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.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

What Connected Educators Do Differently

Yesterday was another great day of learning - this time in Libertyville at #EdCampChicago.

I tried to listen more than talk (well, in the sessions, at least!), and I met many new faces to add to my personal learning network. I learn so much from passionate educators everyday, because I'm a connected educator.

One comment, from a teacher I haven't seen in (as she let me know) about seven years, really irked me, and has stayed with me until I felt like I needed to write about it.

She said, "I didn't know you were so techie."
     (Is it spelled "techy?" I don't know how to spell this one...)

I scoffed and told her I'm not really "techie." I just learn what I need to know in order to teach well, I explained. I've heard this before, and it's never really gotten to me, but coming from her, it left a bad taste in my mouth. I've spent the morning wondering why.

My life has been rearranged the last six years. No - scratch that. I have rearranged my life on my own terms - it didn't just happen to me. Becoming Joy "Kirr" was a new start for me. In 2009 I moved out of my soon-to-be-ex-husband's house and went to live with my sister and her two 3-year olds. In 2010, I purchased my own house in the neighborhood where my mom always thought would be great for me. In 2011, my soul mate married me, retired, and moved into this house that is just perfect for the two of us. That August I got on Twitter, and let the account sit dormant. That November I was chosen to pilot 1-to-1 iPads for a month for a unit in ELA class. That January I received an iPad to use (compensation for the pilot), and in February learned from Ewan McIntosh about hash tags on Twitter. Joy Kirr did a lot of soul-searching before getting active on Twitter. Then she did a TON of learning, and hasn't stopped. I realized that this woman doesn't know Joy Kirr. She only saw a glimpse of what I do.

Yes. I know some tech. I tweet, blog, curate, create resources, collaborate on resources, present, and share. I even have a huge spreadsheet of tools for teachers that I created my first summer on Twitter and add to each month. I learn, practice and model what I feel I must in order to be the best I can for students. Many teachers do this. I don't consider myself "techie."

Yes, I was the one with the idea to create documents ahead of time for participants to edit, so not everyone has to have editing rights to the EdCamp schedule. I think it was this fact that Shawn McCusker pointed out that led this teacher to believe I was "techie." Here are all the sessions, by the way. ;) This, however, I see as thinking outside of the box... thinking of an effective solution to a common problem. I work at solving problems, like a lot of educators who want things to work smoothly.

I learn.
I care.
I try to do what's best.
I share - the good, the bad, and the ugly...
                    if it helps me and others to learn.

I do what connected educators do, and it's often technology that helps me do what I feel I must do.

And although the adjective is not a negative one by any means, I do not consider myself "techie." Since this woman has known me (and really... we didn't really know each other at all!), I've become connected to thousands of other educators.

I am a connected educator, 
                                   and proud of it.

If you are wondering about the myriad benefits of becoming connected, check out What Connected Educators Do Differently by Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas. (I've met Jeff & Jimmy - such passionate connected educators!) If you are new to being connected and don't want to be too overwhelmed, consider starting at chapter five - the first few chapters are full of great ideas that might seem to hefty at first for you! Jump around, dip your toes in, and enjoy the journey that comes from being a connected educator. Your students will thank you!

Thank you to all those who make EdCamps a success - it has truly spoiled other professional development for me, Shawn!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Midterms - #TTOG Update

Our midterms are going out this week already!

On our team, we ask the students to fill out this sheet, so that they (and their parents) are aware of what their current grades are. We collect them in homeroom.

Yesterday, after we passed them out to students, I questioned the reason behind this sheet, as students and parents both have access to their grades online, any time. I also feel like we bug the unorganized children about it daily until they turn it in, and some teachers go so far as threatening a detention if it does not come in by a certain date. After I expressed my dislike, I found out most of my team thinks they are still a good idea. We are the only team at the school that does this, but I will go along with the team if most are in agreement.

I didn't think much more of it yesterday, until my last class. I chuckled when one student asked, "What percentage should we put on our midterm for this class?" This was one question I had not anticipated, and it made me smile.

"I have no clue. Put on there what you think you should be getting."

Suddenly, bells rang in my head, as I remembered that I HAD thought of this during the summer! I already had a Google form for students to fill out so they could better determine their midterm grade! (I am sometimes what my mom used to call me often - "dippy.")

Today, students filled out this Google form (please do not fill it out...!).  I heard two quotes that I took the time to write down...
     "This is so hard."
     "I used to have more, but I still have SOME run-ons. I'm working on it."

Those little snippets and their responses on their surveys make the gears in my head go bonkers. They could mean so many different things.

As for grades, two students did not take the survey yet, so I have 17 responses.
       A+ = 3       A = 8       A- = 5       B+ = 1

Check out their responses to individual questions here. Go ahead - you know you want to!
We used a cart of iPads and were kind of rushed, so we lack some editing...

