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, November 29, 2018

Spelling Bee Bumbles

I always have challenges with the classroom spelling bee, and often would rather it be voluntary and after school. I've written about it before here.

Yesterday, I added a new tidbit - that I'd like everyone to participate in the warm up, to feel that little bit of stress that they KNOW will go away by the end of their word. We talked about how a teeny bit of no-risk stress is good for us, and it helps us be prepared for bigger stressors when they do arise. I let them know I would be there to pick them up should they fall off their chair from the anxiety...

When provided a word, students can ask for:

  • the part of speech
  • the definition
  • the word in a sentence
  • any alternate pronunciation

I just had to share the two best questions from students yesterday during the classroom spelling bee. The first I always get once in each class, and the second is my new favorite that was new to me...

1. Can you please spell the word?
2. Can you please give me a different word?

I love these seventh grade "honey" bees...

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Zen Teacher

I'm only 2/3 of the way through The Zen Teacher, and I had to write about it.

First let me confess - I didn't think I needed this book.
And I don't buy books willy-nilly.
This one was donated by either DBC Inc. - or the author himself - to an edcamp I attended (and donated Shift This to as well) at Concorida University, in Wisconsin last month.
I was the lucky recipient!
Then it sat on my shelf.
Like I said, I didn't think I needed it.
Then I left my young adult novel at school over this Thanksgiving break, so...

So... what do I think?

I think, if you are frustrated on a day-to-day basis, you need to read this book.
If you are bogged down with work on the weekends, you need to read this book.
If that one student is still getting under your skin, you need to read this book.
If your mental health - or physical health - is declining, you need to read this book.

The first section is titled "Zen." I feel as if I've been slowly figuring out what he's talking about in this section for the last couple of years. This is my best school year yet. It's due to the group of students I have, but it's also due to my mindset going into school. It's due to the baggage I stopped carrying, and it's also due to the times I can stop and soak up the craziness that school can become. I could wallow in the "if only I'd have gotten this book five years ago" mindset, but I'm learning how not to. This first section of the book is what I feel I am doing this year that's different from past years. I love that I can now put a name to the myriad things I've been doing in order to get glimpses of this sense of Zen.

The second section is titled "Meditation and Mindfulness." I've been practicing more of these ideas this year, as well. Breathe... or walk... and notice.

The third section is titled "Space, Stillness, and Self-Care." Although I like to purge once in awhile, this section got me to put the book down and declutter other parts of my life. There was a new app I'd just uploaded yesterday. Today, I re-evaluated it after reading one of the chapters, and now it's gone. Good riddance - I'm already relieved it's absent from my life. I also figured out something I'll be sharing with everyone in 2019 - how to give away some of my books that are taking up space now that I've read them.

I still have to finish this gem.
I'll take my time with it.
I'll be excited to loan it out to at least one teacher at my school.
Thank you, Dan Tricarico, for the words you shared that I'll remind myself of again and again.

Sunday, November 18, 2018


I've written about gratitude before...

For this Thanksgiving, I was encouraged by Faige Miller's latest post to write about my own classroom gratitude.

On a daily basis, I could be grateful for these things (and more)...

  • arriving at school safely
  • "Good morning" heard from teachers I pass in the hallway
  • hearing my colleagues come down the hall
  • a working printer and copy machine (cough, cough) 😉
  • plans ready for the day
  • a question of the day written by a prior student
  • a song to start our morning in homeroom
  • hearing students come in and open lockers
  • greeting students at the door
  • meeting my co-homeroom teacher in the morning
  • students sharing their celebrations from the day prior
  • hearing students respond, "You too!" after you wish them a good day.
  • smiles from students
  • high fives
  • students dancing
  • students supporting each other as they put their magnet on our "mood meter"
  • students who have been absent showing up
  • one student's cough has dissipated
  • a joke shared
  • books remembered
  • paper out or Chromebooks open when it's time to write
  • clean clothes on a student who struggles at home
  • students sharing their materials
  • that student finally found a book she wants to keep reading
  • an encouraging note from a parent
  • an encouraging smile from a student
  • being called "Mom"
  • a student picking up a book I shared with the class
  • hearing, "Can I keep writing?" or "Can we keep reading?"
  • quiet time reading books of our choosing
  • hearing a student say he "used the feedback" I provided
  • hearing, "Thank you" as a student leaves the room
  • time to plan / share ideas with my ELA co-worker / friend
  • getting support from colleagues
  • attending a game / meet / show one of my students is in
  • arriving home safely

From an email from my sister-in-law... Check out www.DavesWordsofWisdom.com.

