Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 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 their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Shift This Readers ROCK!

I've got three things to celebrate - thanks to readers of Shift This...

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

One Thing Differently...

"While we can't continue to do more things, we can do things differently." ~Unmapped Potential, by Julie Hasson and Missy Lennard, pg. 109

Ain't that the truth!

This is one point that made me go "Ooooh! I have an idea for our T-Wolves of the month!"

What? You might not know what I mean, so let me back up... First off, Julie and Missy (authors of the above quote) want teachers to uncover - and tap into - the limitless potential of their students. Secondly, this was in the chapter right after the chapter about better ways to lead a team. My brain, therefore, was on my team and a struggle we often have - coming up with "T-Wolves of the month."

We currently have six teams at my middle school (two in 6th, 7th, and 8th), and each team chooses two boys and two girls (I'm waiting for the gender stipulation to be lifted soon) to receive the designation of "T-Wolf of the month." Usually our team starts the year by making a list of students that have made an impact on their class right away, and then we go from there. Some months (March or April, anyone?!) are tougher than others, when it seems even the students who are excellent in character all year suddenly are... how should I put it... not living up to their potential. Remember - this is middle school. They have a lot of growing still to do. During our 40 minutes of team time, this decision could take up to 20 minutes - as we all see students in different situations, and (even though it's a team of ELA, math, PE/health, science, and social studies) we don't each see ALL students.

As I read the above quote, I had an "aha" moment - let's invite the students to help!

First, we'd have to explain to students what the process is that the team goes through to choose this person ("character counts" traits, consistency, etc.), and then we can let them know there is a spot for them to nominate someone - this form, ideally, would be on each of our homeroom web pages. When it comes time to choose, we can use their responses as a resource! Their ideas will be taken into consideration. We'll need to let them know that the team will look at every response, and the person they nominated may or may not be chosen that month, depending on our discussion and other student names we're bringing to the table.

You KNOW the kids see a lot of what we don't see - and I'm excited to see the more quiet students step up in this fashion. I've made the form only for students in our district (yes, it will collect their name automatically), so you cannot view it, but I took a screen shot of it here for you to see the simplicity...

Thoughts? Ideas to add? Wording to change? I thought I'd bring it to my online PLN before I share it with the team school in August, so let me know! Thanks for the spark of inspiration, Julie & Missy!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Unmapped Potential

Unmapped Potential by Julie Hasson and Missy Lennard (PurposefulPrincipals) went on my list to
read after a few quotes came at me from Twitter. This is not a review; this is simply one of my take-aways.

I think I got something out of this book that might not have been the authors' intent... I believe most of the focus (except for the stellar chapter 8 which gave GREAT information about how to lead your team) was supposed to be about the potential in our students. I learned better ways to work more effectively with colleagues that don't necessarily work the same way I do - to recognize and use my colleagues' potential. Bear with me here...

"If you want to change the world, start by making your bed." This quote, by Admiral Charles McRaven, came across my twitter feed a few days ago, and then I read it in Unmapped Potential - right on page four! The authors go on to say, "Simple steps done with consistency and conviction can create a big impact. And making a small, positive change in one area will positively impact all other areas." My thoughts went right to teacher interactions.

If you've got a pretty good rapport in class with students, in the hallways and after school, and you're anything like the readers of Shift This, the most difficult part of your day might be when you interact with other staff members. I've been getting many direct messages and emails from teachers who say that chapter ten on "Resistance" from Shift This resonated with them, because they feel they have no one they can go to during the day. They're thought of as the "crazy" teacher who has "loud" classes or tries "weird" activities, where no one is learning (grrr). And since there's only a certain amount of time during the day, these teachers that encounter this resistance decide to only focus on their students, and not on their relationships with their peers. Many of them have "given up." They'd rather put their energy into their students, because INSIDE the classroom is where they see the most collaboration and growth.

My mind was on these readers when I picked up Unmapped Potential, so I kept substituting "students" for "teachers" as I read. Next, I read, "...belief plus action helps you realize your goals." Julie and Missy went on to say that what we believe is what will happen. They shared a story about a boy who lost his eraser. He BELIEVED that another student had taken it, and he became very angry. Even though his teacher gave him another, he was still angry - at his BELIEF - not at the actual situation (which had been resolved). This story will stick with me for a long time, because I do this.

I do this. I think one thing about a person, and it stays with me. I've often that "that teacher doesn't want to change. That teacher is happy with the status quo." The authors say "Your struggle to connect with some people is likely rooted in your thoughts about them" (57). My thoughts/beliefs have driven a rut into my map about this person. It's so deep, and I don't even know if it's true. "If we focus on changing our thoughts about them, we can improve our relationships with them" (58). I realized I had to take a break from the book and come up with new beliefs. Stop reading here for a moment. Think of a person you believe "doesn't care" or "is negative" or "thinks my work is crazy." Then think of a POSITIVE belief you could honestly believe about that person. Once you've done this, please keep reading... 

If the person is a teacher, we can most likely be correct believing that "all teachers want their students to learn." Another belief - on our part - could be, "I believe this will be my best school year ever." I can see how saying this daily when you get ready for school could actually work!

