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, May 29, 2016

Making Thinking Visible

It took me a few months, but I just finished Making Thinking Visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison (2011).

I let a lot of these ideas percolate, and my classes even tried two of them ("See - Think - Wonder" when we read Where Children Sleep and "Chalk Talk" renamed "Marker Talk" prior to trying gamification).

Here's the gist of what I KNOW I need to do with these thinking routines:

  1. Prior to trying any routine, let students know the reason WHY.
  2. When sharing the goal for the day, or activity share the THINKING goal, not the ACTION goal.
  3. Choose a routine and content you BELIEVE in, and be INVOLVED in the process.
  4. Have a student (or facilitating teacher) document the learning (notes, photos, videos...).
  5. Use the language of thinking and reflecting throughout the day (make the language just as routine as the routines themselves). Continually notice and NAME the thinking.
  6. Keep asking, "What makes you say that?"
  7. Take the time to reflect on the process, while setting goals for next time.
  8. DOCUMENT this learning, reflection, and goals so it's all visible to the students.

Favorite ideas from the book that I'll need to keep addressing...

  • Group success is dependent on the group’s ability to listen and respond to one another’s ideas. Successful groups engaged with the ideas of the group members, echoing back the ideas that were presented and asking clarifying and probing questions of one another. p36
  • When teachers capture students’ ideas, they are signaling that those ideas and thoughts have value and are worthy of continued exploration and examination. p39
  • These thinking routines help students to find their own voices and value and respect the voices of others. p213
  • I want my classroom to be a place “where a group’s collective as well as individual thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular, day-to-day experience of all group members." p220
  • ...without the benefit of others, our thinking would be severely curtailed. ... Our individual thinking benefits from being challenged, from the need to articulate ideas clearly and concisely to others, from the presentation of alternative perspectives and insights through others’ presentation of logic, the raising of questions, and so on… p220
  • The kind of modeling that creates culture is more subtle, ubiquitous, and embedded. It is the modeling of who the teacher is as a thinker and a learner. p242
  • Understanding benefits from listening to and taking in others’ ideas and viewpoints, evaluating them, making connections to one’s own thoughts, and then presenting one’s thinking to others, knowing that it, too, will be challenged and must be backed by evidence and reasons. p245
  • Learning is an active process that entails getting personally involved. p262

Online Resource for Thinking Routines

My Notes from the Book

Feedback for ME: End-of-Year Surveys

It's the end of my 21st year of teaching and I still will not end the year without getting feedback from my students. Their feedback helps form my teaching! Instead of waiting to blog about how they responded, I thought other teachers might want feedback as well, so I'm sharing the documents now. I decided to not put student surveys on a Google form this time, as I didn't know if I'd have the technology available in class. (I also like to sit on the living room floor organize the papers into certain groups when I start looking at the feedback!)

Many thanks go to Aric Foster (the survey he shared is HERE), Jarred Amato (his survey is HERE), and Adam Schoenbart (his survey is HERE), for sharing their surveys via Twitter in the past two weeks. These acted as the catalyst that got me modifying my own. I stole many questions from them (all high school English teachers), and merged them with questions I've had from previous years.

These are on Google Docs - feel free to copy and modify to make one your own.

(If you have a co-teacher, make sure you put his or her name on a version of this, as well!)

There is one question in this EOY survey that asks about students' favorite books. The day I hand out these surveys, we'll spend some time looking at the books we've read (I collected them HERE from our in-class independent reading log). We'll talk about our favorites and come up with a few to recommend to next year's seventh graders. I'll either cut out or type up their explanations on this survey for their favorite books, and add a photo of the book to go with it for our first bulletin board of the 2016-2017 school year.

(this one is a Google form I email)

I'm excited to pour over their brutally honest answers, and learn from them once again.

Update: Need more encouragement? 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Gamifying CRASH

Crash by Jerry Spinelli...

An "easy" read. Short but sweet. I think reading it at the beginning of the school year would be better than now, but... I decided to read it now because I'd like to try out a few new things with this familiar book... Notice & Note review of ideas, Making Thinking Visible ideas, and I'd like to dip my toes into aspects of gamification...

Plus, we needed more work on how the author develops theme, and this book would be a good way to pursue that.