If I do not stop and soak in all these things for which I'm grateful for every day, the other little things that make teachers worn out mentally and physically may accumulate and overwhelm me. Not just at Thanksgiving time - every day - we could use gratitude to help us stay healthy, happy, and ready to give our best every day for our students.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Ray Bradbury in 2018

The students (7th grade ELA) and my co-teacher and I are reading Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed by Ray Bradbury. For this story, we'll read most of it aloud, and then stop at certain points and let students ask each other any clarifying questions. In the story, the Bittering family arrive on Mars and decide to establish a home there. They are then forced to stay on Mars, as the atom bombs on Earth made it so rockets cannot come back for them.

One of the questions stemmed from the line in the story that says the newspaper was warm from that day's rocket.
Here's how one of the quick conversations went:
Student 1: "Why didn't they just look on their iPad or phone?"
Student 2: "They probably didn't have wifi."
Student 1: "Why didn't they just make wifi?"
Student 3: "How do you make wifi?"

I was cracking up, and soaking it in. I love seeing their learning so visibly. I had to stop the discussion for a moment and let them know that this story was most likely written before the Internet.

They looked at me like I grew a horn. I love these kids.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

"Salon with a View" Spin-Off

When I read Stories in EDU, I took notes for my blog post about it. One of those notes was that I absolutely had to use ideas from Jason Bretzmann's "Salon with a View" in my last class.

You know the class. It's after lunch. It's two-thirds male. (Should this matter? No. Does it? Sometimes.) This class has a cluster of friends that are pretty loud, and there aren't enough corners in the room to separate the ones with the urge to chatter for the few moments they're supposed to be listening.

This class this year is also the class that did the best when we had our first fishbowl discussion. So... here's my spin-off of Jason's "Salon with a View..."

I sat down in my mom's rocking chair and spoke very quietly with my last class of the day. I had blue scratch paper, and I ripped it in half to show them that it didn't matter what was on the one side - the other side was for THEM to write on. I praised them for their listening and turn-taking skills in our first fishbowl discussion of the year, and told them that they were my best group. I emphasized that it wasn't easy to talk about that subject, because they were all in agreement, and yet they brought to the table research that the other groups had not, and they really made it an interesting discussion for me to observe. I then told them that my other classes were NOT going to get this special opportunity...

They were great listeners up until this point. Then they started asking questions and talking over each other again, so I waited in my mom's chair with my eyes closed and pointer finger over my lips until they were quiet. Next, I explained that they just witnessed what I see often in this class - many of them want to talk at once, and no one is heard. What if... what if... I explained... what if this class worked really hard and then were rewarded with more discussion time - with questions THEY wanted to ask?

As they got excited and asked more questions, I started passing out the scratch paper. I showed them where we keep it on the student station, and then found a gift bag we could use to keep them in. When the students who did not want to join in the discussions looked at me forlornly, I added that they did not have to participate - they could read their independent reading books. :)

We've been able to discuss a few since then! The first was a favorite of mine - "Reading or writing?" I loved how they debated the value of each!!

Next came "What is your favorite movie?" which really was just a chance to share their own favorites, and the latest was "Is water wet?" which got a bit heated...

Ahhh... seventh graders. I love the mix of crazy ideas and growing maturity! Thanks for this great idea, Stories in Edu!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Forest App

(Before reading on, you may want to see the update at the end of this post.)

I don't get a ton of apps for my iPhone. I can get addicted to games very easily, so I make sure they work my brain, and then I hide them together in one group.

At one EdCamp, I asked about teacher stress. It was a particularly stressful year, and I needed tips. One of those tips was to download the "Forest" app. Since I didn't think it would help me immediately, I put it off until recently.

At $1.99, I love it. Their advertisement says "Stay focused. Be present." It does helps me focus on what I NEED to do first. It helps me be more in the PRESENT. It helps me look around and enjoy the NOW, and not have to share instantly on social media. It helps me read more. I have "killed" a few of my fake trees in my fake forest because I had to take a photo of something I think I'd never see again, or because I had to text my coworker about the library book sale (today), but most of the time, I let it go. The phone CAN wait. I love how it's helping me be more patient and it's actually helping me get other things accomplished.

There are a bunch of cute trees for your virtual forest you can "buy" for 500 virtual coins, but another reason I love this app is because I can save my coins and plant an ACTUAL tree. Granted, I haven't done the research yet on where this tree will go, but I have faith in it.
I am not spending my fake money for cute trees in my virtual forest until I have planted five REAL trees. I'm excited to save these virtual coins to plant more trees in the world.

So... I'm not getting paid to sell this app, but if you feel you spend too much time on your phone, and you'd like to help the environment a teeny bit, you would benefit from it like I am.

January, 2019 Update - The Forest App no longer plants real trees. I have since stopped using it, as actually not picking up my phone helped me plant a real tree. They let me plant five, and then they said they couldn't afford any more. I had reached my quota. The ability to choose pretty trees on the app itself suddenly didn't entice me.