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, June 23, 2019

Teaching with Transparency

I was asked to present at the first ever USQ Conference - practically in my backyard in Schaumburg, IL. USQ stands for "Unhinging the Status Quo." What a great concept! Here's what the website said:

In order to present, however, I needed to present with students. OKAY! First names that popped into my husband's head were Robert and Rosann - our niece and nephew, going into 8th grade. Hmmm... this might actually be a great idea.

I composed and sent an email to them - asking them to answer without talking to the other one until they were finished with their thoughts. I asked this question: How would you change school (reasonably), and why? They both wrote about different things - homework and tests, bullying and isolation... and yet there was a theme that wove through them both. Teachers need to be more transparent. Here's our opening slide that the kids created:

The day prior to the conference, Rosann told Grandma (my mom) that this is going to be the most important thing she's ever done. That's pressure. I hoped and prayed that she felt the same when we were finished.

After the day we had, this may have been the most important thing I, myself, have ever done for these two young learners / leaders. They were on cloud nine that they could share their message. Other students were able to present and share their ideas, as well. There may have been as many as 20 students from various schools (Michigan, Illinois, and Jack McConnell's family came from Georgia - that's a whole 'nother post) attending and presenting. There were multiple times throughout the day that "non voters" were asked for their opinions, and they often took the microphone and added their ideas to the conversation. I don't know if I've ever seen them so empowered. Oh, I hope they keep this feeling with them as they grow further.

Some valuable tweets I'd love to keep here forever...
Next steps?
  • Keep finding ways to open the lines (be more transparent!) of communication among educators and students.
  • Keep providing opportunities for student input when making decisions related to education.
  • Keep providing opportunities for students to share their ideas and teach us.
  • Provide the venue (microphone included!), listen to ideas, follow through using their ideas, and students will learn to trust us and will want to help where they can.

We're working towards providing students with more and more say in school matters. Their voice matters, and their ideas are incredible. Let's keep moving towards providing them with the opportunities to make a difference in their own education.

What are your plans for providing more opportunities for students to provide input and lead?

Many many thanks to Sara WilkeDale Truding, and Nancy Wagner for this chance to help these two students (and so many others!) blossom and lead. Many thanks to Megan Hacholski and Michael Abramczyk - the volunteer social media ambassadors who shared our learning so we the rest of us could be truly present. BONUS: Here is USQ's post about Robert & Rosann's message.

This post is week 3 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators. I went off-prompt for this one. It does relate, as it shows how I can be a leader and follower all in one day - just like at school... đŸ˜‰

Monday, June 17, 2019

What has contributed to the educator you are today?

What has contributed to the educator you are today?
This is this week's question in the "8 Weeks of Summer" blog challenge.

I was actually thinking of this very thing yesterday morning. We (Hubby and I) were headed to Milwaukee for #USMSpark (Hubby golfs there), and the venue and people are familiar to me. I'd be seeing a few new faces, and I was really looking forward to it. I've been fortunate to be a "featured speaker" in the past, and this year I've only got one presentation, so I could relax and enjoy learning more from others instead of talking. Our keynote speaker Monday morning was Angela Maiers. If you don't yet know her, she's all about helping children do what they WANT to do - what matters to them. Knowing I'd learn from her once again, it took me back to when things started really changing in my teaching life.

In the fall of 2011, I was the one chosen to "volunteer" to pilot curriculum with iPads (I'd never even touched one!), and four weeks later, I'd learned a TON. (I believe I wrote about this story in Shift This.) In February of that same school year, someone in my district thought it would be good if I attended a workshop in Michigan where we worked on a problem - "What's a problem in your school?" was the question Ewan McIntosh asked us, and then he gave us the rest of the day to work on this problem. This jaunt got me started on what was to be called "genius hour," although at that time it was "independent reading" - IN class (wha?! - that wasn't even considered in our school in 2012)!

That summer of 2012, leaders in my district sent me to Boston to attend the Building Learning Communities conference put out by Alan November. It was there that I first heard Angela Maiers. She put me out of my comfort zone not five minutes into her presentation when we had to introduce ourselves to the person next to us and state what our "genius" was. What was my genius? I'd never thought of this before, as I'd never been asked. I remember sitting next to JoAnn Jacobs (she'd come all the way from Hawaii!), and she seemed much more confident than I was. I went with "optimistic," as when I wake to see a new day, I see new starts, new chances, and new opportunities to do what's right. The rest of that hour was invigorating and inspiring. (Today's hour was about how teachers need to know that WE matter, too.)