I didn't want to spend all of Spring Break on creating challenges or quests for the kids, so I waited. What I did do was to create teams - three teams per class. I have at the most 21 students (I am so very fortunate, I know!), so the groups are of six to seven students each.

I was very familiar with Crash, so I just took a copy home to look through while I prepared. I'm also pretty familiar with Notice and Note, so I just updated the notes sheets I'd had already created on those. A quick FYI - The notes I've written here are not our entire plans. We had more going on in our 80-minute blocks than reading Crash.

Introductory Day:
We started with an activity called "Chalk Talk" from Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchart, et. al. I wrote a different question on four pieces of construction paper that I would place on four different table groups. I prefaced this activity by explaining that we're trying something new... We're calling it "Marker Talk," because we're using markers (have them available for everyone), and we're not talking with our mouths. We're only writing in response to the question, then responses to each other - all about the topic at hand. ("What thoughts or ideas come to mind when you see the word 'team?'" "What thoughts or ideas come to mind when you see the word 'points?'" "What thoughts or ideas come to mind when you see the word 'competition?'" "What thoughts or ideas come to mind when you see the word 'game?'") When they heard the signal, they would move clockwise to the next question, and respond to it and the other responses. I'd decided that we'd start with four minutes at the first station, then move down to three, and then try two for the last two questions. (Next time, I'd put the word "lose" on one of the questions, and then recap by talking about the differences between "game" and "competition.") Click here to see a video of how "marker talk" went.

We then read this introductory article on gamification, annotated, and asked questions to each other about it (student-driven). This got the ball rolling on what we're going to try, and I got a feel for how students would enjoy it (or not).

Day 1:
After reading the first three chapters of Crash, we had this challenge:
Names included "Milkweed" (a book that Jerry Spinelli wrote), "Party Crashers" and "Crashinies."

Day 2:
After we had a few facts from the book, a game of "Crumple and Shoot" was in the plans. This game, explained by Jennifer Gonzalez (@cultofpedagogy) here, is one that is conducive to facts. I realized as we went on that many of the gamification games themselves are more conducive to memorization or review. This doesn't bode well for the teacher who likes discussion questions more than facts.

Day 3:
Observations: Today the kids decided they could not ask for points. THEY decided this. One thing we all noticed was that they were asking, "Can I get points for this for my team?" for many things. It sounded much to me like, "Can I do this for extra credit?" I guess their peers didn't like the sound of it either, because they nixed it from class themselves. :)

Teams of 6 or 7 may be too much. Today we had a couple of kids absent, and the groups that worked the best together were groups of FIVE. Our challenge today: Choosing the most significant events and putting them in order.

Day 4:
I loved today's challenge - finding similes and metaphors. I thought I made a mistake in not telling them what the challenge would be before we read our chapters, but they played so very well! I then realized that it was a GREAT review of these terms. The teams that split up the chapters performed the best.

Day 5:
We didn't have a group challenge this day. We did have a comprehension check, however, so I used the scores on these questions to add points to each team. Not having a group challenge was easier for me to handle during class, but harder to add up points after class was over. I decided to take the top five scores from each team, since there were a different number of players in each team.

Day 6:
Today our group challenge focused on character traits. One thing I love about gamifiying at the end of the year is that I can review literary terms and ideas we've been hitting all year. This challenge hit the spot, as students really dug deep to describe the characters. They also were given the option of challenging a trait if it was not obvious to the class why one team chose a particular word.

Day 7:
We did not get the results of this group challenge (coming up with a title/name for an important chapter in the book) until the next day, when all classes voted for their favorites. I liked this one, even though it took a bit of planning. While the students were voting, there seemed to be a sense of power in the room. I think they liked deciding which were the best from the other titles. They knew their votes had weight.

Day 8:
This challenge was my favorite, as it helped us to write about the theme the next day.  The mini lesson went well, and their answers reflected their learning.
Bonus Points: I was excited to have them create paper footballs and flick them through goal posts (which we made), but it never happened. Students wrote about the theme choosing from all of their answers combined, but they never had the thrill of flicking the paper footballs.

