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.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Marble Theory

I finished Paul Solarz's Learn Like a Pirate: Empower your students to collaborate, lead and succeed over a month ago, I believe. It's time to blog about one idea on pages 63-64 that I MUST implement next year within the first week... The Marble Theory.

We've all got these students...
     ...those who do well in our class...
          ...and those who don't do so well in our class.

And the students notice, too. Some egos become more inflated, and others more deflated as the year goes on. I hope, that the more time I spend on Genius Hour-type activities, the more students see that ALL students are skilled, and in many different ways. How do I share this idea with something tangible? How can I embed this idea in the minds of 12-13 year olds? Paul shares this great idea...
"Some students come into my classroom with very low self-esteem, due to low grades or poor performance in school. Others believe they are better than their peers because of past success in school. My goal with Marble Theory is to level the playing field. I want my students to realize that we are all equals with amazing gifts, talents, and interests. No one is better than anyone else. No one is worse. Once they understand we are all equals, increased respect leads to improved collaboration.
The Marble Theory states that we are all born with the same number of marbles in our brains. When we are born, these marbles are just in a big pile, but over time we allocate these marbles into cups. The cups represent our skills, talents, and abilities. We can have as many cups as we need and these cups are extremely specialized. For example, we don't have a cup for reading abilities. Instead, we have several cups for reading: one dedicated to decoding, one for literal comprehension, one for inferential comprehension, one for oral reading fluency, etc. But we also have cups dedicated to dribbling a basketball, drawing horses, telling jokes, and playing the flute.
In school, teachers usually spend time evaluating how many marbles students have in their academic cups, causing children to falsely assume that grades determine how intelligent they are. Kids who have many marbles in their cups dedicated to math, reading, writing, spelling, science, and social studies become known as the "smart kids." Children who have fewer marbles in those cups but more in their musical, athletic, interpersonal, or creative cups are not given the same accolades.
Quote used w/permission
I contend that we are all equal in terms of intelligence and that intelligence needs to be measured differently. Because of grades and report cards, students learn to think of themselves as smart or dumb. Low grades do little more than disappoint and discourage students. High grades often create perfectionists and cause children to become extrinsically motivated. ... "
I would love for students to recognize just where their talents lie. In what "cups" do they believe they have the most and the fewest skills? I will ask students to figure this out in some way. My dream would be to try this with actual Dixie cups and marbles. I don't believe I can afford as many as I'd like, and I'm not really THAT ambitious, so I'll resort to a blank sheet of paper, circle templates (lids off milk cartons) and hole punches - 100 "holes" for each of my 70 students. (I wonder - is there a spray glue students can use to just stick it all on when they're done placing them? Or... should this one be an activity they work on at home??) If the holes don't get punched (a lunch bunch project??), we can resort to dots using markers. These charts can be the start of our "Resident Expert Wall of Fame," where we recognize each other's talents/skills/genius. Heck, this activity can even be part of Dot Day around September 15th!

Update: A high school teacher shares her day with The Marble Theory in this post.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Genius Hour - Year 3 Reflection

Was this really only the third full year I've experimented with Genius Hour in 7th grade ELA?

Well, I'll just say it up front - this was my toughest year when it comes to Genius Hour. This post will not have the depth the last two year's posts have had (year one part one, year one part two, year two), as I am EXHAUSTED. This focus will be primarily on the presentations, as that is where most of the change occurred. Note: Mrs. Rehberger is my co-teacher for one class, and Mr. Slowinski is the other ELA teacher on our team.

