can use that day!
     Amy Smith - Optimistic & grateful.
     Paul Stolt - Always reflecting on interesting points.
     Tom Whitford - Not in it for the fame. Just common sense for leaders.
     Gallit Zvi - Sharing what she learns to benefit others.

     There are so very many MORE!! How can I possibly name them all?!?! I love them all for many different reasons, as well. Ugh. Please see my RTs and check out those blogs/posts for all of them. There is NO way anyone can "catch up" with all the resources available...

Time to recognize those who have nominated me...
  1. Laura Coughlin - Laura is on my "first" list on Twitter. She didn't know it until she read this, but my "first" list is a private list of people. They don't know they're on the list. These are the people I don't want to miss. They don't tweet a ton, and what they tweet is valuable to me. So I keep this list on my TweetDeck so I don't miss out with all the tweets flooding in! She currently teaches middle school, and has not tweeted lately, but I see she's still blogging here. I hope she is doing well, and I hope she doesn't mind me blowing her off when she first asked me to do this challenge back in July!
  2. Kimberly Hurd - I was able to meet Kimberly face to face in October, and I'm so very glad! Not only is she as spunky in person as on her tweets, but she's much shorter than I imagined! ;-) She also sings karaoke - a girl after my own heart! Her blog is here, and she is very spiritual in what she writes - I believe this is because she, too, is very grateful for all she has, and she chooses to recognize it often. I'm blessed to know Kimberly, and have her on my "f2f" list on my TweetDeck - another column I check quite often!
  3. Will Gourley - I have Will on my "first" list on TweetDeck as well. I feel that he is very well-rounded and must be a stellar person, as well as a stellar teacher. He is thoughtful, thankful, and gracious in sharing / retweeting great ideas. Some of his ideas are here. I need to get to know him more - I was astounded that my name came up in his list! Hubby and I just got our passports and are heading to the eastern side of Canada with the travel trailer some time this summer - looking forward to a tweet up!

I'll pose my questions next... things to think about and maybe BLOG about!
  1. What's been the happiest day of your life so far? (Yes, feel free to name more than one!)
  2. What's the latest success you've seen happen in your classroom?
  3. What have you NOT blogged about, even though you've thought so much about it? What's stopping you?
  4. Who has influenced you the most AT YOUR SCHOOL, and how?
  5. Write a letter to that person (in number 4), and read it aloud to him or her.
  6. If you had to choose just one song to listen to in your car, what would it be?
  7. What's your favorite holiday? Why?
  8. What is a favorite quote of yours?
  9. What is coming up that you are excited about?
  10. What will you do when you retire?
  11. What should you be doing that you're not, because you're reading this?

Next... questions nominating bloggers have asked...
From Laura...
  1. Why do you blog? --> To reflect, share, and celebrate. When a post comes out, it's mostly because it's been percolating in my brain. The more I write about it, the more clear it becomes to me. I find a way to connect it to my teaching, and it's something I want to share. I do not think I'm a skilled writer, but I am writing more, so I know I'm growing as a writer.
  2. Does your classroom have a "color scheme?" --> Nope. My classroom is decorated by the kids and their work. If they want to put up a piece of art, feel free. If they want to make snowflakes, here's some yarn. If they want to put something on the ceiling, be careful on that chair. The walls are full? Find a spot, or take down something else you have up. Color scheme? Chaotic or eclectic. ;-)
  3. What is one teaching goal you have for this school year? --> Do the best I can with each day given to us. That includes being a "on" with my last class as I am with my first. (Thanks to Dave Burgess for that reminder!)
  4. Who/what is your teaching inspiration? --> The kids.

