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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Day 18 - I Really Liked Today

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Yippee!! I kind of feel like a teacher again today! I feel useful!

  • Student faces and voices on Flipgrid
  • Students' responses to our Google form check in
  • Students' quick questions via email when Flipgrid or Schoology were down
  • Student faces and voices on Flipgrid
  • Students' responses to our Google form check in
  • Students' quick questions via email when Flipgrid or Schoology were down
  • Student faces and voices on Flipgrid
  • Students' responses to our Google form check in
  • Students' quick questions via email when Flipgrid or Schoology were down
  • Student faces and voices on Flipgrid
  • Students' responses to our Google form check in
  • Students' quick questions via email when Flipgrid or Schoology were down
  • Student faces and voices on Flipgrid
  • Students' responses to our Google form check in
  • Students' quick questions via email when Flipgrid or Schoology were down
  • Student faces and voices on Flipgrid
  • Students' responses to our Google form check in
  • Students' quick questions via email when Flipgrid or Schoology were down
THANK YOU, Flipgrid and Schoology, for helping us CONNECT with our children once again.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Day 17 - Silver Lining

Monday, March 30, 2020

Today's the last day of our district-led e-learning. Tomorrow it's back in teachers' hands! I'm so happy the district had activities ready to go, and I'm also so happy we get to be leading the charge starting tomorrow. Fingers crossed Schoology and all the links they need to be on work!

What was reinforced in my life today...
- Zoom (in my opinion) is better than Google Meets/Hangout/whatever-it's-called-now
- Administration and educators are still figuring all this out.
- Don't ask Hubby to walk longer if his knee is "barking."
- Sunshine during the day is one of my keys to happiness. How can I keep this feeling on days that are dreary?

I had a call from a retired friend last night. I was too tired to share much with her, so I was a better listener. She wishes she was one of those parents at home with her children. Her children are grown and her son is an EMT. She is having a hard time not hugging them. It helped ME to tell her that RIGHT NOW everyone is good. RIGHT NOW everyone she knows is healthy and safe.

I kind of felt like I was working a bit today... I had three virtual meetings! One with my team, one with the ELA department, and one with my ELA counterparts! It's refreshing to get back to trying to do what's best for my kids. (Yes - I do feel as if they're my kids. And I miss them so!)

Today I want to share about a hashtag I spotted - #coronalockdownsilverlining - from Andrew Bendelow. I needed it in my life, as I'm kept up to date with sad things, and I'd like to keep a focus on the things that bring me joy. Like videos such as this that my school shared on the virtual morning announcements.

So... I started a list last night of all the silver linings that staying at home provides for me. I think I've shared a couple on previous blogs. I wanted to share the hashtag with you in case YOU feel like sharing YOURS. (Comments are always welcomed, too, of course!) Share your joy with others!

Here's one from me today - it's a big one...

We get out and walk EVERY day now. Rain or shine.

Update: Day 54, May 6, 2020 - Here's a great blog post from Mandy Froehlich - How Does Gratitude Improve Your Mental Health?

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Days 15 & 16 - Choice Board

Saturday & Sunday, March 28-29, 2020

My mom texted me at 3pm Saturday: "Illinois declares Remote Learning Days beginning on March 31st to finish school year." I look online and see nothing. I don't call her to find out where she got it from. I simply text her back - "Sigh." When she sent me the article, it only said until April 7th.

It's how we RESPOND to what happens, right?

So. I'll share my "choice board" routine I've been tweaking the last two weeks.

The top four things (check Feedly for blogs I follow, check GMail, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, check the stats on COVID-19 - the Johns Hopkins site - and three lessons of Duolingo Spanish practice) I get done early in the day. The next few (learn something, start/complete a project or clean something, walk or bike, workout and stretch) I normally get done after my shower sometime. When I'm relaxing, it's time to call Mom, read, practice my banjo, or read some more. The two on the side (nonfiction and audio book right now) swap in when I have them. Right now I'm reading an adult fiction book (online) and a professional book. Sometimes I have the other two instead or in addition. By the end of the day, hopefully I've had all the water I should have, I've written and published a post (except for one per weekend), and I've played those games on my phone (Word Search, Boggle, Differences, Stop, and a peek at TikTok - to learn / stay on top of trends). The paper clips are there just in case I don't get to all three Duolingo lessons right away, or write but not publish, or only play one of the games...

These can be done in any order, and I'm letting myself say it's okay to skip one, but not two days in a row.

This is how I'm managing this unstructured time. Usually these are all in a pile, then I flip them over as I complete them into a new pile. Sometimes I just want to throw them away, but I know it's giving me some sort of goal... It's providing me control over what I do, and yet parameters for what I should be doing.

I wish I could be creative right now like Daniel Matarazzo...

Friday, March 27, 2020

Day 14 - Ramblings

Friday, March 27, 2020

I believe people are wondering a lot more. I've always wondered, "Why" this and "Why" that. I wonder if our students have always wondered as much, since so many they have the answers in their pocket if they just search. I hope people wonder more when all of this is said and done.

We went for a morning walk. Saw one guy, one couple, and one mom and two older sons out walking. The one man said, "Stay safe," and of course I teared up as we passed. Why? I was simply wondering what his story is.

I did grocery shopping while Bob waited in the truck. So hand soap or isopropyl alcohol still. Didn't look for toilet paper. We've really cut down, and I'm proud of us. We should still keep our eyes open.

The 7th grade ELA teachers met via Zoom to chat about plans for next week.

I did what I've been putting off... I figured out what I would think my students earned this term. Since we couldn't meet to chat about it, I thought I'd put the grade out there and see what each student thinks. If they disagree, I'll ask them to explain. And we'll go from there! Surprisingly, I did NOT get a migraine, and it was fairly simple. There were more "A"s than ever this year! Ah, revisions! 👍

Two fingers in my right hand hurt today. They started hurting yesterday. I think it's from playing the banjo 10-15 min/day. I know, I know. BIG problems.

