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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Parent Questions

I'm starting to get parent questions - our fifth week in of school.

Image from Pixabay
I need to create a Frequently Asked Questions page for parents to help them understand our "feedback and revisions" (AKA "no grades") system. Sure, I've got pages on our classroom website here and here and myriad blog posts about it here, but the answers to the questions they're asking are not there.

It's time to create a new page of FAQs and answers.

What would YOU ask if you knew your child was going to have to give evidence for his or her own grade? The FAQs page is coming soon - after I read and provide video feedback on 62 more pieces of writing this week. In my spare time...

Oct 1, 2016 Update: Here is our FAQs page!

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 11, 2016

A Rose By Any Other Name...

I'm not going to call our time "Genius Hour" this year.

Catalysts for this change:

  • No longer will we have one day (= one hour) a week dedicated to this time.
  • Last year, my priority was getting this whole "no grades" routine to work, so I feel that our Genius Hour time suffered as a result. I need a fresh start, with a new focus, so it is more successful for more students this year.
  • I needed to move this time to the end of the quarter, so I could have time for conferences with students about their choice of final grade, and look through the evidence they'll have collected. The time allotted students will still be the same amount.

What was NOT a catalyst of this change - the name "genius." I've written about it before, and still stand by these ideas. I do believe you have to buy into a name before you can expect students to do the same, so this was a difficult endeavor for me.

So, after scouring this page on the LiveBinder for other people's ideas (yes - I not only curate ideas on that behemoth of a binder for parents and teachers, but for myself as well), I've decided on "Independent Inquiry." I'm wondering why it wasn't already on the list! We're going to break the year into four different Independent Inquiry projects. Quarter 1 will be focused on creativity - and may end with the Cardboard Challenge. I'm not sure of the date for it yet, or how it will come about, but I'm going to try and see if students can focus on creativity. Quarter 2 will be focused on teaching their own talents, or teaching a new skill. Quarter 3 will focus on a 20-day challenge, or ways to improve ourselves, and Quarter 4 will be more wide open. Hopefully students will be able to use something from their "wonders" that we'll be accumulating through our articles of the week. All of these are very, very sketchy plans, and I'm ready to change them when I see a different idea I can steal! (Comments below are ALWAYS welcomed!!)

Since the focus will be the last two weeks of each quarter, plans will be structured differently, and hence the different themes, if you will, for the learning focus. I do not have it planned out yet, but my goal is that it be structured as such: A mini lesson / reason for learning each day, then time to work independently. Each day will also include a reflection or exit slip. The last day or two of the quarter will be reserved for sharing our learning.

Whatever the focus will be - it will be based on student curiosity.
Whatever the focus - it will be independent for the most part.
Whatever the focus - my goal will still be to encourage students to be life-long learners.
Whatever the focus - students' ideas will be honored and celebrated.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Introducing Feedback in Lieu of Grading to 7th Graders

One full week of school was finished. This was the year I was not going to put one grade in the "grade" book until the end of each quarter - with EACH of my ELA classes! I'd already put in two pieces of evidence in the online grade book - with feedback on enunciation and volume (from their short presentations) such as these:

There had been no talk of grades yet - we were building classroom culture! It was time to let students know that there would be NO GRADES in the online grade book this school year, as I felt I needed to give a heads up to parents prior to Parent Night. How I would approach the subject took some planning, as I wanted to make sure students knew WHY we were going this route.

Step 1: Let students know we need to have a serious discussion. In order to have the discussion as a large group, we need to first hash out how each person feels by having smaller discussions - where every voice can be heard. Show them how "Marker Talk" ("Chalk Talk" from Making Thinking Visible edited by Ron Ritchart) works, and show them what valuable comments and not-so-valuable comments look like for this activity. Inform them that after this quiet activity, everyone will have time to voice their questions and concerns with the class.

Step 2: Execute the Marker Talk activity. I used these four questions: What do you think about coaches? What do you think about learning? What do you think about points on school work? What do you think is unfair about grades? I put these questions on large pieces of construction paper so that students could write around them.

Step 3: Bring everyone together - no tables or chairs - all on the floor in a group. Display the construction paper discussions on the board. Share Dylan Wiliam's ideas about feedback.

Step 4: Ask how this idea relates to the questions they were asked during the Marker Talk activity.

Step 5: See where the discussion goes, and address concerns and questions... And hand out these two sheets to help us keep track of what we've done, what we've asked feedback for, and what we'd like to keep for evidence.

The first two classes before lunch were so quiet! One student "wants grades." One student figures after he gets three pieces of writing back that are good, he's done working for the quarter. One wonders if she'll have help along the way, so she can get the grade she wants.

I AM SO EXCITED. I recorded reactions, but my last class gave me this priceless screenshot from the video - right after I said I would not be putting any letter grades in the grade book...

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