In fact, that entire school year was transformative. Granted, it was my 16th or so year teaching, but it was only my third year with a classroom. Since then, I've been asking, "What's a problem, and what are you going to do about it?" Since then, I've gotten connected to thousands of educators on Twitter. Since then, I've blogged to reflect on my learning. Since then, I've read so many professional books to help with my teaching. Since then, I've been attending and presenting at many conferences - using some of my district's money, and some of my own and on my own time. Since then, I've been offering as much choice as I can (within the parameters I have) to students. Since then, I've been conferring 1:1 with students every day, and THAT has made all the difference.

Tag - you're it. What has contributed to the educator you are today?

By the way, YOU are a genius... and the world NEEDS your contribution! ~Angela Maiers

This post is week 2 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators. Check out #8weeksofsummer for more inspiration for YOU to write... #nudgenudge

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Duolingo Lessons Learned

I'm on a 170-day streak on my free version of Duolingo. And I'm excited about it.

Let me backtrack - I took four years of French (7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th grade). Then it got difficult, and I wanted an easy life. So... I started Spanish in 11th, and continued it in 12th. My senior year I added a year of German. In between, I took a week of Russian offered through our library, and two American Sign Language classes in the summers offered through the community college. I went on to teach students who are Deaf or hard of hearing, so the sign language helped, obviously. The rest of the languages helped when reading or watching some movies, but that was about it.

During the 2017-2018 school year, I had a student who, when he started at our middle school, did not speak any English. We had another one this year. They both spoke Spanish at home. We've also had students who only speak Russian or Polish or any number of languages... and then they are immersed in our culture and become assimilated fairly quickly. I'm always amazed at all the English they know when they graduate 8th grade! I'm amazed that they become fluent in (at least) two languages so quickly.

This year, just before winter break (?), I thought it was time to brush up on my Spanish. Duolingo was the way I decided to refresh myself. I currently complete at least three lessons every morning, and I LOVE it. When I have extra time, I add another quick lesson. I wondered why there was such a draw for me to this app. I'm toying with the idea of buying a year's worth of the PRO version, as I have iTunes gift cards from my parents that I haven't used yet. It's pricy, but who knows? It may give me the help I need to feel comfortable speaking with someone (who is very patient!) in Spanish.

Here's what I've learned about why I'm so excited to use this app. Of course, reflecting on my own lessons learned brings up questions as to how I can provide this type of learning in my own class:
  • I don't receive a grade. I simply am told if I'm right or if I'm wrong. If I'm wrong, they provide the answer, and then they give me the same question again at the end of the lesson. Knowing I'll be asked again helps me focus on the feedback they provide. No grades - feedback only. THIS I know how to do (after four years of practice)!
  • I'm now listening without looking at the words. I'm trying to figure out what they're saying before I look at the words. I feel I need this challenge, and I can choose to challenge myself one day and take it "easy" the next. How can I include different modalities for my students to learn?
  • Now that I know how the words are spelled, I can focus on the accent marks. I didn't care about them before, because I'd still get the answer "right" even though I didn't include the accent marks. I feel like I can handle them now, and feel proud when it doesn't give me any suggestions about them. How much does me "picking on" students' grammar in their writing affect their desire to write more?
  • When I'm doing well, it becomes addicting. How many lessons can I get in this morning? Can I do just one more before I leave the house for school? Can I do another easier one before we head out for the day? When I'm doing well, I run the batteries down on my phone. How can I encourage my students to try more lessons on their own?
  • When I'm busy in the mornings, I can choose easier lessons. When I have time during my day, I go back to longer lessons and feel proud when I move up a level on those. When do I let my students choose an easier vs. a more difficult lesson?
  • Since I begin my day with it, I find I practice it for the next half hour in my head, often unknowingly. My husband will ask me a question, and I'll try to answer in Spanish. I find myself thinking in Spanish when the topic is familiar. How can I get my students thinking about reading and writing throughout the rest of their day?
  • When I see my other team ELA teacher (who used to teach Spanish!), I know I can practice with her. I can also practice with my students. How can I provide more time for my students to "practice" reading and writing with master readers and writers?
Reflecting on my use of Duolingo reminds me of a quote I have kept from George Couros - Are we simply aiming to engage students, or genuinely empower them? 

