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, February 28, 2016

Meme Maker Me

Taking my own advice from my last "quick tip," I needed to write about one take-away from EdCamp Madison...

I was sitting in the "Google Sheets" session after lunch. The session had taken such quirky turns, it was entertaining, even if the session wasn't applicable for me anymore. I would stay just for the entertainment alone. One part that made it better was Jason Bretzmann sharing a meme with Andrea Kornowski, and then Andrea sharing another...

Heading into the next session about "Learning Targets" (grades, SBG, how to get kids to shoot for the targets), Chuck Taft heard that I had never created a meme. Why not? Because I don't have anything funny to say! So he created one on the spot, before the session even began.
Finding this absolutely hilarious, I took a screen shot of his Twitter handle and waited to hear this...
The explanation for this is that his learning targets are numbered one through four. Three is his goal for students, as a three means they've hit the target.

I decided to keep trying...
And, because I was encouraged with feedback from Ashley (who was in kahoots with Andrea!) and Trisha who was watching the hashtag from afar... 

...I had to try again.

This morning, I retweeted an idea about inquiry, and Phillip Cowell tweeted me a picture of cavemen, with the words under it "The Inquiry Cycle - (it's not a new idea)" - looked like he created it with theEasyAppCompany.com.

It reminded me of those motivational posters, so I found the motivational poster creation site and created this:

I've seen teachers ask students to create memes for books (such as Lord of the Flies), and I've cracked up at what they've created. I'd love to ask students to create some for our next larger piece of text! I'll be trying to add some creativity, wit and humor to class using memes...

Already making memes? Please leave me a comment as to where we can find YOUR favorite memes and your favorite meme tool! Want to make your own? Google "meme generator" for many free tools.

Quick Tip #20 - Teacher Motivation

Joy headed up to Madison to attend another EdCamp? You betcha.
If I look tired, it's because I had great fun learning with fellow passionate educators!

Full Transcript

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hacking Assessment

I'm already "hacking assessment" by asking one of my classes to grade themselves. How could this book help me improve? I was excited to get my copy from Starr Sackstein to see what gems I would be able to use...

Validated what I was trying...
     Ask students, "What did you learn...?" (25)
     "How we spend our time in class is indicative of what we prioritize in education" (78).
     "...make sure that all assignments are purposeful and aligned to a standard" (46).
     "...keeping notes about progress...in a grade book that only a teacher sees seems counterproductive" (88). Make the learning transparent! Do this for students and parents.
     "Check in with students..." on a regular basis (91). We are now doing this every quarter of each quarter - thanks to students reflecting enough to be able to ask for it.
     "It doesn't really matter what I thought, so much as it matters what you [the student] learned (29).
     "If the teacher doesn't agree with the student, then a longer conversation needs to happen. ... If in the end, the student really believes he or she deserves a particular grade ... let him or her have it. After all, the grade itself doesn't mean very much" (113-114).
     From Sarah Donovan (who shared a story that sounded SO MUCH like mine!): "...by not focusing on grades, there was more learning and achievement" (38).
     From Aric Foster: "...this process...encourages learners to take risks and challenge themselves, as they know there will be no punitive words or numbers for their performance - only observations and suggestions for revision. ... No longer are learners trying to earn points or 'get a 3.0.' Instead, they are trying to Answer the Question and Use Style and Cite Evidence to Support a Claim" (53).
     We need to change our vocabulary. When I was reading Choice Words by Peter Johnston in 2014, I started shifting my vocabulary to be more precise. Instead of saying "turn it in so I can grade it," I now say "turn it in if you would like feedback from me." Starr writes about a "no-grades vocabulary." I have already started adding these words to my repertoire. Bonus - I then noticed students starting to use the same vocabulary. As Starr states, "...words are powerful, so I am starting by changing the language we use to talk about learning" (41). This is a great place to start.

Made me think of Genius Hour which was the catalyst for all we try in class...
     "...conversations were invaluable" (19).
     "Teachers need to involve students in choices and provide opportunities for them to modify a teacher's assignment or to create their own. When we say 'Yes' to our student ideas, we encourage autonomy and empower them" (44).
     "...their decisions help drive their learning" (45).
     "...honor student input" (45).
     From Adam Jones: "...you've succeeded when you...know the students no longer need you" (93).

Reminded me of why I'm doing this...
     "Grades are [too] often used to motivate or punish..." (114).
     "Grades ultimately end up being a power tool that serves the teacher but not the student" (37).
     "...we were talking to students about a system that they had no control over" (40).
     "All learning is subjective..." (50).
     "The scores, which are often averaged, give a poor explanation of what students know and can do" (121).
     "...just because work hasn't been completed, doesn't mean learning hasn't happened" (115).
     "...there is a deprogramming process that still occasionally causes me to pause" (16).
     "...change is challenging, but that doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile" (27).
     "Attention gets focused on the learning..." (37).
     "...not worrying about grades made them [students] more excited and eager to try things" (30). In my case, I'd say it made them less stressed, and complaints about doing the work were few and far between. They know they don't need to use every piece for proof of what they know, so they feel free to try it without fear of judgment.

