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.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

"Teachers have to do their job better."

This was the response I received from someone on Twitter.

I'm bothered, so let me back up.

I wanted to lend one high school student some support. Another person replied to this high school student who was tweeting with the hashtag #MyGradingStory.

This person said...

I wanted to support the other student, so I got involved. I'm not one for confrontation, yet I felt I could share without being a jerk about it.

I replied that the student was not the "only one who has a...

I thought this would lend some support, and also share some resources.

I couldn't let it go. So on my way into school, I replied...

The person replied very rudely, so I replied (one last time - Joy, when will you just let it go?!)

Snotty? My mom would think so. ☹️

Now that you have the background...

I believe teachers all around the world are trying to "do their job better." What's with the animosity over trying new ideas to help kids learn? When averaging points is out of the equation (standards-based grading, anyone?), educators can report a more accurate picture of how students are doing.

Once we know better, we're supposed to DO better, yes?

This morning I woke to another reply from this person...

And this just makes me have a gazillion more questions. Is this just the perception of this person? Is this true? What is the percentage of teachers who "don't care" about their students? How could it be "most" when it's their profession - why would they stay in this profession? Do non-educators think teachers are not trying their best?

We've just finished with one week with students. Teachers are making connections with them, are in the hallways saying hello to everyone who passes, stay late to chat with former students, and plan with peers to make lessons as relevant as possible for all students.

I wonder... how many of my own students think this? How can we change the tide if (since?) it's not true? At least this person kept the conversation going a bit. I didn't know how to respond to the last reply, so I left it. I didn't think any response would be helpful. I have a reply in my drafts... Any ideas as to how to make it better?

I DO know that there are a LOT of teachers (my heart wants to believe "most!") who want to do their job better and better each year. When I write like this, I know I need to switch my mindset to one of gratitude, so I can let the angst go by the wayside...

Thank you for all of you who read other educators' thoughts through this avenue we call "blogging." I am truly appreciative to those of you who keep the conversations going by sharing your thoughts, opinions, ideas, and questions. You help make me a better educator, and keep me motivated to do my best each day.

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, August 26, 2018

Getting to Know You...

Asking students for feedback is always a double-edged sword. You're going to get answers that you love and cherish, but they might as well be invisible, because the answers that are tough for you to read seem to eclipse anything bright and cheery.

This year is no different. I've got a fairly (very?) long survey I offer students. (It changes from year to year, but click here for this year's version.) Some complain about it, and some seem to enter their most deepest secrets as they type, type, type their answers.

Here are a few reasons why getting to know students is oh, so important...

Last year, during the last week of school, I asked students what went right this year in ELA - what could they celebrate? In one class, they started talking about all we did NOT do... I was actually thanked for not yelling at the kids, or telling them I'm going to chop off their knee caps or light them on fire. Their words - not mine. This year, I have students who are fearful of such a thing - yelling or embarrassing them in front of others. Granted, sometimes I feel as if I'm "too nice" - on days when I have patience, I can calmly let students know what I need from them, and then slide on over to students who need help or are acting out and quietly have a discussion. Hearing that students will be embarrassed if I raise my voice (or - Heaven forbid - threaten them) reinforces the fact that I need to stay patient. I'm sure, just as with every other year, there will be a day when my own issues or troubles creep into the classroom and I snap a bit and get loud and sound strict. Maybe it won't happen this year - maybe I can keep in mind that many of my students have specifically asked - through the survey - to not be yelled at or cut down in front of the class. Makes me think of Brene Brown and shaming once again...

More than one student has already written a cry for help for ELA class - either for reading or writing - sharing how difficult it is for them.

More than one student has an "annoying" sibling that makes it hard for them to do homework. And at least one of mine misses a sibling that just left for college.

One student has said that both parents are busy - please give him extra time to get in papers signed.

Many of them have great questions for our class that they didn't share during our first week together. Now I can share the answers this week, and calm some of their fears.

Some students are coming to our classes with a chip on their shoulders - they've not had positive experiences up until now, and they're already not looking forward to being with us. It's good to know it's not always personal - some of them come with some baggage that I wouldn't have been aware of had I not asked...

Here are their answers this year to "The perfect teacher is..." I'll be asking them to be the same.
Of course, this is changed and added yearly to our classroom blog here. :)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Pleasant Surprise

Second day of school - first "normal" ELA classes.

