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, July 23, 2015

In one sentence...

My husband is retired, so he lives vicariously through my school work, I believe... ;)

He asked me this earlier this week -
In one sentence, how would you sum up all this stuff you've been studying? Methods, Genius Hour, Teaching in General... What's the secret? What would make it perfect? What's the ultimate goal?
In one sentence?

Let's see... finding ways for peers and me to give LOTS of feedback so that one class of my students may grade themselves each quarter, and figuring out what ELSE (besides Genius Hour and what I'm already doing) I can do to help students learn how to learn on their own. That's really it, in a nutshell. It's a TON of work, but it's coming along slowly. He still wants ONE sentence...

I want my students and I to execute class in a way that helps them learn 7th grade ELA standards with and from each other, while simultaneously learning how to be caring human beings who communicate effectively so they become lifelong learners.

Leave in the comments or create your own blog post -
What's your ultimate goal for all the time you spend learning this summer?

Graphic created with Paper 53 & TextsPhoto apps

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Boston, Round Two!

I can't believe I went back to Boston.

Visiting in 2012 for BLC12 seems like yesterday!

Last August, I was asked to submit a proposal for a workshop or small sessions at BLC15 (Building Learning Communities in Boston). I put in for both, figuring one wouldn't be accepted. I was wrong. Here was my schedule this week:
Tuesday 7/14 - 8am to Noon - Genius Hour Master Class 
Wednesday 7/15 - 2:35-3:40
             and again   4:00-5:05 - Let It Go 
        (crowdsourcing to share ideas to let go of control) 
Thursday 7/16 - 1:10-2:15 - Genius Hour
I've been a nervous wreck. For weeks. Just look at these other speakers! And now it's all over.

So many ideas. So little time. Here are my take-aways...

From valuable meetings & presentations I attended...
   Dinner with Lesley Burnap
       We ate at Parish Cafe - Here the lesson to TRY SOMETHING NEW was enforced! The sandwich, that is... Although the food was great, the company was better. It's always sweet meeting people from your Twitter PLN face to face. We talked about Genius Hour and books! What better conversation?! I'm so grateful for the drive she took to meet us in downtown Boston!

   Tech Tool...
       Answer Garden - ask a question, have people answer, and can export to Wordle or other...

   Dylan Wiliam's Keynote
       "He that will be a leader, must be a bridge." Administration needs to give time for teachers to become better. Teachers are working harder than ever.
       Most often with PD - It's easy to change teachers in front of other teachers. It's more difficult to change when we get back in front of children.
       We already know what we're supposed to be doing, but we're not doing it.
       The greatest impact is minute-by-minute feedback. We don't do it because it's hard.
       Break up "Big Hairy Audacious Goals" into bite-sized pieces so they're easy to swallow.
       Start with bright spots - naysayers can't argue with what is working.
       Teachers need to engineer effective learning environments - to create engagement and develop habits of mind.
       If teachers don't think they can become a better teacher tomorrow, they should be fired.
       I need to read Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Chip & Dan Heath.

   Amy Burvall - "The Cloud is our Campfire"
       I am going to (or rather, ask my husband to) create a box. This box will be open on two sides. It will look much like a photo booth - maybe I can hang a curtain! An iPad will be secured somehow to the back of the box as you're looking at it. It will be positioned up on a wall or tall podium. Amy called hers a "Vox Box." Once students step toward, and put their head in the box, they will see a question posed above the iPad. They can then record their (short) response right on the iPad in the camera app. I can share these quips with parents during open house, and later on our class website. Here's my question now... What question should I ask students? I was thinking of, "What are you most looking forward to this year?" I don't think that's the one. Help?

   Lunch with Rik Rowe
       EdCamp fanatic, Rik Rowe, lives in the Boston area! He met Hubby and I for lunch on Wednesday! Ideas of communication and questioning were reinforced in our discussions. He did not help me relax at lunch - he pushed my thinking further.
   Erin Klein - Sharing the Student Voice and Personalize Learning
       Tell students, "This is going to be your best year ever! Now how can we make is so?"
       Learning needs to happen BY students, not FOR them.
       Every child in your classroom is someone else's whole world.
       I need to read Rafe Esquith's books...
       As for presentations? Add your personal stories - she had us hooked once she shared stories about her own children. Of course, I agreed with everything she said...!