I feel empowered after more lessons on this app.
I want to learn. 
I want to be able to communicate with new students who feel isolated.
This type of learning is relevant to me, because I'll be able to USE it and feel good about myself.
What are more ways I can do this for the students in my own care?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Summer Reading - My Plans

I always want to read MORE. As much as I read over the summer, it's never ENOUGH.

This summer, I have a plan. (I don't usually!)

I'm going to read from two lists, for sure:

     Our SD25 Middle School Summer Reading list - "Reach for the Stars"
          (Kind of not fair, as I've read eight of the twelve already...)

     #ProjectLITBookClub 2019-2020 selections (Follow them on Twitter here!)

When I want something different, I'm either going to choose a book that is on a list of some sort, or an award-winning book - by authors who are not white. Yup. It's time for more diversity. It's time I truly focused on it this time, instead of just being "lucky" coming across a book by an author of color. That being said, I just received a book in the mail from a fellow white educator... I'll be reading that one, as well.

For my students, I shared with them (once again) this page on our classroom Weebly - it's got lots of ideas for summer reading!

Do you have a favorite resource for good books? What are your summer reading plans? Thanks for sharing and reading!

This post was a few weeks in the making. The inspiration to post it comes from this challenge:
This post is week 1 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

Post-Summer Update...
I have now read the following books (some I read years ago) from the #ProjectLitBookClub lists (going across in order):
     A Long Walk to Water
     Amina's Voice
     The Bridge Home
     A Good Kind of Trouble
     Other Words for Home
     Merci Suarez Changes Gears
     First Rule of Punk
     Front Desk
     The Parker Inheritance
     The Last Last Day of Summer (abandoned)
     Amal Unbound
     The Benefits of Being an Octopus
     Ghost Boys
     Time Bomb
     New Kid
     Full Cicada Moon
     Look Both Ways
     Ghost (the entire series)
     The Wild Robot
     The Stars Beneath Our Feet
     El Deafo
     A Very Large Expanse of Sea
     Hey, Kiddo
     The Marrow Thieves (abandoned)
     The Prince and the Dressmaker

Monday, June 10, 2019

2018-2019 Digital Scrapbook

- The day after school gets out... I found myself at Edcampd13 in Bloomingdale, IL. Got to hang out with Kim Darche and a teacher from my own school - Sue Klarner!
- Remast conference - hosted a two-hour healthy grading workshop and then gave my very first keynote presentation! (No evidence that I was there except for this photo of all of us - LOVED working with pre-service and new teachers!) Gooooo Jackrabbits!
- ISTE - downtown Chicago. Mixed feelings about this one - the application process was INSANE, the cost was OVERPRICED for educators (even presenters), and getting there was a hassle. I can't imagine how those that came from out of town felt. With all that being said... I was able to meet (some old friends) these passionate educators (one of the best things about such a large conference):






- For some reason, there was one week in July when I was asked to do podcasts...
   I Wish I Knew EDU - Teachers on Fire - Shawesome Education
- BLC18 - Building Learning Communities - now THIS is a conference I LOVE. EVERY SINGLE TIME.  Olivia, Pana, Aaron, Alan, Caitlin...  just a few of the MANY MANY passionate educators who were there to support each other and our messages. So very grateful for this first larger audience Keynote opportunity, as well! Shift the Language!!
Thanks, Paul Bogush, for this photo of the Grand Ballroom at the Park Plaza!
- I "attended" three online summits! #StrobelSummit, #DitchSummit, and #HiveSummit

- I was able to be in on the ground floor when Teachers Connect hosted it's first "chat!"
- Hooray! I was accepted into our middle school committee that's discussing standards-based grading!
- EdCampML (middle level - their first!) was held at Concordia University just north of Milwaukee. Beautiful campus, and passionate teachers attending. I came home with a bottle of wine for my raffle prize... another first!