When it's challenging, I need to remember...
     "With daily informal conversations and formal conferences, assessment and feedback loops naturally develop" (85). And then we start all over with a new group of learners...
     "...routines facilitate success" (81).
     From Adam Jones: "All assignments are opportunities to practice, receive feedback, and refine" (95). "It is an essential component of enduring learning that students revisit their work" (96).
     "If we are going to tell students this is an important activity, we can't assign it and expect them to do it on their own. Make time for students to work independently, with classmates, and with the teacher to ensure a more successful experience" (124).
     They know I care about their learning. (85)

Pushed me further...
     When introducing reflection, find out what students already KNOW about reflection! Ask THEM what it looks like and what it should include! Take time in class to allow them to create or add to a checklist to be included in a reflection. (101-102). Then make reflection time a routine. I've just started to implement this with D.I.R.T. (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time).
     Portfolios, Joy. Portfolios. I need to stop using the excuse of not having 1:1 tech for not having students organize their work. (Oh, how spoiled was I last year to have that iPad cart?!) I need to reserve those laptops and give students TIME in class to gather and organize evidence. Yes, using a class set of iPads and something like Fresh Grade or Seesaw would be a dream, but I can do without - since I need to - and it's good for the kids. With that being said, "Teacher comfort is important; it's a matter of finding a tool that will easily collect and transfer artifacts each year" (123), and a tool that teachers in grades below and above me would use. Even though portfolios are not for the teachers, students in middle school probably won't revisit them unless the teachers ask them to.
    Do you know Mike Stein? (Meaning - Are you connected to this teacher via Twitter or some other media?) He teaches English at the high school level. His students experience Genius Hour. His students grade themselves. He's now considering adding a gamification piece to his year. What if? What if? What if? How could it all go together?

This text, along with Mark Barnes's Assessment 3.0 and my original favorite regarding grades, ROLE Reversal, shows teachers WHY and HOW it CAN BE DONE. Yes, there will be pushback, and yes, it will be tough. Why not try it anyway, if you know of the effect it has on learning?

Go ahead - make the process transparent. Let others in on the conversation. It's how we grow.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Explore Like a Pirate

Michael Matera, a great EdCamp adventurer and cohort, finished his book about gamification. I have told him - repeatedly - in person, no less - that I could NOT attend one of his gamification sessions at edcamps until I was READY to implement it in my classroom. I knew, just from the type of teacher he is, that his wealth of resources and his passion for doing this in the classroom would push me over the edge and into the high seas. If I was not ready to practice my swimming all summer (planning for an extensive year-long game), I would NOT attend one of his sessions. (I did attend a TINY session at USM Summer Spark last summer - right after seeing Dave Burgess in action!)

Well... I guess he was done with me not attending his sessions.
He sent me his book!

I have read the book, marked it up, asked questions, added sticky notes, and dog-eared the pages.

Now what?!

My brain is reeling.

I'm steeped in students grading themselves this year, and still on the Genius Hour bandwagon, of course. I'm still trying to figure things out with these two HUGE ideas. And now? Now I want to offer experience points (XPs) to my students for doing side quests. I want to have a big jar of water in the room with a small target at the bottom so kids can drop pennies in. I want to have teams in the class. I want to have more...... fun.

My kids are always up for trying new things. (I think that's why we're pretty loud - we're still figuring things out.) I believe I can incorporate my first efforts when we read The Outsiders at the end of the year. I've already switched those plans to work the Whole Novels way. I know what we're doing for that unit. Just think about it - the Greasers against the Socs... Girls against the boys. I could do it up right. I have enough time to plan (??), and we could end the school year with something they'll really remember. Stay gold?? Hmmm... Golden sunsets? Blue Mustangs? There's a lot I could do here... I hope to see Michael at EdCamp Madison this February so I can pick his brain, and then again in April at EdCamp Chicago so I can update him with my progress and get tips!

Until then, I think I'll get that big jar and some pennies ready... Or should I pack the golf ball, putter, and cup? You don't have a clue why I would? Time to pick up Explore Like a Pirate... Not too intrigued - yet? Time to join the weekly Twitter chat #XPlap on Wednesday nights at 7pm CST to catch the sparks so you can ignite those ideas.

And, no. I don't get paid to review books. Michael is a caring, innovative teacher who loves to share his ideas - in person, and now in paperback.