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, November 29, 2015

Same Goal - Different Route

I'm a people-pleaser.

I am happier being with others who are also happy.


Often I disagree - because I am thinking of the kids.

Sometimes I say what I think - because I am thinking of the kids.

Rarely (but it still happens) I stir the pot - because I am thinking of the kids.

It seems as if I go through waves. I'm full of strength, reasoning, and asking the questions that get teachers thinking. I've tried to step it up a notch - be the one who tries, fails, and shares the successes and failures. Be the one who wants to do things differently to see if we can get different results. Then again, it seems as if the very next week, I'm beat down - so exhausted - having to defend what I'm trying in class, or ideas shared with colleagues.

This extends to my Twitter PLN. I reached the 10,000 follower mark this school year. This is scary. I feel as if it is now my responsibility more than ever to challenge ideas that I do not think are right for our kids. I do not just work for the 60 students I have in my ELA blocks. I now work for those kids of those educators who follow me, as well. It's pressure, and a challenge. How do I help other teachers to be reflective on their practices, as teachers such as Vicki Davis, Tom WhitbyAngela Maiers (my muse) and countless more have affected me?

 (I didn't mean for this to be a gratitude post... I got carried away! I KNOW I've missed some educators that got me thinking, too!) What about those I've met in person and chatted over food or drinks together, such as local thinkers/leaders such as Shawn McCusker, Bob Schuetz, Erin Olson, Jimmy Casas, Paul Solarz, Garnet Hillman, Avra Robinson, Bernice Homel, Megan Ryder, Jen Vincent, Kim Miklusak, Laura Bright, Donna Bingaman, Kristin Ziemke, Kimberly Hurd, Shane Jensen, Jeff Herb, Tasha Squires, Laura Komos, Kristie Bleers, Steve Wick, Bob AbramsTim Scholze, Jess Henze, Maggie Vonck, Katie Hurckes, B.C. gal Karen Lirenman, and even very local and in Wisconsin - via Boston - Rik Rowe? What about those I've met outside this midwestern state or at semi-local EdCamps or through Google Hang Outs? I've learned from so many people, and am so thankful to have met them and been able to discuss ideas with them! In no particular order... Rick Wormeli, Nancy Wahl, Justin Smith, Amy Smith, Alan November, Ewan McIntosh, Erin Klein, Darren KuropatwaBrian Durst, Andrea Payan, Andrea Kornowski, Michael Matera, Jamie Born, Ed Casey, Sylvia Lima, Heidi Jones, Sandy Otto, Dave Burgess, Adam MorenoRuss Anderson, Gary AndersonShannon Miller, Dani DiPietro, John GunnellDarin Johnston, Meg Van Dyke, Gail LeGrand, Christopher Bronke, George Couros, Ben Kuhlman, Mary Klepper, Jenna HackerJodi Piekarz,  Joel Pardalis, Gallit Zvi, Denise Krebs, Ben Brazeau, Ben Hartman, Pernille RippChris Kesler, Marialice Curran, Maggie MaslowskiDavid Meyers, Jill Maraldo, Chuck Taft, Tom Mussoline, Jeff Zoul, Justin Greene, Marcie Faust, Brendan Murphy, Judith Epcke, Daniel Rezac, Sylvia Tolisano, Scott Meech, Jason Bretzmann, and Brian Sztabnik?  
And what about all those I have learned from and haven't met yet? Paul Bogush, Mike Stein, David Theriault, Sean Ziebarth, Nicholas Provenzano, Eric KiplingCheryl Mizerny, Sam Sherratt, Bart Miller, Mr. C., Donalyn Miller, Penny KittleStarr Sackstein, Julie Jee, Jill Barnes, Mark Barnes, Sarah Donovan, Ariel Sacks, Kirsten Wilson, Lisa Snider, Jamie Murray Armin, Gerard Dawson, and Teresa Gross?

These educators and countless others - including those at our own schools - are all working for the KIDS. Every single one of us wants what is best for the kids we teach.

I'm between waves right now - strong, because I am trying new things, and not complaining about how things are. Weak, because I'm simply exhausted.
Earlier this month, someone I respect asked a (non-rhetorical) question in a tweet. I answered, including the words "My 2 cents..." and gave my opinion. This educator responded back in a sarcastic way, and I felt that my message - that it was just my opinion - was scoffed at. Why ask a question if you don't want opinions?? More than a week later, I'm ready to write this post. My opinions are because of the thousands of educators I'm connected to on Twitter. Do we all have the same goal for the kids we serve? If so, it should be okay to take different routes. In fact, it should be encouraged - as not all students learn the same, and they need lots of different teachers in their lives who use different teaching styles.

Just before I was ready to post this, Andrea Stringer posted about encouraging others... It's a "must read" if you've been knocked down for sharing your ideas and opinions that could benefit kids. Learning about the "Tall Poppy Syndrome" was eye-opening for me. Once we started retweeting Andrea's post, it led to learning about the "Crab Bucket Mentality." Seriously?! This is a thing?!

