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, November 15, 2016

5th Annual Cardboard Challenge

This was the fifth year we had a Cardboard Challenge at TMS.

We changed it up a bit from last year - and will make more adjustments if we decide to do this again!

  • This year, we called it the Cardboard / Creativity Challenge. It was the first of our four (hopefully) Independent Inquiry projects.
  • Students had one full week to plan, prepare, and present their work. We changed it so that I could have my 1:1 conferences (regarding their evidence of their quarter grade) with students during the planning time.
  • Students were asked to create something (without purchasing anything) that could either benefit themselves or others (or both).
  • Nobody made anything on the day we presented - it was all ready ahead of time.
  • We hosted it on Halloween (not too bad of a choice)!
  • I asked Grammie to come in - and she did! - the entire week we planned. What a benefit to the kids and to me!
  • Our two associate principals and our superintendent popped in during the week to listen to students' ideas and give feedback.
  • Students could reflect in four different ways. See the document here. I also accepted other ideas. I learned a lot from their reflections.
  • I decided to create a "How To" document for myself - for next year's planning!
  • I used and modified someone else's (I'm sorry I forgot your name!) project proposal template. (Of course... I found it on the LiveBinder!)

  • Once again, we had many parents visit! You've gotta love the authentic audience!
  • Only THREE students didn't have their work (less than a handful this year)!
  • Explanations on the games / projects / art were much clearer than in years past.
  • It was much less messy on the day of... The projects were DONE and the students actually wanted to KEEP them this year!

Adjustments that need to be made:

  • We will not have any technology allowed next year. There was one project that students in the last class were clamoring over...It was not pretty. 
  • As a result of the technology, some other students were upset that "no one" saw their projects.
  • I need to let them know of the project a bit more ahead of time. Some students were upset because they "didn't have enough time" to make what they wanted to make. They didn't know how to work within the constraints given to them.
  • I need to let them know more of the reasons WHY we do this. A couple were upset because they felt we "wasted time." They said they "didn't learn anything." I need to help them realize what they did learn, and I need to help them understand my reasoning for this project.
  • I need to find a way to have EACH student see EACH project.
  • I need to find a good way for them to give each other feedback during the "gallery walk." We had "shout outs" to various work in two classes, and they loved giving each other kudos.
  • I need to find a good (and efficient) way to share the feedback given to them. (Adults who came to visit filled out this survey.) My coworker Karen suggested we create a checklist where students need to find a game, an organizer, a maze, artwork, etc., depending on the projects our students are creating.

Of course, this activity did not appeal to some students who like quiet, rubrics, and other aspects of traditional school. Sometimes it's our job to help them get out of their comfort zones. This will be the biggest "messy learning" in ELA we have for the school year. It's hard on some of them. I think it would have been difficult for me, as well.

I now share with you my quickly-created video of what the kids answered to my question: "What did you learn from this project?" I had my portable sound booth (also made of cardboard - and acoustic foam - thank you, Mr. Kirr) up, and the sign on the top. Many responses were not about the question, so I left those out. At least the sound was better than without the box! Here are the responses that work:

And here are the life lessons they mentioned the very next day (in writing):
You can make just about anything from cardboard.
Spray paint sticks to duct tape.
Duct tape hurts your fingers.
If you don’t give up on something, it will eventually come together.
If the cardboard gets a little wet, it doesn’t work.
Perseverance is key.
If you’re impatient, your project will fall apart.
Elmer’s glue takes forever to dry.
I can make things on my own without help.
If you are good at something, make it and see if you can help someone with theirs.
It is hard to create something you think everyone would like. Once you figure that out, it’s easy to do. You need to think about what other people would find interesting.
Things don’t just come. You have to be patient.
You need patience.
There is trial and error.
I can unleash my creative side and make cool things out of cardboard.
Next time I can make it better.
Glue is very messy and hard to work with.
Making things isn’t always perfect.
You have to work hard for something you want.
I learned how to think of solutions to my problems.
When we use our imagination and stick to what we will do, the outcome is awesome!
I never really share my creations, and this time I could.
Creativity is even more important than I thought.
Be careful where you put your hands, or you may glue your hand to your project.
I learned how to draw a big design.
You should start projects as soon as possible.
I can use my abilities.
I learned how elevators work.
It’s hard to make bottles on to cardboard, and cardboard is as fun as regular activities.
I need to be more organized with time.
If things don’t work out the first time, don’t give up.
Try new ideas / things.
Be proactive.
Stay focused at all times.
Be more decorative.
Be prepared.
Don’t leave stuff at home.
Think of all materials needed.
All projects cannot be complete, so you might change it and make something you want people to see.
Failures motivate you.
Work hard, or don’t work at all.
If something doesn’t work right, fix it / go with it.
It may not seem fun, but judge it AFTER you try it.
If you work hard, you can be more successful.
It is good to help others.
People may be excellent pretenders.
Creativity has endless possibilities.
Cardboard can build cool things.
A box can be used to make anything.
Have a back-up plan.
Hard work pays off.
You can make something out of anything.
Don’t wait until the last minute to print something...
Think of a good structure before you build things.
Don’t put off a lot to the end.
Not everything in your head goes perfectly in real life.
You can never have enough duct tape.
Too much duct tape can be bad.
Success can’t be achieved without hard work.
It’s okay to mess up a few times.
Bring what you need on time.
Patience is KEY.
Tape doesn’t fix everything.
If you have to work on something for a week, you have to like it.

