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, December 31, 2017

Best Books of 2017

My list is not extensive by any means, but I need to share out my favorites from 2017 like I have the past three years. I read a bit for myself this year, along with books I thought my 7th graders would enjoy.
     2016 Favorites
     2015 Favorites
     2014 Favorites

Here are the books I would most recommend from my list of 75 books I've read this year... I tried to whittle it down to one or two per genre, but I read some genres more than others! I'm not going to describe them for you - you can check out the complete list with my thoughts for this year here.

     I'm not a Marvel fan, but Jason Reynolds hooked me with Miles Morales: Spider Man
 Historical Fiction
     From the Holocaust to Syria, these three refugees in Alan Gratz's Refugee really got to my heart.
     Student-recommended fantasy I had categorized under mystery, Victoria Laurie's When took me on a trip I hadn't imagined as of yet... What if someone could see death dates of people? A bit far-fetched, but awesome to watch unfold.
Poetry / Novels-in-Verse 
     Oh, I read so many novels-in-verse this year! One stood out as true poetry, written in "Tanka." Read Nikki Giovanni's Garvey’s Choice to learn more about Garvey, or to share a quick read-aloud.

     Oh my goodness - how many DBC books did I read this year?? The one I've gotten the most satisfaction from is Shift This. It was crazy surreal opening that first box of books Dave and Shelly sent. 
Here are the other professional books I've read and enjoyed in 2017:

Beers, Kylene, & Bob Probst - Disrupting Thinking
Casa-Todd, Jennifer - Social LEADia
Chandler, Amber - The Flexible ELA Classroom
Evans, Robert - The Human Side of School Change
Ferriter, William, & Paul Cancellieri -
Creating a Culture of Feedback
Hasson, Julie & Missy Lennard - Unmapped Potential
Hirsch, Joe - The Feedback Fix
Hogan, Aaron - Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth
McGee, Patty - Feedback that Moves Writers Forward
Miller, Matt - Ditch That Textbook
Musallam, Ramsey - Spark Learning
Nesloney, Todd, and Adam Welcome - Kids Deserve It!
Sheeran, Denis - Instant Relevance

Realistic Fiction
     I found another author I love this year - John David Anderson. Pick up Posted and Ms. Bixby’s Last Day for your classroom! 
     My favorite (I haven't read many, sadly!) adult realistic fiction this year was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, and my favorite novel-in-prose realistic fiction was Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. 
     I cannot miss sharing with you three other favorites, however - Restart by Gordon Korman, Bluefish by Pat Schmatz, and Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson.

     I'm not a big fan, but I did love the adult book, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Thanks to a coworker for the recommendation!
Science Fiction
     LOVED. Wow. Neal Shusterman's Scythe
Short Stories

     Close call - Either Mitali Perkins' Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices or James Howe's 13.

     Again, not a big fan - I'm working on it! Top Prospect by Paul Volponi gets my vote this year. Please suggest more for me in the comments below!

What are your favorites this year? Please share in the comments below or tag your own post so I can add them to my "to read" list!

Change - Part 3 - Leading Innovation

Ever since Dr. Evan's Keynote in July at BLC in Boston, I've been working my way through his book. I've written about Part 2 - Reluctant Faculty, and now it's time to wrap up the book with the rest of my notes here. Consider most of the bullet points right out of the book - I don't want to alter Dr. Evans' message.

The Authentic Leader
   In the chapter prior, Dr. Evans makes the point that leaders are guided by purpose and followership. These two form the heart of transformational leadership. Chapter nine then goes into explaining what goes into being an authentic leader... Here are my notes (in many instances quoted directly from the text):
  • Transformation begins with trust. (Once damaged, it's "nearly impossible to repair.")
  • Leaders need to "begin thinking of what will inspired trust among their constituents."
  • "We admire leaders who are honest, fair, competent, and forward-thinking."
  • Innovation..."needs more than trust - it needs confidence." Leaders "must inspire ... confidence along with trust."
  • The key to both confidence and trust is authenticity.
  • Most of us seek a "combination of genuineness and effectiveness" in a leader. "It makes him authentic, a credible resource who inspires trust and confidence, someone worth following into the uncertainties of change."
  • "Integrity is a fundamental consistency between one's values, goals, and actions." Followers are looking for values, goals and actions to be congruent.
  • Honesty and fairness play a large role.
  • Leaders "typically hold the same standards for their school as for themselves." These "provide the larger purpose that gives work direction and meaning," and their followers may be motivated by the same commitments.
  • Transformational leaders have ethics, vision, and belief in others.
  • "Authenticity also demands savvy, a practical, problem-solving wisdom that enables leaders to make things happen." They should have "common sense and empathic sensitivity, courage and assertiveness, and resilience."
  • Educators "will rarely follow leaders unless they seem to 'know their stuff' - ...the realities of school life."
  • To "be effective, leaders must demonstrate and foster [hardiness]."
  • "Authentic leaders build their practice outward from their core commitments rather than inward from a management text."
  • Although not all leaders "have what it takes," uncovering their potential "is the key to becoming authentic."
  • Leaders should ask themselves, "What do you stand for?" and then "Where does it come from?" Its origin is "almost always personal - deeply personal." This helps recruit followers, as we can learn the reasons WHY leaders want innovation. Almost all of us have the same values or the same desires for education. We can get on board when leaders share what they stand for and WHY.
  • "Principals who were successful change agents all fulfilled four key roles (resource provider, instructional resource, communicator, visible presence)..."
  • Leaders are aware of their strengths (and should share them!), and also of their faults.
  • Leaders need to know what they want.
  • Those above principals of schools need to provide time to hash out questions of values and goals when initiatives are coming from the top. Principals need to believe in them, as well, or nothing will change, as staff will see right through them if they're indifferent or opposed to the ideas.
  • A leader "must not just advocate but exemplify the change before asking staff to do so."
  • Risk-taking "has always been - and remains - rare in schools." Principals have a dilemma when "they are given more responsibility than authority, and their success requires maintaining positive connections not just with their superiors but also with their staff." We can NOT ask them to lead projects they do not fully grasp or endorse. It just won't fly.
  • If teachers want reform, they need to "realize the importance of bringing the principal along early..." This was so important for me, and I would not know where my teaching would be now if I didn't go ask for administrative support first.
So much of this relates to teachers and students! And so much of this relates to when I'm speaking in  front of a group, as well. What is the message I'm conveying? Why should my audience trust me? Look back at these, substituting "teacher" for "leader." See how you can use these ideas, even if you're not part of administration.