Bob's friend finally got in contact with him. Yippee!

I picked back up with "P.E. with Joe," as I took yesterday off. I figure taking one day now and then also Sunday will work better than taking both weekend days off.

Brought some supplies to Mom and Dad, and we chatted for about an hour - through the screen door. I loved it and hope they did, too.

We ordered steak tacos and picked them up (for carry-out, obviously).

And that's today. The last official day of spring break, and day 14 of staying away from others.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Day 13 - Weather Matters

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Waaaaaay back in December (a lifetime ago!), I wrote about Dr. Breithecker's ideas about sitting. Today, as we walked in the 51 degree muggy cloudy morning, I remember how he started out his session. He asked us how we feel if the weather is dark and gloomy when we wake up. Does our mood change if it's sunny and clear? YES. We're back in the dark today here in NE Illinois. Back in the gloom of this "new reality." The skies are dark, the rain is on it's way, and, well, it's sucky.

What I've done so far today:
Talked with two friends and Mom & Dad.
Read some nonfiction.
Texted with my nephew.
Recorded myself reading a chapter of Craig & Fred for our students (we have permission).
Listened and learned from a webinar from Marc Brackett on regulating emotions at home.
Hugged Hubby lots.
Contemplated how there are so many more people in WAY worse spots than me.
Made a new Google Classroom banner for me and a friend.

Plans for the rest of the day:
Practice my banjo
Read some fiction.
Hug Hubby lots more.

Quotes from the Kirr household:

Bob: I feel like I'm living in an episode of "The Twilight Zone."

Joy: I should've brought my juggling balls home to practice.

Joy: Are people going to be sleeping in their cars on long trips (instead of hotels)?

Investment company advertisement: We can't predict what tomorrow will bring.
Bob: I bet it'll be kind of the same.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Day 12 - Sun and Warmth

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Suddenly, spring has arrived in Illinois!

Oh, the people out and about - I don't think we've EVER seen so many people out walking and enjoying the sunshine! The temperature got up to 58 degrees today.

As for us, we got on our bikes for the first time this season. We tooled around, checking out a new part of the park district path and heading to the post office to deliver a (possible pen pal) letter to a local group home. We stopped to stretch at a skate park near our home that had a few visitors... most of them keeping six feet away from each other.

We also went for a drive (with the top down - yeah, baby!). Signs on churches said things like, "God will bring peace when you go to pieces" and "You can still pray at home." There were also positive messages on banks about "tough people" and "overcoming obstacles." (I took pics, but they didn't come out.) We waved to everyone, and many waved back. Dogs are really enjoying their humans home to walk them! Mom and Dad even took a drive to Fort Sheridan to sit on a bench by the water for an hour. Perfect.

New advertisements started yesterday... One from the CDC with symptoms and who to call, a couple from Burger King introducing their app for delivery or pick up, and one from Michael's with pick up or delivery service on their website.

Challenges from educators are popping up like crazy!

  • Principal Kaese's second challenge is to design an airplane and see how many sidewalk squares it flies.
  • Paul Bogush is sharing challenges from students for teachers - full of humor.
  • My friend Karen went on a scavenger hunt with her daughter around the neighborhood, put on by the teachers at her daughter's school!
  • Heck, my husband has his own challenge - the "Chair-A-Day" challenge. He says, "There's one seat I don't sit in for the day. Makes me look forward to sitting on it tomorrow. I've only done this because of Corona, you know?"
  • Yesterday I celebrated "Socks Never Worn Before Day." (Schoology socks I "won" at an edcamp!) 

Today's vibe was much more positive than the previous eleven days... The sun and warmer weather made a HUGE difference.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

How To Clean A Refrigerator Condenser

Day 11 of self-quarantine.

Get supplies ready. We used the shop vac with extension, a long-reach condenser/bottle brush, 1/4 in drill motor to undo screws (in the back of the fridge), wood blocks to prop up one side, pry bar and wood for it to rest on / protect the floor, and a trouble light.

Take off the front grill from the fridge. Clean this before you put it back on later.

Turn off the fridge. Pull the fridge out from the wall. Unplug it.

Vacuum all the dust and webs (and BBs if your husband happens to use a BB Gun out the kitchen sliding doors...).

Take off the back cardboard-thing-a-ma-jig with the 1/4 in socket.

Wipe off the fan with a damp paper towel or cloth.

Start vacuuming. The base layer here is insulation. Don't vacuum that.

Head to the front and vacuum some more.

Prop up the refrigerator. We used a pry bar on an old piece of paneling, so it didn't mess up the floor, and used two 2 x 4 pieces of wood under the two wheels.

Then vacuum while using a long-reach bottle brush (this one is bent).

Clean off the front grill and back cardboard, put them back on, plug the refrigerator in, push it back in its place, and turn it back on. If it's really dusty, it will take you a long time. It took us 30 minutes because Bob does this every year. It's called "preventative maintenance." Have you seen the latest post about how he cares for things? This is another way. ✌️

Day 11 - Ahora Mismo - Right Now

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

When I hear people saying, "Congratulations! You made it through today!" I've thought, "It's no big deal. You just stayed home." Today, I'm congratulating myself on getting through the day.

Mom is 76, Dad just turned 85. They live ten miles away. Got a call from Mom last night. At 8:30. I hadn't checked up on them. Can you believe this - my day was so full that I forgot?! In the back of my mind I knew they were okay and didn't need anything. She's told me this for nine days straight. She tells me at 8:30pm that my sister and her twins (14 years old) are "coming over tomorrow to pick up your dad's guitar. Rosann wants to learn how to play."

Me: You think this is fine?
Mom: She says it's been four days since she's seen someone outside of the house. I told her two weeks is the time she's supposed to wait.
Me: You told her two weeks? And she's still coming over?
Mom: Yes. To visit. It'll be fine. We're all fine.
Me: But she's seen people who have seen people who have seen people... only four days ago.
Mom: We're all fine, and we'll BE fine.