   Lainie Rowell's Keynote
       When sharing great ideas with other teachers, invite them IN to your class. Share with them WHY you're trying something, have them watch it in person, then make sure you take the time to debrief with them. We all need to reflect in order to make things even better the next time.

   Darren Kuropatwa - The Fourth Screen
        I need him to come to our school, or I need to channel him somehow when I share his ideas with students. We need to make the social media experiences REAL for kids. You can tell them "fire is hot" for years, but they don't normally learn until they get burned. He shared stories of bullying, being negative in general, and reactions to bad decisions. He asked us to ask students, "What will you do with the power of the Internet?" He asked us to mention the terrible things, but then stress the positive actions.

   Walk with Dave Meyers to "Make Way for Ducklings" statues.
       Dave was the man who set me up with the iPad pilot I tried in the Fall of 2011... That was probably the start of my "aha" moments as a connected educator...
       My husband and I went for a walk with him after the sessions on this day, and we learned that colleges / universities were now going to have to report out how their educator graduates were doing in education. Because of this, Dave's new company is helping them figure things out AND will be connecting them to teacher mentors. Sounds like an interesting and valuable idea. It was nice to see him again!

   Jennie Magiera's Keynote
        Jennie is a Boston native, but lives in Chicago. I've never met her, and I should've said "Hello" and "Thank you!" in Boston. Her presentation was both hilarious and motivating. While most of the other presentations had me thinking of my students, hers had me thinking of the other teachers at my school and how I choose to interact (or hide) from them.
        Add three words to your conversation - "and... what if?"
        Choose to be bothered.
             Choose to be bothered.
                  Choose to be bothered.
        Don't be afraid to start over - even if you've invested a ton of time already.
        When you choose to be bothered, sometimes you have to do something nuts.
        Be vocal about your crazy. You can recruit friends and change the world together!
        Teacher question: How do we make kids stay in school?
        Student answer: Make school suck less.

From my own presentations...
    EVERYONE presenting is nervous. Know this. Then just do your best.
    I need to learn how to make my presentations on something other than Google Slides. I would love to go from one slide to the next, including videos, with one click of a remote button. Someone help, please?
    I think nine people in the workshop was a nice number. I would love a few more next time, but I think this group was cozy enough, but not too cozy. ;)
    I don't want to try something new in a big venue like this again - my "Let It Go" session went poorly the first time. Luckily I had a chance to try it again, and took the 20 min between the sessions to change things up!
    I will keep finding ways to INVOLVE the audience. I've sat through a few where I just sat and took notes, and looked at links. They were valuable, no doubt, but I saw a lot more sharing from the sessions that asked for audience participation and movement.
    Keep being humble. I don't pretend to know it all, and I hope I come across as making mistakes. I sat through one session where the presenter acted as if he was better than anyone else. I know I'll never know it all, and I hope my audience can see me as a constant learner.
    Time to infuse my presentations with photos and seamless transition of videos of kids.
    Keep the warm-up music prior to the presentation, and the last musical bit that everyone loves.
    Next time I'm nervous about traveling, I'll consider those that came to Boston from Hawaii, Australia, Russia, Taiwan, Istanbul, Finland.......
    Here's the one tweet (from my last presentation) that included a picture... I'm glad it's got Angela Maiers!

Thank you to Alan November and BLC crew for making me feel welcome in Boston.

Thank you to all the "old" friends I was able to hug, and all the new friends I made in Boston.

Thank you to the presenters and attendees, who stressed that it's about the LEARNERS, not the content.

Thank you to my husband, for all of your support, wonderful company, the walk for a cannoli at Maria's (and then again a surprise cannoli from Modern!), the almost crying at the awesome-ness of the Boston Public Library, and for reminding me to put on some pants before I head down to breakfast.

Thursday, July 9, 2015



My translation? -->   SHARING

We learn so much from sharing - our own stories and other people's stories. In many aspects of my life, I need to practice this art called "communication" - knowing when to share, and when to listen.

