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.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Update to the Feedback LiveBinder

It's Spring Break.
That means spring cleaning to some.
It means spring organizing to me!

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, March 25, 2018

Teach Me Your Talent

     "Teach Me Your Talent" is one way for students to share what they love with other students. It can be a way to introduce genius hour-type learning, bring students' passions IN to the classroom, or just something fun to do so your students can learn more about each other!

     We started by introducing the idea to students the week of PARCC (standardized) testing. They had that entire week to brainstorm ideas and get feedback from peers. The next Monday, they needed to declare what they would present. Starting that Monday, we had four days of mini lessons and time to practice - presentation skills, such as volume, intonation, eye contact, gestures, poise... all thanks to Erik Palmer's Well Spoken book. We used videos, teacher models, and students signed up to do 15 second to 1 minute stints to practice their speaking skills, as well. These four days were also used for students to plan their own presentations. We used this sheet to guide us. (It was during this time that I met 1:1 with students regarding their learning for the quarter. We came up with the final grade and their comments for the report card.)

Skills/Talents/Hobbies shared this year:

Observations I want to remember...
    Teachers presented one this year as a model - turned out to be helpful!
    Parents came in to provide feedback while I was in the corner conferring with students 1:1.
    When a student presenting said, "cut off the bottom of the paper" and another rudely responded, "seems like a big waste of paper," the student presenting countered with, "I'm sure you can find something to do with that extra slip of paper. A bookmark, perhaps." What class.
    Thanks to the observation of our co-teacher, when we only had three people presenting, we still created four groups - one just hung out for 4 minutes together in the rotation. When in that "station," these students took on the responsibility of timer and announcer when there was one minute left.
    Hearing a student say, "I haven't done this is so long."
    Hearing a parent say, "I feel like I'm in 7th grade again."
    Messes were cleaned up by students.
    Even when a presentation didn't go all too well, at least one student in the group would thank the presenter, and then the others usually added their own thanks.
    One student kept saying "I failed." (No grades - just in his mind.) I was able to reiterate at his parent/teacher conference that he kept getting better and better during the four rotations. By the time the fourth one came about, he had succeeded! Hopefully after our talk, he is learning that practicing before would make him more successful.
    When I would forget, students would take care of the timer (student responsibility next year).
    Parents came in, went through rotations, and even gave feedback!

I gave students a quick form to ask them for their feedback. What always gets me is the way some comments contradict others ("very easy" / "stressful" or "more time" / "make it shorter"). Here are the ideas they had:

What went well? (Student Views)
  It was fun to play with other's stuff.
  Everyone listened to everyone.
  The people I taught seemed to be interested in what I taught.
  Everyone was paying attention and we got through everyone.
  The speaking part went well.
  The whole idea was cool.
  I definitely learned new things.
  I learned about my classmates and had fun.
  It was fun.
  There were some really good things that people demonstrated.
  Everyone tried new things.
  Most of us had interesting things to show.
  I think the organization went well.
  Everyone brought in their projects on time.
  People had good performances.
  People tried.
  The "balanced" out groups.
  Most people learned something new and I liked when talents went over 3:30 min - we learned more.
  I liked how I could share what my classmates like to do, and I can share what I like to do.
  I learned many things about different sports.
  Learning new things, and new things about other people.
  Most people seemed prepared and seemed to be having fun.
  Everyone can learn about different things.
  It was very easy.
  We had enough time.
  Everybody was able to do the task taught.
  The time we had to prepare for it.
  Nobody cut off person talking.
  Fun trying the person's talent.

Suggestions for Students FROM Students:
  Don't overdo it.
  Cover main ideas and explain them.
  Speak clearer and louder.
  Pay attention to who's talking.
  Be more prepared / practice.
  Explain the talent better.
  Don't do things if it takes really long.
  Pick something that is actually a talent.
  Longer presentations are better.
  Teach for the whole three minutes.
  Take it more seriously.
  Put more time into planning.
  Try to at least seem interested in what you're doing.
  Find something really unique and useful.
  Don't have side conversations - it distracts the speaker.
  Think of outrageous ideas.

Suggestions for the Teacher from Students:
  Bigger groups. (This year we had both, depending on the day, and they liked the smaller groups.)
  Extend time for talent.
  Make it a little bit shorter.
  Don't grade this activity. (I didn't.)
  Not in groups - entire class presentations.
  Maybe a little more time for preparing and getting ready.
  We didn't need so much time to plan.
  It was pretty boring and stressful.
  Let students pick groups.
  Decide groups ahead of time.
  Don't take pictures.
  More organized way of presenting.
  Bigger spaces for each group.
  Let students go to stations you want to.
  Show all groups to the class.
  Have groups of different times - for instance, if some plan for 5 min., have them all go at the same time. (Students wanted slime to be all on the same day. I cannot stand slime, and always hope no one decides to make slime...This year we had three in one class - all different types of slime, all on different days. Maybe one shot would be better!)

My Sad Note:
   I've got some students who don't like ELA (say it isn't so!) and/or struggle with reading and writing. One reason I love this project is that many of those students shine during these presentations. I will say that this year I did have some of those. I also had four students this year who ... blew it off. I am reminded once again that school is not a priority in their lives. I'm just sad that even this activity couldn't encourage them to bring their passions in to our classroom. I will continue to implement this activity, however, because of all the success and/or learning most students have.

Want to see it in action?
   Check out @KirrClass tweets! You can also find much of our learning on Instagram.

Here's our video from 2017...
   I loved looking at it, as we set up the room differently this past year based on feedback from last year, and I don't know which way is better! Next year, the students can decide once again. :)

*UPDATE from 2019...