I never outright told her that I hated the idea. I never outright told her I believed it was wrong. Even so, I knew she knew it was wrong, and I knew she was going to do it anyway. Mom gets what she wants. I was angry at my sister. I was angry at my sister's husband for thinking this was okay. I was frustrated with my dad because he always lets Mom get what she wants.

I got off the phone and cried and cried.

I talked with Bob about it. Sobbing.

I got back on the phone, because Bob made a good argument that I wasn't going to get to sleep if I didn't call her back. I also had a feeling that she WANTED me to tell her I thought it was wrong.

Me: (Since it had taken a couple of rings for Mom to pick up) Are you on the phone?
Mom: Yes, with your sister.
Me: Oh. Should I call back?
Mom: What's up?
Me: (Suddenly sobbing again) I've been crying since we hung up, because I'm worried.
Mom: We're going to be fine, Joy.
Me: What if you're not? What if they're carrying it? You know Dad won't tell you "no."
Mom: You want me to just hand her the guitar and have her go back home?
Me: Yes.
Mom: You want me to do that?
Me: You'd do that for me?
Mom: Sure, Joy. I'll do that. (Man, her voice was exasperated. She sounded mad or disappointed.)
Me: Thank you, Mom!
Mom: Go to sleep, Joy.

We go to sleep at 9:00. I had had a busy day, full of extra exercise, and I was extra tired. We headed to bed, me crying while brushing my teeth, even, and all I could think of was how Mom gave me one more day of not being worried about them.

The thing is, I feel as long as we all do what we're supposed to do, I'll be able to hug my parents again. There are so many unknowns about school/work, that I want one more KNOWN. I want to be SURE of SOMEthing.

This entire thing now reminds me of when my mom had cancer. I was worrying so very much about everything, and yet I had to step up to be the one to tell others what to do. I had to keep my sister and her kids away from Mom when any one of them was sick, I had to tell Dad to feed Mom - even when she wasn't hungry. I had to tell Dad to do what the doctors said, even if she didn't want to do those things. I had to be the big girl. It was not a fun job. I didn't like the responsibility.

I talked with a friend who thought meditating would help. I tried it. It sucked. I would sit there, trying to calm my brain, and my brain would go in all different directions. I told him. He said that it's not about sitting there thinking. It's about thinking about NOW. What's going on right now? "How is your mom right now?" he asked.

How is my family and how are my friends right NOW? (My Duolingo lessons remind me - how are they ahora mismo?)

Good. Healthy. Mildly happy. They all have enough food and drink. They have shelter. (They have toilet paper.) They have my help if they need it.

All is good NOW. I just need it to be good one more day... I got through today. One day at a time...

News from today:
  • Bob and I cleaned the refrigerator condenser. Blog post "how-to" coming tomorrow. Because I'm on "Spring Break" and have nowhere to go. You'd think it would be obvious, but I've noticed some people are living in Dreamland.
  • Texas lieutenant governor says people should go back to work to save the economy. (Really. You can't make this stuff up.)
  • Summer olympics are postponed.
  • There is now drive-through testing for coronavirus (somewhere - no clue where I spotted this).
  • Still open: grocery stores, gas stations, car parts, take-out and delivery food, post office, mobile pet grooming services...
  • I've now completed Days 1 and 2 of "P.E. with Joe." This morning I could barely sit down and get up. Now I'm just sore. It's a good hurt.
  • My former students are sharing such positive things on Instagram. Today it's "See a pup, send a pup," "See a (Bible) verse, send a verse," "See a flip, send a flip" (gymnastics), and "Me doing my sport."
  • Our "oops" for today... on our walk, we decided to sit in some swings and chat. Then we saw the sign on our way out of the playground... I guess the sign business is still running, too.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Day 10 - Spring Break

We don't always go somewhere for Spring Break. If we don't have plans, then we do day trips. We've gone to Starved Rock or Matthiessen State Park (and follow it up with a trip to Tangled Roots Brewery on the way home). We've gone to Holland, Michigan for a one-to-three-day jaunt. Our local parks and forest preserves are still open for now.

We're kind-of-sort-of more stuck than normal. Just like everyone else.
  • Yesterday, Hubby watched I-don't-know-how-many of the "Top 10" football games of last season.
  • Today, I started that free Yale class - The Science of Well-Being. Not bad so far.
  • Actually, I started with this in the snow that appeared overnight -
In case you can't read it, it says, "Hang in there."
  • Last night, I'd made a snow angel and sent it to tons of people. One was my principal. She sent me back a photo she tweeted the today that inspired this message.
  • I also tried "PE with Joe." Tough stuff that made me feel good!
  • I attended a webinar of sorts put on by friend/educator Kim Darche. She'll be sharing every week day!
  • I then tried to attend the Cincinnati Zoo Facebook thing - I was an hour late. I also don't know how to get on it.
  • Our village mayor is going to share a $2.8 million "surplus" with businesses and residents. Supposedly we'll be getting a $200 credit on our water bill. I am still getting paid. I will find $200 to give to the food bank if that actually happens. 
  • Our mayor is also waiving the business licensing fees. Bars and restaurants have been hit hard.
  • I went to our librarian's house to pick up Craig & Fred by Craig Grossi (Young Reader's edition). We're probably going to take turns reading it aloud with our students once school gets back online next week.
  • I got a book in the mail! I won Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness by Katie Egan Cunningham from commenting on this blog post last month! Although I have a few other PD books on the pile, I dove into this one right away today.
  • I ordered a new battery for my iPhone 6s. It won't even last through a walk outside in the cold anymore. I also ordered Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt to make the order over $25 and free shipping. I loved that one. Such a witty book that made me laugh and cry and write down myriad quotes!
  • Flights have about 10% of seats filled. Costs? --> $59 round trip from O'Hare to Boston.
  • Have I told you Disneyland (not sure about when Disneyworld closed) has been closed since 3/14? And LasVegas basically shut down last week. 
  • Cruise lines (who don't even fly under the United States flag) want help, even though they don't abide by U.S. laws and they don't pay U.S. taxes.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Days 8 & 9 - Some Sort of Routine

Saturday & Sunday, March 21 & 22, 2020

Saturday had me bawling for a bit after watching this sweet video of people at ball games giving up their baseballs for little kids. I then cried in the shower. It's been a week since the news came for us that we were closing school. I only had a few tears that next day grocery shopping. I guess it was time for them to get out. The anxiety and uncertainty and sorrow for others comes in waves, for sure.