Clarity and Focus
    In chapter ten, Dr. Evans shares more about what leaders need to do in order to be able to share their vision and have followers. The number one thing is for the leader to be the model he or she wants staff to be. Leaders should lead by example.
  • Authentic leaders know what they want, and they pursue it.
  • Again, go with hearts and bellies - 1) a shared vision is crucial to innovation, and 2) the roots of vision are deeply personal.
  • A vision's main function is to inspire people and to concentrate their efforts. You can do this if you appeal to people's emotions and they buy in with their hearts and their bellies.
  • Formal vision work is time-intensive.
  • We can't simply designate a small core of teachers to draft a vision. We must have buy-in from all staff, or there won't be a commitment to goals. (Hence the time commitment!) Collaborative vision building is a longer and slower approach that requires persuasion, negotiation, compromise, and patience.
  • It would help to have a motto! A good motto is short enough to be remembered, and direct without being so literal that it limits the imagination. A motto can keep staff grounded and it can help us figure out what can stay and what can most likely go.
  • Clarity in a vision helps foster trust, foster commitment, and garner attention. The WHY, what, and how should be clear. The ultimate goal of clarity is a shared, community-wide consensus about values and goals.
  • Focus in a vision means the leaders decide what few things are important. These are then pursued with a vigor and skill.
  • Few people can accomplish more than one significant change at a time. Focus means pursuing one major change at a time per person and per work group.
  • If a vision has multiple dimensions, individuals must not be expected to master all of them at once.
  • Three ways leaders can push for focus - 1) accentuate the positive  2) ask "What can we quit doing so we can do what we need to do?"  3) stretch out time lines of individual items.
  • When leaders can explain change in clear, focused terms and connect innovation to long-standing values that matter to constituents, they help staff link the new with the old and bear the uncertainties and losses of change.
  • Leaders must reach out and create a more informed public. They must help people understand the true strengths and real needs of the schools.
  • When staff believe a leader will stay put to see an innovation through, confidence and energy are enhanced. (When there is often turn-over in superintendents and principals, staff do not put much trust in the fact that this "newest" plan will be around in a few years.)
Participation - Without Paralysis
    Most of this chapter centers around the leader.
  • The prospect of a committed, empowered, collegial community served by an enlightened leader is exciting. It is, however, an IDEAL, and beyond the capacity of most schools.
  • Organizations that draw on the knowledge of their staff make more informed choices and enjoy higher levels of productivity and morale.
  • People are much more likely to invest themselves in something they help shape.
  • Ideally, teachers who are empowered to help make decisions will structure their classrooms to empower students, as well. (Later, Dr. Evans says this appears to be a fallacy, largely due to the demands on the teachers executing change.)
  • Why Dr. Evans says it's really an ideal... 
    • Teachers' relations with one another are mostly marked by congeniality (being pleasant) but not collegiality (serious professional interaction). The entrenched norms that prevail among teachers remain those of autonomy and privacy.
    • Shared governance and collaboration always mean more work - and more complex work, and more work with other adults rather than students. They require higher levels of sophisticated adult interaction. (And many teachers prefer to work with children than with adults!)
    • The teaching career is an idiosyncratic craft - in many respects, a teacher is an "independent artisan..."
    • Schools observe strong traditions of conflict avoidance. Teachers rarely engage in the open expression and negotiation of conflict with colleagues and leaders.
  • Binary leadership seems to be optimal...
    • Powerful principals that have conviction and confidence lead with help. Ideas can move both up and down in the organization. Organizations need leaders, not bosses. Since change requires unfreezing and disconfirmation, the challenging of deep assumptions and the raising of appropriate guilt and anxiety, it demands someone with the power to get and keep people's attention.
    • Authentic leaders expect to play a primary role in shaping change, and they see empowerment as a later outcome, not a starting condition.
    • Authentic leaders decide who needs to be involved and when - they are consistently clear with staff about who is making which decisions and how.
    • Authentic leaders have open-door policies - teachers are starved for this kind of support, attention, and acknowledgement.
    • Authentic leaders ask for feedback, checking in from time to time, even if it means bad news. Squelching opposition only drives it underground and delays the chance to resolve it. Asking for feedback offers opportunities to empower staff, reduce resistance, reinforce collegiality, and can build momentum for change. If nothing else, it helps staff ventilate feelings and fears and clarify misperceptions. Everyone involved needs to hear and be heard - and the leader needs to model this.
Recognition: Reversing the Golden Rule
    We wouldn't go days or weeks, never months or years, without recognizing our students and their accomplishments, would we? Why do we do so without recognizing coworkers, educators, or administrators?? If we want any change - especially tough innovation - to work, we've got to recognize and acknowledge all involved. And OFTEN.