Notes from 2019:
     We didn't do as many lessons for presenting, as they're presenting to such small groups.
     We need to have more check points - a day to bring materials to class, especially.
     Next year, we'd like to do this EARLIER in the year - so students become more familiar with each other and so there aren't so many saying, "I don't have any talents or skills."
     Next year, we'd like to scaffold at least TWO presentations. The first could be students teaching something they know or enjoy, via a slideshow. THEN they can become interactive presentations.
     Note for myself - do NOT try to squeeze this into two days (like I had to for one class due to a surprise meeting at district office), as then I won't have time to confer with students about their final grade for the quarter, and we won't have any time for independent reading.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Conferring Once Again - Q3

The end of each quarter, I sit down with my students, one-on-one, and we talk about their learning from the past seven or eight weeks. Ultimately, we have to come up with one letter grade that represents learning they've shown. This one little letter is all they get for their work, but that's how the system is for me at this moment in time.

These conferences are my most stressful time of each quarter, and also my favorite. They're stressful because I need to make sure I have time to see each child, and I hope to goodness that they're not absent the day they were scheduled. They're also stressful because I then have to enter that one grade in the online gradebook, and I worry about parent reactions. THANK YOU to all those supportive parents who have read my myriad two-week updates and emails home. One more stress? The rest of the class is working on their own... or are they?! Letting go of that control is tough, but most students are doing what they need to be doing during this time.

These conferences are also my favorite time of each quarter. This is a result of the conversations we have, the learning that is demonstrated and celebrated, and the reflections and goal setting.

Here are some tidbits from this past quarter... All names are changed and do not even closely resemble the child's name.

Abby's goal for next quarter is to ask more questions. She didn't know where an assignment was, and was too nervous to ask me. ME. I wonder how she functions in other classes.

Bill's goal for next quarter is to set his alarm on his phone so he remembers to read every day after school. He went to his locker and set it right then.

Cliff realized, although he's doing very well academically, that he has a tough time with theme and the author's message. He decided he's going to write about the theme of everything he reads in class and at home from now on.

Donny is proud that he's now reading at home and that he found a genre he enjoys (nonfiction).

Edgar thought he should get a "D" in class, because he never reads at home. We had a great discussion about how reading habits affect comprehension, but that I don't think habits should belong in a grade. It turns out we agreed on a "C" because his comprehension was in the 70% range. He asked, "If I read more, will it go up?" I got to tell him that the only thing that helps improve reading comprehension is more reading.

Frank revised then revised then revised once again to improve the grammar in his writing the week before we met. His new goal? --> Revise as soon as he gets feedback!

George, once again, admits to playing video games all afternoon and evening. Talking with him helps me know that I can NOT do it all alone. It also helps reaffirm that we should be reading (books of students' choices) in class every day.

Helga's goal for next quarter is to stay away from distracting friends during independent reading time.

Issac is proud of his improvement this past quarter!

Judy has stepped up her participation this past quarter!

Kelly realized (without my help) she is distracting other students when they work in a group! Her new goal is to focus on getting the task accomplished when she works with friends.

Leo was nervous about his meeting with me. He came and said, "I'm nervous." It turns out that he was hyper-focused on one part of the grade. When we looked over the other evidence, he said, "I'm not as nervous anymore." We discussed averaging points in the gradebook versus taking the evidence for what it is, and he was happy he had revised his writing.

Molly's new goal is to head to our class website reading challenge page to look through the myriad lists of books and create a large one for herself so she can begin to choose what to read on her own (instead of coming to me each time she finishes a book).

Nick thought he should get a "D" because of his behavior in class. We then had the discussion about how behavior will impact his learning at some point, but for now the evidence for his academics shows he's in the "B" range. We then talked about how his behavior might be impacting OTHER students' learning...

Olga's new goal is to stop doodling during classwork time. She didn't do as well as she'd hoped this past quarter, and blames it on "not getting down to work."

Patrick told me he really wants to change seats so he's away from a certain someone who distracts him.

Those are the stories I remember offhand, without going back into my notes. When I feel as if my class is slipping away from me (let's call it "spring fever"), I can go back to these conversations and realize that we do have a connection, and we can have discussions about what's going right, and where we can improve.

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, March 3, 2018



My husband Bob (@TagAlongBob) came up with the idea.

We shared it with close friends, and came up with these parameters:

  • Can't call it "EdCruise," because it sounds too much like a person, so it needs to be "EDUCruise."
  • Instead of the typical chocolates, we'd be enjoying cold shrimp and sushi for snacks
  • Tuna salad sandwiches for lunch - aw, heck - it's our dream - Lobster or Crab for lunch!
  • We won't need to reserve a place to meet afterwards for entertainment...
  • Sunning on the deck
  • Swimming pool
  • Jacuzzis
  • Beverages
  • The perfect time would be winter break! On a Monday through Friday...

We thought this would be the perfect idea for Dave Burgess Consulting to design - Dave and Shelley are the PIRATES!! Everyone would get a teeny pirate flag, as we probably wouldn't want to hoist one on the main deck. The rest of the time would be sharing ideas and shattering the status quo! Of course, all the authors would get a free ticket + 1 for themselves and a guest...

Now, because we only shared it with close friends, and I didn't go right to Dave and Shelley, someone else has gotten the idea...

Kudos to the EdTechTeam!

I wish they'd've (oh, how I love multiple contractions!) called me! Then this would be happening during winter break instead of summertime!

To find out more about this particular "Summit at Sea," click here. To ask Dave and Shelley to put on one over winter break, click here. And to add more ideas so the EdTechTeam and DBC can add to their own EDUcruise, add comments to this post - We'd love to learn from your creativity!