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, April 23, 2017

Why Should We Be Connected?

Thank you, Andrea!

Whoever you are, I'd love to be in your classroom, learning from YOU!

A little background... Mr. Zac Leonard (co-creator of #EdTechAfterDark) keeps tweeting out this Flipgrid, asking teachers to share their viewpoints. After I shared mine, I continue to look back and listen to other teachers to hear how they answered.

So far, Andrea has my absolute favorite answer (yes, I listened/viewed them all):

I am in total agreement with Andrea. And you know what? Being connected DOES make me a better educator, and a better person. I have days when I'm not the best version of me. Then I get connected again with people - online or face to face - and I regroup. I remember what I'm supposed to do, or who I'm supposed to be. I so appreciate learning from other educators who love to learn and help one another improve.

What are your thoughts? Are you heading over to the Flipgrid right now to add them? Perhaps you'll comment on this post, instead?

If you know Andrea, please connect me to her - I want to learn from and with this fabulous educator.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Saying "Yes"

I almost said No.

When Caren Kimbarovsky contacted me about being on a panel to talk about "personalized learning" at the local NICE meeting, I immediately thought - I have so much to do that weekend, and I've already committed to so many things in April. Then came another thought - I don't have school the next day... and I've never been on a panel before.

So I said Yes.

And I LOVED it.

As a connected educator, you get asked to do many things that are not in your normal job description. For the month of April, I was asked to speak at a mini-conference in the AM before an edcamp in the PM, review a book before it comes out, moderate two chats, attend a half-day edcamp, and be on this panel. I said YES to all but one. I'm so glad I was able to be a part of this panel. Check out the participants:
We were given free dinner (Chipotle and cookies!), and a few of us chatted prior to the start of the discussion. My goal was to listen more than I spoke, and that was very easy, as I was in the presence of educators that have done way more than I ever had. I was so eager to learn from them!

I had to share my take-aways (and reminders)...
  • Jon Bergmann shared that the "one thing every teacher can do tomorrow" is something I'm already doing! Video/audio feedback with screencasts for their students! When he started describing this, I practically jumped out of my chair. I'm on the right track!
  • A participant in the audience shared that his students reflect back in the same manner. I know one of my next steps now!
  • We were all reminded, once again, that the tech does not matter - RELATIONSHIPS matter. No idea is right for EVERY student. Some students will still not do the work. TALK with students. Do not let the idea that not every student will work stop you from trying new things in class.
  • "Relevance" is the word I kept thinking of for these two hours. If we continue to make learning relevant to our students, more will step up to the plate to practice and learn the skills.
  • We need to have a common language - and we need to SHARE this with parents and students, so they, too, may advocate for change in education.
  • I am not overwhelmed with "too many things to do." Teachers on this panel seem to be doing even more work than I am - all for the sake of personalizing the learning.

Coming home with the windows down and the radio cranked up, I knew I will continue to say YES to many of these opportunities, as they continue to reinvigorate me. I may not do everything in my class that I'd like to try, but I'm surrounded by others who inspire me to keep on keepin' on!

Monday, April 10, 2017

End-of-Quarter Paper Trail

Yes, we go without marks throughout the quarter.

No, it's not just one simple letter grade at the end of each quarter.

Students and I prepare throughout the quarter, creating and collecting evidence.

We then confer with each other, and fill in the front of this sheet with evidence, and the back with goals for the next quarter. Students also choose their own comments for the report card, and have the opportunity to provide even more information for their parents.

What comes next?

The paper trail... explained here:

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, April 9, 2017

Shift Report Card Comments Over to Your Students

So you don't want to go "without grades" yet, but you do want to BEGIN to go that route...

One way is to incorporate REFLECTION into more of what you do in class.

At the end of the quarter, why not let students choose their own comments for the report card / progress report?

Here's how I give this responsibility over to the students...

We currently have 100 comments from which teachers can choose. Many of these do NOT apply to ELA class, such as "Needs to study harder for tests" (we don't have "tests" for students to study for in ELA) or "Does not meet minimum class standards" (because if THAT happens, I'm not doing my job!), or "Shows all steps in math work." So I share with students the comments that DO apply - and there are still about 60 from which to choose!