What I think went well...
   * Mrs. Rehberger stuck with us through it all. It was tough for her, as it was her first experience in the classroom with Genius Hour.
   * One class had a Skype visit with Julie Haden's kiddos, and certain students shared their projects.
   * One class had Grammie visit the last two months on a consistent basis.
   * All classes worked harder when Jen Vincent and Drew Gollias visited and asked questions.
   * Students appreciated being able to change projects when theirs wasn't working out for them.
My student's first concert!
   * I really got to know one of my students and attend her first concert! I was also put in charge of staying the entire time to video record and take photos, since her mom could not stay...
   * Vimily was a great tool to use for students to advertise their presentations - thank you for your examples and guidance, Paul Bogush!
   * Mr. Slowinski and I did not need to sit through (or put the kids through) four straight days of presentations. Instead, we had a full day of presentations throughout the school on the third-to-last day - again, thanks to Paul Bogush.
   * I have great plans for if we ever want to present in this manner again. (I actually have plans for a substitute, should we need one again!)
   * Two parents thanked me for doing this type of activity in ELA class. One even asked who brought this idea to the school. I was very proud to say it was ME! I am prouder yet that we now have our five 7th grade ELA teachers doing this, and one 8th grade science teacher! We are able to share our struggles and celebrations with each other.
   * We had a variety of projects once again, ranging from drawing to making a business.
   * We even had dogs visit (outside) and show the tricks they were taught!

What still bothers me...
   * I still had that one student who did nothing. This is one too many. Even with two teachers in the room, he fooled us all, up until the last moment. I asked him to present to me only, and then tried to explain the importance of effort and honesty and making the most of your time in life. I begged, cried, put on my "teacher face," and tried to get my message across. Kudos to him for keeping eye contact with me the entire time.
   * One of our team teachers took the day off when students were presenting. (This made me sad that this teacher did not want to see our students share their ideas.) This means the substitute had a group of boys at one point who walked all over her and the presenters. (This angered me - I would think they would know how to act.) I only know this because of a parent email sent to our principal.
   * Sadly, Mr. Slowinski and I needed to prep the students better for what type of questions (as an audience member) are appropriate and which are not.
   * I never got to see _______'s (insert MANY of my students' names here) presentation.
   * I never got to see the "Packages for Patients" presentation that five of Mr. Slowinski's students put together.
   * It took me 3.5 hours to set up the original schedule, and I had help from my sister-in-law.
   * It took me over twelve hours to schedule the rest of the students as audience members.
   * It took too, too long to set up this one day and help teachers feel comfortable with it.

Changes I'm considering for next year...
   * Mr. Slowinski and I have discussed separating each quarter into something different. First quarter, I'd like for students to MAKE something, culminating with the Cardboard Challenge. We can then have a "teach your talent" quarter, where students share their "genius," and work on presentation skills. Third quarter can have more of a research focus.
   * More photos. More sharing between classes. More posting on the bulletin board what we are doing. I feel like I need a publicist for Mondays! It may just be a new job I create for students...
   * As for presentations, I think we should have them in our classes, during the last four weeks or so of Genius Hour. The presentations that students think are "worthy of the world" will go on and present at the end of the year in some fashion. It would be great if we could have an hour or so on one of the last days to share these amazing presentations, while inviting the community.
   * Getting more parents involved. Having visitors really helped students step up their game. They also loved the one-on-one attention.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

University School of Milwaukee - Summer Spark 2015

The inaugural Summer Spark Conference - what a BLAST!

I consider myself very very fortunate to be asked to present at University School of Milwaukee's Summer Spark this week on June 15-16.

I was fortunate because...

  • I was able to hear from the pirate himself - Dave Burgess! I just don't know how he kept up that stamina for TWO HOURS STRAIGHT! 
  • I am FUELED up for another year of teaching already! Being in the same room as Dave Burgess when he speaks from his SOUL will do that to a person!
    Yes, I brought my own sword to Milwaukee... Didn't need to get it through security, since we drove!
  • I was able to meet passionate educators such as Heidi Jones, Sandy Otto, Chuck Taft, Tom Mussoline, Pam Nosbusch, Kenny Bosch, Matt Miller, William Piper, Sarah Simac, and Josh Gauthier. Heidi was the ABSOLUTE most excited & effervescent teacher I met!
  • I was able to reconnect (however briefly) with Brian Durst, Adam Moreno, Michael Matera, Pernille Ripp, Andrea Payan, Brad Dunning, Jason Bretzmann, Jay Posick, Andrea Kornowski, Ben Brazeau, and Tom Whitford.
  • I was able to meet COUNTLESS other passionate educators, who sometimes lurk on Twitter, are pretty new to Twitter, or not yet on Twitter. Connections ABOUND! I can't find my list of my new connections today, but I have already added them to my "met face-to-face" list so I can continue sharing ideas and learning from them.
  • I was able to present on Genius Hour - nudging those who are not sold on the idea (yet). It just so happened that the ladies attending were already sold on the idea, so we just troubleshooted issues that could arise.
  • Heidi, Me, and Sandy
  • I absolutely loved the "panel discussion" we had regarding Genius Hour - the four of us (April, Tyler, Tom and I) were asked some pretty tough questions that I loved helping to answer.
I attended some pretty amazing sessions, as well!