I was wondering what my routine will be once "spring break" is over. Hah! I decided to create a chart of what's still the same, and where I've noticed I'm doing things differently.

As for the obsessive-compulsive tendencies, I'm back into numbers. I used to jot down all sorts of numbers for keeping track of my exercise. I had years worth of running/biking/skiing journals when my priority (with ex-husband) was exercise. Granted, I met my current and last husband on a week-long bicycle trip, but when we decided we were going to be together, the watch came off my wrist - literally. I now walk without looking at the clock or the speed or the distance or the temperature (all numbers I'd have written down in my journal). My priority is getting out to do something.

Lately, I've been jotting down the numbers I shared two days ago from the Johns Hopkins site, yet I've limited myself to only once a day. I also count cars. Yup. I set my alarm for 6pm, and stand on our back deck to count the cars on the big road our backyard backs up to. For five minutes. Yup. I set a timer. I've been keeping those numbers, as well.

I've been counting toilet paper sheets, taking note of how many paper towel rolls and tissue boxes we still have, counting as I wash my hands (which I really don't have to do as often anymore!), as I brush my teeth, as I try a move shared on TikTok (a new thing I figured I'd try today)...

It's not getting out of hand. It's not hindering my life. I'm considering it a coping mechanism for how to deal with this new "routine," if you can call it that. I know I do not have a disorder, by any means. I can see how those who are suffering from any type of anxiety could be suffering even more during this time of isolation.

Once again, this writing/documenting has helped me see how blessed I truly am. Do you need someone to talk with? I'm here. Leave me a comment or find me on Twitter, and I'll be there to listen.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Sometimes We Get Pooped On

My husband likes to care for things - living and nonliving.

He's re-made the backyard and a lot of the front, with beautiful bushes, plants, and flowers that bloom at various times throughout the year. He's taken apart and remade the back deck. He's added a trellis for the trumpet vine and another for the clematis to climb. We've got a bird feeder in the back that gets a lot of business, and the hummingbirds have finally come to their feeder in the front yard. Inside and on the house, he has remodeled the front foyer, front room, kitchen, bathroom, our bedroom, and the spare bedroom and office. He is also a huge proponent of preventative maintenance - he'll check things out BEFORE they break, to clean them and see how they're running. He'll order a part before he needs it. Yes. He's that kind of man. That's his new role, now that he's retired and living in Illinois as my husband.

Born and raised in the Detroit area, he's also a "car guy." He retired for FoMoCo (as he calls Ford) after 28 years of service. So... I now have a vehicle I LOVE. And he's got one he loves, as well. He also takes care of them - oil changes, cleaning the brake dust off the wheels, checking the air pressure and filters, etc. He keeps his clean, and I'm learning from his role modeling how to keep mine clean.

I can only imagine Bob as a teacher. If it was something he loved to do, he'd do it better than any of us. He loves to take care of things, he anticipates problems, and he's a great role model.

A week before he got a new truck this past August, a goldfinch decided to pay a visit to his older truck he was going to trade in. This particular goldfinch (we're convinced it's the same one each time we see it - or see evidence of it) loves to sit on the mirror and look at itself in the window. While doing so, he poops on the mirror.

Bob, ever the man to take care of things, cleaned off the poop each time. 

The new truck was purchased and brought home, and the goldfinch found his spot on the mirror.

Bob decided to move the mirrors in each time he parked in the driveway. It didn't help.

He went online and found out goldfinches like to look at themselves in window reflections. One site suggested he put a picture of a raptor of some sort in the window. So he did. The following photos show the evolution of this particular goldfinch for about five minutes or so as he got closer and closer to that mirror...

Yes. This last one is a photo of the goldfinch looking at his reflection - OR maybe he's looking at the hawk Bob put in the window.

What's my point?

You can do everything in your power, and yet sometimes you'll still get pooped on. There are only so many things in this life we can control. Sometimes, we've just got to wipe off the poop.

If we can't see our kids in school (or even online), we can still send messages of love and hope. If we can't get to a student this year, maybe the next teacher will. We've got to keep trying, yet not beat ourselves up if we can't make progress. Keep trying. One day at a time. We do what we can. Let's be there for each other during this time that many people are getting pooped on. Who has it worse than you? Let's reach out and do what we can do.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Day 7 - Sacrifice

Friday, Marcy 20, 2020

The Illinois "Stay-At-Home" order starts tomorrow and lasts through April 7th. I expect it to go further, especially if this is their "Day One" of it. Not everyone has been taking "social distancing" to heart.

The "Stay-At-Home" order is not much different from what Hubby and I have been doing. The woman on television today (after Governor Pritzker spoke) called it a "huge sacrifice." Thankfully, I'm not feeling that yet. I worry about those with anxiety during our normal lives. I think they'll feel this hit pretty hard. I've noticed that those with pets seem to smile when talking to or about their pets, so I feel that those individuals will be better off than those without.

Hubby and I have been in awe. It's kind of like summer break here - no kids, relaxing, checking in to emails, watching the news, getting outside... Minus camping. (He does not think it's like summer at all. He says we're stuck in an episode of The Twilight Zone. I'm trying to be positive here.) We've been down and out a bit. Regarding "the world" in general. Regarding the ambiguity of the entire situation.