- EdCampWalkersPoint (their first!) was held at their newest middle school in Milwaukee, and had the BEST edcamp lunch EVER! Maybe half or more of the participants had never been to an edcamp before, so there were some quiet sessions at first, but each teacher seemed very passionate about what they do.
- Educators Grow Podcast with John Wawczak

- My district sent me to the Secondary Reading League's 42nd Day of Reading - with Cris Tovani!
- Teach Better Podcast with Rae Hughart and Jeff Gargas

- 10-Min Teacher podcast with Vicki Davis
- The cold did not stop us from heading to #EdCampMadWI. I brought homemade cards and blank cards and proposed a letter-writing session! I'm hoping to do this at every edcamp I go to from now on. It was very valuable for the six of us that were there. Afterwards, Bob tried his first Wisconsin cheese curds!
- P3 Podcast with Noa Daniels - I've GOT to try this with my students!

- I was able to visit Dunlap CUSD #323 (#323Learns) to be their keynote speaker and facilitate two sessions on healthy grading and one on personalized learning. Look who I was fortunate to see - and they sat in the front rows to support with smiles and nods! If I could've changed anything, it would be that I could learn from THEM in their sessions! Stefanie Pitzer, Stefanie Crawford, and Jodi Gordon, Don Sturm, and Mandy Ellis!
- I was able to "attend" ICE19 "after-hours" three days the last week in February! I was able to meet "old" friends once again, see a pal from Boston, and meet new people! 
Boston pal Matt Joseph BOWLING at the PearDeck party at the Punch Bowl, "Tech Rabbi" Michael Cohen and Shawn McCusker, & beautiful Mandy Froelicher!

- I was fortunate to head to Prospect High School (down the street from my own school) to meet with readers of Shift This and try to help answer questions. I shared stories of resistance that were not included in the book, and was able to provide some resources to help with their questions.
- EdCamp Chicago came back! This one was right near me at Lake Park High School on 4/13.

- Video conference with Meagan Parrish's peers regarding Shift This
- Video conference with Niki Monkul's peers regarding Shift This

- The end of my 24th year teaching... More summer fun this month that will be in next year's year-in-review!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Book Giveaways

Here's the scoop. I was near the end of reading The Zen Teacher by Dan Tricarico, and thought of an idea... Clean off that shelf - at least somewhat.

I quickly rounded up books I'd already taken notes on in my Google Docs, and then started typing in the notes from the ones I had highlighted and written in but not taken digital notes yet. Once I stacked them up, it was a pretty tall list. It made a lot of room on my shelf. I did NOT round up the books I like to take with me when I present (I have a duplicate copy of Pure Genius I'm keeping), the books I still use for reference, the books my district provided for a book study (those will stay in our school), or the books that I just love dearly and can't let go.

I accumulated the following books in various ways...
  • I won some at EdCamps. 
  • I won some through raffles, or by answering questions in presentations.
  • I was sent some to review on this blog.
  • I was sent some because my work or a quote was in them.
  • I was given a couple because I'm loved.
  • I traded Shift This for a couple of them.
  • I actually purchased some.
  • I'm a connected educator. You aren't yet? It's time to become connected.
  • None of them were purchased by my district or school to use for the classroom (one was for a book study outside the ELA curriculum).

I read them in various ways...
  • I highlighted some.
  • I wrote notes in some.
  • I wrote a chapter of one.
  • I used sticky notes in some.
  • I took digital notes for some.
  • I highlighted, wrote in, and took digital notes for some.
  • I used some to help me with Genius Hour or going without points/marks.
  • I actually didn't read some of these, or started them and realized they were not for me (and I'm not telling you which ones). Reading is so very personal - we all have our own tastes and needs when it comes to books. I hope you win one and it helps you on your educational journey!

They're in various conditions...
  • Some are in perfectly new condition.
  • Some are written in.
  • Some are highlighted.
  • Some are signed by the author(s).
  • Some have sticky notes (although I tried to clear most out).
  • Some pages are dog-eared.
  • Some bindings are broken.

I'm celebrating...
  • life
  • my 40s (I'm loving my 40s and there are 40 books here)
  • our profession
  • being so fortunate to have owned and read (most of) these books,
  • being so fortunate to have learned from them, and used the authors' words to transform my thinking (and teaching, in many cases),
  • books, in general, and...
  • the fact that WORD SHIFT comes out this summer! 