I need to begin using better language to describe what we're doing in class. It seems as if, when calculating their grades, many include effort. Teachers don't (normally) use effort in a grade. Should we? DO we, without admitting to it at times? Their comments really have me thinking once again - about so many dynamics of grading. They can be so arbitrary!!

I'm ready to tackle this next phase of our learning - I was prepared for this hard work, and am so glad to see some answers and potential obstacles!

Thank you, as always, for any comments or challenging questions. I learn better when others are involved!

My resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Update to #TTOG

Went to Disneyland EdCamp yesterday.

This was EdCampIllinois, in Northbrook. I was feeling frisky and was the first to propose a session - about students grading themselves. I asked for participants to come HELP me!

Three big ideas came out of this session for me...

1. Michael Matera proposed a place for students to curate their ideas on how to give proof for the four strands. I created this document on the spot, which, after more discussion, we decided should go to four more documents, so students aren't overwhelmed by too much on one page. I immediately posted this on students' Edline (our school's online grading system) page, and we'll talk about it Monday (hopefully adding to it).

2. Since students will be sharing a five-minute video with me explaining why they should receive any certain grade, another teacher asked, "Will students' videos be shared with parents?" Hmmm... I'll have to ask the kids this one. Maybe we can share on a student-by-student basis. Should I ask the parents this question instead? One thing we did resolve - if a student doesn't come up with a video by the due date, he/she will be meeting with me one-on-one, and we will record the session.

3. The third idea I came away with was the fact that ONE grade is so very arbitrary. What does an "A," a "B," a "C" even MEAN?! We could've had an entire session dedicated just to this question... over many days. It's my hope that students see this through their reflections, and come to realize that it truly IS about the learning, and not about the grade.

My Vine this day... showing the helpful group of six other people we had in the session, and Michael wondering if, once a student gets a "4 = mastery" on a skill, he/she should include this in his/her grade anymore for the rest of the year... ???

I came home, browsed Twitter, and saw Bill Ferriter's post titled "If Grades Don't Advance Learning, Why Do We Give Them?" After nodding my head at most of this post, I read the first comment. In it, Renee Moore, community college & high school English teacher, gives some of the HOW TO:
At the end of the course, they have to use the portfolio to take the final exam--which for my class is a reflective essay on a) what have I learned as a writer; b) how has my writing changed; c) what aspects of my writing do I think need more improvement. The essay concludes with the student telling me what s/he believes her/his final grade for the course should be based, not on the grades, but on the actual writing evidence in the portfolio.
Makes me feel as if I'm on the right track.

So... Sunday came along, and I had yet to give any written feedback (to put in the online gradebook) to my last class on the writing they'd written this past week. After a bit of time (I will NOT time it - I don't want to know!), taking breaks after 8 pieces of writing, then 5 more, then finishing (small class!), I created a spreadsheet of these summary responses for Edline, so I could copy/paste, and save a teeny bit of time in this fashion:

I used one "summary" piece (ala Mark Barnes' SE2R) per skill (language usage / grammar, claim, quality of evidence, and analysis of evidence). In the actual document, I posted revision suggestions. Many of these began with, "I notice you ____. Consider ____." This leaves the decision to revise to the students.

Let's keep the conversation going! Please comment any thoughts, questions, ideas you have! I learn so much more when others contribute.

My resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Questions & Answers Regarding Grading...

Our second week of school, and I've asked my last class to give me questions and/or concerns over the idea of grading themselves.

Here are the questions from students (so far), and answers I have (so far)...

Q1: This idea is so different from all other ways of grading. It’s not like you get a B+ in this project and an A in this one it seems like we are just saying one grade for the whole thing. Is this true?
A1: Yes - ONE grade for the entire quarter. It's how our report cards report to parents right now.

Q2: I usually grade myself too low and it makes it hard in this case because maybe you think I deserve an A and I think I should get a B, and you like my reasoning and think I should get more credit though will you bump me up to a B+ or A?
A2: No - I will not bump you up automatically. If I feel you deserve a different grade than what you propose, we will have a conference and talk about it to decide on a grade together.

Q3: How should we prove that our grade is a good grade after a whole semester? Do we go and list everything we learned? I just don't know.
A3: (Here is where I need to share the chart below!)

Q4: How do we get a grade on HW and small assignments?
A4: We don't grade homework, as I many times it means grading a HABIT, and not what students learn. Rubrics will be provided for anything I would normally grade, and you may use those to help you grade yourself, or to switch writing with a partner, so you can give each other feedback.

As a result of these questions, I have also come up with another guideline to help us all. There are four very general categories for our ELA standards, and I believe students should choose what to use as their proof. Therefore, I've created this table students will fill in with their proof. Yes, they may choose one document for more than one category, if they wish. (How many? I don't know. I don't think they'll choose one document for four categories... I guess it depends on what they choose!)