In "Celebrating in a New Way" from Denise Krebs, she shares how staff at her school celebrated the vice principal's birthday. It made me think of my conversation with my 14-year-old nephew last night. He thinks we'll all be getting together for Easter. I'm doubting that - big time. I'm also wondering if my mom and dad will think it's totally okay to get together. I'm also wondering if it would be totally okay to get together... if none of us have gone anywhere. My gut says "no." My heart says, "We'll be fine." Since Hubby and I are hosting, we're going to have to make the final decision. That sucks. Looks like we'll go with whatever the government decides.

In "Dear Parents, It Will Be Okay" from Jordan Catapano, he shares ten tips for parents at home with their children. The part that got me:
I heard someone say teachers must be glad to have a little time off. Let’s clear something up right now: THEY ARE NOT GLAD. This release from the school day has none of the end-of-year pageantry or we’ll-see-you-after-the-break magic.  ...   Our teachers care about our kids, and the fact that they are apart from them right now is a painful experience.

Today my brain (and heart) have been focused on those who have had their jobs whisked away from them with no no no NO sense of when they'll be heading back to work. I, at least, have a general idea. I, at least, am still going to be paid to work (hopefully). What about those that live from paycheck to paycheck? Those are the people sacrificing. The health care workers and first responders are sacrificing. And those who have the virus due to others not being as careful as we could are sacrificing.

  • New York is closing businesses (more than restaurants/bars) starting tomorrow night.
  • We saw gas for $1.95 today. It was $2.75 last week.
  • I saw a tweet that says El Salvador has cancelled all rent, water, phone, internet, and electricity bills for three months.
  • Schools aren't responsible for standardized tests as of today. (We took ours last week.)
  • A.P. exams will be taken at home. More details to follow.

Some good vibes:

My (Not So) Favorite Things

#SpreadPositivity is making its way through my Instagram through current and former students.

We picked up dinner from Portillo's drive-through tonight.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Day 6 - Statistics

Thursday, March 19, 2020

"Every time I change the toilet paper roll, I cringe." I shared this sentiment last night, because I noticed the cringe happening to my face. (Yes, "happening." It was not a decision I made consciously.) I'm trying to keep my roller coaster of emotions at bay. It was kind of comic relief via Twitter, and kind of not. JoAnn Jacobs from Hawaii was concerned because they get all their supplies by airplane.

On my walk today, I started talking to myself. There was no one around, so I entertained myself by creating a song. I used to do this when I commuted by bicycle to work. It helped pass the time and get out my frustrations with drivers. After I toyed with some words, I thought of what people have said (via Twitter). "They" say that this is a time to create. The arts should be in full swing. Music, writing, drawing, painting, woodworking... Our project for today was to set up the junk drawer the way we want it. It's done - and functional.

Julie Nilsson Smith shared the Johns Hopkins site I was hooked on for a bit. Now I limit myself to looking only once in the morning. I look at the numbers for the United States, and then Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan (family in all three). ONCE a day. In the morning. That way I'm not thinking about it on my way to bed.
The first column is total cases in the U.S.       D/R = Deaths/Recoveries in the U.S.

  • Statistics are rampant on the web and television.
  • Reporters are reporting from their homes.
  • The stock market actually went UP (1%) today. It's been in free-fall mode for the last two weeks or so. It makes sense considering everything closing. FOUR trillion dollars in corporate losses. So far.
  • Indiana schools are closed until May 1st.
  • Woodfield Mall closed last night.
  • I heard the train on my walk today, and saw planes coming into O'Hare.
  • No flights come in and out of India as of this coming Sunday.
  • Italy has surpassed China in the amount of deaths (3,405).
  • Trump is still calling this the China virus. He's constantly blaming other races. Still.
  • I hear teachers should be paid $1 million a year, according to parents suddenly at home with their children - for who-knows-how-long.
  • Some teachers still think we'll go back in three weeks, max. I'm thinking no way.
  • Six of us (teachers at my school) had a Zoom call today. It was nice to laugh.
  • Some of the humor via social media is hi-LAR-ious. (This thread about calling everyone at your house a "coworker... This TikTok...) 
  • We've been listening to Sirius XM radio after dinner. The music is a good balm. The D.J.s bring us back to reality when they talk about self-quarantine, etc.

Investment company commercial - "We can't predict what tomorrow will bring."
Hubby's reply - "I bet it'll be kind of the same."

I write these quotes down and put them in a day-by-day calendar for next year. I have a lot of fodder for March of 2021...

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Day 5 - Updates Keep Coming

I spotted this yesterday...
I reached out on Twitter, then shut down any technology for the rest of the night. When I woke, the idea I shared yesterday was proven true. I wonder why she didn't say "closed indefinitely" or "until further notice"? So many educators reached out. We may be isolated, but are NOT alone.

I followed the story to what one of the districts said to families. I'm still in shock. My angst is for those kids who need structure in their home lives. Those for whom school is a safe place with routine.

Thirty-two states have closed schools for at least two weeks.
SAT tests are cancelled.
Universities are shutting down for the rest of the year - their dorms, too.
Illinois shut down restaurants Monday. Some states are waiting until tomorrow.

Latest update for our kiddos? We got the letter today saying the district decided to cancel our outdoor education (three days and two nights) trip to Lorado Taft in Oregon, IL for the seventh graders. This will be the first year I don't go since I started at this school in 2002. I get it. I'm not heartbroken. I'm still just kind of stunned.

Bob and I have this plan for when we die (not really morbid - hang in there with me if you're actually reading these blog posts)...  We like to sit out on the back deck he built. We imagine sometimes a meteor hitting Earth. When it gets close, we'll head out to the back deck and hold each other until we're engulfed. We've been thinking that this time is hard to describe - is it like 9/11? Kind of... fewer planes than normal, people being nice to each other... But what else is it like? We figured it out... we know the meteor is coming. Whatever form it may take. We'll face it together. That's what it feels like. I'm not saying it's Doomsday, I'm just saying that we are in a waiting game, and we're waiting together. According to CNBC, we need to have a 30-day shutdown.