From Kimberly...
  5. What app is the biggest addictive time waster for you? --> So glad you put in the words "time waster," or it could be Twitter! I have a love/hate relationship with a simple game called "Beat Beans." My current high score is 192, and I believe the highest I can ever get is 200, so I just keep plugging. My wrist hurts from holding the iPad & reminds me of when I was addicted Atari... My husband knows not to ever get me a video game unless it's attached to an exercise torture device.
  6. If you could have a personal mascot just for you, what would it be? --> A bird - I feel like I can fly most days (I'm high on life), and I try to soar away from negativity when possible. If a wing breaks, I have people in my life who can help me repair it.
  7. What would be the best field trip to take students - do not hold back! --> A bike tour of countries that do not have the wealth my students have. Let it be led each day by a different resident of these places, so they can give us insight into what happened there and what they need in order to get back on their feet. During this trip - no wifi, television, phones, and only the local food to eat and shelter under which to sleep. We would have a bus (or two or three!) with us to carry food & clothing to residents of our host villages.

From Will...
  8. If you could have lunch with anyone, living or deceased, who would it be? Why? --> I'd want to meet my husband's parents. They passed away just before I was able to meet them, and I would love to hear them talk about him and how he was when he was young. I'd like to see how Frank loved Stella, because I know that's the love Bob shows to me.
  9. What is your ultimate vacation destination? --> Somewhere sunny, warm, with a sand beach, waves to play in (and not get knocked down!), with my husband. The beaches I play in are all on Lake Michigan - COLD! ;-)
  10. What are you reading right now? --> I'm actually reading an ADULT book! Hah! Crazy unbelievable! The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult. I love this author, and I'm not disappointed in this one, of course.

And one from Pernille Ripp...
  11. What is one song you secretly or not so secretly want to sing at karaoke? --> My favorite song on karaoke night is "Broken Wing" by Martina McBride. I can hit the notes, and feel her words pouring through me.

And here's the picture I'm choosing for today - because the gifts I get from my PLN are more precious than these gifts under the tree - ideas can grow and bloom! (And none of these gifts is a ChiaPet!)

Eleven random facts that readers may not know about me... I saved this for last, because this is not why I wanted to write this post, and it's hard to put these ideas in writing, too!
  1. I am fairly recently divorced. It feels like yesterday, but we went through counseling in 2009. I learned a TON from my first marriage - and I wouldn't change a thing. If I did, I might not have met my soul mate, who I married on the beach in Holland, MI in 2011. This love we have seeps into everything I do. If I had a personal blog, you'd see the whole story & believe in soul mates!
  2. I'm seen in Catholic eyes as a "Chreaster..."  someone who only attends church on Christmas and Easter. I do, however, thank God every day for all I have, and pray that he help those in need. I know I am blessed, and I give Him credit for all I can experience on this great planet.
  3. I cry a lot. I cry when I'm happy, and when I'm sad. Of course, I laugh a lot, too!
  4. I have taught from age 3 to age 21... children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. I keep thinking I'm a special education teacher, but have been teaching reading now for 12 years, which is five more than the seven years I taught children who are deaf! Time flies...
  5. I love taking photographs of insects and flowers, but mostly insects ON flowers. I love my camera. Maybe some day I'll get a macro lens - my telephoto lens sure gets a work out, though, too!
  6. I have three blogs in addition to this one... One for what I've accomplished thanks to Pinterest, and one for my own Genius Hour ideas / projects. I was hoping I could share the latter with my students, but I don't require them to blog anymore... One more - for our travel bug, Corn Boy Jr. If you don't know what a travel bug is, look it up - you may acquire a new hobby!
  7. I'm very insecure & a bit of a worrier, although I can psych myself out of almost anything by singing along with Julie Andrews to "I Have Confidence!" If I can hit all the notes, I know everything will be fine. (I keep singing until I DO hit all the notes!)
  8. I love to eat. I'm currently wolfing down "Peanut butter ball screw-ups..." They didn't work as balls, so... but they are very tasty!
  9. I've run a marathon, biked a century, skied the Korteloppet, and done rolls in my whitewater & sea kayak. I used to have exercise as a priority. Things have changed. I now love to walk & showshoe. I'd love it if I knew how to wax my own cross-country skis, but... I also still love to ride my bicycle in the warmer months. I'm as heavy as I've ever been, but I'm just as happy as I've ever been, as well!
  10. I love to geocache! My husband and I try this whenever we are in a new area - what great fun for the whole family.
  11. After attending my fifth, I figured something out - EdCamps are my version of Disneyland! If you haven't been, GO!!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Coach Your Class

I live eight houses away from one of the 8th grade P.E. teachers at our school, Kathy. We've been over to each other's houses many times since I moved to the neighborhood three years ago. She's heard about our Genius Hour, but most importantly, she's caught a little of the bug...