These lessons make me feel as if the planning and executing of these plans was all worthwhile... What are your thoughts?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Feedback In Lieu of Grading - Quarter One

We made it through the first grading period without ANY grades for all three of my 80-minute block classes!

My students and I met to discuss their learning two weeks before the grading period ended, and we came up with a grade together. Students were asked to bring this document to the table, and some did. Others did not fill it in. I had the evidence on a spreadsheet, however, so we still had proof of students' current skills.

Statistics from first quarter:

  • I have 66 students
  • 61% of students earned an A
  • 31% of students earned a B
  • 8% of students earned a C
  • I gave audio/video feedback on 230 pieces of writing
  • I gave more feedback on 97 revisions from 36 students
Here's what my spreadsheet finally ended up looking like for my own notes regarding writing and grammar pieces (it will be refined for next quarter):

Yellow highlights mean that student should be revising that piece. Dark rectangles mean the student decided to not use that piece for evidence. NI = needs improvement, D = developing, P = proficient, and M = mastery... Only my co-teacher and I saw these "scores." The YouTube links are unlisted links - they are not public. The question marks are because I neglected to jot down my own thoughts on their achievement! This happened with a couple of the first pieces I was giving feedback to. I was still working on a documentation system that would work for me. You can see it didn't at first!

What I learned from one-on-one conferences:

  • At least one student didn't know what "revise" meant. He thought he had to re-write pieces or start anew.
  • Students that I hadn't really connected well with (yet), have approached me more since we've met.
  • Students who did "A" work and had all their evidence ready ahead of time had very quick conferences. Students who were not reflective about their work took approximately 10-12 minutes to conference.
  • One student said she thought she deserved a "B+," but wanted to put down an "A-" for her final grade. She said her parents expected it. She then agreed to accomplish the goals she set for herself for next quarter, or she'd give herself the "B."
  • I need to send home the goal setting sheet in the report card envelope.
  • I need to send home student reasons for choosing the comments they chose.
  • I need to copy the last two pieces of documentation so I can remind students of their own goals throughout next quarter. Heck - I need to give a copy of their goals back to them!!
  • I needed to make a new document for students to keep track of their reading and writing. Here's the new reading documenting sheet, and here are the new writing and grammar sheets (thank you, Yvette!!).
  • Now I need to make sure students update these three documents when we're in class together...

A fact that totally surprised me:
       I have never had so many entries into the gradebook!!
Check 'em out:

Each one of those dots is a written comment... Some have narrative feedback regarding enunciation and volume, some include a YouTube link to the audio / video screencast feedback on their writing, the comprehension checks have scores separated for literal and inferential questions, "book shares" have narrative feedback from this feedback form, and some are behavior notes (using ind rdg time wisely, preparation, goals...). Yes. I've been busy taking myriad notes and documenting them on the online grade book - without any grades but the one in the final slot.

After we met one-on-one, I asked students to fill in an open-ended survey. The question: Please let me know how the first quarter has gone. (I will ask parents to fill out a survey the day report cards are sent home.)
Here are student responses I received regarding grades (copied & pasted):

  • we did not have as much stress as other classes and you could always inprove your grade
  • If someone wants to see their grade, I would let them, but if someone wants to not see their grade then write comments. If you have grades, you could see how you could improve but without you can struggle a bit.
  • I really liked how the students had to show evidence form their grade. I think it was good to learn. when you get a job you do monthly check ins and many adults don't know how to handle it. Once we are old enough to get a job we will all be great at this which will help us in our life. I also liked how we got all quarter to write different stories and we got to pick our three favorites. I also feel that many students tried very hard for the grade so they worked their best. I don't think i noticed many negatives personally. I think that everything was handled the right way by teachers and by students.
  • I think grading ourselves is an educational good idea and that would help us realize what we need to work on.
  • I think this was a good quarter, and it went by fast. I'm happy with the grade I got and the grading system is pretty good. At some points I really wanted to know my grade and I would get frustrated. I think our ELA class is fun, and has is different from other classes. Based on how the first quarter went, I thing the rest of the year will also be good.
  • You are not as pressured as other classes to get a good grade on it but, you still get a grade. which is awesome. 
  • I think this quarter has been really fun! I really like how we're learning how to give our opinions and back it up. It actually reminds me of debates on CNN when they have to back up what they're saying or else it's not true. Being able to say what we think our grade should be is a really good way for us to learn from our mistakes and do better next quarter. I guess the only thing I would like to do is do more creative writing than narratives.
  • I like how we get to chose our own evidence because if you have one bad assignment it won't bring your grade down a lot like it usually would.
  • I like how we don't have to stress over grade and can work at our own pace.
  • I really like how the first quarter has gone. The grading system is really good. You have to grade yourself, but you need to support why you deserve this grade. So it's almost like the grading itself is a lesson of some sort. It's also sort of stress-free. There is a little, but it's not that stressful.
  • I think first quarter went well for most people the no grades think was amazing. I think the no grades thing grades lots of people by not giving them stress helped lots of people have stress from other classes. Their were no real pit falls. 
  • one benefit is that we make our own grades but we need the evidence, it is beneficial because it shows that you need to work for a grade.
  • This quarter has helped me a lot with writing, grammar, and revising. It is also helping me become more organized and independent. I have gotten more into reading, I have found a genre that I love, and I have also found some books that really interest me. This quarter has been really fun and it has become my favorite subject in school. I do feel I need to read more and improve my vocabulary. I love the fish bowls and I hope we do more of them. I want to improve my debate skills for high school. I also love the "grading" system. 
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