I saw an educator tweet this out yesterday:
I'm in an out of anxiety in waves. 
We're riding the waves. I'm in and out of "surreal-ness." What will my actions show students who follow me? How much emotion do I show? I'm excited to start receiving responses via Flipgrid soon (I hope). I've gotten two so far, in two days. I also got a document with one student's writing shared with me today! That's progress, I suppose.

What's good? My husband and I will grow closer (if that's even possible). I've been able to get hugs at any time of the day. We're both healthy enough to walk every day and to get on our bikes when the weather is nicer. Our extended families are good. I need the students more than they need me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Day 4 - St. Patrick's Day

My 100% Irish dad (or so he's always asserted) forgot it was St. Patrick's Day! Our district had planned this day off of school due to the primary election, so I'm pretending it's a regular "extra" day I have, and Hubby and I are getting a lot done. ☘️

I'm keeping up with my Duolingo lessons. The past few days have been ironic. I'm learning "routines" and "school." Educators and others are talking about the "New Normal." Hah. Today I also watched Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, then responded on the flipgrid they set up for teachers to share. I finished my audio book of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, and also a fantasy novel Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez. I hope to finish Indistractable by Nir Eyal later today. (I like the one audio, one Hoopla, and one paper book idea - I could get used to this!) I also watched a webinar I recorded last night - on classroom management...

I decided I'm going to learn how to post to Instagram stories. Yesterday I shared with followers (mostly my students - new and former) the tip to get dressed every day and have some routine. It hit me Sunday when I was in what could be considered pajamas all day... I then saw a post shared by Dan Tricarico on Facebook - from a therapist he knows. Her last tip was to get up every day and get showered and dressed. Bam! I was on Day 2 - it was the weekend - and I hadn't dressed. (Yes, I showered and brushed my teeth.) Today my message was to get outside because it's HEALTHY! Bonus - it's SUNNY today here in northeastern Illinois! ☀️

My cracked knuckles (from so much hand washing) aren't as dry anymore now that I'm not at school. I still wash my hands, but only before and after we DO something (like voting today). One knuckle bled Saturday night, so we found the Neutrogena hand cream. Good stuff. They're still really dry, but I keep piling on the Neutrogena.

I saw this quote today, and it's so very true:
We are isolated. We are NOT alone.
I shared it in a Flipgrid I made for my classes - our "Smiles and Frowns / Ups and Downs" will hopefully continue. I literally danced when the first (and only so far) student responded! She was happy her dad had let their cousins come over, and also happy I helped her take so many books home. She was not happy with this "e-learning thing," and said she has lots of questions (but didn't ask them and didn't contact me... maybe because the work is from the district site).

It's so true that we are isolated, but NOT alone. We are so very fortunate for all the people sharing electronically the various things we can learn from home, resources to get food and help, and the kindness that others are sharing. More businesses are delivering, giving breaks to people, offering their services for free... Some tenants renting are given grace on rent... Some adult children are visiting their older parents through windows while on the phone...

On a neighbor's drive on our walk home from voting.

We've got changes in our daily life. Right now, at the Kirr household and extended family, they're not drastic (especially  not for retired Hubby).

Monday, March 16, 2020

Day 3 - E-Learning Begins

My school district has the first five days of e-learning ready for students. This includes today, Wednesday 3/18 through Friday 3/20, and then the Monday after spring break. (We were going to not have school Tuesday, due to voting.) The administrators at the main office have created choice boards for students to complete for each day. This has been such a relief for our staff.

Some of us went in today. Hubby asked me how many went in, and I have no clue. I kept to my room after heading to my mail box, and I think I saw ten people all day - no more than eight people in the room at a time, and almost all of us sat at different tables.

I scoured my nonfiction shelves and our book closet for books, since there's only so much I can read online. (I'm currently reading a book on Hoopla on my laptop Indistractable, a Libro FM audiobook on my phone Stamped: A Guide to Racism, Antiracism, and YOU, and a hardcover Sal and Gabi Break the Universe.)

Even though I left at prime-time driving time this morning, I saw fewer cars on the way to work. On our walk today, we saw one man and his dog, the mailman, two others walking, and about six high school kids on the football field at the high school.

We called Hubby's sister in Arizona, and she says her community is leaving in droves. They had a shortage on gasoline in Colorado as many "snowbirds" were heading out in their trailers and motor homes. Many in her community headed back to Canada, as their health insurance won't pay for treatment if they contract the virus. Then she goes on to say they're going to play bocce ball tonight, even though the attached bar is closed. AND she's got a cruise to Italy scheduled for August. AND she and our brother-in-law have compromised immune systems. So there's that.

I asked in a text to my niece and nephew, "What did you learn today?" and they both told me there's no e-learning. I added, "yet." It's amazing how so many school districts are doing so many different things. Who was prepared for this? The names for it are "distance learning," "remote learning," "learning from home," and "e-learning." I'm sure there are more, but those are the ones I've seen the most. I suggested Rosann write in her diary (which she has on Google docs).

I've started a project list. Today's project was organizing and cleaning out my work email.

I also made my first Instagram "story," letting the kids know that I learned that we should be sticking to a routine - get showered and dressed every day. I kind of had to tell myself the same thing...

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Day 2 - Unprecedented Times

Rumor is it the U.S. is "eleven days behind Italy."

Places in Italy are quarantined. People are singing old songs from their balconies - to show compassion for each other. I think this is why Mom is scared. She doesn't want to be alone.

We went on errands today. Gasoline in the car ($2.07/gallon!), a stop for Bob, and then we went to my parents' house. They'd forgotten to take the steak home I gave Dad for his birthday, so we were dropping it off. Mom insists she's fine. She's not scared of contracting anything, and if she did, she knows she's "strong enough to fight it off." (She's "fought off worse" she reminded me.) When we got home, we went for a walk to Jewel to pick up yogurt, Dan Active (they only had Activia), and craisins. (We also picked up tortilla chips and shoestring potatoes...)

What did we notice?

There weren't a ton of cars on the roads.
It was easy for us to cross Arlington Heights road on foot.
There was still some food in Jewel.
It wasn't really crowded (~4pm).
People were calm.
People said "excuse me" and "thank you."

