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.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

9/11 - Twenty Years Later

I teach seventh graders. Every year my coworker and I decide to read "The Names" by Billy Collins with students. They read it on their own, stop and jot down which words from the poem make them think (and what they think), and then we read it again, aloud, doing the same. They turn and talk about their notes, then share with the class. As they're sharing, some of their confusion is alleviated, some experience "aha" moments, and others still don't really get the gist of the poem.

Here are some quips I heard this year at this point in the lesson:

  • I don't get the names. What are they for?
  • Are they for people who died?
  • Does he know these people, since he grew up in New York?
  • Why are names "written in the sky"? Where?
  • Why does he count 26 willows?
  • I think it's for the alphabet - he follows the alphabet!
  • But didn't a lot more people die?
  • He sees them everywhere - because of the memorials?
  • It sounds kind of sad in some spots.
  • I'm not sad about it. It didn't affect me or my family.

Then we share this video:

More from the students:
  • I thought the sounds at the beginning were funny, until I realized what was happening.
  • That was so sad.
  • When they added that girl talking about her father, that had a big impact.
  • The music itself was sad.
  • I saw my grandpa's picture and his name in the video.
  • I'm still not sad about it, but I am sad for the people who lost someone.
  • Did the people in the planes know what was happening?
  • They must have planned a lot for this.
  • Were the terrorists the pilots?
  • I saw a big list of firefighters.
  • My family had a tough time because they had to defend themselves against people who thought it was Muslims who attacked. People who follow Islam reject terrorism. My grandparents and parents had to teach others about Islam.
And I feel old. I feel old because the students in front of me (not on a screen - yippee!!) know less and less about this day. I feel old because our troops have been in Afghanistan for almost twenty years.

I remind myself that some seventh graders are at such different levels of maturity. Some are curious. Some are empathetic. Some are tired. Some are all of these things combined. Seventh grade - a sweet spot, for sure, and also such a tough age. Overall, I'm proud of their discussions today, and I'm hopeful they'll learn a lot this coming school year - about oh-so-much.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Shifting Grades Once Again

I was so very excited... I hadn't felt this way in over a year... We were ten days into the school year, and I was finally going to tell my students about our grading (or lack thereof). After a year of going back to grades, this felt so refreshing! 

First we talked about who liked grades and why, who didn't like grades and why, the unfairness of averages, late work, how the words "extra credit" make me want to puke, and then we talked about the goal of school (to learn! to improve!). I showed a video of how they can see their progress in the online grade book (how they can view the narrative or video feedback). And I left it with, "If you think this is not for you, and you go home and share with your parents, you can always let me know you'd like the computer to figure your grades for you, no problem."

I've already had to repeat a few things... No, your grade won't go down because you didn't turn it in yet - just turn it in, so I can provide feedback. No, the grade book won't have a grade until we chat and decide on one the last week of the quarter. This isn't worth ANY points - we're working on this, this, and this...

And I LOVE it. The language is shifting already. Students are still doing the work, because our lessons are useful and will help them learn and improve.

Here is some feedback from my seventh graders (I didn't get any negative ones yet!):

My teaching heart is full once again. #ShiftThis!