  • The single best low-cost, high-leverage way to improve performance, morale, and the climate for change is to dramatically increase the levels of meaningful recognition for - and among - educators. This includes praise or positive feedback, but also validation.
  • The more profound and far-reaching an innovation and the more pressure, anxiety, and uncertainty in involves, the greater the need for recognition. When demand rises, support must rise proportionately or else stress will.
  • Teachers are starved for the tiniest scraps of validation - letters or visits from students, comments from parents and administrators.
  • Across America, we are turning to educators who feel chronically overpressured and underthanked and are asking them to change, to do more and to do it differently and better - quickly.
  • Dr. Evans makes the point that recognition should not have extrinsic rewards.
  • Though it is sad that teachers' work lives should leave them pathetically grateful for fragments of praise and validation, it creates an opportunity and points a very direct path for leaders: almost any kind of recognition will represent an improvement.
  • Leaders should apply recognition whenever possible - accept errors as trying, even seeing it as part of the cost of research and development. This is especially important when setbacks occur during innovation. With your recognition, be specific so followers know you're sincere.
  • If leaders cannot, with sincerity, recognize teachers, at the least they should hear them out. They should acknowledge that they heard concerns and they take them seriously, even if nothing (right now) can be done.
  • Dr. Evans wrote almost three pages about the conundrum of teachers not wanting to be singled out for recognition, or becoming upset when someone else in singled out, but not them. He offered direct advice as to how this resistance can - and should - be resolved if innovation is to have a chance.
  • Leaders and teachers should also nurture lateral recognition.
  • It doesn't just go top-down. Teachers should also be recognizing administrators. If this is difficult, then leaders should arrange more occasions when they can gather as peers and share feedback, praise, and acknowledgement.
Confrontation: Avoiding Avoidance
    Authentic leaders must not avoid resisters. Dr. Evans shares the behaviors of what he calls "cyrogenics" - those unwilling to accomplish change, and seem to not care. They don't even try. He then shares insight on why school leaders often avoid potentially serious conflict - and he makes a ton of sense. I feel sorry for principals who really don't have leverage when they want something done. In corporate America, cyrogenics are fired. When protected by a union, there are only three choices that remain - forcible transfer, seduction (cultivating and converting), and "voodoo death," none of which are good options. However, "unprincipled resisters who actively oppose change can and must be vigorously challenged" if the leader truly believes in the change. Then teachers who are on board and know (and believe in) the reasons needed for change need to step up to resisters, as well. What saddens me is that there is no hope for these "deadwood" cyrogenics. They won't change, even when they are challenged. They might, however, stop affecting others negatively.
     Dr. Evans also talks about the challenges the "unfreezables" bring to leaders. These are educators who talk the talk, but don't walk the walk. They think what they're doing is innovative, and yet it is not what was asked of them. This is a different difficulty to confront, as when teachers believe they are doing all they should and someone tells them they're not, it's likely to cause them genuine distress and serious loss of face. It may make them sad or angry, and hence defensive, even when negative feedback is delivered thoughtfully. This is another reason leaders avoid confrontation.
     There is so much involved in this short chapter, and it makes me feel so sad for leaders who truly believe in change, but run up against others who cannot, or will not, open their minds to the possibilities the future can hold.
     Side note: In my original post about Dr. Evans' keynote in Boston, I quoted him as saying, "The characteristics (nurturing, sacrifice, kindness, etc.) that make us good with kids don't help us work well with ADULTS." Some of my PLN on Twitter didn't agree with this, so I've tried to find the words that help support his ideas. He first says in this chapter that "From a school perspective, the competitive corporate ethos can seem cruelly hard. From a business perspective, the school ethos seems childishly soft" (275). He further explains that "Education attracts the contemplative and the nurturing more than the competitive and the assertive, drawing people whose guiding occupational interests and values are more likely to emphasize service to others and job security for oneself than, say, entrepreneurial risk taking or the projection of personal power. More simply, people who work in schools tend to like people - and to want to be liked back." Teachers "are used to looking for the best in students because they look for the best in everyone. It is a trait most of us wish them to keep, but one that inclines them to fear and avoid negativity that in other settings would seem mild." The "avoidance of open disagreement or friction is thoroughly entrenched in the culture of schooling and..." "coupled with the structural limits on leaders' leverage, it makes administrators' reluctance to address opposition understandable" (276). However, resisters can and must be challenged.