Today, Governor Pritzker said all bars and restaurants need to close for dining in. They can still do the drive-through, carry-out, and delivery.

This economy is going to take a BIG hit.

The feeling in my gut is that this is going to last a month. A solid month.

I found this poem (Twitter? Facebook?) - Pandemic

Bob and I are in semi-self-quarantine. I'll head into work tomorrow morning, and then I think we'll only go on walks and drives... not to anywhere in particular, and not to be around anyone.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Day 1 part 2 - Social Distancing

The virus suddenly seems to be spreading like wildfires in the U.S. ... whatever happened to the news of the wildfires??? Maybe it's just my perception because I spent a lot of time on social media yesterday. Maybe it's because Michigan's numbers have doubled (yet it's still relatively "low"). Maybe it's because it really is spreading like wildfires.

I learned the term "Social Distancing" today. I saw it on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram... Read about it in this great article an old friend shared. Another one popped up on my Twitter feed, as well. Last week big events were canceled, then small events afterwards. Now museums and libraries are closed. I wondered, then, what the restaurant would look like for Dad's birthday. I started getting a bit fearful, so I created something to share on Instagram with my students...
I shared it on Facebook and Twitter, too. Kim Darche and I postponed our lunch date.

My family got to the restaurant at 4:45, and there was one other larger family and two or three other smaller groups, along with two people at the bar. Here is a sample of the types of notices that are going out... more and more...

Bob and I washed our hands before we ate, and when we got home, I shared that there was soap in the kitchen and the bathroom. (I won't tell you who did not wash their hands. I was astounded it didn't happen, however.) Then Dad opened presents, we ate cake, and - as my sister was sleeping on the couch (which is something she's been known to do due to her habits) - we finally talked about the elephant in the room. The COVID-19. Mom learned that it was called that because "COrona" + "VIrus" + "Disease" + the year it started. We couldn't agree if it started in October or November, but this news was news to Mom, either way. Dad didn't say much. (He's the one I'm worried about the most, even though both of them are in pretty good health.) My brother-in-law did most of the talking, and my nephew (8th grader) asked most of the questions. My niece (8th grader - how are they so old already?!) observed like she does, taking it all in. I believe the message was "we don't know" and "we'll do what we have to do," even if it means quarantine.

I mentioned I was so glad we were finally talking about it, and my nephew (who, just last month was playing a game to conquer the world with a virus) whole-heartedly agreed. The kids seemed a bit more worried after talking, but I think they appreciated everyone being so open about it. On their way out, I was able to tell my sister that her son is worried about her (a storyline I won't write about - it's too personal). I was also able to give big hugs. Mom said, "Thank you. I needed that."

Tears welled up in her eyes, and I responded by saying, "We'll see you again soon. That's for sure." Her fear makes mine bigger.

We washed our hands again after everyone left.

Day 1 - Ambiguity

I'm veering off of my "learning" posts for this one and probably many future posts while my teaching world is in limbo. I'll be using this blog at times to document what I see, hear, and feel.

School is closed as of this weekend. One week prior to Spring Break for us. I dreamt of possible e-learning plans last night, even though the message we received yesterday was to relax.

Our district is still paying us (all of us) on these upcoming e-learning days. People at the district office have made plans for the students for the first five e-learning days. Staff may come to work Monday to figure out next steps, or they may stay home with their children or... It was a very calm vibe from our administration yesterday. Many questions I'd had were answered, and I felt better knowing we can breathe and not jump the gun on any plans or worries.

The kids handled the day well, too, finishing their IAR testing (and science testing for 8th grade), and playing Scattegories. The one class I had two periods yesterday actually wrote/journaled for me/themselves. The prompt: Start writing "I'm thinking..." When the music changes, start again with, "I'm hoping..." I played "Shindler's List" music for three minutes, and then three minutes of the "Forrest Gump" theme song for the second half. Some shared bits aloud, and some shared with their table mates. We were also paid a visit by the new therapy dog that will be coming to our school on Fridays. It was a good day overall.

Many school districts are not waiting for federal guidance. They're taking matters into their own hands. I felt calm about not having to plan anything right away, and calm knowing the work will be very different from typical curriculum. Still... a gnawing feeling was growing in my gut. I'd pushed aside the news I'd heard and seen, not being able to deal with it just yet. I had other things regarding school and students I had to get through first. Now I have to deal with it.

I don't know when my 67-year-old husband will stop going out to eat, but I have a feeling it's going to be soon. We went to Five Guys, brought it home, washed our hands, and ate. We're heading out tonight with the family to celebrate my dad's 85th birthday. I wonder when he'll stop going out to eat.

This morning we went to Meijer for our regularly-scheduled weekly shopping. We weren't going to go crazy buying tons of food and supplies; we only have so many bags we bring every week. We don't have children in the house; it's just the two of us, and we live pretty simply / modestly.

The lot was packed. I saw a couple wearing latex gloves. One person was wearing a mask. I climbed a shelf for apple juice. I crouched on the floor for eggs. I was able to buy chocolate cake and frosting for my dad's birthday cake today.

The butcher counter:

The pasta aisle (there's still some lasagna):

No more Dan Active for me. It's been a staple in my life since Mom had cancer, and it really keeps me healthy. I'll be sure to keep trying to eat healthy.

The eggs. After I crouched down for mine, I moved the other ones I could reach forward for others:

The toilet paper and every-other-kind-of-paper-product-you-can-think-of aisle:

Our cart, $200-something dollars later:

I noticed the fear creeping into my gut.
I noticed there were still steaks (I wanted to get some for my dad's birthday), even if there was no chicken (at first - some came as we were in the aisle).
I noticed people's faces considering what to get, remembering something they should get, and the disappointment when they got to an empty section.
I noticed the socializing my husband keep up with other shoppers.

I did NOT notice people running frantically. I did NOT notice people yelling or being mean. I did NOT notice people fighting over food or supplies.

