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, January 28, 2014

Deeper Learning

“After all is said and done, more is said than done.” ~Aesop

Sam LeDeaux’s latest post, “Do Educators Actually DO Anything?” made me think about this past weekend’s visit up north to EdCamp Madison, Wisconsin. It also inspired me to watch the next episode of the MOOC I’ve joined this month: DLMOOC = Deeper Learning. After watching the Google Hang Out session with the following participants, I decided I need to be an active participant - I need to put these ideas into action.

Rob Riordan facilitated this meeting, and was joined by
Karen Fasimpaur, Ron Berger, Joseph McDonald, Dr. Carissa Romero, Iza McGawley  (7th grade student) & Edrick Macalaguim (7th grade Humanities teacher).

Week Two is about delving into looking at student work, considering the elements of deeper learning: content mastery, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, effective communication, self-directed learning & academic mindsets.

A question posed was, “Why look at student work?” My notes from the discussion follow:
...to create a vision of what we’re aiming for.
...to provide students with a vision of what a great ____ (essay, creation, blog post, etc…) is by showing them a beautiful model/example of it. This creates a model and discussion point for what we’re aiming for.
...in order for teachers to find out how well we are scaffolding lessons, or how well we are communicating the material, process… and helps the teacher guide direction & make adjustments.

But looking at student work is not just for teachers.
What benefits could STUDENTS get out of looking at student work?
...to help students understand each other more.
...to connect to each other more and build more of a relationship with each other.
...to compliment others on their work. Students strive to be the “model” so they can be recognized by the class and feel special.
...to view mistakes as good - critiques are valuable. They show us what we have learned, and how much we have to learn. They help us know how we’re progressing toward our learning goals. This can help move the classroom culture towards the direction that school is for LEARNING.
…to celebrate mistakes & recognize the value of them.
…to point out what’s working and find strengths. We can often learn more from finding out what’s working / what’s effective than from what’s not.
...to celebrate each other’s work and build each other up.

Of course, teachers have concerns with showing models… Models might influence students. Ron Berger had this to say about these concerns - There is not one time to introduce exemplars - at the beginning, in the middle, at the end when you’re trying to push quality… Don’t worry about squashing creativity - worry about inspiring quality.

If your students are critiquing other student work, you could try giving “two stars and two wishes” - two things at which they did well, and two things they’d like to see. Keep this in mind, however… Rob Riordan mentioned something I learned from reading Choice Words by Peter Johnston - exclude the word “but” - the only thing students hear is what you say AFTER the word “but.” Here’s an example: “I love how you described that character, but I’d love for you to add some dialogue.” As I learned in Choice Words, say the word “and” afterwards, and give the student an OPTION… making it his or her choice to improve the writing. For example, “I love how you described that character, and if you want your reader to know him more, you could add in some dialogue.”

Do you have students who are sensitive to critique? Tell students WHY you’re giving feedback - “because I have very high standards for you, and I know that you can meet those standards.” The teacher’s message says that the work is important, and s/he wants the student to learn and achieve.

Having taken all these notes from the one hour of conversation, it’s time for me to take action.

Within the next two weeks, I will...
* Share student progress during group work - Our discussion will center around what groups worked well, and why? What hindered productive discussion? What helped the discussion flow smoothly?
* Spotlight specific actions of students that show aspects of quality writing. Get the camera out and project this writing - leads, transition words, tier two vocabulary, quality evidence cited, etc…
* Pair students to look at each other’s work and give two wishes and two stars. I will have a sentence structure on the board so that no one is using the word, “but” in his or her oral or written feedback during this pairing.

With this plan in mind, it is my hope that more is DONE rather than simply SAID in my classroom. I’ll shut my mouth now and let the students get to work.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Fall Take-Aways

Fall is definitely over, as I sit here in temperatures below zero for two days off of school. I've been reading some great books - fiction and professional books. For a full list, see the shelf on the right of this blog. But here are the latest that I just had to share...

Professional Literature
     --> EVERY person who works with children should read this book.  How many of us have unwillingly (or sadly - consciously) shamed children by the words we use?* This book reminded me of the language Angela Maiers uses in Classroom Habitudes to let students know they matter, but it also reminded me of Ellin Oliver Keene's Talk About Understanding - using the power of our language to help students stretch their thinking. While reading, I frequently wondered, "HOW will I be able to think automatically and use these phrases on a consistent basis?" In chapter 8, the author explains that first your goal must be true. If your goal is valuable, then your lessons will be valuable, and your words will more likely reflect what you want your students to believe... The teachers in this book all cared about their students, more than they cared about what their students said or did. This makes all the difference. I know, after reading this, that I will be much more in tune to what words come out of my mouth.

Whole Novels for the Whole Class: A Student-centered approach by Ariel Sacks
     --> I've created a document with so many (all?) of her ideas in it so I can use this approach as we read The Outsiders this year. It just makes sense. What got me hooked was this Education Week article. If you teach middle school or high school english, you've got to read this one. If you need teacher's ideas to get you to purchase the book, check out our #ELAchat archives of the chapters.

Common Core English Language Arts in a PLC at Work: Grades 6-8 by Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey
     --> You need your coworkers in order to efficiently create common assessments that are actually USEFUL to you and your students. You need TIME, provided by your district, so you can talk about your goals, the structure of any rubrics, and the lessons you've planned and implemented. This time needs to be given frequently, and it needs to be used well.

Teaching with Tablets: How do I integrate tablets with effective instruction? by Nancy Frey, Doug Fisher, and Alex Gonzalez
     --> The tech department at your school should review this book first, then disseminate the information to teachers and students while using the tablet apps suggested. Keep in mind, too, the gradual release of responsibility as you are delving in to any of the myriad activities suggested.
My "professional reads" this fall...

Children's Fiction - My Latest Favorites
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
Any of these can be read by my 7th graders - some are easier than others, but students will be engaged in all four!

If you're reading this, you've probably learned a TON this past fall as well, from books and your PLN. What is your one (hah!) take-away?

*In September, I came across a scathing video from Brene Brown, wrote her a letter, and she responded to the teachers who'd written to her in this post - regarding shame. I have heard me use phrases since that would be considered shaming, and I'm not proud of it. Reading Choice Words has shed even more light on how I want to change my language, especially in the classroom.