At home...
   We've got it made. My love and I know how to communicate. It's integral to our relationship. We are vulnerable with each other, laying everything on the line. And it WORKS. We have the best line of communication we've ever had with anyone. Ever. With my parents, it's close to the same thing. With my sister and other relatives... I've got some work to do.

In my classroom...
   I teach "LA/LIT" or "English Language Arts" or "reading and writing" in 7th grade. I once saw a post from either David Theriault or Sean Ziebarth (OH how I'd LOVE to teach with these two!!) that said they'd like to call their class "Communications." THIS is what it's all about. This is the place where I feel the next strongest when it comes to sharing and getting my point across. Ever since I read Choice Words by Peter Johnston, I've measured every word that comes out of my mouth in front of children.
   My first day with students, we take the 15 (?) minutes (very shortened periods the first day!) we have to read The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. I encourage thoughts, and call on students who do not have hands raised. The whole hand-raising idea is nice if you want a quiet room of compliant children. I like to have discussions instead. In "the real world," there isn't a whole lot of hand raising when people want to talk. One of my goals during the school year is to break students of this habit. We practice discussions without hands in the air. We practice how to interrupt, contribute, disagree, and support our opinions - while taking turns. If a class seems to need more support than another, we will take out the sock monkey and toss her for awhile, but then we let go of that security blanket soon enough. I don't know any other situation in which people having a discussion pass around a stuffed toy...
   While reading The Important Book, I also encourage disagreement with authors, and ME, as well. Disagreeing is definitely part of communicating. I, myself, disagree with the author when she writes, "The important thing about an apple is that is is red." Students themselves, before I turn the page, mention the words, "juicy, healthy, crispy, tasty" etc, and then they don't say a peep when I read aloud that it is "red." This is where the learning could stop, if I simply continued to read. Instead, I put the book down, and look out at my new students. I gasp, as I "can't believe you agree with the author - I didn't hear any dissension!" You can imagine how the rest of these few minutes go. My only lesson for the first day is that this class will be about communicating - sharing ideas, asking questions, disagreeing respectfully, using evidence to support our ideas, discovering and mending our misconceptions, and adding to our thoughts.

With parents of my students...
I have learned to be very transparent, and to send home positive notes every so often about their child. Just do it! It makes all the difference. 

At my school with other teachers...
It's when the communication STOPS that my frustration rises.
   When someone on my team says something and then says "End of discussion"... I can feel the steam coming from my ears, so I get up and excuse myself. Both of us are in the wrong here.
   When one person drops the ball on a yearly school-wide tradition and then makes the decision him/herself when it comes down to the deadline and virtually no changes can be made... What good does it do to complain, if it's too late anyway? I tried to offer a solution for NEXT year instead.
   This is the area where I struggle with communication the most.
What are my options?
   - Hide. I have times when I do this. Just shut my trap, don't say anything, and get on with what I need to do - focus on my own students. I'm not sure if this is healthy or not.
   - Keep an open mind. Know when to let things go, and when to keep the discussion open.
   - Ask for help. This is my next step. This is what I need to do.
          "Can we continue this discussion?"
          "Can we keep talking about...?" Perhaps put it off until another day.
          "This makes me think. Can we come back to this discussion on ____?" Get it on the docket.
          "I need to think more about this. Can we each do our own research and get back to it?"

In my district with administration...
   I try not to "bother" our administration. I know they've got far more pressing issues than any I might have! I really only communicate with them to ask how things are going, and to share some ideas I might have. They are busy with student issues, so I deal with the small issues on my own or with other teachers. I was upset at one decision that came down the pike, so I spoke to students (who were also upset, as it impacted them the most), and we came up with reasons to change the decision. I thought including student voice would help. We did not "win" the battle, but we fought a clean fight together, and students' voices were heard in a positive manner.

With my PLN...
   There are quite a few teachers who use Twitter as a platform for learning - basically learning how to become a better teacher, or better yet - how to make our classrooms better places to learn how to learn. I follow many teachers with whom I agree. We help each other by sharing our ideas. One of us will share, another will tweak and try these ideas, and then we share them back - including "upgrades" to these ideas. Sometimes we share what we'd like to do, and others share what they've seen done or what they've tried themselves. This is not just communication; it is also collaboration.