I had to let some tears fall (it's my nature to cry when happy, sad, scared...), and then reined them back in to face this like my husband is - keep moving on. We're not desperate. We can be sociable and help others feel better. We have food. We even have some toilet paper. We have each other. We have our families. We have our health.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Eight Tips for Providing Feedback

After providing video feedback on myriad pieces of writing from my seventh graders, I was inspired to write this post. I'd read Matthew Johnson's post titled, "What Story Does Your Feedback Tell?" a few days ago, and thought now would be the perfect time to share some feedback tips I've learned. Most of these tips, if not all, can be applied to more than writing pieces. Consider using these for artwork, posters, presentations, and anything you'd like students to try improve the next time.

As an ELA teacher who has also authored two published books, I take providing feedback on student writing very seriously. I never liked writing until I started this blog and was able to write about whatever I wished. I remember all the red ink on my own papers, and I remember the lack of ink, as well, when a teacher simply put a letter grade at the top with a couple of words. ( From "Great job!" to "More thought needed.")

I remember when rubrics started becoming popular, and we had a heck of a time trying to make the words in each category become more and more objective. We even had some professional development time grading sample essays to help us become more objective. I remember on these days we'd give each sample a grade, write about one thing the student did well, and write one piece of feedback to help the student improve. Looking at other educators' ideas of feedback was very informative, and I found these days useful, even if they were exhausting.

I've since read a few books that have helped me to provide better and better feedback, even if I still have room to grow:

Since I am the curator of the Feedback in Lieu of Grades LiveBinder, I've also soaked up the articles and blog posts on this tab titled "How to Give Feedback."  Today we use all kinds of colored ink, yet as soon as we attach a grade to the piece, all our work on the feedback is often ignored. This, too, has come into play in how feedback is received by students, so the most important feedback is provided BEFORE students turn in the work to us. Conferring one-on-one is my favorite way to do this.

When students turn in completed work, I use the following tips...

  1. Allow for multiple revisions. No, I cannot accept revisions the day before grades are due. I can, however, accept revisions one after another until I create a cut-off date. I've learned to provide time in class for students to revise, and I've learned to give them a time frame, as well. When they used to turn in a revised piece that was a month old only because they were worried about their grade, I would become so frustrated. I now say (in my recorded feedback), "Revise by (insert date here), or your revisions will be too far removed from when you wrote your original."
  2. Record your feedback when you can. I used to use the free version of Screen-Cast-O-Matic. This year I splurged and paid for Loom. (The decision is explained in this post.) Video or screencasted feedback helps my students feel as if I'm sitting right next to them. They can hear the inflection in my voice, hear my smiles and laughter and thinking, and hear when I'm confused. With using a picture-in-picture, they can see me, as well, and knowing this actually helps me keep the feedback more positive. I focus more on next steps, rather than what went wrong.
  3. Keep your feedback short and sweet. If using video feedback, definitely keep it under five minutes per child or piece of writing. If the writing is much longer, either read it ahead of time or only read the portion you can read on screen.
  4. If all students have longer pieces of writing, ask them ahead of time to highlight the section they'd like for you to look at. This way, you're either looking at their best work or the work they would like help with. 
  5. First, share how proud you are of what they've done. Share the positives - where you can hear their voice come through, where they've used a technique practiced in class, the strong start they had (yes - even if you told the class exactly how to begin), a literary element they implemented... anything you see that shows a skill they've used.
  6. Share ONE thing students COULD improve upon, if they so desire. (See below for phrases that promote ownership.) This may be a grammar skill that they can work on throughout the piece. This may be giving more background information so readers can understand the evidence they used. This may be the introduction or the conclusion. It will be tempting to ask them to revise MANY aspects of their writing, but in my experience, they'll only edit one item anyway. Since you're providing opportunities for students to revise their writing, you and the student can tackle one issue at a time. The research I've read shows that students learn each skill better in this fashion.
  7. Have a system for letting students know you provided feedback and for students to let YOU know they've revised and are ready for more feedback.
  8. If you can, do NOT put the grade on the writing until all feedback and revisions have been completed. For my own notes, I jot down where I believe students are on the rubric(s) I've shared with them, but I try my hardest to not tell them until they decide to stop revising. (Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam's research titled "Inside the Black Box" persuaded me to update this practice, and my own observations in 2016 settled it once and for all for me.)

Ever since I started writing what I've wanted to write (instead of "back in the day" when teachers chose what I wrote), I've become more defensive about my writing. Much (real) writing is personal. Writers can get offended if someone tells them something looks "wrong" or could be said "in a different way." Since becoming a writer of my own blog, I've learned that I don't have to conform to anyone else's way of writing. It's MINE. If I had a teacher now who told me how to "fix" my writing, I may simply quit. I don't want to be the reason my students stop writing. I want to be the one to help them put strategies in place to improve.Therefore, I've learned how to approach what they could improve upon with certain phrases. For example, if a student's grammar is horrendous, I may say, "As a reader, I get distracted with your choice to not use our rules of grammar here, and it makes me either not understand what you're saying, or not want to continue reading. If you decided to capitalize names and spell words correctly, your message would come through clearer to your readers."

Phrases I use often that provide choice and ownership of their writing:

  • "What would happen if you..." (ex: ...added more evidence here...)
  • "You may want to think about..." (ex: ...moving this piece over here...)
  • "You might want to consider..." (ex: ...getting rid of this sentence because it distracts or refutes...)
  • "Your readers might appreciate..." (ex: ...if you elaborated more here...)

Sometimes, after all this, I am exhausted. I hit "stop recording" on a video with one particular tough piece of writing, and my smile falls. I sigh. I've figured out that my students respond to more positive growth statements, so I keep them up for the video, and then I copy the link to the video, paste it into the online grade book for them to watch, and move on to the next child. I don't linger on the myriad issues we need to address until it's time to teach in front of them once again. In essence, my "red pen" isn't flying all over the page - my voice reflects that of hope and encouragement.