Maybe the next question for someone who shoots down or scoffs at ideas is, "What do you want for your students? What is your goal?" Knowing if there is a difference along with finding out our common goals will help guide the conversation. Together, we can then lead it in the direction that best supports our kids. We can use the ideas from the thousands of people we've met in our lives, and keep the conversation going.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

My Rock - Bob Kirr

This post was originally posted on The Power of Appreciation blog...

He is my #1 Fan...    (Well, he may be tied with my mom...!)

My husband, Bob Kirr...

When it comes to my teaching career, he is my biggest support. I won't go into the rest of our life together, as it would take a ton more than just one post, so this one is all about how appreciative I am of Bob's support of me as a teacher.

Here is the physical proof of what Bob has done for my students IN the classroom:
 I chose the fabric, and Bob did the rest...

I bought the books, and Bob gave me a place to put them... (Over a bulletin board...)

I wanted to find a way to display certain books, and Bob made me a way...

I wanted to get the headsets out of the box, and Bob made me a rack...

I found an idea on Pinterest for whisper phones, and Bob glued them all together for us...

----------- Added these photos in the fall of 2021 ---------------

In June of 2021, Bob made me another shelf (with rounded-off corners, even!) for over the vent. I keep getting more books, and he keeps making room for them!

I saw a similar idea in Applebee's (in Michigan - why are they all gone in Illinois?), and of course we found a great place for the paper towel roll in August of 2021...

Behind all the fun supplies he supplies (hah!), he also holds me up mentally. Some instances of when he's helped me become a better teacher (ahem - a better PERSON)...

When a parent called Genius Hour "crazy," and said, "You should do more P.R.," he let me cry. When I was finished, he asked, "What are you going to do now?" My answer? Create the LiveBinder.

When (recently) another teacher called a meeting with me and the principal over something I had said, Bob let me know, "You did nothing wrong." When it was over, he asked, "What have you learned?" He helps me reflect - EVERY SINGLE DAY.

When I want to try something new, he's the one who challenges with one word - WHY?

When I'm on the laptop too long, he comes by and shuts it on my fingers.

When I get a wonderful letter from a parent, he's the only one with whom I can share it.

When I feel knocked down because other teachers and I do not agree, he calms me and reminds me that I used to believe differently, too. He also reminds me that I don't need to change the world - I'm doing a lot with the kiddos I have.

When I have the BEST DAY EVER, he's the one I run to so I can share my stories of the BEST KIDS EVER.

And, of course, after a difficult week, he's the first one who helps me celebrate the weekend...!
He is my love, my life, and my rock, even when he helps me feel as if I can fly...

With all the respect I can muster... Joy Lynn

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Tracking Student Behavior in a Non-Threatening Way

I've recently read the Kindle version of Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School, by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez. (Thank you for the free copy, A.J. Juliani, Mark and Jennifer!) There are ten ideas in this book that many people can implement fairly quickly. I feel as if I've already tapped into many of them, so I'm writing about a new one (to me) that I had to run with right away.

I wanted to begin the idea of "Track Records" the minute I read about them. (I actually DID implement them the very next week!)

Background information... There are times when I KNOW - for SURE - that (we'll call her) Glinda was speaking the ENTIRE period with her friends. I know that on the days I am having a hard time, she must be speaking even MORE with her friends. I know I have biases, and I've always wondered how I could keep track of this - to see if it was really happening.

Another idea I've implemented the past two years is good emails home to parents. Sometimes it's easy to find something students do that make your (or another student's) day. Other times it's difficult to remember what happened in class once the students leave the room.

The idea of "Track Records" caught my eye. I created one, then another, and then tweaked it again. Finally, I settled on the format shown here. Behaviors that are distracting (or pet peeves, perhaps) can go on the left side of each day, and the positives can go on the right. I had my math brain going when I thought this - as on a graph, the left of the y axis is negative, and to the right is positive. I also created codes for certain behaviors. Here's what my own track records look like (this month - nothing is constant when you are reflective):

Click on this link to see the codes, then make a copy of the document to edit your own version.

This chart could also include tardy to class and late or missing work. These are behaviors that do NOT belong in a student's grade. Grades are meant to reflect achievement, not behavior.

Instead of shaming students...
     You can pull up their track record. You can see just how many times Glinda really is speaking when she should be listening. You can quietly pull the student aside and explain to him or her what you notice. Perhaps certain days are tougher on you (or her), and you can have this conversation about the data - not necessarily about the student. There is no need to shame students by pointing out disruptive behaviors in front of the class.

Celebrate successes...
     You can see who really contributes to class, and who you can rely on for their energy or optimism. Maybe one student has a TON of energy, and it can be redirected to help the class instead of hinder it. Use the chart to make sure you get in that positive word to students every day. Use it to send home positive notes to parents on the weekends. Use it to show students you CARE.

Great reflection and transparency...
     Try not to make this a surprise to students. Let them know that you keep track of behaviors - not to judge, but to have further conversations. We are all human, and we are all growing. Reflection is a huge part of this simple chart. This chart allows for the conversation to happen.

8/2/17 Added on to this post... I just caught this blog post from Jennie Tidwell... Maybe a Google Form would work better than paper on a clipboard??