Sixty comments is a bit much to look at. I go a step further. I separate them into "Comments that show room for improvement" and "Comments that show what you do well." I ask students to find one of each, and then explain WHY they chose those comments.
Feel free to make a copy of this document and edit your copy to add the comments your district uses.

What I can NOT tell from the choices students make is if they truly believe this is true or not. I often wonder... Did he put that comment on there because other teachers have chosen that one for him? Did she choose that comment because she truly believes she "contributes positively to the classroom atmosphere?" What I CAN do is ASK. I ask for students to chose one comment from each side (with a possible third comment thrown in if they'd like it), and then I TALK with them about the comments.

Here's what I find...

  • There are miscommunications I can clarify, such as when one student chose "Is easily distracted" along with "Is attentive and a capable student." I don't have to ask how he thinks he can be both distracted and attentive, because I see the answer in his reason why... He wrote, "I attend class every day, and am capable." Ahhhh... Here's a great opportunity for him to learn what "attentive" means. 
  • Some students are so very hard on themselves, and some think they are the best students ever. They are in 7th grade, so not everyone is good at reflecting yet. One more reason to do this!! 
  • Other students are spot on. Check out these comments, and what students said about why they chose them, just from this past quarter alone...

Student-chosen comments, and their reasons why...
Is doing satisfactory work, but could do better.
     - "You can always try more."
     - "I am okay in reading, but I could look back in the text more."
Is not working up to ability.
     - "I could do a little extra."
Needs to listen and follow directions.
     - "Sometimes I need reminders to stay on task."
Needs to be prepared on a daily basis.
     - "I always forget my binder."
Is easily distracted.
     - "Sometimes I don't pay attention."
     - "I get distracted and off topic a lot."
     - "I just get off track. I have a short attention span."
Needs to improve organizational skills.
     - "Sometimes I can't find things in my ELA binder."
     - "My binder is a mess."  (So she took the time to organize it right then!)
Work is satisfactory, but could improve with less socializing in class.
     - "I sometimes talk a lot."
     - "I do talk in class, but my work still meets expectations."
Has some difficulty concentrating in class.
     - "Sometimes I get off task."
     - "Sometimes I zone off. I think I would do better by not getting distracted."
Greater care with assignments would improve performance.
     - "I know I can do better with some things."
Has weak grammar skills.
     - "Sometimes I rush through things and don't use my grammar skills."
Completes own work well, but is disruptive to others.
     - "I'm disruptive sometimes."
     - "I do complete my work, but I sometimes distract others when I'm done."
Completes work satisfactorily.
     - "I could do better."
Is attentive and a capable student.
     - "I know I can do anything if I try."
     - "I can do better, but I don't try."

Now these comments and reasons why are sent home to parents, so they can see their thinking and ask them about it, as well. They are not surprises to students when they get their report card, and they are not blown off... "Is a joy to have in class - I always get that one." (In fact, only a handful of students chose "Is a joy to have in class" this quarter!) Some parents, however, still think that I chose the comments, and sometimes I get an email that says, "Why would you say this about my child?" I cringe, and ask them to talk to their child or read what I sent home (the paper that shows the child's reasons). When a child says, "Is doing satisfactory work, but could do better," that actually means he or she is reflective. One parent said that comment should be reserved for a "B" student. I disagree.

And then there's Jimmy.* He chose comment #80 - "Maintains on-task behavior." In ELA, Jimmy does all his work, participates in class, revises his writing, reads at home and at school... and he chose this comment, which I think is quite boring. I went through the list and checked off about twelve other positive comments from which he could choose. He tells me, "I was trying not to be too narcissistic." Gotta love seventh graders learning how to reflect! (I had to look up how to spell that one, too!)

*Jimmy is not his real name.

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Seventh Grader Reflections - A Snippet

Just a snippet of two conferences I had with students regarding their grade for third quarter today... Just a reminder - we've had no grades/marks all quarter, and students need to give me their evidence for reading, writing, and grammar.

A conversation with "Lisa"*
Me - "Why do you think you earned a 'B' for reading?"
Lisa - "Well, my comprehension scores are 97% for literal, and 91% for inferential, but I only shared two of the five books I read this quarter."
Me - "What makes you think you have to share more than two?"
Lisa - "You said if we share books, it helps other students read them."
Me - "What stopped you from sharing them?"
Lisa - "I didn't really think anyone else would like the other three I read."
Me - "Do you think we should share books we don't necessarily like?"
Lisa - "I don't know."
Me - "I think it's valuable to share books you DO like. You show here that you read 30 minutes each night?"
Lisa - "Sometimes less, if I'm busy. But I always make up for it on the weekends."
Me - "I still don't understand why you think you earned a 'B' for reading. Your evidence proves otherwise."
Lisa - "A 'B+' then?"

Lisa is so hard on herself. She had THREE goals for next quarter, when she clearly earned an 'A' for reading, writing AND grammar. Her goals were very high, so we discussed making them manageable so she didn't stress herself out!

A conversation with "Kyle"
Me - "It says here that you believe you deserve an 'A' for grammar. I don't see any evidence listed. Let's write down the pieces you submitted for feedback and go over the feedback that was given. ... For each of your three pieces, the feedback was 'needs improvement.' Do you remember what that would be as a score in a 'typical' class?"
Kyle - "Um... maybe not good."
Me - "On a typical rubric, that's a D. So... you've got three pieces that show your grammar skills at a 'D' level right now."
Kyle - "I revised one a lot."
Me - "Yes. My notes say you revised this one three times. My notes also say that I asked you to look back at my feedback. You seem to have added MORE writing to the piece instead. Is there a reason you didn't follow my feedback to add capital letters and periods?"
Kyle - "I didn't really read it." (Kyle had asked for WRITTEN feedback instead of video feedback this past quarter. I gave him one sentence that showed where he was doing well, and one sentence that suggested a revision. This was in lieu of a 2-5 min video.)
Me - "So... (trying to not let my emotions show on my oh-so-transparent face)... Was a one sentence suggestion too much for you? Would you prefer the video feedback again?"
Kyle - "No. I just wanted to write more."
Me - "Writing more is not getting better at writing. In fact, you wrote more without adding any capital letters or ending punctuation. When did you learn how to capitalize names and the beginnings of sentences?"
Kyle - "Um... First grade?"
Me - "So... You wrote more - without adding any capitalization or punctuation. You didn't improve your writing. Revising is what helps you improve."
Me - "Let's regroup. Let's look at the evidence, and reflect more accurately now on what you think you have earned as a grade for grammar."
Kyle - "Um... A 'C'?"

Big sigh. Sitting with Kyle for double the time it should take to confer is a struggle. Not giving grades or marks throughout the year is one of the toughest things I've tried in my teaching career. Even though the struggle is real, I won't give it up.


This is one reason: Some students need a TON of practice reflecting. Some have either never had the chance before, or just simply need more practice. I'm definitely giving them the opportunity to practice.

There are oh-so-many more reasons. You can discover some of them in the video I share with parents, but today's conversations were a glimpse into one other huge reason. Reflection is a skill that needs to be practiced in school. I don't know how much it's happening in some homes.

*No doubt - the names here are fictitious.

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

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Word Choice - "Let"

I follow a teacher who often says in tweets, "I let my students...(fill in the blank)."
It rubs me wrong each time I see it.

"Let" = "Allow" = "Permit" ... just seems so... bossy, I guess.

So... I wondered what teachers could use instead. I tweeted out for help:

Here are the responses I received, and my reflections...
Mr. Wolski went the student route. This makes sense, and when I cannot say something without precise language that makes me sound like I'm the boss, I ask students what they'd say.

Megan and Lorie suggested, "I provide opportunities for..." or "I encourage students to..." Ah... these sound more like what I'd want to say. This offers choice, as Mr. Wolski was saying, and also just makes me feel more at ease. Does it mean I'm a pushover? Does it mean we don't learn anymore in class? No. It's a simple shift in words that makes a huge difference in demeanor.

I'll be moderating #HackLearning on Easter morning (April 16th) at 7:30 am C.S.T. with the following questions, because they are on my mind DAILY:
And the call to action, which is something I struggle with daily:
Please join us, so we can learn all learn from each other!