  • You must provide an address in the United States. (It costs the price of the book for me to send it elsewhere - I'm so sorry to my friends on other parts of the globe!)
  • You must look at the book descriptions online to find out what they're about if you don't already know.
  • You must fill in the Google form below.
  • You may fill in the form multiple times.
  • You must wait patiently for the month to be over.
  • All winners will be announced and contacted by July 1st.

I understand, once these books are out of my hands, they are yours to do with as you please. I only ask that you do not sell them. If you don't want the book after you read it, please give it away. Please do the research to see which you can benefit from, and which to leave to someone else. Winners' names will be added to this post after the contest is complete. The books are in order here by title:

Assessment 3.0 by Mark Barnes -- WINNER: ANDREW BROERE
The Best Lesson Series: Literature - 15 Master Teachers Share What Works edited by Brian Sztabnik -- WINNER: SANDRA HENDERSON
Book Love by Penny Kittle -- WINNER: KERRY HANNING
Code Breaker by Brian Aspinall -- WINNER: KAREN BURKE
Common Core English Language Arts in a PLC at Work Grades 6-8 by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey -- WINNER: BRITTANY SCHMIDT
Digital Citizenship in Action by Kristen Mattson -- WINNER: JOSHUA BODEN
Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller -- WINNER: KRISTEN WILTON 
Eight Myths of Student Disengagement by Jennifer A. Fredricks -- WINNER: JENNA MOLLER
The Element by Sir Ken Robinson -- WINNER: KIMBERLY ISHAM
Escaping the School Leader's Dunk Tank by Rebecca Coda and Rick Jetter -- WINNER: MIKE STEIN
Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts -- WINNER: CONNIE HAMILTON
The Flexible ELA Classroom by Amber Chandler -- WINNER: MEGAN LEE
Flipping 2.0 compiled by Jason Bretzmann -- WINNER: DAVID ISBELL
Flipping Your English Class to Reach All Learners by Troy Cockrum
Hacking Assessment by Starr Sackstein -- WINNER: TRACY MAILLOUX 
Hacking the Common Core by Michael Fisher
Hacking Education by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez
The Human Side of School Change by Robert Evans
Instant Relevance by Denis Sheeran -- WINNER: MEGHAN KESTNER 
It's Like Riding a Bike by David M. Schmittou
Kids Deserve It! by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome -- WINNER: JULIA GALVAN
Make Writing by Angela Stockman -- WINNER: VICKI STUCZYNSKI 
The Passion-Driven Classroom by Angela Maiers and Amy Sandvold -- WINNER: AMY BROWN
Pure Genius by Don Wettrick -- WINNER: MARIE BOWERS
Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller -- WINNER: ELIZABETH GONSALVES
Reclaiming Our Calling by Brad Gusftason -- WINNER: TRACY MITCHELL 
ROLE Reversal by Mark Barnes -- WINNER: AMANDA DAUPHINAIS 
Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth by Aaron Hogan -- WINNER: TJ RAINES 
Spark Learning by Ramsey Musallam -- WINNER: LAURA VON STADEN
Steal the Show by Michael Port
Stories in EDU compiled by Jason Bretzmann and Kenny Bosch
Teaching with Tablets by Nancy Frey, Doug Fisher, Alex Gonzalez
Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching by Meenoo Rami -- WINNER: MARLA DUNCAN
Unmapped Potential by Julie Hasson and Missy Lennard -- WINNER: LISA GAEDE
Well Spoken by Erik Palmer
What Color Is Your Brain? by Sheila N. Glazov -- WINNER: MORGAN BOLES 
What Connected Educators Do Differently by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas -- WINNER: TRACIE ROBERSON
Who Owns the Learning? by Alan November -- WINNER: KATHRYN FINCH
The Zen Teacher by Dan Tricarico -- WINNER: KAREN FIELD

Update 6/30/19:
I am NOT looking forward to only one person winning each book! I've got to get over the guilt of not being able to send one to everyone, and instead, be happy that I AM able to afford to send these off to good homes.
Winners will be announced TOMORROW!