Reach and Realism, Experience and Hope
    Dr. Evans wraps up with his big lesson... "We must recast our expectations for leaders, for teachers, and for the larger task of improving schools."

  • This includes realism - being aware of how much we can grow, and in how much time.
  • This also includes hope. We need to preserve and nurture genuine hope.
  • Nearly all natural systems have intrinsically optimal rates of growth, and school systems need to find their own. There's a balance between going to fast and going too slow.
  • The formula for success is to set mutually agreed standards and to hold people accountable for achieving them - but to free them to do so in their own way whenever possible.
  • What we need is a triumph of hope over experience. Hope is an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out...
  • Innovation / transformation / change... may be slow, but slow is better than none.

After reading the many stories and quotes from educators and leaders included in this book, and Dr. Evans' interpretations of research, I hope to have much more patience for those who want immediate change, and those who do not want change at all. I feel as if I understand my own role, my principal's role, and my superintendent's role a teeny bit more. I can appreciate just how complex our roles are, and how complex innovation initiatives really can be. I hope to share lateral gratitude more often, along with gratitude for those in leadership roles.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

What Is the Purpose of School?

This question was posed by Kim Darche in the ICE Google forum book study about Shift This.

Here are some of the responses...
  • school is a place where students learn how to be successful people
  • the purpose of school is to show students the benefits of learning
  • as an educator, we are to help our students see their capabilities
  • Our purpose it to be and create independent, life-long learners. 
  • I look for the "lightbulb moments" where I see when a student truly understands and has made a lasting connection.  Then I know that what we are doing in the classroom will translate to what they will be able to do with that information outside the classroom...and if they are able to apply what they've learned on their own there is a true purpose.
  • to give kids the tools to be successful in life
  • school has three main purposes: cognitive, emotional, and civic development
  • a place for students to gain the skills necessary to be life long learners - to be problem solvers - to learn how gain their short term and long term goals
  • to have children grow in their abilities
  • to educate and prepare any learner for their future
  • It should be a place where kids learn to think for themselves.
  • it's about developing their skills with all of the resources that we have to make them successful
  • school is a place where students learn about the world around them through with from others
  • school is meant to help prepare students for the future by leading them to become critical thinkers
  • creating learners and future citizens, cultivating ideas and creativity, and teaching collaboration and critical thinking
  • to learn
  • learning
What IS the purpose of school?
Does your classroom reflect what you believe?

Please use the comments section of this blog post to share your thoughts and ideas and keep the conversation going!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Lessons from Ms. Bixby

Have you read it yet?

If not, head to the library right now - oh, forget it. Get it at the book store - you'll want it for your classroom!!

A huge thank you to Michelle Gledhill, who shared pages 25-26 with our seventh graders, where Brand details the time he picked his friend's nose... That was the hook that got me to read this one.

The same author as Posted, which I read this summer (and had to purchase for room 239 readers, as well), Ms. Bixby's Last Day is a story you want to last and last. It's got everything. From Iron Maiden to Tchaikovsky, from "The Princess Bride" to To Kill a Mockingbird, and of course, the Beatles, April Fool's pranks, "The Charge of the Light Brigade," "Star Wars," legos, and The Hobbit. On page five, Topher begins to explain the six kinds of teachers in the world, and he's spot on. You know them, and you probably are one of them: Zombies, Caff-Adds (or Zuzzers), Dungeon Masters, Spielbergs, Noobs, and the Good Ones.

Ms. Bixby, of course, was one of the Good Ones. Which is why I was surprised when I came to the conversation about grades she had with a parent who was upset with his child's "B" grade. (Pgs 86-89) Steve's dad has a meeting with Ms. Bixby... (If you can't read it, try clicking on the photo to make it bigger. Or, better yet, go grab the book.)

Lessons (Re-)Learned...
  • Parents and teachers want children to learn.
  • Parents and teachers care about their children.
  • Parents and teachers sometimes think differently about what a grade means.
  • I wish parents and teachers could stop talking about grades, and only talk about learning and progress.
  • I feel like I'm in good company with Ms. Bixby.

Pick up this book.
Give it a read.
Give it to someone else to read.
Read it aloud to your class.
You won't regret it.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Change - Part 2 - Reluctant Faculty

Last July, our keynote for the last day of the BLC conference was Dr. Robert Evans. I wrote about what he said about change here, and then I purchased the book. It's time to share some of my notes as I slowly work my way through it (amongst the myriad books I read to share with my students)...

Chapter six is called "Staff: Understanding Reluctant Faculty," and here it is in a nutshell, using his words...