  • Jason Bretzmann shared some amazing tools for connecting with students. I think I wanted to go to his other session on flipped /personalizing the learning, but signing up for the wrong one helped me win his book! (Next time, Jason... next time!) He also gave me a great idea to use the next time I present (which was today at my own district!) - Give the audience the link to the "handout," so they can copy and edit their own notes easily - with all the links provided! That way you won't have to worry about someone "borrowing" your slides without your permission...
  • Sandy Otto shared very practical ways to help students speak in front of one another. Because of this session, I'm already planning on activities that help students practice the skills needed, instead of just expecting them to know!
  • Adam Moreno's session on purpose-driven learning was his "swan song" at USM - and it was one I need to hear (again). 
  • Michael Matera & Jason Strains shared their Super Google Forms they use to connect to parents and group students. W-O-W. I really felt we should have passed around the hat for tip money for the work those two have done and so readily shared. This is what Lucy Gray called "professional generosity." Because of their generosity, I'm ready to plug in new students' names and get rolling connecting to parents right away!
  • Michael Matera's mini games session was full of energy. Look out, kids - we've got some fun review games for when we have a few minutes left in the period!
An "aha moment..."
I was able to realize something through a discussion during the "ELA pow-wow" session... We have teachers at our schools not on Twitter because they just don't know. They just can't know what we know about how it has changed our teaching lives. I had an "aha moment" while talking with Sandy Otto - she was just as frustrated as I am for working with teachers who are set in their ways and not open to new ideas.  I used to say that teachers will join Twitter "when they're ready," just like WE did. Something else dawned on me - they just don't know otherwise. Their eyes have not been opened - yet. I compared it to my first marriage: I didn't know how a marriage - or love - could be. If I could have seen what it could be - what I have now - it would not have lasted the eleven years it did. AND... and I would not be the same person I am today. I needed those eleven years so I could grow, learn, and see now what love really is - what it CAN be. Driving home with Hubby (MAJOR kudos to him for coming with on this trip, even though it was his BIRTHDAY!), he let me know that even if Dave Burgess did come to our district, some teachers would think that what he's talking about can't apply to them. Again... they're not ready for it. My next questions are - when WILL they be ready? How many students will go through how many classes of teachers who are okay with mediocrity?

That's not for me to figure out. I will focus on what I can do. I want to be the PURPLE COW! (Dave Burgess channeling Seth Godin...) It's not okay to be mediocre anymore - I need to be remarkable!
What can I do to help children love coming to school?
What can I do to help children get the most out of my lessons - about life and about the content?

I'll be starting the school year off with a bang once again this next year.
I'll be IMMERSED in the lesson - the LIFE lesson along with the lesson for the curriculum.

Thank you, USM Summer Spark - you have once again ignited the fire in this girl!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

2014-2015 Year in Review

My 20th year of teaching!