We need to put up the "road closed" signs on that rutted road (belief) for now, hoping weeds will sprout through the cracks in the asphalt and that our new belief will take hold - a brand new road, clean, smooth, and ready for us to travel many times. (Did you know - this new road has stops along the way for refreshments? And most likely chocolate?)

What's next after creating a new belief? When we get agitated, frustrated, angry or worried, we need to repeat the new beliefs, and not let feelings influence our actions.

Prior to this happening, however, we need to visualize how we will respond to negativity if (when) it appears. At the end of each chapter there is a section called "Map-Changing Actions." The authors give great suggestions as to how to visualize your response (at the end of the fourth chapter).  "Close your eyes and see yourself successfully performing something challenging... (this could be a conversation with that teacher) ...Imagine the sensory details - what you see, hear and feel - as you perform the task. Envisioning your state may also be helpful. For example, seeing yourself in a calm state may decrease physical symptoms of stress when the time comes to perform it. Finally, envisioning success can enhance motivation and confidence, making you more likely to continue despite challenges."

Visualization has been used for how many years? For how many reasons? Yes. This could work. We need to make the time. (Heck, why not right now??)  When I think back on situations that might arise again at my own school, I can visualize how to keep calm and patient, and then what I might ask to get the conversation going. I'll try to ask more questions than give answers, and I'll put my focus into listening to responses.

If you've got an issue with a colleague, you've got your reasons - your purpose - for mending these issues. If it affects you negatively, you want that out of your life. You can only control so much. What you can control is your new beliefs. Spend some time shutting down those negative roads on your mind map. Spend more time setting up new beliefs to latch on to. Focus and apply your efforts on what you can control. Notice and appreciate the strengths in this person, and respond in ways that make both of you better, instead of bitter (29). If you try to avoid the challenge, "you cheat yourself out of an opportunity to grow" (50). And " will likely regret being angry, but you will never regret being kind" (61). "Your new way of responding to this person might just reduce the very behavior frustrating you" (64).

I can see how teachers can use the authors' messages to develop better relationships with colleagues. Looking through this lens will hopefully help those that encounter resistance throughout their day! Please share with me in the comments what beliefs you may have had and any new beliefs on which you choose to focus!

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Value of Vulnerability

When are you vulnerable?

I was asked this question once, in a marriage counseling session. I didn't know what it meant at the time. It took me awhile to process it. When I realized I had STOPPED being vulnerable with my ex, that's when I vowed to always just be me - vulnerable as heck - with any other new relationships. My second (and last, of course) husband and I are 100% vulnerable with each other, and that has made our love and life so much stronger. Being vulnerable means you have nothing to hide. My heart is on my sleeve, and I trust others. If people take advantage of this trust, I then learn my lesson through reflection, and close my heart back up with those particular people.

When are you vulnerable - at your school?

I'm guessing your answer would be every day. During the school day, you are in front of eyes that look up to you - you feel that you need to make a difference and do your best. You try, no matter how goofy you may feel, then you try again - with your students' best interests at the forefront.

When are you vulnerable - in your profession?

Many teachers have been debating starting a blog. Writing is a vulnerable act. I can see why many teachers are afraid of writing blog posts, much less a book! I've been there - I'm STILL there! Seeing that people I know and respect are reading Shift This is scary - I always say "eek!" when I see a tweet of the book in someone's hands. Writing every blog post is also a vulnerable act for me, as it is for countless others.

Yet it is important - now more than ever. We need to share our stories - our truths - and learn from each other. We need to share our own stories to combat any negative view of education.

New and veteran teachers are telling me that Shift This has made a difference and invigorated them.

I've got principals asking me for advice as to how to run school meetings or to provide a workshop on the ideas in the book. Teachers are sending me direct messages, confiding in me about the resistance they encounter at work, and how words I've written have helped them feel like they're not alone. These educators are reaching out and showing their vulnerability to me, which I respect.

I've been reminded of a few things since Shift This came out in May...

  • Not everyone you're connected to knows what you know, so SHARE what you know! There are teachers reading the book that have never heard of Genius Hour. There are teachers reading that have never considered not giving extra credit. Some teachers have called it eye-opening, or even career-changing! Even though I've shifted my ideas for awhile now, we still need to share the ideas out there, as there are still educators who are not aware of the possibilities. Consider this: If you share ONE idea that affects ONE educator, you are affecting countless children, as well. How many children will this educator teach, using this one idea you shared? How many other educators will learn about this one idea and thus affect their students, as well?
  • Teachers need to be doing what we ask our students to do. Whether it be the homework you assign, the reading for the night, or the writing in class on a subject, we need to do this alongside our students. Writing is such a vulnerable act - even writing a reflection to something in class! Even writing to give advice or feedback! I'm not even thinking about creative or narrative writing - I'm thinking about writing about Phineas Gage, for goodness sake! Or how about the writing done in science class? Or providing evidence to support or refute a decision made in history? MANY of our students are uncomfortable writing - much less sharing their writing. We need to do model it, show them our thinking, then ask them for feedback.
  • We need to ask everyone - students, their parents, peers, administration - for feedback. The more perspectives, the better. The stronger our work will be.
  • We need to REFLECT. Daily. Nah. We only need to ask for feedback and reflect if we want to improve. If we don't want to improve, we should find a new profession.