"Many improvement schemes...pay little attention to the lived realities of the educators who must accomplish change or to the practical problems of institutional innovation" (91).
Although it is not true of ALL veteran teachers (like me, I hope), "Most of America's educators are veteran practitioners who are not eager to embrace a new round of innovation. Their natural human aversion to change is intensified by three factors: their stage of life, their stage of career, and what demographers would call their 'cohort factor' - their unique composition as a group and the unique historical context in which they have worked" (92).

Supposedly (remember that this was written in 1996, but I'll bet it still holds true), most educators "have become a veteran, middle-aged, immobile group" (93). He states that "middle-aged" includes the mid-forties and older. These "middle-aged" teachers are often dejected. They "feel unappreciated, overworked, and demeaned as professionals." He goes on to explain why, including that many teachers feel that "one's efforts to help others are unsuccessful," and "that the task is both endless and unrewarded in terms of either achievement, appreciation, or advancement" (95).

Dr. Evans then goes in depth about "midlife," and what that means to humans. Many people heading into (and out of) their forties experience changes in their own personal lives - their bodies are changing physically, their children are growing, their parents are ailing, and time is speeding up. Priorities are shifting - they're more invested in their family than in their professions now, and they also have the added worry about their futures.

He lists three "pressures against innovation" when teachers are going through midlife. First, "most people are coping with considerable change...before they even come to school." Second, if "veteran staff seem doubtful about promises of rapid, radical change," it's because they've "become more sophisticated and more skeptical" and no longer see the "world in terms of black and white." Third, people (in midlife) are "much less likely to pursue activities that do not fit into their personal priorities" (100).

And, because most people in midlife are also in midcareer, they've got to deal with the effects of staying in the same job for a long time. Remember when you first began teaching? Everything was new and exciting! You put in 110% each night at home and again when you were in front of the students! You didn't have to worry about a mortgage, children to raise, or illness among parents or in-laws. No way were you worried about benefits once you retired. Sick days? Take 'em if you need 'em! In midcareer, "one's focus shifts to include a growing preoccupation with personal and family concerns. The midlife issues...exert a stronger pull on one's energy and attention..." (103).  "Having devoted themselves primarily to their career for several decades, they are often ready to reduce their work commitment and devote greater energy to personal or family interests." Not only that, but one "becomes less exclusively centered on the innate satisfaction of one's work and more concerned about salary, benefits, and related matters." But wait - there's more! Once you get closer to mastering your craft, "challenge dwindles and recognition plummets" (104).

It's a vicious cycle! "To sustain performance everyone needs feedback" (105). However, the older we become, the less feedback we get. Our profession is such that we spend our days with children, and not our peers. We grow even more isolated in later years! "Given the rise in personal and family demands and the drop in work motivation and interest, veteran staff are more likely to limit their time at work to the essential, if not the minimum. They are less likely to come early or to stay late to meet with one another, and they are less likely to 'talk shop' during their breaks. And since middle-aged people tend to go out socially less often than younger adults, there is less personal connection among colleagues over the years." This doesn't mean, as Dr. Evans continues, that we don't care about one another as much, but what it does mean is we "spend less time together, are less familiar with one's work, and draw less support from one another" (106). Let's pile on the stress and add that this is not something teachers talk about. They don't acknowledge it with peers, and so they feel that this dilemma is isolated to just themselves.

I'm not there... yet. In this, my 23rd year, I can feel myself some days heading into this abyss of not being connected, of trying "too hard" without reward, of being knocked down by parent confusion, but I'm not there YET. I am still open to innovation - in fact, I still crave it! This chapter helped me understand WHY. I do not have children of my own, therefore I do not have that energy pull or emotional toll. My parents are older, yes, but healthy at this point. My in-laws are gone, so any parental angst is virtually nil right now. I have time to devote to my husband AND my profession, and I'm supported by my administration in my efforts to innovate. It's no wonder I'm currently still an agent for change. This book is helping me understand many of my peers so much better, and I'm so very glad Dr. Evans goes on to give coping strategies for "veteran" teachers!! He doesn't let us off the hook, even though the resistance to change can be so strong.

So... What can veteran teachers do?!

First, he says we cannot blame working in schools. We are lucky to be alive, have a solid job, and live in the era in which we live. Here are five tasks "each person in midcareer must master...

  1. Specializing versus generalizing. Over the course of a career, there is a logical progression from being a learner to being a contributor in a particular area. In midcareer, we must decide whether we will continue to concentrate on these skills or seek a more broader, more general role, such as leadership. ...
  2. Establishing an organizational identity and area of contribution. Everybody needs a niche. All of us need to achieve a place, establish an identifiable role, make a recognized contribution in our workplace. ...
  3. Modifying career dreams. Midlife is a time of self-assessment in which we ask ourselves, 'whether our career progress has been consistent with our goals, ambitions, and dreams, and if not, how to resolve the discrepancy...'
  4. Achieving a balance between work, family, and self-development. The personal and professional changes of midlife and midcareer require us to reassess our investments in the different areas of our life...
  5. Maintaining a positive growth orientation. Having less time left and fewer opportunities open, having to accept the repercussions of past errors and the prospect of future losses - these make it easy to exaggerate our lot, to become attached to our burdens, to assume that we are trapped and unable to improve things, to give in to depression and passivity. To sustain a positive, constructive outlook on life and work, people must find a way to keep developing their strengths, to treasure and celebrate their successes, to appreciate......" (more on pages 111-113).