8/3/17 Added this video to explain this idea in a video to @SFecich to her adult students...
It eludes to another post as well - Have the Discussion.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Dream Day...

This past Wednesday is still on my mind. It was truly a teacher's dream...

We started with independent reading - oh, how beautiful!

A student book talk next? Why not?! (All of ours are here!)

Then came the groans... Any time we "have to" write, the groans come. We got our ideas ready to go, wrote the claim together, and then came our 4-minute break. Once back from break, we got to work writing about Phineas Gage...

I was able to go around and give over-the-shoulder conferences ("OTSCs" as Amplify calls them) to many students. I have gotten better at this the past four years. I spot something the student is doing well, and let the student know how their writing affects me as a reader. I then find something they can improve upon and ask them to "consider changing ______ to see how it will affect your readers further." Or... "I notice you did this _____ - what do you think would happen if you ________?" This way students still keep the control - they are treated as the writers they are - they have choice in the matter. (If you want guidance on how to do this, read Choice Words by Peter Johnston!)

At two minutes left, I reminded them to do a "once over," reading it through to check their capitalization, punctuation, and use of evidence. I took photos of student work (we were sans laptops this day - you can still do a lot with just one iPad in the room), and tried to be quick about uploading them to a document we would project on the screen.

We were then ready to share. "THIS is where the learning happens," I informed the class.

The first two classes went fairly well. Students were brave to share, attentive while listening to others, and took turns giving feedback and quality boosters. (Thanks for that great term, Paul Solarz!) We graded them on the spot for quality of evidence and grammar/conventions - as a CLASS. We discussed the difference between "developing," "proficient," and "mastery," and the writer could either argue peer ideas or accept them. If we graded them as anything less than "mastery," we gave suggestions as to what they could do to improve their writing. What we were doing was having discussions about the craft of writing, and NOT about the writer. I was a happy teacher.

Then came my last class. This class, as you might know, is grading themselves at the end of each quarter. Work goes in the grade book, but grades do not. Instead of a grade, specific feedback is written (often copied/pasted from the rubric) in it's spot. I believe this has made a huge difference already. When students were sharing their feedback and quality boosters, many of their words came right from my specific feedback that I've been putting in the grade book in place of grades. They said things such as this...
"You have strong evidence, but it would be stronger if you added ..."
"I notice your evidence supports your claim and connects to your reasoning."
"Only some evidence (specific evidence pointed out) supports your claim. You might want to add ___, so your claim is supported better."
"You have sufficient evidence, but what if you used __________ (insert new text here) instead of ________ (written evidence)?
I think you could prove your claim easier if you used different text."
"I think this is 'publish ready!'" (No grammar mistakes.)
At one point, I thanked them for their bravery and honesty, and using this opportunity to help each other become better writers. One student (Anna) said, "Well we're not stressed about the grade. We just want to do better." (I'm telling you - it was a DREAM day!)

At the end of this class, I suggested they turn in their writing if they did not share with the class, so I could give them some specific feedback.


One day later (Thursday)... I hadn't received some of the writing prompts from my last class. As they were working independently, I asked them, one at a time, if they were going to turn in their writing for feedback. The first two turned them in. The next student asked, "Do we have to?"

I responded, "Did you want to use this piece of writing for proof of writing or language usage skills?"


"Okay. Just know you can't use this piece for evidence if you don't receive feedback on it."

"That's fine. I don't want to publish it on my blog, and this quarter our proof has to be published, right?"

"Yup. I hadn't thought of that. (Pause... Thinking...) I totally understand. Let me know if you ever want feedback on this piece." I went to the next student.


These kids get me thinking. THIS is why I'm teaching. These are the days I live for at school.

The next day (Friday/yesterday), I decided to offer additional (and optional) independent practice for my classes. "Write about Phineas Gage in a blog post."

What this means - Students can write a letter to the author, an opinion piece, a book review... They can create a video, a vlog post, or a poem. Should they choose to take me up on it, I believe they will stake a claim, use textual evidence to support whatever they write (or say), and explain their evidence in relation to their claim.

What this means for my last class - Whatever they decide, they can use this published piece towards their proof of learning for writing, language usage, or speaking & listening skills. I'll give them specific feedback, and they can revise it if they so choose. (If we can get comments on their blog posts, they'll get more feedback!)

As we went over the independent practice listed on the board, I halted. I erased "Phineas Gage," and left it blank. I suggested, instead, that they begin to write on their blogs, and then let me know which posts they'd like feedback on. The posts they shared with me for feedback could be used towards proof of their skills in class. (This weekend I will figure out HOW to give this feedback - on one spreadsheet per student is what I'm thinking - I don't want to give the feedback in a blog comment. I will also have to figure out how they can then let me know that they revised, if they choose to do so.)

Source unknown - This image was sent to
me via Erik Kipling yesterday.
Hopefully this will be writing they WANT to do, using what we practice in class to write what THEY want to write, not prompts I provide. I can just imagine it now... We do the work we're supposed to do in class in order to learn the skills, and then they APPLY that work outside of class on something they enjoy... Hmmm.... Isn't this the way learning is supposed to work?

Nix the "Dream Day" title. This was a teacher's dream WEEK!

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