I've been humbled since Shift This has come out, as well. Teachers are starting blogs as a result of reading it, or even simply being in our book study chats. More teachers have found a larger voice - My words have affected others, and now their words will affect even more educators! On the Weebly, under chapter ten (titled "Resistance" - a favorite chapter among readers), I've added a new page for our new bloggers. The reason it's connected to the resistance chapter is because we will encounter LESS resistance once "crazy" (a.k.a. "innovative") ideas become more commonplace. It's my secret hope that Shift This will not be needed in a few years as more and more teachers are exposed to these ideas. This is going to happen if you share your words - be vulnerable - and let other teachers (and parents, too!) know what you're trying in the classroom.

When are you vulnerable? You could reply in a comment on this post, sure. That's one way of being vulnerable and sharing your thoughts with the world. Or you could write a blog post all your own.

This post was inspired by Aaron Hogan in a #tlap chat about his new book Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. He and I are on the same wavelength - I finished his book after I wrote this draft. He's got an entire chapter devoted to valuing vulnerability, and another on the importance of blogging and sharing with the world!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Thankful for the Opportunities

I was reading a blog post about global connections and grades (or lack thereof) from a "new" connection I've made on Twitter recently - Monte Syrie. At the bottom of his post, he writes,

Do. Reflect. Do better.

That struck a chord with  me. Reflection is such a HUGE part of my learning, teaching me so much. I learn more from my failures than from my successes - as long as I reflect and plan how to tweak (or ditch)! I retweeted his post, and then told him - 

Bam. He hit me again. "Lucky to work in a prof. that gives me the opportunity to redo."


Some days we may be kicking ourselves for what we tried - and how we failed - in a classroom of students. And then... then we have the opportunity to reflect, revise, and redo...


If you are not yet reflective in your practice, it's time to begin. Begin right away, so you can learn from your successes and failures TODAY. This can come in the form of simply thinking, making bullet points, filling in plus/delta charts, journaling, or blogging. If we want our students to be reflective, we've got to reflect ourselves, share our reflections, and support a community of learners.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Feedback that Moves Writers Forward

If you teach ANY sort of writing (ahem, social studies and science teachers, too), you should read Feedback that Moves Writers Forward: How to Escape Correcting Mode to Transform Student Writing and take Patty McGee's ideas to heart and then into the classroom.

Where do I start?

As a teacher who is going into her second year of only providing feedback instead marks, I NEED to do this more effectively. I also need to model effective feedback for my students, so they can provide better feedback to each other, as well. I learned so much that will help me with these goals from this resource-full book.

I did not expect to get so much more out of it... after all, I just spent a school year giving ONLY feedback! Since reading, however, I have created a contract for students if they need that scaffold to help prove their grade at the end of the quarter, I have collected so many great phrases and routines to use when providing feedback, I have added these three peer feedback protocols to the Feedback in Lieu of Grades LiveBinder (Patty said it was okay!), and I've made a commitment to include a few minutes for reflection in as many days as possible.

Here is one way I make notes - I make lists of what I want to go back to in the book. You'll notice some I've crossed off because I already tackled them, and some I still need to do (um, quite a few I still need to do)...

Here were some of the gems I shared (via Twitter):

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Now go digging and find your own gems in this jewel of a book!

My "gradeless" resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Taking a Break from Control

It happens.
Sometimes it makes me late - to a meeting, to a party, to class.
It's human.

WHY, then... WHY is this story about Shanna Peeples' (who I totally respect) bathroom policy considered radical? Why is it even a discussion? You've gotta read this story!

Why do some teachers want control over when students use the bathroom?

Chapter four in Shift This mentions giving students control over when they leave the room. In room 239, we have a sign-out sheet that students can use - to visit the bathroom, get something from their locker, see the nurse, visit the library... They sign out and then they leave. I have seventh graders. They love this procedure. Do you think they don't take advantage of this?

Of course they do! So how do I notice this, and then what do I do? (And how can I look so casual about it?!)

First, I offer them practice. At the beginning of the year, I go over our sign-out system quickly, and simply ask that students are courteous about leaving. Try not to leave in the middle of a discussion or dissemination of important information. Try to NEVER leave when another student is sharing something. Some need to be reminded, but school is a great time to practice. I trust them until they prove me wrong.

At the start of the year, not many students take advantage of this system - it's as if they're not sure of it. Can this be true? But in another class, we get three passes for the quarter... I can just go when I need to?

Still, after four weeks in, I take home the sign-out sheets. I make tally marks on a roster to see who may be abusing the system. What does "abusing the system" even mean?? I have 80-min. blocks, with a four-minute break in between. Sure, they could go during break, but many other students are using that transition time so they don't have to use a pass... And for my class after lunch, should students be given more leeway? Who am I to decide this?? So what I do is I figure one time a week should be normal. (Right? Is it? I still don't know.) There are some students who never leave class. Then there are others...