I believe these guidelines are necessary for happiness in any profession. Our school systems need to "focus on people." People's "acceptance of a new perspective depends much less on its intrinsic validity than on their own readiness to consider any new ideas at all. Before they can respond to a particular innovation, something must unfreeze their current thinking and perceptions and reach them in a fundamental way" (115) - because we are human beings.

This chapter was the one that my husband heard the most from so far. I'd stop and read it aloud, and we'd process the ideas together. I wish every superintendent and board of education member could read this book and see how difficult is is for humans to change - when it's not our own idea. [Even when change IS our own idea, there's resistance - read part one (chapters 1-3) for this reasoning!] I'm excited to continue reading about setting and leadership, and I'll be more excited to head into part three where I hope he shares some guidance in "Leading Innovation."

Part 3: Leading Innovation

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Using Comprehension Checks to Figure Out Next Steps

I've written about the benefits of comprehension checks in a "no grades" classroom before.

I've changed a bit as to how this narrative feedback (and next steps or "feed forward") goes into our online gradebook, so I just had to record how I go about using our comprehension checks as formative assessments...

Thinking of going without grades? This is one tweak you can do in your own curriculum!

My "gradeless" resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Extra Credit - Perspectives

I wrote this post for the TG2 crowd. See it here, along with other great posts from teachers trying to go with fewer (and fewer and fewer...) grades...

Looking through the #extracredit hashtag on Twitter, I felt that there may be more extra credit opportunities than there are LEARNING opportunities. 

If these situations look familiar, it's probably because many teachers are providing similar options for extra credit. The number of excuses I could come up with here equal the number of excuses students can give teachers for their homework not being completed. Of course I took some liberties with the questions. I had to try to make some of it funny, because this post was difficult for me to write without my blood pressure rising. 

Being so far removed from extra credit myself, it's hard for me to put myself in someone's shoes who still uses extra credit as a way to motivate students. I have written this post with the goal of using questions to help readers think, instead of telling them what I believe they should think. Maybe this post will reach reflective educators...

When teachers start going grade LESS, they often begin examining the role extra credit plays in their classrooms...

If you're wondering about benefits or pitfalls of extra credit, consider these situations and reflection questions. Feel free to add your own in the comments below.

Teacher A always runs out of tissue by the end of the year. If students bring in a box, they get extra credit.

Reflection questions:

  • Why would a teacher feel they need to provide extra credit in order to receive tissues?
  • What if students don't have the resources to get to a store?
  • What if students don't have the resources to purchase tissues?
  • How would you feel if you yourself couldn't provide tissues?
  • How would you feel if you didn't hardly ever use tissues yourself and yet were expected to provide some for peers?
  • What would happen if the class actually ran out of tissues?
  • What other ways could you encourage students to bring in tissues?

Teacher B wants students to read aloud more at home. Students are given extra credit if a parent takes a photo or video of them reading to their favorite pet (or puppet/stuffed animal).

Reflection questions:

  • What if parents don't know how to send - or feel uncomfortable sending - a photo of their child to the teacher?
  • What if parents aren't home when their children are reading (or simply can't be around)?
  • What if students can't read that week because of sports or other activities?
  • What if parents' Internet goes down, and they can't send the photo?
  • What other ways could you encourage students to read aloud at home?
  • What other ways could students share with you that they are reading at home?

Teacher C gives extra credit bathroom passes. Three passes are given to students each quarter. If lost, there are no replacements available. The points they receive at the end of each quarter when they turn them in really don't change their grade much, but it "keeps them in the room." (Similar ideas: attending the school play, going to a museum during vacation)

Reflection questions:

  • What if a disorganized student loses them, or leaves them in a locker when a pass is needed?
  • What if a student has "free bathroom / water pass" on his or her 504 plan due to medical reasons?
  • What if a student has used all three and yet "really has to go" one more time before the quarter ends?
  • How would you feel if you had to tell an adult you needed to use the facilities?
  • How would you feel if you had to show a pass each time you needed an extra break (other than any already provided) during a meeting?
  • What other ways could you keep your students engaged in class so they stay?
  • What other ways could you figure out how to not let your students abuse the right to use the bathroom?

Teacher D wants students to know the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution. The teacher plays it for them every day for a week. They have the option of getting extra credit if they decide to sing it in front of their class. (Similar ideas: singing the preposition song to a relative, performing in a short skit in front of the class)

Reflection questions:

  • What if a student can't sing?
  • What if a student is an introvert - or simply bashful?
  • How would you feel singing in front of peers and strangers?
  • How would you feel if you really "needed" (or simply wanted) the extra credit, but you couldn't sing?
  • How would you feel if you suddenly forgot the words?
  • How would you feel if someone else sang right in front of you, and they weren't very good?
  • How would you feel if no one clapped for you when you finished, or if clapping sounded forced?
  • What other ways could your students demonstrate that they know this piece of history?