Three Ways I Learn from Communicating with my PLN...
   1) There are some teachers with whom I disagree. I know to not respond with anger. I used to ignore these teachers, unfollow them, or just complain to Hubby about them. Now I either share what I've found that supports my side, organize and write my own ideas, or ask these teachers questions to instigate more communication about the issue. At times, I find that my thoughts need to be challenged in such a way so that I can either grow and adapt my thoughts, or find more support for what I believe. These interactions have made me much more feisty, and also more knowledgeable! They're not my favorite interactions, but I make sure I take away something from each one.
   2) Some interactions with my PLN help me by giving me more resources. I consider these resources "ammunition" for those times I need to support my beliefs. Just yesterday, I saw a tweet about Kate Baker not grading tons of papers at home - and she teaches high school English!! I listened to this short podcast from ISTE2015, and tweeted it out. Kate came back with MORE help, as I wondered how this really looks in her classroom. She then created a new blog post that same day to help others who were wondering the same thing! All of her resources are on her blog, and all free, of course. That's what we expect from passionate teachers on Twitter. Now it's up to ME to put these ideas into action.
   3) My favorite interactions that really show me what "communication" means are those that are positive in nature, and push me to learn. These teachers help me take that next step. They help me put ideas I'd like to implement into practice. They get me off my butt and ACTING. Just today, I received a tweet from Oliver Schinkten, asking a tough question.
He really got me thinking. I didn't have any answer to give him. I put this tweet out of my head as I read more while getting my AM "fix." A few minutes later, I saw a tweet from a teacher I'd never met on Twitter. I read Gerard Dawson's post titled, "The 1st Steps to a Connected Reading Classroom," and was awed at all the ideas he shared. I tweeted it out with the #elachat and #engchat community. Words that I had to read more than once... 
"a connected reading classroom means using communication, collaboration and connecting to let students share thinking"
It was the next tweet from him, however, that made my head spin, and became the catalyst for me to write this post...
He did not ask what I'm going to use from his post, which would've been a tough one for me to answer. All I really thought of using (so far - from the first read-through) was changing the name of my classes to "Communications," and how to communicate that to parents and students! He went a step further in asking, "What were you left wondering after reading?" Does he want the truth? I'm really wondering "HOW IN HECK can I do everything I want to do with students???"

The answer is always there. I can NOT do everything. I don't have the time, resources, or energy to do all I would like to do with my students. As a result of reading Gerard's blog post, listening to Kate's podcast, and knowing what I know about balance in the classroom, my take-away today is to keep the focus on communication. Center everything in the classroom around communication.

In all things I want us to try in ELA - reading, writing, grammar, speaking and listening, Genius Hour, feedback instead of grading... if we continue to practice communicating well, every aspect of ELA will flourish. Let's continue to give students more and more time to practice the art of communicating. Let's share our mistakes and successes, and listen as other people share theirs. Let's learn from each other by learning how to communicate effectively. Maybe that's the purpose of school - to learn how to communicate in order to become lifelong learners.

Please share your ideas as to how you practice communicating in your classrooms, or where it's most difficult for you to communicate - and what you do about it. Let's continue to learn from each other.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Flipping Your English Class to Reach All Learners

I just finished my first book about flipping - this one by Troy Cockrum.

Flipping Your English Class to Reach All Learners is a quick read. Troy begins with the WHY - why should anyone consider flipping (parts of, even) their English classes? My two favorite reasons - flipping helps your class become student-centered, and it helps you develop better relationships with your students. This is a result of more one-on-one conferencing with students, which is the reason I love Genius Hour and the reason I want to give more feedback, and fewer grades. I was sold before I even purchased the book because of these simple reasons.

What IS flipping? One simple way to put it - flipping is “moving the direct instruction from the public space to the private space.” (Bergmann, p10) The simple things you teach can be shared with students on their own time, and not take up time in class. These short lessons or ideas must be accessible to all students - at ANY time. This way, students can access the information whenever they like - especially great if they become confused and need a refresher.