After I tally, I jot down who I should talk with. In a quiet one-on-one conversation, all I ask is, "Is there a reason you need to leave our class so much?" Sometimes their answers will surprise me! And many times, they leave because they forgot something at their locker - this is a different issue, and this is what I use the tracking sheet for - that's (narrative) feedback that gets shared in my online grade book. I show the average for the class, and we - together - set a goal for the next four weeks. Usually this discussion and goal helps.

Does it not work sometimes?
Obviously. I have students who struggle in ELA. Leaving the room is an escape, and I'm aware of this. When the work gets tougher, this student will escape more often. The next four weeks I tally once again. We have the discussion again. And what do we do? We need to come up with a way to MEET the student's goal. We need to come up with a PLAN, since simply setting a goal did not work. This past year, my co-teacher and I simply used an index card with my initials on separate pieces that I cut partially for the student to tear off and then just leave - no questions asked. When the index card is gone, they're done for the four weeks. It works - and is still fairly discreet.

And yet... I need to tweak my own system sometimes. Last year, with three weeks left of the school year, I was tallying... and I stopped half-way through. Too many students were suddenly leaving a LOT from our class = 15 or more times in four weeks!! This was the first time I'd run into this. So... I went back to my old passes I still had on a document, and printed them out.
The new plan was for students hand to it to me, I initial, and they leave the room. When they got this paper, they GROANED! When I explained that too many people had taken advantage of the system the last four weeks, they nodded, giggled, and said nothing more. (Plus, we only had three weeks left of school - that's one per week!) I had to add this caveat, however - they could not buy or sell them. They could give them away to friends in need, but they could not buy or sell them. I knew this group of entrepreneurs...

They surprised me again - I found one that someone left behind, tucked it under the transparent desk cover thing-a-ma-bob, and a student used it and then returned it!! I love 7th graders. I want to treat them like the humans they are, and then tweak the plan when it's not working.

How do you handle bathroom breaks? Leave a comment with your idea we can all steal!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Creating a Culture of Feedback

I wish I'd have had this book prior to teaching without marks in class, but it was just published in 2017, so it came at the best time for me to digest ideas - SUMMER!

It took me about a month to read this skinny 64-page book, because I had to DO many of the things the authors suggested!  Much of what I was doing is on the right track and I simply tweaked some things, but of course I had to create while reading:

[My next step is to do the same with grammar standards, as I think we're still using daily grammar practice next year (?), and I need to figure out my own goals, in addition to what I expect students to do. Last year was the first year I stuck with the grammar routine, and it did give us a common language we could use with students. It's still not my favorite, as the research points against teaching grammar in isolation, but it's still only five minutes of class time.]

I then typed up the "Observation Vs. Evaluation" chart they shared so I can share it with my students prior to us practicing peer feedback.
I thought it would be perfect to share with them one of the first days of school when we practice speaking in front of our peers with our first tiny bit of writing. Last year, the class gave a quick "thumbs up, middle or down" on volume when speaking. How simple it would be to share this chart prior to this activity - and then again and again as we practiced giving and receiving peer feedback?! Pair this with the story of Austin's Butterfly, and the culture of feedback can start strong. (Haven't seen that one? Hurry and soak up the six minutes of visible learning!)

Another perk about this gem of a book is that they organize it into three chapters that make sense for the process of feedback, and they constantly use language that makes the reader think of IMPROVING, and not judgment -

  • Where am I going? 
  • How am I doing?
  • What are my next steps? 

Yes. Yes. Yes. I've highlighted and stuck notes on many pages, knowing I'll be keeping this book close at hand once the school year starts again. I'm going to use the language they use so that our class has an even better culture of learning and improving next year. I am excited for feedback in our classroom to lead to action and improvement. The goal "is to give students opportunities to practice making decisions about what's next based on feedback that they gather on their own" (52). My students and I have a long way to go. One step at a time...

Thank you, Bill Ferriter and Paul Cancellieri!

Thank you to Solution Tree press, who provided this book after I reviewed another of their books that will be published soon!

My "gradeless" resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


Here's to all those who think teachers have the summer's "OFF"...
Sure - you wouldn't mind switching careers with teachers NOW... See if you can survive one week in the classroom come September!
Not bitter here, just realistic. Check it out:

Happy JUNE! Since school has been off for two days, I've been to Milwaukee and back for the USMSpark conference where I presented three different sessions and then hosted a Twitter chat last night, and today I already had breakfast with Twitter (and real-life) peeps Marialice Curran and Kristen Mattson (who, by the way, are doing WAY MORE than I could even imagine!!), followed by an interview with Kelly Croy for his Wired Educator Podcast. I even took a few moments to glance at the new curriculum we're piloting in August. Phew!


It's time for me to take a week vacation - oh, my! Hubby has a big birthday is tomorrow - and then get back to planning for next year!

