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.

Friday, June 27, 2014


I've taken the liberty of capitalizing beginnings of tweets, completing words, and adding ending punctuation on this conversation via Twitter four days ago...

"Not a fan of genius hour or other schemes to justify rest of the school day being laborious or irrelevant" -Gary Stager, Ph.D.
"The word 'scheme' hit me hard. #Geniushour affects 100% of the week" sent with an attachment to the link to a blog post where I defend Genius Hour. -me
"Why call it an hour then?" -Stager
"Don't think the name matters. Isn't it about kids thinking and building a passion for learning?" -Kathy Turley
"Of course the name matters. Words matter." -Stager
"Words DO matter. I'm fortunate I have 1hr/wk that changes the other 4hrs students & I have together." -me
"Don't care about Dan Pink. Why not read Dewey, Hawkins, Kohl, Meier, Littky, a Papert, Malaguzzi?" -Steger
"They all have something to offer. Everyone has their favorites doesn't mean 'Pink* is wrong.'" -Ihor Charischak
"Pink makes up stuff and spreads junk science. He's wrong." -Steger
"Have read most of those but why not package it for people. G.H. is one way to use what they say." -Jarrod Lamshed
"The challenge with packaging GH = it becomes consumable & discarded and when the package is discarded, the underlying principles often go along with it." -Dave Quinn
     * Pink = Daniel Pink, author of Drive (one book some teachers link to Genius Hour)

And I'm in a sour mood for the next two days...
I don't get it. Why not support something that COULD POSSIBLY BE one way teachers can BEGIN the process of letting students take over their own learning? Does it matter what you read that gives you idea of letting students ENJOY school while taking ownership of their learning? Does it matter that people may be "packaging" it, but they like at least a portion of what they're seeing from students - and it's more choice than their students have ever had? Heaven forbid it changes the rest of their week with students, or maybe their outlook during future years! Harrumph.

Skip two more days...

Holland Michigan - where my love and I would rendezvous and eventually get married! We visited on our three-year anniversary this year to unplug, relax, and enjoy the water. One of our stops: Kirk Park

Here - they have rules, warnings, and guidelines... .......All    the    way    to    the    beach.

Some people can look at them and think... this park will be no fun. I won't be able to do ANYthing. And then... they get to the beach...see and hear the waves...feel the sand between their toes...

It got me thinking about all the rules teachers and students have. A quick overview of a student's morning at my middle school:
     Rule 1: No biking or skateboarding on school property.
     Rule 2: No throwing snow on school property.
     Rule 3: When you walk in the door, no hats allowed.
     Rule 4: Turn off any devices and leave them (and your jacket) in your locker; get to homeroom.
     Rule 5: Sit in your seat and be quiet while we listen to announcements.
     Rule 6: Stand for the pledge of allegiance.

Phew! And that's all in the first ten minutes of a student's day!

What about teachers? I have at least two rules imposed on me:
     Rule 1: Create and maintain a safe environment where children can learn.
     Rule 2: Cover curriculum.

Some people will look at student and teacher rules and think... this is so hard on the students... no BYOT... maybe scripted curriculum... how can they cover all that curriculum in one year... students won't be able to do ANYthing fun. And then... they visit the classrooms... see and hear student engagement in various ways... see curriculum being covered and (GASP!) students smiling...

What are school rules for?
     RESPECT for learning

Would anyone doubt this? If I don't like the rules I have to teach by, I could leave. The facts are, however, the reason for the rules makes sense. I like my school. I even like to follow rules. I don't like to make waves. I will work my hardest at covering the curriculum in the few hours I have with my seventh graders. I will work with other teachers as to how this can best be accomplished. I will try to keep my students having FUN while learning the curriculum. AND... I will also have one hour of my five hours with children where they can pursue their own learning.

I am currently not in a position to change my entire school or my entire district. Nor do I have the drive or energy to do so. I do not even pretend to have the knowledge of HOW to do so. How many teachers are like me? How many want to begin to change students' lives by making a difference in his or her own class? If so, it cannot hurt to try something similar to Genius Hour. And if you don't like the name, by all means - change it. Here is a list of some other names, or create your own. I've defended the name I use here. The whole point of this type of learning --> to engage students, to help them imagine and then express their creativity, to help them discover their passions, and to encourage them to use their own genius to make a difference in their world. I just cannot sit back and watch as some teachers trash good ideas - just because it may not be possible for some 100% of the time.

Compare class to the beach. Even with all these rules, I found time to swim in the water, play frisbee, build a sand castle, splash around, and even read my "assigned" summer reading book...

If you want to work in a building or district in which the "genius hour" or "20 percent time" philosophy IS truly 100% of the time, try one of these schools. If you want to stay where you are and make a difference in your own classroom, try - at every opportunity - to give your students choice in HOW they learn your curriculum, and choice in WHAT they learn. Then please share with the world what you are doing in your classroom that is making a difference. It doesn't have to be ALL or NOTHING. Some people have a hard time starting small. I won't be knocking them for trying - I'll be supporting them all I can.


  1. Teaching students to take hold of their learning through choice and passion is a positive in my book. This gives students the opportunity to actively engage in their learning, hopefully, creating lifelong learners. We all make the choice on a daily basis to affect students in a positive manner within our four classroom walls. Giving them choices and a presence in the learning process sets them up for life success.

    Keep doing your thing, Joy. Some people choose to be disagreeable for the sake of being disagreeable and miss the forest through the trees.

    BTW, how is The Running Dream? I have been meaning to pick up that book.

  2. Great post - was quite an interesting discussion on twitter the other night. For us it is about starting something new slowly. We are just starting out (and have followed some of your links thank you). If we can get more teachers starting to engage kids in what they find interesting and teaching them the skills to learn new things rather than giving them the content then that is a start.
    Kathy Turley

  3. Great points Joy! I love reading what you write!!!

  4. Love your attitude and agree wholeheartedly!

  5. Hi Joy,
    Thanks for sharing a link to this post. Recently I have been feeling disheartened at what I see during Genius Hour with my students. I feel that all they want to do is to use their Genius Hour time to socialize with their friends at the same time that they pretend to be doing something important. I have been trying out different tools to help them reflect on their projects and to get them to elevate their purposes for what they're doing. I'm not looking for a cure for cancer. I am looking for some thought and genuine interest in what they're doing. I know that some of them, particularly the boys, are having trouble coming up with project ideas because they are not used to doing this and because they don't trust the process. However, I am wondering if this hour is truly useful and should I be giving them this time when we are already pressed for time during the rest of the week. I agree with the arguments that every day should be Genius Hour in our classrooms. I also understand why this is a challenge for many teachers. I try my best to provide choice to my students during the rest of the week. I also know that I'm responsible for teaching certain areas of the curriculum and that, for the most part, I feel alone in my thinking about Genius Hour, choice in the classroom, inquiry, etc. So, I'm having lots of second thoughts about Genius Hour. Phew! There! I said it. That's why I look forward to the chat every month though I don't always make it. I wish it was more often though I know I can post a Tweet at any time. So, any words of encouragement, suggestions, etc would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!