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, September 24, 2017


I turned down presenting near Cape Cod MA the first week of school.

Massachusetts? September? Oh, how beautiful it was, I'll bet!

Miss the first five days of school? I wouldn't. I couldn't.

Plus, I didn't write Shift This so I could go present. Travel is not my favorite thing (unless it's Hawaii in February - I can pack for that). I like consistency. I had already been presenting "plenty," sharing the benefits of Genius Hour learning, and lately the lessons I've learned from shifting the culture in my classroom. Since school has started, I've been totally immersed in school.

I've been trying to create a community of readers. We've begun our newest pilot, which results in me and my ELA counterpart planning day-to-day. It's tough feeling like a rookie again (and again and again - every year), but it is what it is.

I've been trying to shelter my students from anyone joking, "Just kill me now," teasing from so-called "friends," the stress of a test coming up in another class, and even the fear of getting a "B" in ELA. I've got many students I want to take home and protect from the world.

I've been trying to stay immersed with students in school because of all the pain that comes once I step back into the "real" world. Cars beep at me for not moving (even though I see the ambulance coming behind us), people tweet accusations at each other, perhaps because they feel braver not saying it to their faces, friends in Houston, TX are still battling flood damage, relatives in Naples, FL are helping neighbors clear roads, Puerto Rico is in "apocalyptic" conditions due to Hurricane Maria, and Mexico is coping with earthquakes! All this - only in the Americas. It's as if I can't find enough time to learn of all the other problems in the rest of our world.
Courtesy of Pixabay

My biggest lesson from Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess - be immersed in the moment.

So. What HAVE I been doing?

Well, Wednesday night this past week, I spent creating a new video for parents. We've got a new online gradebook, so I created NEW directions for parents. Hopefully, with this video "how to," they will delve into their child's classes on the new site and spend time looking at feedback and next steps.

My time this Saturday was spent getting ready for midterms in 7th grade. This is tough when you don't give marks/grades throughout the quarter. And how phony this seems! Why am I spending so much effort on this? Why do so many people still obsess about grades? Yet here I am, reinventing the wheel once again - because I don't want to cause waves with parents, and because I want students who want "As" in every class to be comfortable not knowing their grade. Yesterday, I created this midterm for this quarter this school year. (We haven't even gotten to writing yet! That unit is next in the pilot. I am excited for the day when we can mesh both reading and writing workshop... soon, I hope!) How easy it would've been to just look at that electronic grade book and KNOW who should get a midterm report?! Here is what our new midterm in ELA looks like (today - who knows how it will change by the time I decide to copy them tomorrow morning...):
This will be a mix of my information (I'll fill it in tomorrow) and the students' information (I'll pass them out and ask them to fill in the parts with the arrows on Tuesday).

Just thought I'd update readers - I feel like there's nothing I can do to help the rest of the world right now, so I'm focusing on what I can - my tiny corner of the world. I'm immersing myself in my classes, and hope to have some sort of effect on 68 students who join me for ELA class.

Friday, September 22, 2017

New Grading, New Parent Video

Our district switched over to PowerSchool.

Parents will not see a grade when they log in, because we won't have a letter grade until the end of the marking period.

So... I created this video so parents can see all the feedback we're providing in ELA class!

Last year I made one for Edline, in case you use that and are trying to go with feedback only!

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, September 3, 2017

They Just Sat There

Our first few days of school are built around getting to know each other, and establishing some sort of routine. The first day I have students goes way too fast! We read First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, and I share that the first day of school is nerve-wracking for me, too.

The second day of school, I read to them part of The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. We discuss the "most important thing about an apple" before we read that page. At the beginning of chapter two in Shift This, I explain why I read this book to my scholars...

This year, I found myself going one step further. I went back to the page in the book where the author says that the "most important thing about snow is that it is white." WHITE?! I looked at my new seventh graders, and said, "You just sat there. You didn't say anything. Your faces didn't even give me any hint that you disagreed. You just SAT there. Is the most important thing about snow that it is white??" They immediately shook their heads and provided some of their own answers, which included wet, cold, falls from the sky, makes us have to shovel, great for sleds, for making snowballs, etc....

I nodded and repeated their ideas and then I felt myself getting agitated. I added something along the lines of, "Still. You just sat there. I think years of school have done this to you. Years of being asked to sit quietly and listen. To comply. For sure, I want you to hear my words - I feel as if I do have some wisdom to impart, but I also want you to ask questions - to share your opinions - politely, of course. When we are reading something you disagree with, I hope you ask us to stop for a moment and consider your thoughts and ideas, and we will, in turn, listen and respond to you."

I went on and on (rambling, ironically, as they sat there listening) until finally I said, "Thank you for listening and considering what this year could be like. I'll get off my soap box now."

As I reflected on it this weekend, it hit me - THIS is why my classroom management skills are lacking! THIS is why I have never gotten "distinguished" as a whole on the Danielson framework! I've been okay with it in the past - knowing I have tons still to work on, but now I know one giant reason why. I want my students to (eventually) run the class. It's messy!

I set the tone at the beginning of the year that I'm here to listen to students, and respond to their ideas. I'm here as a guide... a facilitator. I'll give them lots of time to practice, make mistakes, and practice again. I'm okay with the extra bit of noise or transition time if what we were working on was valuable to their learning or improving. Although I don't make working on my classroom management a priority, there's no doubt I'll continue to brush up on my classroom management skills year after year. However, that word "manage" may always strike a sore spot with me, due to personal reasons. I don't feel as if I need to earn "distinguished" in that realm. My students just sat there when I said the "most important thing about snow is that it is white." I don't want that. I want them to speak up when they think I'm wrong. I want them to stand up for something they believe in. I want to hear their ideas, and know that they're thinking - not just consuming.

I get many comments via Twitter. I'd LOVE to read your comments down below - keeping the comments all in one spot helps me when I revisit this idea. Please help me understand my position and help me grow by leaving me YOUR thoughts, ideas, and stories about this subject!