And a HUGE THANK YOU to all those firefighters, EMS responders, nurses and doctors out there who work their tails off - often with odd hours away from their families - and don't get the break they deserve! Who else am I missing? Everybody's profession is valuable - we all work together to keep society humming!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

2016-2017 Digital Scrapbook

I've realized the "Year In Review" posts I do each year aren't really about the year with students. They're just the big events or ones that happen outside of my regular school day. And it sounds quite a bit like bragging. I keep these just so I can go back - a digital scrapbook of sorts - so please take it with a grain of salt. I usually blog about small everyday successes and challenges, but I do post these once a year... Anyway, here are some events I thoroughly enjoyed this past school year - year 22!

The reason I had to start this post June 30th was this sweet tweet from Michael Buist:
- I attended my first #PatioPD, thanks to Sean Scanlon. I wish I had a photo of the seven of us! I even got involved in the PokemonGo craze (after just one week from its inception)!
- Boston - Building Learning Communities conference for my third time - second as a presenter!

- I approached the Burgess couple (DBC) about a book I'd like to get into the world.
- I was asked to be the Spotlight Speaker for ICE in March.
Matt Miller came to Tech Academy at AHSD 25! His message was clear - follow the students' lead, and keep them connected!

- EdCamp Illinois on 9/17
- Began NO GRADES in all three of my 80-min. blocks!

- I signed a publishing contract!
- EdCamp Chicago on 10/22
- I was able to renew my National Board Certificate - I passed!
- We executed our first Independent Inquiry Project (replaced Genius Hour - one full week, ending with a Cardboard / Creativity Challenge) while I conferenced with students about their learning!
- We all survived the Chromebook roll out at our school!

My district brought Dr. Tom Guskey to us! Most of our teachers were able to hear about the benefits of Standards-Based Grading. Of course I had to get my photo with him...!
- I found out I had successfully renewed my National Board Certification one year early (so... until 2027)!
- I turned in my first rendition of Shift This to Dave and Shelley Burgess!
- I found out I was nominated for a Golden Apple award - humbled!

- I was able to meet author K.A. Holt, thanks to our district for bringing her to our middle schools.
- Matt Miller hosted #DitchSummit online = nine great presenters sharing a wealth of information! Sign up here for the one in 2017!
- I achieved my goal of reading 73 books in 2016! (I read a total of 75 - all are here.) I didn't think I would, since I spent so much time writing this year.

- EdCamp Madison! We made a long weekend out of it for my birthday. My hubby knows what makes me happy!
- PubPD at Emmett's in Downers Grove (this one Hubby didn't mind attending the entire time)
- Conferring with students at the end of the quarter - my favorite thing to do this year!

- I volunteered at the SIT conference.
- I was notified that I would not be one of the 30 educators the Golden Apple committee would visit further. What more can I do? I could look for opportunities to Skype with classes and experts around the world. I could implement Genius Hour every week once again. I could be a stronger leader at my school. Our 7th grade ELA team is already implementing many changes, and my focus will always be on the students, no matter how much we do.

- I was humbled to share two presentations (twice each) as a "Spotlight Speaker" at the ICE (Illinois Computing Educators) Conference! David Karnoscak and I even won a #KidsDeserveIt book! I met a TON of wonderful educators here - my favorite parts were the small 1:1 chats we had.
- I received a Hokki stool from VS (school furniture) for our classroom! (Thanks Monica Hartman and Jen Smith!) 
- I received recognition from an IL senator for my National Board recertification - I then decided I probably need to let my district know!

- I joined my first panel on personalized learning at a NICE meeting on April 13th. Woah! Story here... 

- Did someone say another EdCamp?! Half-day EdCamp CCSD59 on April 22nd. Bonus - there were FOUR of us from my own school who attended - two first timers! Also, there were two parents there who have children at our school! Thanks for getting this together, Amanda, and thanks for another free DBC book - Instant Relevance! #MakeItReal
- I was able to share "Shift the Culture of Your Classroom" again during the morning of SLedCamp on April 29th.

- Shift This came to Amazon on May 7th! See Dave Burgess's post about it here!
- A piece I wrote about using feedback in stead of grades (last year!) was finally published in the IATE Illinois English Bulletin, Spring 2017 edition.
- MAP Scores - a lot of growth this spring!
- My phone cannot handle all the tweets about #ShiftThis. My TweetDeck can. ;)
- I've been on a Bitmoji craze, and it helped me to deal with all the talk and blogs about fidget spinners - oh, and to deal with the spinners themselves! ;)

- I was interviewed for the Principal Center Podcast.
- I finished my first year where all of my ELA classes went without marks in the grade book until it was time to put one (still quite arbitrary, but more accurate) letter on each grade report each quarter.
- I got the sweetest thank you notes from my seventh graders this year. Priceless.
- USM Summer Spark starts my last day of school (staff only), so I miss that day, but then I'm fortunate to be a "featured speaker" the next day... Oh, how excited I am to meet these educators and many, many more this summer! (Summer presentations: BLC (Boston in July), Taste of Tech (Aurora, IL 7/31 & 8/1), and Ditch That Conference (September 8th in Indiana.)