Teacher E wants students to connect with authors. Students will receive extra credit if their letter to the author receives any type of response from the author. Even more extra credit will be provided if the author sends something other than a letter back (a bookmark, a book, a signed copy, etc.).

Reflection questions:

  • Why do you want students to write to an author?
  • What if the student's favorite author has no address to which to send a letter?
  • What if the author usually writes back, but something comes up?
  • What if the author just doesn't respond to readers?
  • What if the author is dead?
  • What if the letter to the author gets lost in the mail?
  • What if the letter back from the author gets lost in the mail?
  • How would you feel if you wrote a stellar letter to your favorite author, and you never received a response?
  • How would you feel if your classmates were receiving letters, and you had to keep waiting?
  • How would you feel if you received a response well after the grading period was over?
  • What other ways could you encourage students to write to authors?

Teacher F has an extra credit option if students don't do well on a project. The learning objectives include knowing what spices were used in which areas of the world, and how they were used. The extra credit option is for students to bake a cake. The teacher would judge the student on whether it tasted good, based on the spices and the amount used.

Reflection questions:

  • What information do you want students to learn?
  • What if students do not have access to baking ingredients? Time to bake? Parents to supervise?
  • What if the oven is already being used?
  • What if the oven not calibrated correctly and it burns the cake?
  • What if the timer on the oven doesn't work?
  • What if relatives come over and they need to leave the house right away?
  • What if the teacher's taste buds do not match those of the student?
  • What if students simply re-did the part of the project they didn't understand?
  • What other ways could students show you they learned the information they were supposed to learn?

Teacher G provides extra credit if students watch the presidential debate during an election year. Students simply have to provide proof - a photo, a letter from a parent... anything will do. (Similar ideas: attending the school play, going to a museum during vacation)

Reflection questions:

  • What information do you want students to learn?
  • What if students simply watch one minute of it and still get credit?
  • What if students are engaged in another activity (dance, karate, dinner with grandparents) and cannot watch?
  • What if students watch it and learn nothing?
  • What is the teacher's goal? Once you know the goal, how else could students achieve that goal?
  • What other ways could you share what happened during the debate?
  • What other ways could students share knowledge of what they learned during the debate?

Teacher H provides extra credit if a high school student's tweet (or Instagram post, etc.) gets a certain number of "likes" or retweets. The tweet includes a blog post written by that student about their favorite topic. The teacher does this to promote correct grammar and conventions (authentic audiences are the best for this), and also help students learn how to leverage social media (how to use photos, hashtags, etc.).

Reflection questions:

  • What if students don't own a personal phone?
  • What if students are not allowed on social media?
  • What if students don't have many followers?
  • What if students plagiarize so they can get more "likes" or retweets?
  • What if, although the student's blog post is written well, readers don't agree?
  • What other ways could students share their writing with an authentic audience?
  • What other ways could students learn better how to use social media?

More extra credit ideas...
  • Write the name of Oedipus' adopted father on the bottom left of tomorrow's vocabulary quiz. #extracredit #itpaystofollow
  • #ACLU and #DACA Event in the 1400 building, #ExtraCredit 10am-12pm today and tomorrow.
  • Join us TODAY after school at the library! #doorprizes #extracredit #BannedBooksWeek
  • #ExtraCredit opportunity!! Attention to all my #6thgrade students - I challenge you to post an example of one of the #elementsofart that we discussed in class. (*Side note: Sixth graders are not usually old enough to use social media, in any case.)
  • Take a selfie of yourself with any member of the volleyball team! #ExtraCredit

Reflection questions:
  • Why do I feel I need to use extra credit?
  • What are my learning objectives?
  • How can I achieve these objectives without using points to motivate students?
  • What do you want a grade in your class to represent? Achievement? Effort? Stamina? Fortune? Luck?
  • December 2018 Update: Check out this free TPT reflection to assist your students...
  • More on extra credit in this post full of memes (that, frankly, aren't funny to me anymore)...
My "gradeless" 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, November 5, 2017

Ask for Feedback

You know you want to know what they're thinking...

Or do you? Maybe you're worried they'll tell you that something's wrong, or that something needs to change. How vulnerable do you want to be?

I always worry when asking parents for feedback, as I wonder...
     -How much of what I've sent home have they taken the time to read?
     -What if they're traditionalists and have LOTS of issues with how I'm teaching?
This quarter, I tucked the parent feedback survey link into our two-week update. I figure, if parents are reading the two-week updates, they should be informed enough to give valuable feedback.

I'm way more open when it comes to asking students for feedback. Each year, after the first quarter, I ask, and I receive. I LOVE IT. I just wanted to share a glimpse of the different types of feedback my co-teacher and I have received just last week...

The prompt: You have graded yourself this quarter. Please let me know how you think our first quarter has gone.

They are copied and pasted, so please ignore any errors in grammar or spelling...

