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 26, 2017

Lessons from Five Years of Navigating Twitter

This February marks my fifth year of using Twitter!
Here are some lessons learned, in the order in which I learned them...

Lesson 1: It's all about the hashtags...
Those "number signs" attached to words help categorize tweets. You can search for teachers or ideas through hashtags, and you can ask your questions or share your ideas to a wider audience by using hashtags in your tweets. Check Cybraryman's pages for which hashtags might work for you.

Lesson 2: Act on Opportunities
My first edcamp was a result of a "chat" on Twitter - the date and place were tweeted out (Thank you, #EdCampOshKosh!), and I made a tiny vacation of it. What a difference it made in my teaching career! Take the opportunities that come across your feed - whether it's joining in a chat, heading to an edcamp, or submitting a proposal to present!

Lesson 3: Meet Educators Face to Face
The reason why the edcamp was so powerful was because I was meeting my PLN (personal learning network) face to face. These were REAL educators who wanted to solve REAL problems. These were not complainers - these people were DO-ERS. What inspiration!

Lesson 4: You Don't Have to Read All the Tweets
Meeting Karen Liernman (from British Columbia!) near O'Hare airport was enlightening. Here was this woman, not afraid to get in a car with me and head to dinner to meet two other teachers she'd never met! When I told her how difficult it was getting catching up with my feed every morning, she said, "You're still following your feed?" She proceeded to tell me all about Tweetdeck...

Lesson 5: Make Lists & Use Tweetdeck (or Hootsuite)
Your feed gets to be "too much" when you follow over 100 people (at least it was for me). Time to make lists... I currently have 71 (71??) lists... including middle school ELA teachers, teachers who provide time for Genius Hour, people I've met face to face, EdCamp friends, etc. This tool helps me stay organized! I use some of these lists as columns on Tweetdeck. Then I add columns for certain hashtags I'd like to follow, such as #ttog (teachers throwing out grades), #elachat, and my district's #d25learns. And, since I have some people I don't want to miss, I have a "first" list that's private to me. I check this column daily.

Lesson 6: It's Not about the Numbers
Although it makes a difference, it really isn't about the numbers. I say it makes a difference, because the more followers you have, the more chances you have of getting help with your query. But it's also true that the more hashtags you know how to use, the more answers you'll get, as well. (Again - you really don't have to follow ANYONE in order to learn from educators on Twitter.) If you have a TON of people following you ("TON" = this number is subject to your feelings; could depend on the day), they may reach out for help, and suddenly you've got a few side jobs. Think of it like this - you've had many people help YOU on Twitter, so the more followers you have, the more you may be helping other educators. It's these connections that truly make Twitter worthwhile for all educators. With a large amount of followers, you still need to be cognizant of your time management. That leads us to lesson seven...

Lesson 7: You CAN Take a Break
I've been cutting down on Twitter time this month, as I've got so much actual school work to do. I've also taken a week or two off of Twitter during vacations. It's okay to be immersed in a vacation! It's okay if you miss something. If it's valuable for others, it will make its way back around to you eventually. Sometimes I take a break to do other things that I don't HAVE to do (such as write this blog post). What if you don't respond to someone right away? That's okay, too. People should be aware that everyone has a life offline, and that life should come first.

Twitter is a TOOL. 
Make it work for YOU.

What lessons have you learned about using Twitter? Please respond in the comments below!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

How To... End the Quarter When You're Not Giving Marks

There are so many steps when you're teaching without marks. I only use narrative feedback as of this year with my 7th grade ELA students, so I needed to create a spreadsheet with the list of items that need to be done during the quarter and then what needs to be completed at the end of each quarter.

The spreadsheet is located HERE, and an explanation of how I use it is in the video below. It's long, and it's not perfect, but it's finished. I hope you can use it or the documents included to begin something like this with your own students!

One of my "geniuses" is being organized. (Thank you to Angela Maiers for asking me on a Skype call one time!) It takes some sort of organization to take on something like this. I've tried to make it easy on you, just in case you'd like to join me in this wonderful adventure...

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

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Challenge Your Own Ideas

I just finished reading The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening true story of a whiz kid and his homemade nuclear reactor, by Ken Silverstein, from 2004.

David Hahn lived in Commerce Township, MI (a suburb of Detroit), and loved science. He wanted to collect each element on the periodic table. He wanted to... well, you can tell by the title of the story. Feel free to read it for details, but this is not a book review.

This is what caught my eye, from my teaching viewpoint:
If he'd been interested, David would have found it a simple matter to learn about the cons as well as the pros of the atomic age. But as with newfound converts to any cause, David wanted his ideas reinforced, not challenged. Certainly, the Curies and some of the other nuclear pioneers had suffered as a result of their labors, but that hadn't kept them out of the laboratory. For David, as for his heroes, the thrill of discovery made worthwhile any risks. (p 56)
Myriad stories of nuclear disasters and failed breeder reactors later...
Hence, despite coming of age at a time in which all the assorted screwups and accidents of the atomic age had generated a powerful antinuclear movement, David remained comfortably cocooned within the confident optimism of the 1950s and 1960s. His passion for the atom was fueled by the conservative family and community environment in which he was raised, as well as a natural aversion to intellectual challenge (which does not bode well for a career in science). "I tried not to read anything that would disappoint me or make me negative," he said candidly of his research strategy. "If I knew it had a critical perspective, I wouldn't even pick it up." (p 133)
YES. I remember when I first started learning about Genius Hour, I would NOT look at any blog posts or articles that went against what I wanted to hear. After awhile, however, words written against this type of learning really stuck in my head. I started to leave comments on their blog posts, sharing my thoughts. I really didn't want to see what they wrote back, but gradually I became interested more in the conversation than the one-sided "echo chamber" that I had fallen into. I created a new tab on the LiveBinder for opposing views.

My seventh graders experienced something similar this week. No matter how much we stress that we discuss ideas so that we may LEARN from others, I have a few who believe in one way or the other and will NOT budge during a fishbowl discussion... yet. They do NOT want to hear the other side... yet. They say they are listening, and yet they keep going back to what they'd already said before, or they share more of their own ideas, not even taking time to acknowledge that someone else spoke. They wanted to continue the discussion in the next period because, "I just have one more thing I need to say."

My last class, however, came to find peace in their fishbowl discussion on Friday. They admitted that there are different perspectives, from different times in the story. I happened to catch it on camera.
After this was said, their discussion petered out, and they agreed to disagree, without any animosity afterwards. They're learning to accept different opinions - so difficult at this age. I have a plan to help my other two classes see different perspectives the next time we conduct a fishbowl discussion... I'll let you know how it goes in a future post!

As teachers, we NEED to research. It's our duty to seek the opposition. Seek out other educators who have tried what we want to try in the classroom. Read or hear their stories of triumph, and of failure. Read about successes they celebrated and pitfalls they endured.

I believe it's also our duty to share what we're trying, so we can INVITE opposition. I share with parents every two weeks (our class updates are here). When parents express that they are not happy about something I'm doing (or not doing) in the classroom and my ideas are challenged, I become more reflective. I see through another lens and question the ideas once again. I conduct more research. I ask more questions. When educators challenge my ideas on Twitter or on this blog, I can now see it as an opportunity to GROW.

Here's my challenge for you: Start a blog if you haven't already. Write about what's important to you. Share your ideas. Watch your reflection become more useful, and watch your ideas develop and change. Do not become like David Hahn - in jeopardy of hurting yourself or those around you. Share, and seek responses - positive or negative.

Ready to start your blog? Here are seven tools compared by Richard Byrne!