This summer, Kathy and I concocted a way to have students own their learning in P.E. class. She grappled with the idea, tweaked much of it, then felt like she could share it with her 8th grade comrade. He liked the idea, so they sprung it on the kids first quarter! Students may teach about a sport they love, something they practice outside of school, or present on nutrition or exercise. They are beginning their presentations this quarter, and I've been fortunate enough to be able to witness a few.

I thought I'd lay out what she did in this post, because she's not on Twitter and does not have a blog (they just seem to go hand in hand these days)...

   * setting up the projector for those students with a slide show presentation
   * trying to get kids to NOT rely on the Keynote/PowerPoint slides
   * giving up class time when it's not an ACTIVE presentation
   * giving up class time during a specific unit - they have limited days for each unit
   * SCHEDULING & RE-SCHEDULING - This is the big problem. Each 8th grader needs to be in health at a certain time. What if two students want to present together, but they have health different quarters? Rescheduling if a student is absent is another problem... I can only imagine how they struggle with this issue!

   See the rubric here. I'm not always a big fan of rubrics, but it's a huge step when two teachers can agree upon one! Feel free to copy and tweak as you please, of course.

Best news to date -
Today, a group of five 8th graders presented on bowling. Each had a script, access to the microphone (they presented in the large gym), bowling lanes, pins, and balls from the elementary school, and a large, very captive audience of two P.E. classes. Each had a subtopic: the history of the game, the ball, the rules, and the adaptations of bumpers and the ramp. What did they practice today? Oh, sure, they had to research the sport, write what they would say, and then show their part in front of the audience. But what did they demonstrate today in front of two classes of peers?

These students had never held a microphone before.
They had never spoken in front of so many people.
They had never taught anyone a formal lesson.

Here's the kicker - these particular students are in the Individualized Learning Program at our middle school.

I really enjoy seeing students share in a different way about their favorite sport or hobby, but today really takes the cake. To see the smiles on these five students' faces when the applause came for their turn was priceless. They are very fortunate their teachers decided to take on this type of learning.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

#nerdlution - Taking My Student's Lead...

On November 15th, I celebrated a student of mine on our class Weebly. Izzy had taken Matt Cutts' 30-Day Challenge, and created her own 50-Day Challenge - to draw something new each day. This was great for her - she was going to go out of her box with something she loves. Students (and I) gave her ideas for themes to use each day, and she just started checking them off, one by one. When I finally published it, she'd been working at it for 15 days already.

Fast forward another 15 days. I wake up today to find a new hashtag on Twitter - #nerdlution. I quickly found this post by Katherine Sokolowski (@katsok) to describe it, and I thought on it. I've tried things like this before, and they always end up going by the wayside. But then I thought of Izzy. She took the video I used in class to inspire her. Why didn't it inspire ME?! I guess I needed a little push.

  Start small.
  Don't over-promise.
  Do what is healthy for you, but something you know you CAN do.

Since I'd taken almost four full days off of Twitter to be with family in Michigan for Thanksgiving, I knew it gave my brain a much-needed break, & I realized how much of a time-sucker it really could be. I'd been trying to read INSTEAD of tweet, and I'd read three YA books!

So... I'm in.

What's your #nerdlution? Will you take the challenge? Thanks to Matt Cutts, Izzy, and my PLN!

If you want to jump in, add your post to Colby Sharp's (@colbysharpblog post comments here.