I've spent two days doing what I love - with a great group of students. It's the end of that second day, and a new staff member to our school appears in class. Yippee! I introduce her to students, and she easily becomes a part of our day. Students finish the reading challenge, we chat about what they did well and where they can improve, we go over materials needed for tomorrow, we chat for two minutes on building stamina for reading starting tomorrow, and we move to the front of the room for "storytime." ;)

I'm able to read The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown to my students, just as I describe in Shift This (and in this blog post)...

This last class of the day actually acts differently from the first two - they are a gregarious bunch, and they actually react to what I'm reading instead of patiently waiting for me to finish. They make faces showing they don't agree with the text, asked a few questions under their breath or to a friend, and quickly did not agree with the author when she said the "most important thing about an apple is that it is round." THAT was refreshing to know. When it's like pulling teeth to get my first two classes to discuss, this class will be active, I'm sure.

Thank you to Lauren Salsinger for this photo to capture this lesson I love...

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Green Lights

I've been on a roll lately - green lights every time I drive, bike, and even walk! Oh, how sweet it is to not have to slow down and instead just keep cruising...

My 2018-2019 school year is full of green lights, as well. The start of our year so far has been very positive - the message has been to "build relationships," "share your strengths," and "love your work." Oh - and another one - it is not expected we are checking our school email after 4pm!

Meeting with my closest ELA colleagues and work friends, the message has been, "Why not?" and "We could try it!" Many years this message appears and then drops off, but this year it seems it may become constant - thank you to our administration for this leeway, as well!

I'm not going to question WHY. I'm going to imbibe in the HOWs.

My own personal goals for this school year - to revisit when it becomes more difficult:

  • Students come first.
  • Do not compare yourself to others.
  • Don't loan your brain out to negative thoughts.
  • Do not boast.
  • Exalt others.
  • Be a role model for students and peers.
  • Be grateful for all you have.
  • Listen to concerned parents and share what you love about their child.
  • Remember that you are a professional - continue to research and share findings.
  • The kids need you.
  • Go outside, put your shoulders back, head tilted up, and breathe.
  • Know that you are loved and blessed.

I seem to have this feeling at the start of EVERY school year. I'm full of excitement and anticipation and... dare I say it... I'm ready. I'm ready with the ideas of many other educators, previous students, an open heart, and more research to come.

There will be challenges; I'm realizing after 23 years that the year will not be perfect, no matter how hard I try. Gratitude gets me through challenges, so I thought I'd make another list that helps those red lights turn green once more. I'm so very grateful for...

I could go on and on. I'm also grateful I'm in a position where I can slow down and stop at those yellow and red lights, to reflect and recharge. We can do this. Teaching is most likely one of the most stressful professions. It can also be one of the most rewarding.

I truly believe - with all my heart - this will be my best year yet.
I pray that is it also my students' best year yet.

Here's to the 2018-2019 school year!

What are your green lights this year? What are you excited about?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

First Days Poetry

For a few years, my co-worker and I have been reciting the poem "If I Were in Charge of the World" by Judith Viorst to our classes the second day of school (our first day with classes is too short). We then provided students with a template, and they chose one or all stanzas and wrote their own versions. Of course, we'd model one, as well. The last few years, however, about 1/4 of my students said, "We did this last year!" So... it was time for a new poem.

We know many 7th graders like to share about themselves, and I'm sure we'll learn a lot from them by what they write. (This poem, however, reminds my husband of Toby Keith, and that just makes me like it even more.) 😉

I thought I'd share my version here, to mark the occasion of my students starting a week from today!

That's version 1.0. I'm sure I'll come up with other ways of writing it before the week is through!

What's YOUR "New ME"?

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Random Groups

There are many apps and ways online that you can create random groups for your classes.

I've had one I LOVED - until the iPad from 2011 busted last year. I had paid for that one ($1.99 or so?), and it was very cute. It could even keep data! Alas, it's gone, I can't find it again, and I don't know how to use my own account to pay for an app on a school-issued iPad. So when I happened upon someone was sharing about a way to use random groupings, I realized why I'd been saving my box of 500 "craft sticks" (a.k.a. tongue depressors)!