And what were the tiny successes this year? All the times I came home and was able to tell Hubby about all the small steps my students were taking through all the struggles we approached together...

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Quick Tip #27 - Life Lessons Visible

Throughout the school year, I ask for and then record life lessons we've learned. Once recorded, they are publicized here online for students, parents, and the community. Now that it's the end of the year...

Full Text

Monday, June 5, 2017

My Personal Twitter Rules

It's my Twitter space, too.

I play by my own rules.

In my last post regarding Twitter, I shared seven lessons I've learned since jumping into the Twittersphere five years ago. When you first get on Twitter, you feel that you "have" to do certain things... such as follow someone if they follow you, or other "rules" I can't remember now. I'm glad I'm removed from those initial feelings!

I thought I'd explain some of my personal rules I've made for myself, and hope to get your ideas, as well, so we can learn from each other the various ideas educators have regarding this swell tool we call Twitter.

--> I do not always reply right away. Yes, sometimes I shut off technology. For many reasons. If you don't understand this, you should shut it off, too. During school hours, I will not check my Twitter account. The students come before anyone from 7:45-3:30.

--> If your district, school, or class is in a contest, I will vote once for your school - IF I get a chance to look through other submissions. I will not retweet your request, unless followers can see ALL the entries. Why these rules for myself? Because I used to not have so many followers. I used to not be so "popular" on Twitter. I don't think contests should be won because of the person's popularity or connections. Background story: I didn't win a karaoke contest one night in Fox Lake, IL, because I only brought my husband and parents. I didn't know it was decided by popularity vote! I did win a Parrot Bay hat... (That's right. I sing. Martina McBride and Dixie Chicks, Baby.)

--> Very rarely do I join a chat at 8pm or later. Another of my rules for shutting off tech - I don't sleep well if my brain is too engaged after 8pm. I've missed many #GeniusHour chats as a result, so I catch the archives. My own state has an #ILEdChat at 9pm - I'll never make that one, as that's when I head to bed. Seriously! I take care of myself by heading to bed at a time that helps me stay healthy. No one wants to see me crabby.

--> I try my best to not complain or retweet complaints. I want to promote suggestions or solutions. I don't care to read complaints from other educators, so I try my best to not do so myself. This has transferred into the school environment, as well. I'm getting better!

--> I unfollow those who tweet or retweet crude photos. I don't need to see these in my feed. Politics have changed my Twitter feed to include more complaints and crass remarks - no matter what "side" you're on. I'm on the side of children, so I've been unfollowing those that are using or sharing profanity or complaints directed to the world, and not to the source.

Everyone follows a certain set of criteria for tweets and time on Twitter. What's yours? What works best for you?

When you're on your own Twitter space, what are some rules you find yourself following? 
Please share yours in the comments below.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Here's to the Crazy Ones

You've seen the ad from 1997 for Apple. If not, take one minute now...
Chapter ten in Shift This! is about resistance.

Resistance from teachers and parents is the hardest to handle. I've written (and will never forget) about when a parent told me (in front of my principal) that "Genius Hour is crazy."

I've seen the way teachers roll their eyes when I share a supposed "crazy" idea. I've heard teacher friends tell me about other teachers who don't like how I run class - even though they've never stepped in it before. And, yes, they're invited any day - especially when I put out our "observe us" sign.

I recently had my hair dyed... blue. This was the first (and probably the last) time I've ever added any color to my "chestnut brown" (as Hubby calls it) hair. I wanted it cobalt blue to match my fun Ford. It came out more of a mermaid or iridescent blue.
Coloring hair is NOT crazy. It will grow out in no time. Trying new things in the classroom that might benefit our students is NOT crazy. Some people even use the word "innovative."

It doesn't matter, though. I'm SURE some people think what I do is crazy. I used to think that was okay. I had a realization last night. I am now positive that it's good to be called "crazy" for what I do!

Hubby asked me what I think about the teachers who think what I'm doing is crazy.

My response: "They're crazy. They conform."

We sat for a moment, and then busted out laughing. Those words came out of my mouth? I looked up "conform" this morning, and from a simple Google search found "to comply with rules, standards, or laws." Hopefully teachers are conforming in this way!! This meaning, instead, hit me: "to behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards."

This reminded me of "status quo" - "the existing state of affairs."

Many teachers are NOT happy with "the existing state of affairs" in our schools. The fact that I try "crazy" ideas, along with my gratitude for all I have in my life, are two (of many!) reasons why I am as joyful as I am. Bring on the stares of the blue streaks - today it's a representation of all the "crazy" stuff I've done in my life!

I want my students' education to be BETTER than the status quo. "Here's to the crazy ones: the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently..." As long as we're doing what we believe is right, and helping our students learn how to learn, we can change things. "The people who think they are crazy enough to change the world are the ones who do." If we want our students to change the world, should't we be that role model?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Learning Conferences - A Reading Snippet

At the end of each quarter, during our one-on-one conferences, I learn so many great tidbits from my scholars. This past week (I still have three days of conferring left), I learned that I STILL have to work on changing my vocabulary.  Here was how the conversation went after we talked about her eight point growth for her MAP assessment:

T = teacher / me       S = student

T - Eight points is further than what they predicted would be your score. How did you do on our own class tests?
S - Huh?
T - How did you do on our quizzes in ELA?
S - What? You mean our comprehension checks? Those?
T - (Chuckling, as I realized in my mind they are still called "quizzes," even though we call them "comprehension checks" each time we discuss them this year!! I even wrote about them earlier this year.)