Overall Reflection...
I'm glad I waited until the end of the year to try this. This way, students don't expect me to try these all year long. When motivation was lacking, this came at just the right time of year. I don't know if I can do this for every unit, but I think group challenges throughout the year for review of what they've learned in 6th grade could be worth it - with SMALLER groups! Groups of four would be what I'd try next.

I didn't like how kids started wanting points - much like they want grades. The good deeds that suddenly came about (with eyebrows up, asking for points - without saying a word!) reminded me of Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn. What was good, however, is that when this unit was over, students just accepted their group's ranking and moved on with life.

We did try side quests - They were somewhat received well. The first one was searched for more than the last two, for sure.

One challenge I never got to - one that seemed just like "beer pong." My middle class really wanted another "throwing" challenge ("Crumple and Shoot" was a favorite of theirs), and so I told them I'd try for our next novel. Weeks later, it still hasn't happened. I've got it on my list of to-dos, and need to figure out when before the end of the year.

Questions I still have... If I tried this more, I'd create the groups again. However, does there ever come a time when I can let them create their own groups? Should teachers tie this into behaviors (plug in computer, push in chair, no complaints)? I can see the points being a pain to keep track of. Also, tying it to behavior doesn't seem right. I get a bad feeling in my stomach when I think of gamifying behaviors. I'll pass on that.

Plans... Find a way to incorporate more of these ideas. I don't need to plan an entire unit or an intricate year-long game. I do, however, see us trying small games every so often to keep kids on their toes and engaged in lessons.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

It's Called "LIVING"

No, I am not having a mid-life crisis.
No, I am not simply "lucky."
No, it didn't cost as much as you think.
Yes, I do deserve it.

My husband and I will forever be madly in love. You can't help it when you're soul mates. However, we've both been enjoying an affair with this hot chick...

I keep asking my seventh graders to think before they speak. Consider before they judge. And yet, I feel like many adults need these same reminders. I'm not writing this because I'm upset. I'm writing it because this car is just one way I'm really living this life I've been given.

"You must be having a mid-life crisis." 
I looked it up...
"Early middle age." I guess that's about right. But do I have an "identity" issue? Not really. I know who I am better than I have at any other point in my life. Then I found symptoms of this "crisis!" Ah, yes. Buying a "fast red sports car" is #11 on this list. Ah, well, then. I must be having a mid-life crisis.
I am LOVING life. I am LIVING life. I had the perfect opportunity to purchase a new car, so I considered my options. Hmm... not fortunate to have children of my own. That means no toys, college, marriages, etc. to spend on children. No real need for a back seat, even. We've already got a pick up truck, so why not get something fun, instead of "early middle age teacher" car?

"You are so lucky!"
Yes, I consider myself a lucky person. I am very lucky to have taken the paths (planned or not) I have. These have led me to my soul mate. I am also very lucky that no huge, unexpected bills or tragic events have come my way (so far). However, I'm not lucky to own this vehicle. I worked my fanny off to be able to afford this vehicle. I saved. I have been known to have more than one job. When money is tight, I still make sure I save, and then make PB & J sandwiches for lunch. I do not spend on a whim. I manage my income wisely. And gosh darn it, I've wanted a Mustang since I was a little girl. My dad said, "You want a Mustang? I'll go to the junk yard and buy the horse off of one and put it on any other car you get." I do consider myself lucky to be able to share this purchase with him.

"How much did that cost?!"
First of all, you're not supposed to ask that question. Second of all, I'm happy to tell you how much I was given for my low-mileage five-and-a-half-year-old Escape ($8,000), how much I saved after the Escape was paid off ($7,000), how my husband got us the "A plan" because he is a proud Ford retiree, and how I put enough money down in order to get 0% financing. It's not the top of the line Mustang. It's just happens to be a beautiful vehicle.

"You deserve it."
And I'm going to love her until she is run into the ground. I live each day as fully as I can already. Every day I can put the top down, I will. I will enjoy each ride to the fullest. This is how my life is meant to be lived. Suddenly, I LOVE to drive! When asked, "Do you want to drive?" My answer is now, "Of course!"

Oooh! I'm finished with my blog post! I'm heading out for a drive... Want to join me?
(I learned about Bitmoji at EdCampDuPage last week!)