Two minutes after I shared these questions and answers with students in class, we adjusted this chart for first quarter...  POLISHED became the word, instead of PUBLISHED, as we haven't even begun discussing blogs or digital portfolios. Also, they liked the idea of using the in-class journal as support for their independent reading practice.

Jessica (@JessLif) said that students could also highlight just what in each piece proves their learning. I've considered this, but I can imagine seventh graders highlighting the entire thing. Also, I'm going to try to be as authentic as possible with their published work. I wouldn't want to highlight my own blog posts to show proof of learning.

Teresa Lee (@mrsleeims12) said they use this type of documentation for parent/teacher conferences. I know I'll be using it for this purpose, for sure! Although, knowing me, I'll have already alerted parents to just WHY their children are giving themselves these grades prior to conferences.

Other thoughts from students... (copied and pasted straight from their responses!)
* I’m nervous about proving our grade, because there are so many aspects to it. I feel like I might miss something and not get the grade I think I deserve because of it.
* IDONT really know how its going to go but i would rather have a teacher grade me.
* I think grading yourself is very interesting. I can't wait it is going to be a lot of work, but it is going to be fun. It is something new so lets do this!
* I think it's a great idea as long as it's balanced and fair. I hope it's fair, well thought, and not to advanced.
* I'm scared about it because it's different from what I'm used to.
* I think that grading will be hard because I will want to give myself good grades because well I get make sure that I have a good grade. Also it will be hard because I will need to learn how to give me a bad grade if that is what I deserved.
* I think it may be a bit of a challenge but, it may be a new and fun way to do things.

What I LOVED... every student who answered the survey said that they agreed it was more about the learning, and not so much about the grade. I think we're on the right track with these conversations.

I'm looking to my students to teach me even more!

My resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

Thursday, September 3, 2015

"The Talk" - About Grades

Six full school days in... Today was the day my last class and I had "the talk!"

I pumped it up yesterday, TLAP style...
     "Tomorrow we're going to have.... (this part whispered-->) the talk!" Of course, they wondered if this was really health class, and I had to let them know that it was about the "g" word = grading!

I had plans. After 3/4 of class was through, I was going to have my 9/10 block fill out this survey first, then we'd project some answers and start the conversation that way. I was also going to record our conversation. I totally forgot those two things (I suppose I was a bit excited). I started, instead, by showing them how our class website was linked to their grading website (Edline), and all the goodies that are on our website. When we got to the "rubrics" tab, I skipped the rest until we got to the "FaR" tab. This, I said, was solely for their class. My eyes lit up, and I started excitement coursed through my veins.


     "Did any of your parents tell you how this class would be different?"
     ONE child raised her hand. She simply said, "Grading will be different."
     "We're going to grade ourselves."
     "What?" was heard many times over, and my smile spread.

After hearing this, and settling down, they were really ready to listen.

     "I don't have all the answers yet, but I've been thinking of you all summer long. I asked for permission from Mr. Kaye last school year, and he had some great questions, and made me think more. We knew there'd be some obstacles, but I've been working all summer to try and make this work for us. Do you want to know why?"

A resounding "Yes!" from students

"Because... what happens when you get a grade on something?"

"You throw it away," said one scholar at the front. YES.


And so the conversation begins.

I am so happy we are staring the conversation. Here are some questions I can remember students asking...

     "Can I give myself an F?" (That won't happen. I won't let it.)
     "How can I prove I should get an A?"
     "What if we lie?"
     "Can I just TELL you what I should get and show you proof?" (Yes - in a five-minute video.)
     "Can we tell other kids?" (YES!! Let's get the conversation started!)

And here is the transcript from my quick interviews afterwards. I simply asked, "What do you think of the idea of you grading yourself?" (Check out our latest posts on Instagram or Twitter to hear their voices!)
* I think it will be fun, 'cuz I can give myself good grades. I'll make sure I'm honest with myself.
* It's cool, but I think some people won't be honest.
* I don't really know how it's gonna work, but as long as you have to prove that you deserve a letter, I guess it's just more work for you.
* I think it's an interesting way to do school, or English Language Arts. I guess it will be fun but more challenging at the same time.
* I have no clue, 'cuz I'm not very good at grading myself, but I hope I grade myself good so I get good grades!
* I think that it will be very different and cool.
* It'll be fun, but I'm also kind of scared.
* I think it will be cool, but scary.
* I think it's interesting.
* I think it's going to be very fun, and very interesting, too, because probably no one's gonna give themselves an F, so no one's gonna fail the class, or not even a D, so I think it'll be interesting.
* I think it's nice.
* I think it will be interesting and a new, fun way to do grading.
* I think it's cool because like everybody gets like relaxed, and just read, and just like be calm.
* It's cool.
* It's good. Okay. Not the best, but good.
* I think it'll be fun.
I'm looking forward to more conversations!