  • I have enjoyed class so far. I don't have any concerns.
  • I think our first quarter has gone pretty well, most people seem to pay attention and participate in class and I think almost everyone in the class gets along well. I've noticed we have been able to get a lot of work done and not fall behind because of classmates talking or fooling around too much, and I hope the second quarter will be even better.
  • I am really happy with how this first quarter went. I made a lot of new friends and I am starting to get better with comprehension. I hope the next 3 quarters are going to go smoothly just like this one did. Thanks for your help Mrs. Kirr!
  • The first quarter went well, we wrote in our reader's notebooks a lot which could be good on some days but not every day. I feel good about my grade because I don't care what type of A I get but I did put work and effort towards my work.
  • I like how we got to chose are grade but at the begaing of the year it was confusing to now what counts for a grade and what dose not count I think we can spessify that a little more but other wise the quarter went Great!
  • Everyone in this class works well together and they respect each other. I think the first quarter went well. It was fun and everyone was really nice to each other.
  • That we are talkative. WE work hard still but we talk a lot.
  • I like how this quarter was very laid back and nothing was super serious but yet we all stayed focused and got our work done. 
  • I think the first quarter has gone pretty well. I like the fact that you have a very flexible grading system and class. The only problem I have is it may take a bit of time to get used to this very different approach at teaching.
  • We have a lot of freedom, so like we can basically chose who we want to be by. Some of the kids in our class our distracting so sometimes it is hard to work. (I'm excited to bring this point up in class this next week - coming from peers is much stronger than coming from me.)
  • I think that I have improved a lot this year. My reading has grown stronger and I hope it keeps improving (and that I don't run out of books). I really like ela a lot.
  • I think it was good but I don't like DGP. I am very bad at it and it's not very fun at all. [I act like I like DGP (daily grammar practice), but I don't, either. We only do it twice a week, however.]
  • I think that the quarter this year for me has gone pretty well, I have learned a lot about righting a reading I think that I have built a pretty good reading habits
  • I liked Q 1 overall I think it might be fun if next quarter we did group projects like a small book club then did a book talk on it or made a poster. Or we could do a books I love to read where we pick a book we love and then make a poster on it. Or go to the library as a class more often even a scavenger hunt in the school. I think that ELA can be really cool. And I hope that we can make it that cool! <3 (I love getting student-generated ideas!!)
  • Everyone at least participated once or twice this quarter. There was cooperation, preparation, and participation, and that was helpful/useful to people who want to start to participate in class, to get to know each other. Overall Quarter 1 has gone great. I've noticed the change to getting settled in ELA class and hope this continues throughout the year. 
  • the grading system is kind of bad because you don't know how you're doing throughout the quarter. I think you should put all our grades for stuff on powerschool so we can know how we're doing instead of knowing last minute (This is a great reminder for me to show students - again - how to find their feedback on the online grade system.)
  • So far, this ELA class has been a breeze. I've noticed that Mrs. Kirr's positive attitude spreads throughout the class. But, the only thing I want to change is the grading system. Personally, I want to see my grades online throughout the quarter, so I can learn to improve my grade later on. (I talked with this student, as he put his name in the form - when I mentioned that I could do this, but then the grade would be what the average of the grades are, he said he'd prefer to stick with the feedback he was receiving instead.)
  • I enjoy having mrs. Rehberger in class. She is very helpful
  • I think first quarter went really well. I like what we do in class, expecially the reading part. I didn't really like to write that much but I still sometimes enjoy it.
  • I think I need to participate more, I can work on this by raising my hands and answering question or joining in on fishbowls. (Ah! Student reflection!)
  • It has been really good for me, the only thing though is that I only work well with certain people.
  • I am stressed about school in general. Including all of the homework, schoolwork, etc. I know that there is nothing you can do to change this though...
  • I love how we had an option ad we could work at our own pace
  • I think that this quarter went great! I like how much time we get to read and write, and how much freedom we get when we read and write.
  • I think that I did well in Quarter 1 because I got an A and I tried my hardest. Usually in my classes I am worried about my grade but in this class I wasn't so worried and I was more worried about trying my hardest.
  • I love this class. Its awesome and I wake up knowing that this is going to be the best class out of my day!! πŸ˜†
  • I think that the first quarter went very well, however I'm still not sure how I feel about the grading processes. I also really like getting the feedback though, because I value others opinions on how to become the best version of myself
  • This class had me more focused on actually learning instead of grades. I find that one of the great this about ELA this year. One thing I don't find great is how it takes forever to get things done as some of the other kids are ALWAYS talking. Maybe be a little more firm? (A boost I need! This is from the last class - always the toughest one of the day.)
And this one is my absolute favorite from this year so far...
I think that at first everyone was kind of... not interested. As soon as you started teaching us that reading and writing are both fun, everyone began to find a new part of themselves that loves to read and or write. And I was glad to participate in that beautiful transformation.
Ask for the feedback. Students will remind you of why you're in the classroom. They will give you suggestions. They will ask you questions. They will push you to do better.

Intrigued: Here are more responses from last year at this same time... 

My "gradeless" resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey