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, May 28, 2017

Here's to the Crazy Ones

You've seen the ad from 1997 for Apple. If not, take one minute now...
Chapter ten in Shift This! is about resistance.

Resistance from teachers and parents is the hardest to handle. I've written (and will never forget) about when a parent told me (in front of my principal) that "Genius Hour is crazy."

I've seen the way teachers roll their eyes when I share a supposed "crazy" idea. I've heard teacher friends tell me about other teachers who don't like how I run class - even though they've never stepped in it before. And, yes, they're invited any day - especially when I put out our "observe us" sign.

I recently had my hair dyed... blue. This was the first (and probably the last) time I've ever added any color to my "chestnut brown" (as Hubby calls it) hair. I wanted it cobalt blue to match my fun Ford. It came out more of a mermaid or iridescent blue.
Coloring hair is NOT crazy. It will grow out in no time. Trying new things in the classroom that might benefit our students is NOT crazy. Some people even use the word "innovative."

It doesn't matter, though. I'm SURE some people think what I do is crazy. I used to think that was okay. I had a realization last night. I am now positive that it's good to be called "crazy" for what I do!

Hubby asked me what I think about the teachers who think what I'm doing is crazy.

My response: "They're crazy. They conform."

We sat for a moment, and then busted out laughing. Those words came out of my mouth? I looked up "conform" this morning, and from a simple Google search found "to comply with rules, standards, or laws." Hopefully teachers are conforming in this way!! This meaning, instead, hit me: "to behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards."

This reminded me of "status quo" - "the existing state of affairs."

Many teachers are NOT happy with "the existing state of affairs" in our schools. The fact that I try "crazy" ideas, along with my gratitude for all I have in my life, are two (of many!) reasons why I am as joyful as I am. Bring on the stares of the blue streaks - today it's a representation of all the "crazy" stuff I've done in my life!

I want my students' education to be BETTER than the status quo. "Here's to the crazy ones: the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently..." As long as we're doing what we believe is right, and helping our students learn how to learn, we can change things. "The people who think they are crazy enough to change the world are the ones who do." If we want our students to change the world, shouldn't we be that role model?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Learning Conferences - A Reading Snippet

At the end of each quarter, during our one-on-one conferences, I learn so many great tidbits from my scholars. This past week (I still have three days of conferring left), I learned that I STILL have to work on changing my vocabulary.  Here was how the conversation went after we talked about her eight point growth for her MAP assessment:

T = teacher / me       S = student

T - Eight points is further than what they predicted would be your score. How did you do on our own class tests?
S - Huh?
T - How did you do on our quizzes in ELA?
S - What? You mean our comprehension checks? Those?
T - (Chuckling, as I realized in my mind they are still called "quizzes," even though we call them "comprehension checks" each time we discuss them this year!! I even wrote about them earlier this year.)

I don't remember how I responded. I only remember that I was embarrassed. Are "comprehension checks" still "quizzes"? I had to look up the word...
Checking for comprehension through brief questions... Yes, I suppose it still IS a quiz. Who am I kidding, calling it a "comprehension check?" No one. I knew this going into it. HOWEVER... This name change helps my students stay calm about their score. It helps them see that this is a check of their comprehension of this ONE passage. It is not a label that will stick with them. When I go one step further to separate out the categories into literal and inferential questions, then we get even MORE information about their comprehension, and we can set goals to minimize confusion for the future.

Here were two goals students could choose from if they were having difficulty with their comprehension:
To improve with literal questions - Find the answer directly in the text and highlight it.
To improve with inferential questions - Find at least two clues to the answer you choose. If you cannot find two clues, you most likely have not chosen the answer yet.

During our conferences this quarter, students were able to use arguments such as, "My last three scores are my best, because I was really focusing on the text and finding the answers there." Or, "I have improved from first quarter to this quarter, because now I can prove that I understand more inferential questions than I have before." I love how our language has shifted over the past year. I love that the conversations are now about learning, and not about letters or numbers. I'll have to remember this feeling and look at it as a goal once a new batch of learners comes my way in August!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Have the Discussion

May is one tough month!

I had a rough day Friday. Seventh graders playing with fidgets, touching each other ("I was just kidding!" "He's poking me!"), blurting out, not wanting to work...

I believe it's tougher when you're not grading anything, but I admit I did that to myself.

So... I revamped my behavior tally sheet, and I started using it today in a new class (it's effectiveness in one class meant it was time to implement it in another).

The first forty minutes of class were pretty brutal, as I could not get two students who were bickering alone, away from the rest of the class. I needed to share our plans with the entire class for the next two weeks, and I didn't want to call them out in front of the whole class. (Although one time I had a "very stern" warning / tone / eyes - it worked for perhaps five minutes...)

Before I shared the "new" plan with two students, I sat down on the floor to have a quiet conversation (they were supposed to be starting to read The Outsiders, but they were not... yet).

"I have to show you something."

"He did it! I didn't do anything, Mrs. Kirr!"

"Stop. Listen. I need to show you something."

Once the arguing back ceased, I was able to share with them my thoughts.

"I do not have children at home. I do not know what it's like to live with 13-year olds. I have never had any brothers. I didn't grow up with any boys my age. I don't know what it's like to be around two best friends like you two. All I know is that Friday was very rough on me, and I knew I needed to do something so the last three weeks of school are fair to me - and to you. I'm tired of getting upset and frustrated, and I'll bet you're tired of me getting upset and frustrated with you, so I'm going to show you what I've devised that has seemed to help other seventh graders."

They looked at me with questions on their faces as I talked to them like this. It looked as if they were truly listening. Their mouths weren't moving, and they were looking at me in the eyes. I showed them the sheet, explaining especially the two sections I tweaked - "arguing about or ignoring specific teacher directions" and "tattling on another student in order to deflect from misbehavior being addressed." We talked about what those meant, and they acted like as if they understood.

I then asked them, in our 80-minute period, how many tallies they think they would be fair before I emailed home. They came up with four total. I agreed (it's what I use in my other class with the few I use it with)! I put the half sheet by each of them and said, "It can stay here with you. If we use it, so be it. If we don't, even better. Thank you for understanding and trying this method with me."

For the next forty minutes, I had no issues with these two students. I thanked them quietly for not disrupting class as they walked out the door. I heard back, "See you tomorrow, Mrs. Kirr."

Talk to the children.

Today was a good day. One day at a time...

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Visit and Inquire

Shift This! came out, and I put two in our school library so teachers didn't need to purchase it if they wanted to read it. (Would they want to read it??)

At least four people at my school are currently reading it. So surreal. Our ELL teacher came up to the room this week (this never happens), and she asked to see the student station (my post about it is here, and I discuss shifts to the classroom environment in chapter four). She then wanted to see the filing cabinet that has become my "desk," and I confessed that my things have been spreading out a bit more than I want to on the shelf by the window.

Once she left, I wondered, "Doesn't everyone at school know about the student station??" On the drive home, I wondered just how many teachers at school DID know about it? And why not? I'm going to blame time once again. I don't take the time to explain it to others, and many teachers (myself included) don't take the time to visit other classrooms and inquire.

I'm going to make it a point of mine to go into classrooms towards the end of this year, chat with the teacher, and ask one question about the classroom environment, so I can learn from him or her. If our time is such that we are not provided specific time to take classroom tours of other classrooms in our own school, we should take the reins and do it on our own time, little by little, so we can continue to learn all we can! Ask the questions!!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Shift This!

Here's the inside story...

A large publisher of educational books contacted me in 2015, asking me to write an outline for them for a book about Genius Hour. Hmmm... That had been done - a few times by then, and even more by now. The list is growing, and I keep it on the LiveBinder here.

So I wrote an outline about what trying Genius Hour did for my classroom... and they said that wasn't what they were looking for. I was told I could write a blog post for their website. Harumph.

I had shared the first part of the story with my students, so I had to update them on this disappointment. They threw my words back at me... "If it's something you want to do, you should do it anyway." They had a point. So I kept going. Why not?! [Fancy this - Bob (Hubby/soul mate) - had told me earlier... "It's only a matter of time."]

In August of 2016, I had a revelation of sorts, and I was almost finished with this book about shifts I'd made since implementing Genius Hour. It felt like a huge blog post about how I've changed so many parts of our classroom as a result of handing over one hour a week to my students. I thought of Dave & Shelley Burgess... And I thought, "The worst they can say is 'No.'"

And now it's here. After months of going through the editing process (such great lessons for me that I was able to share with my students!!), and multiple nights wondering, "Is it good enough?"... it has arrived on Amazon.

Here is a glimpse inside the book - through the lens of the website.
If you're reading the book, please connect with me through a blog post or your thoughts in an email. I'd love to add your ideas to the website, so others can learn from YOU! Let's keep the conversation going so we can shift learning back to our students!

Addition 5/13/17: Here's Dave Burgess's rendition of why you should read Shift This!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Fad for Fidgety Fingers

Yes. This is the 2016-2017 school year in a meme...

IF you let them drive you up a wall. (Someone help with the source of this image?? I've seen it on Twitter and Facebook w/o any source mentioned.)

The DAY AFTER we had a discussion about fidgets during our team meeting, I started seeing blog posts about them...

This was the first. I couldn't believe this teacher's attitude, and how she was asking parents to quit buying them. This is not one I would ever retweet. It made me embarrassed to be in the same profession.
     I'm a Teacher, and Trust Me When I Say that Fidget Spinners Are the Effing Worst

Each student has his or her own take on it. Some are bringing them in just as a novelty (okay, most??), but some are actually FIDGET with them, as this photo proves...

This child likes to manipulate things. And he always has. He is always doing something with his hands. He is the one these things were created for. This is totally allowed in my class, as he is primarily focused on the lesson at hand if I've done a good job that day of making the lesson relevant and/or engaging (to him, at least).

Then this one was brought to my attention, and my ELA counterpart and I figured this would be a good one to discuss as a class, to notice tone, bias, satire...
     Those Darn Spinners Are Going to Be the End of Me!!! (Notice the three exclamation points.)

After reading this post, I went with "the girls" to a bridal shower (I thought I was done with those, but I have a HUGE extended family). My sister says she bought a fidget cube for my nephew. GREAT IDEA! He constantly moves his hands together. If he's not doing that, he's most often picking at his fingers. A cube he can manipulate will help him - much like clicking a pen in his hand, but without the noise. His twin sister's teacher banned them. He hasn't said if they're allowed or not, but I'd think he could keep this in a pocket.

And, of course, a day after I finished reading Instant Relevance by Denis Sheeran, I was connected to his two posts on how to make these relevant in the classroom...
     Put a Spin on It
     Fidget Spinners Follow Up

The day I published this post (yes, I'm editing right now), another popped up on my Twitter feed. Laurie Lichtenstein takes the view that the newest fad is our currency with our middle schoolers. Use the currency, or be doomed to be upset at each passing fad.
     Flipping, Spinners, and Slime: Those Crazy Middle School Fads

The prevalence of spinners - in the time span of just one week! - has made me look even more closely at my lessons for relevance. I have brought up the question "WHY" again and again in the past week, helping students see the reasons for our class activities. And if I could write it better than Doug Robertson, I'd make this post an actual post. However, he has already done so...

...And why, like he suggests, should we waste any more time or print on such a trivial issue?

Oh, man - each year we'd need a different shirt to wear!! -->
And yet, there is always more to the story... I'll add more opinions here:
     Are Fidget Spinners the Problem, or Is It Our Mindset? by Patrick Larkin
     Fidget Spinners: From Banned to Band Wagon to Banked by Denis Sheeran
     Do Fidget Spinners Belong in the Classroom? Teachers Are Divided by Kristine Kim
     Why Children Fidget, and What We Can Do about It (from 2014)
     Fidgeting for Physics: Spinner Science in Six Steps by Matt Richard & Meg Richard
     The Great Spinner Debate - Hyperdoc to use with students - created by Nicole Beardsley
     Fidget Spinners Aren't the Issue (The Real Issue Is Student Ownership) by John Spencer
     The Fidget Spinner Craze: Why Are Schools Banning the Latest Gadget? by Paul W. Bennett
     Fidget Spinners w/Super Strong Magnets (YouTube)
     The Invasion of the Fidget Spinner by Sydney Musslewhite
     Pirate Treasure: Resources & Hooks #AppSpinners by Sydney Musslewhite

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Instant Relevance

Teacher confession: I try to not purchase professional books...

Reasons? I have them on my Amazon wishlist that parents of my students and parents of my own can see. I have reviewed a few books I've gotten for free, and also "earned" others by reviewing those. Bonus - I also happen to WIN quite a few!!

This year, I've won TWO books! I won Kids Deserve It by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome at ICE17 (wrote about that one here), and just last weekend I won Instant Relevance by Denis Sheeran at a local EdCamp in DesPlaines!

When I first heard it was written by a statistics professor, I wondered about it's relevance in my 7th grade ELA brain.

Then I heard it wasn't just for math.

Then I heard it was funny.

Then I found myself at that EdCamp (thanks, Amanda Hager!), hoping they called my number, and hoping no one took that book off the table!!

Then I wanted to finish reading the YA book (that was over 400 pages and too YA for my 7th graders anyway) quickly!

Then I read half of it in one afternoon, and I thought... This is like the chapter in Dave Burgess's Teach Like a Pirate where he wants us to "Ask and Analyze." The story he tells that got me thinking of Denis's book, is how, after he purchased a Honda Odyssey, there were suddenly a gazillion (okay, maybe an exaggeration) Honda Odysseys everywhere! Keep your eyes open - and use what you discover to share with your students! That's how you "become" creative!

Denis doesn't use those same words, but it seems that I'm refreshed (again). I'm looking through a different lens (again) - for anything that could be relevant for my students in the context of ELA. Just today, my coworker Karen shared an awesome blog post regarding fidgets that she found from another coworker on Facebook. I whole-heartedly agreed with her that we should use it for our Article of the Week!! (There are lots of them out there now, but this one had a great sarcastic tone that we wanted to use to show bias.)

This book is NOT about math.

This book is about bringing LIFE to your content area.

This book is about letting children in your charge know you care about them enough to use relevant "real world" ideas, in a place that IS their "real world."