I don't remember how I responded. I only remember that I was embarrassed. Are "comprehension checks" still "quizzes"? I had to look up the word...
Checking for comprehension through brief questions... Yes, I suppose it still IS a quiz. Who am I kidding, calling it a "comprehension check?" No one. I knew this going into it. HOWEVER... This name change helps my students stay calm about their score. It helps them see that this is a check of their comprehension of this ONE passage. It is not a label that will stick with them. When I go one step further to separate out the categories into literal and inferential questions, then we get even MORE information about their comprehension, and we can set goals to minimize confusion for the future.

Here were two goals students could choose from if they were having difficulty with their comprehension:
To improve with literal questions - Find the answer directly in the text and highlight it.
To improve with inferential questions - Find at least two clues to the answer you choose. If you cannot find two clues, you most likely have not chosen the answer yet.

During our conferences this quarter, students were able to use arguments such as, "My last three scores are my best, because I was really focusing on the text and finding the answers there." Or, "I have improved from first quarter to this quarter, because now I can prove that I understand more inferential questions than I have before." I love how our language has shifted over the past year. I love that the conversations are now about learning, and not about letters or numbers. I'll have to remember this feeling and look at it as a goal once a new batch of learners comes my way in August!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Have the Discussion

May is one tough month!

I had a rough day Friday. Seventh graders playing with fidgets, touching each other ("I was just kidding!" "He's poking me!"), blurting out, not wanting to work...

I believe it's tougher when you're not grading anything, but I admit I did that to myself.

So... I revamped my behavior tally sheet, and I started using it today in a new class (it's effectiveness in one class meant it was time to implement it in another).

The first forty minutes of class were pretty brutal, as I could not get two students who were bickering alone, away from the rest of the class. I needed to share our plans with the entire class for the next two weeks, and I didn't want to call them out in front of the whole class. (Although one time I had a "very stern" warning / tone / eyes - it worked for perhaps five minutes...)

Before I shared the "new" plan with two students, I sat down on the floor to have a quiet conversation (they were supposed to be starting to read The Outsiders, but they were not... yet).

"I have to show you something."

"He did it! I didn't do anything, Mrs. Kirr!"

"Stop. Listen. I need to show you something."

Once the arguing back ceased, I was able to share with them my thoughts.

"I do not have children at home. I do not know what it's like to live with 13-year olds. I have never had any brothers. I didn't grow up with any boys my age. I don't know what it's like to be around two best friends like you two. All I know is that Friday was very rough on me, and I knew I needed to do something so the last three weeks of school are fair to me - and to you. I'm tired of getting upset and frustrated, and I'll bet you're tired of me getting upset and frustrated with you, so I'm going to show you what I've devised that has seemed to help other seventh graders."

They looked at me with questions on their faces as I talked to them like this. It looked as if they were truly listening. Their mouths weren't moving, and they were looking at me in the eyes. I showed them the sheet, explaining especially the two sections I tweaked - "arguing about or ignoring specific teacher directions" and "tattling on another student in order to deflect from misbehavior being addressed." We talked about what those meant, and they acted like as if they understood.

I then asked them, in our 80-minute period, how many tallies they think they would be fair before I emailed home. They came up with four total. I agreed (it's what I use in my other class with the few I use it with)! I put the half sheet by each of them and said, "It can stay here with you. If we use it, so be it. If we don't, even better. Thank you for understanding and trying this method with me."

For the next forty minutes, I had no issues with these two students. I thanked them quietly for not disrupting class as they walked out the door. I heard back, "See you tomorrow, Mrs. Kirr."

Talk to the children.

Today was a good day. One day at a time...

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Visit and Inquire

Shift This! came out, and I put two in our school library so teachers didn't need to purchase it if they wanted to read it. (Would they want to read it??)

At least four people at my school are currently reading it. So surreal. Our ELL teacher came up to the room this week (this never happens), and she asked to see the student station (my post about it is here, and I discuss shifts to the classroom environment in chapter four). She then wanted to see the filing cabinet that has become my "desk," and I confessed that my things have been spreading out a bit more than I want to on the shelf by the window.

Once she left, I wondered, "Doesn't everyone at school know about the student station??" On the drive home, I wondered just how many teachers at school DID know about it? And why not? I'm going to blame time once again. I don't take the time to explain it to others, and many teachers (myself included) don't take the time to visit other classrooms and inquire.

I'm going to make it a point of mine to go into classrooms towards the end of this year, chat with the teacher, and ask one question about the classroom environment, so I can learn from him or her. If our time is such that we are not provided specific time to take classroom tours of other classrooms in our own school, we should take the reins and do it on our own time, little by little, so we can continue to learn all we can! Ask the questions!!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Shift This!