Here they are finished:

Here's a tiny bit of explanation, as you probably get the gist:

  • Each stick has a color (paint), number (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5), shape (circle, square, triangle, star, or heart), and letter (T, H, O, M, S - close to our school name). 
  • All the information is on one end of each stick, so they can be put in a cup w/o students seeing what's on them.
  • All the information is on both sides of each stick.
  • I rotated the shapes (on 1 for blue, 2 for green, etc.) and letters, as well.
  • The white-tipped are "extras" - they are the same number, shape, and letters as the blue. I will only need the white-tipped ones when I have 30 students (homeroom). Most of my three classes have been 25 students or fewer. If I have 26 or more, I'll add white-tipped ones as needed, and just not sort by color.
  • I can also ask students to organize by color of the ink I used (silver or blue) for two large groups.
  • There are four extra sticks - they say "color," "number," "shape," and "letter," so students can pull one for sorting prior to the activity.

If I were to do them again (and I totally can, as they're super easy)...

  • I'd change the letters - to X and E instead of O and S. Or maybe find something else to use besides letters. Stickers might work, but they might fall off, too. I probably won't change them, as I think seventh graders can figure out that a circle is not necessarily a letter O, and that we'll have number, shape, and letter in that order. Good for following directions, I guess.
  • I'd use different markers. My silver doesn't show up well, and my blue bleeds.
  • I'd ask someone with better handwriting to write on them. 

Goin' back to old school - even though I've used Flippity and have a spreadsheet that will group students randomly. I'll use that in some circumstances, for sure, but these are nice to just get out of the drawer and sort.

On a side note - yes, Karen and Yvette - I made you each a set, as well. 👍

Friday, August 3, 2018

The School Year Is Almost Here

The 2018-2019 school year is quickly approaching - so many signs that summer for many of us is over. There are so many things that were on my to-do list I did NOT do. I tried to promote the book a bit, had at least three podcasts, spent a few fun lunches and dinners with other educators, presented at two conferences, but most of the time - I spent loving the summer and time with my family. Before we head to our last vacation of the summer, I had to get these thoughts out, as I'm feeling like I did not do ENOUGH.

Here's what I haven't yet done, and most likely won't be doing...

  • I won't be starting a podcast - unless my students want to start their own.
  • I purchased 50 (teeny) stickers for Shift This - I won't be purchasing more. I understand the sticker is an advertisement. It can spark discussions - great! And even though I have myriad stickers on my school laptop, I just won't take time to design a sticker and send them out. It's just not me.
  • I won't be tweeting out a link for readers to fill in a form so I can send them "swag." As mentioned above, I don't have swag.
  • I won't be presenting if it's a conflict with what I'm trying to do in my classroom. My students come first once the school year is in session.
  • I won't be a full-time consultant. My place right now is in front of seventh graders.
  • I won't be setting up "summits" for other teachers. These are very valuable, and I sign up for as many as I can. I realize it must take a TON of time to set up and execute. Time I could use to improve my own practice. Thank you to those who take the time to do this (some - many? - are not teaching children directly anymore).

Here's what I have done and will keep doing...

  • I will be available for a video conference if you have a group that is reading Shift This and time permits. I will NOT charge for this half hour. I'd love it if educators took the ideas and ran with them, even after they hear first-hand about issues I've had!
  • I will still be available for podcasts. This will be dependent on time I spend preparing for students.
  • I will still be available for presentations - if it fits with my schedule and does not conflict with my current position as a classroom teacher.
  • I will still organize the #ShiftThis chat on Tuesdays. We have guest moderators who will bring their own voice, so I'll be able to enjoy this hour with contributors!
  • I will try to self-promote without going "overboard." I still think educators should read Shift This, so I will be sharing what others have said about it, and perhaps quotes from the book itself.
  • I will continue reading young adult and middle grades literature and sharing them with followers if I feel they will benefit our students.
  • I will continue saving quotes from this literature to use as mentor texts for use in our ELA classes.
  • I will continue to scour tweets for ideas for #geniushour, #goinggradeless (#tg2chat, #ttog), along with the #1st5Days, and add these ideas to the free LiveBinders I curate.
  • I will continue to take small breaks from social media - to reflect on where I am and where I need to be going.
  • I will continue to share - though blogging, too - ideas that I believe other teachers can connect with or learn from.

The school year brings its own struggles. These things listed are some of the things I can control in my life. I may not be able to "do it all," but I have to be okay with that.