- The week after school got out, I instigated a Google Hang Out as a result of this reflection:
     -- Here are our notes - HUGE thank you to Gallit Zvi, Joel Pardalis, Denise Krebs, Hugh McDonald, Charlene Doland, and Elizabeth Monroe!
- Finished the books DRIVE by Daniel Pink & Falling in Love with Close Reading by Chris Lehman & Kate Roberts
     -- This summer I took notes with other members of my PLN on these books! Thanks Paul Stolt and Jessica Lifshitz for the conversations and insights!
- 7/10 - EdCampHome 3.0! I was able to facilitate a session on Genius Hour. Find all sessions here.
- Genius Hour workshop at my school - 14 enthusiastic participants!
- Tech Academy at my school - I ran a Twitter 2.0 session and one on using Doctopus & Goobric.
- Was nominated for a BAMMY Award
- I can't believe I started my TWENTIETH year of teaching.
- Met sweet, sweet students for this year
- Started sending home "Saturday Sunshine" notes to parents each weekend. This is a win-win-win!
- Nominated for the Global Teacher Prize by a coworker- Turns out Paul Solarz was one of the top 50 finalists!!
- Was told "no" to presenting with Nancy Wahl at ASCD in Houston, TX during Spring Break :( Turns out Don Wettrick presented on Genius Hour, and Nancy was able to get me to Houston to meet one-on-one with teachers and present for her school!! (See February!)
- Survived my first ever jury duty!
- Read Pure Genius by Don Wettrick
- Hosted our third annual Cardboard Challenge!
- Presented "PD in Your PJs" at IATE on October 18, 2014
- Honored to present the Keynote (video) for the Passion-Based Learning strand at the K12Online Conference on October 27, 2014
- Helped out with #EdCampChicago once again at Buffalo Grove High School
- I started "vlogging" about quick tips I don't want to forget - see them here: Quick Tips
- BOSTON IS HAPPENING!! My Genius Hour Workshop is scheduled for July 14, from 8-noon!
- Connected a student with College by Kids - she'll be sending them her DIY blog posts!
- Connected a student with Coach Doug Bruno - she's "going to be in the Olympics for basketball some day, then go on to become a lawyer." -->
- Finished & reviewed Eight Myths of Student Disengagement by Jennifer A. Fredricks
- Our homeroom raised over $600 for Adopt-A-Family, "purchasing" items and putting them on our painted-over windows.
- Our homeroom introduced the "glasses cleaning station," which one of our Spanish teachers helped name "Buena Vista Avenue." This self-serve station is put out on Mondays during homeroom.
- Honored to be one of Edublogs "Best Individual Tweeters" of 2014
- Surpassed my goal of reading 73 books this year - I read 79! This does not include picture books.
- We had our first individual parent visitors, thanks to Sign Up Genius! During January, we had two parents come in for book talks, and two to read us picture books!
- Bought one of the "cool/smart" phones... This led to joining FaceBook (for FAMILY!) and Instagram (learning along with students).
- Students started tweeting questions and observations!
- Students "joined" our class when absent - calling in on FaceTime!
- Able to present and attend my second SAMRi Camp in Downers Grove on 1/17.
- Created Survey Central - where teachers can add their students' surveys, and they can be located all with one link - tinyurl.com/GHSurveyCentral !
- Attended #EdCamp302 - their first! Great job, Laura Bright & crew!
- Was asked to present at the Summer Spark Symposium in June
- Received an email from Stenhouse Publishers...
- Volunteered at the S.I.T. Conference again
- Received and read The 20time Project by Kevin Brookhouser
- We had three more parent visitors to room 239!
- Southern Baptist School in Houston, Texas had me visit to consult regarding Genius Hour! BEST February EVER! It's so great to meet a long-distance friend you met on that wonderful tool they call Twitter! Thank you to Nancy Wahl and Justin Smith for getting me down to talk with your teachers!

- Parent visitor, Mrs. Mc., read us Goodnight Moon, Goodnight iPad, & "Sick" by Shel Silverstein!
- One parent (Mrs. M.) hooked us up with an AUTHOR for a Skype visit!
- Visited Paul Solarz (yes, he's in my district, but I never see him outside of EdCamps & bowling).
- Received my first rejection email from a woman who contacted me in February... I didn't even want to write a book, but now that I've started...?? This happened the week before I received Paul's new book - Learn Like a Pirate!
- One class was able to Skype with Julie Hayden's 1st graders to explain their genius hour projects!

- Received this email from a student... verifying that we practice the growth mindset!
- We bought robotic fish for class pets! (They died soon after...)

- Jen Vincent and Drew Gollias (from District U46) visited our Genius Hour in April! What I noticed: I have veered from my original goal for Genius Hour, and I think I'm okay with that. I'll review it - again - of course! My co-teacher and I also noticed that the students worked much harder with other teachers walking around interviewing them!

- Grammie came to visit again! She read us The Right Word this time. We love Ben's Grammie. She then decided to come every Genius Hour - to help out - for the rest of the year!