Here's the inside story...

A large publisher of educational books contacted me in 2015, asking me to write an outline for them for a book about Genius Hour. Hmmm... That had been done - a few times by then, and even more by now. The list is growing, and I keep it on the LiveBinder here.

So I wrote an outline about what trying Genius Hour did for my classroom... and they said that wasn't what they were looking for. I was told I could write a blog post for their website. Harumph.

I had shared the first part of the story with my students, so I had to update them on this disappointment. They threw my words back at me... "If it's something you want to do, you should do it anyway." They had a point. So I kept going. Why not?! [Fancy this - Bob (Hubby/soul mate) - had told me earlier... "It's only a matter of time.")

In August of 2016, I had a revelation of sorts, and I was almost finished with this book about shifts I'd made since implementing Genius Hour. It felt like a huge blog post about how I've changed so many parts of our classroom as a result of handing over one hour a week to my students. I thought of Dave & Shelley Burgess... And I thought, "The worst they can say is 'No.'"

And now it's here. After months of going through the editing process (such great lessons for me that I was able to share with my students!!), and multiple nights wondering, "Is it good enough?"... it has arrived on Amazon.

Here is a glimpse inside the book - through the lens of the website.
If you're reading the book, please connect with me through a blog post or your thoughts in an email. I'd love to add your ideas to the website, so others can learn from YOU! Let's keep the conversation going so we can shift learning back to our students!

Addition 5/13/17: Here's Dave Burgess's rendition of why you should read Shift This!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Fad for Fidgety Fingers

Yes. This is the 2016-2017 school year in a meme...

IF you let them drive you up a wall. (Someone help with the source of this image?? I've seen it on Twitter and Facebook w/o any source mentioned.)

The DAY AFTER we had a discussion about fidgets during our team meeting, I started seeing blog posts about them...

This was the first. I couldn't believe this teacher's attitude, and how she was asking parents to quit buying them. This is not one I would ever retweet. It made me embarrassed to be in the same profession.
     I'm a Teacher, and Trust Me When I Say that Fidget Spinners Are the Effing Worst

Each student has his or her own take on it. Some are bringing them in just as a novelty (okay, most??), but some are actually FIDGET with them, as this photo proves...

This child likes to manipulate things. And he always has. He is always doing something with his hands. He is the one these things were created for. This is totally allowed in my class, as he is primarily focused on the lesson at hand if I've done a good job that day of making the lesson relevant and/or engaging (to him, at least).

Then this one was brought to my attention, and my ELA counterpart and I figured this would be a good one to discuss as a class, to notice tone, bias, satire...
     Those Darn Spinners Are Going to Be the End of Me!!! (Notice the three exclamation points.)

After reading this post, I went with "the girls" to a bridal shower (I thought I was done with those, but I have a HUGE extended family). My sister says she bought a fidget cube for my nephew. GREAT IDEA! He constantly moves his hands together. If he's not doing that, he's most often picking at his fingers. A cube he can manipulate will help him - much like clicking a pen in his hand, but without the noise. His twin sister's teacher banned them. He hasn't said if they're allowed or not, but I'd think he could keep this in a pocket.

And, of course, a day after I finished reading Instant Relevance by Denis Sheeran, I was connected to his two posts on how to make these relevant in the classroom...
     Put a Spin on It
     Fidget Spinners Follow Up

The day I published this post (yes, I'm editing right now), another popped up on my Twitter feed. Laurie Lichtenstein takes the view that the newest fad is our currency with our middle schoolers. Use the currency, or be doomed to be upset at each passing fad.
     Flipping, Spinners, and Slime: Those Crazy Middle School Fads

The prevalence of spinners - in the time span of just one week! - has made me look even more closely at my lessons for relevance. I have brought up the question "WHY" again and again in the past week, helping students see the reasons for our class activities. And if I could write it better than Doug Robertson, I'd make this post an actual post. However, he has already done so...

...And why, like he suggests, should we waste any more time or print on such a trivial issue?

Oh, man - each year we'd need a different shirt to wear!! -->
And yet, there is always more to the story... I'll add more opinions here:
     Are Fidget Spinners the Problem, or Is It Our Mindset? by Patrick Larkin
     Fidget Spinners: From Banned to Band Wagon to Banked by Denis Sheeran
     Do Fidget Spinners Belong in the Classroom? Teachers Are Divided by Kristine Kim
     Why Children Fidget, and What We Can Do about It (from 2014)
     Fidgeting for Physics: Spinner Science in Six Steps by Matt Richard & Meg Richard
     The Great Spinner Debate - Hyperdoc to use with students - created by Nicole Beardsley
     Fidget Spinners Aren't the Issue (The Real Issue Is Student Ownership) by John Spencer
     The Fidget Spinner Craze: Why Are Schools Banning the Latest Gadget? by Paul W. Bennett
     Fidget Spinners w/Super Strong Magnets (YouTube)
     The Invasion of the Fidget Spinner by Sydney Musslewhite
     Pirate Treasure: Resources & Hooks #AppSpinners by Sydney Musslewhite