Troy writes about WHY flipping works, and then goes into the different TYPES of flipping. Many people are familiar with the "watch the video at home and come back to school and do activities" type of flipping, but that's just not it. He explains the
Traditional Flip
Writing Workshop Flip
Peer Instruction Flip
...and because this book was published in 2014, there are probably different iterations of these out in the fast-paced teaching world now! (My next "flipping" book is Flipping 2.0.)

There are then four chapters of sample lessons, showing the different types of flips, and going through the different portions of ELA - writing, language (grammar and vocabulary), reading, speaking & listening. Here are lessons you can put into your curriculum easily - especially the ones that include links to actual videos used. I think half the battle of flipping is creating your own videos, because you just can't find the right ones on the Internet. (I went to the site Troy created for his students - Engliteo.com - and it was not working for him. He now has a playlist of student-created videos here. YES!!) I am aware that the best videos probably come from our own, as we use our own voices at the very least, to make that personal connection with the students. However... if I want to try flipping without the stress, it will be nice to have some videos ready-made for beginners. Troy has let me know of a few others - Instructional Videos for Students and Teacher Instructional Videos are two more playlists he has put together! (Soon after I posted this, another tweet directed me to WatchKnowLearn... Free educational videos - organized!)

I did fold over the tabs on five specific lessons I would like to try. I'll have to search for the best videos first, however, and that takes some time. Three of these lessons come from the "Speaking & Listening" chapter. I have been thinking a ton about how we teach speaking and listening since Sandy Otto's presentation at USMSpark - she kept referencing Erik Palmer's book Well Spoken: Teaching speaking to all students, and she impressed upon us that we need to teach those small skills specifically - eye contact, gestures, etc. I do believe I could take some of Erik's ideas and flip them...

In chapter nine, I thought of an idea for giving feedback - what do you think? What if, while viewing a student's Google Doc, you highlighted a spot where you'd like to leave a "somewhat longer" comment than just a sentence or two? Highlight it, then go to Croak.it. Leave a 30-second voice message. Copy the url, and put THAT in the comment that goes along with the highlight!? That way, your comment stays with the document (a problem Troy had with using Explain Everything and Google forms), and students can hear your actual voice and intonation!

A useful chapter is chapter ten - tips on how to make engaging videos. I had thought of many of these tips, but never all at once. It's good to have these on hand when you're planning your videos. Have a checklist and go through to see which of these 13 you can include. (Doing this reminds me - I need to do the same for Dave Burgess's tips in Teach Like a Pirate on "pimping" lessons!)

After reading his tips, I went straight to my class website to check out the ONE video I made last year regarding Genius Hour. I created it because I had four students absent the day I introduced Genius Hour, and I needed to get the information to them. I thought I was doing a great job - getting a 40-minute lesson into one 16-minute video. One of Troy's tips stuck with me, though - try to make your video only as long as the grade of your students... I have 7th graders. My videos need to be 7 minutes or shorter in order to keep their attention. I know this is just a guideline, but even I was getting antsy watching my own video again! I took the time - right at that moment - to create a shorter video. I took the portion explaining the Habitudes, and created this video using MoveNote. (Thank you, Patti Strukel! I will forever be grateful for that tidbit!) I also included a survey for students when they are finished! This video does not have a lot of the interaction, and no pictures, but it is "done," which right now is better than "perfect." It has my photo, my gestures, my voice. It is for my students, so it doesn't matter if anyone else enjoys it or not (it would be nice, but it's not a concern of mine). My message is there, my energy is there, and it is in the seven-minute range! ;)

Ideas regarding flipped classroom get me excited and anxious. I am excited because I have the tools (I even have Camtasia - I won it at an EdCamp!) and the "how to," but I'm anxious because, knowing me, I will think of the lessons AFTER I teach them in the classroom. Sigh.

The last chapter gives answers to FAQs and more resources for all of us - thank you, Troy - This will be another of those resources that will stick in my head while I plan during the year...

Want to know more about flipping your classroom? Troy also has a playlist of videos/podcasts ABOUT flipping! Flipping is just another piece of the classroom puzzle. I love having so many tools in the toolbox to fit the needs of our learners!