- Mrs. O. made a repeat visit, as well! She read us More Parts, and shared her love of idioms!
- Mr. Kirr made us whisper phones which the students use to revise their writing & practice their Genius Hour presentations!!
- Finished Assessment 3.0 by Mark Barnes, and started to actually plan to pilot a class where students decide their own grades... This led me to begin a new LiveBinder regarding feedback.
- #ELAchat - nominated for a Bammy Award
- Our Poet Tree blossomed once again!

- On the first day of the month, another parent came to read us a picture book - the first parent to visit our first block! (This was also the day prior to our outdoor ed. trip, which was perfect timing!)
- I was fortunate to help plan and be able to attend EdCamp Chicago once again - this time, in Oswego.
- We had our first dad come in to read to our 8/9 block. The kids taught Mr. Z. how to hold the book so everyone could see the pictures. It's something I take for granted that everyone knows, but he learned something today!
- Read Learning by Choice by A.J. Juliani
- Read Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz
- Mrs. M. came in AGAIN - this time to read us a story she and her child had written for us! She included students' names, and their faces lit up! I could just imagine their minds... wondering what their character in the story would do next!

- We read The Outsiders (of course!) - trying the "Whole Novels" style once again. What wonderful discussions we had on the last day! Here's one great "aha" moment from per 5/6... One question students came up with was "Who will be the leader of the Socs now that Dally has died?" They discussed for awhile, listening and waiting their turns... Finally, at the bell, Colin said, "I don't know why they need a leader now when they never really had a leader before. They all help each other out." We also had some Greasers and Socs show up to school!
- Visited Garfield Elementary in Elgin, IL to provide examples of Genius Hour.
- Our 5/6 block gave Grammie a gift for all of her visits and help during Genius Hour.
- Ended the year with a total of 130 "Saturday Sunshine" emails to parents.
- We changed things up for our Genius Hour presentations this year... Used Vimily (thanks to Paul Bogush) to advertise our session, took 3.5 hours to create the schedule (organizing students mostly by topic, making sure to not schedule them during PE class), and then using a Google form to ask students which sessions they'd like to attend. Most of the work for me came after that - at least ten hours of figuring out how many students could / would fit in each session, and creating schedules for them and for the teachers, as well. A big shout out to Paul Bogush for putting the idea in my head last year, and to my team for going with the flow for a day! I've got another post coming - reflecting once more on our year in Genius Hour - the good, bad, and ugly. Always tweaking!!

Overall, this was my most favorite year yet. I have plans to add something different again next year - one class will pilot giving themselves grades at midterm and the end of each quarter... More work for me, but I think it will be more valuable for the students! I'm excited to make next year even BETTER!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Everybody's Grammie

This post is reposted from "The Power of Appreciation" blog...

"Is Grammie coming today?" This asked by multiple students in my 5/6 block every Monday.

Grammie is one student's grandmother. She came to read us a picture book back in January of this year. She didn't know which to choose, so I asked if she could read The Sweetest Fig by Chris van Allsburg. She loved the story and she loved coming in to read it, and we clicked immediately. She then came again, to read another, and said she'd love to come by more often. I asked if she'd come in to help us with our Genius Hour projects, and her face glowed.

When you see Chris Avelle, a.k.a. Grammie, with this group of 7th graders, you immediately know she used to teach. She's a natural with children. She had "little ones," and has transferred all of her knowledge about how to work with them to this new age level. She loves to work one-on-one with students, and is very grateful for the time in the classroom and with children once again.

I don't think Grammie realizes that I feel just as grateful to her for coming to join us. She has been able to give all of her attention to one child at a time, and I am free to tackle short bursts with the rest of our students who don't need as much guidance.

I don't think Grammie realizes how much the students feel grateful having her presence in our class. They see her visits as a very special treat, and they want to show her what they're doing and all of their progress.

I don't think Grammie realizes what an impact she's had on the culture of our class and how these students will never forget that Grammie came in to visit with them for many weeks in a row.

I'm writing this as a public thank you to Grammie. I've made her a gift - sharing my passions for art and words, and students have signed their autographs and messages that we attached to the back of it. Her presence in room 239 has reinforced the idea that everyone is welcome in our classroom as a teacher, and we all have our gifts to share.

"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
~Jackie Robinson