After finishing Joy Kirr’s motivating book, Shift This, I spent some time reflecting, afraid that I was not up to par with the changes I want to make in my class. I envision a beautiful room with flexible seating, plenty of whiteboard space for my students, areas for individual work, group work, PBL activities, lecture space, and all of my supplies and materials neatly organized. In this perfect classroom space, I would have all of my students excited about learning math and engaged in a variety of different activities. Our genius hour or capstone class would run smoothly with students developing passions and improving the community.
I know this is possible. Joy Kirr has gone from implementing genius hour regularly to now having “Innovation Weeks” at the end of each quarter but allowing more student choice and voice in all of her lessons. Her class features flexible seating, in fact, she uses a file cabinet for a desk and has changed her teacher desk to a student center. Standards-based grading is fully implemented in Room 239. Students in Ms. Kirr’s class have only one homework assignment of reading for 20 minutes each evening.
When I compare where I am to where I want to be, I could easily become overwhelmed. That’s when I remember Joy Kirr’s motto.
“Just keep tweaking. Just keep tweaking.”
This year we are offering a capstone class during the last hour of the day at Mountain Valley. Our high school students will have the opportunity to work on a genius hour project of their choice. Three of the high school teachers will work together to guide capstone projects. We have decided to model our initial capstone class on the model presented in Kevin Brookhouser’s book The 20Time Project. We are excited about the opportunity for our students and our plan, but we are also nervous and intimidated by our goals. When we run into obstacles, we will work together to just keep tweaking and improve our plan.
I have a large classroom for my small class size. I have moved out most of the desks and brought in a kitchen table. I have also added comfortable seating options. My husband is going to help me turn my back wall into a huge genius bar. We will put shower board on the wall to serve as a whiteboard and build a standing height counter for a student work space. I will be painting the four remaining desks with whiteboard paint to add even more writing space in my room. Joy Kirr’s idea of converting her teacher desk into a student center inspired me to do the same. The kids and I will love the modifications to create a student-centered learning space.
This year I have developed enough confidence in my teaching practice to work on my transition from traditional grading to standards based grading. Grading in and of itself may look similar to my other classes this year while I build confidence in the transition in both my students and myself. My experiment will be with my Algebra I class. I will provide students with a list of approximately 20 key takeaways from the class. Each lesson will be mapped to one of these bigger takeaways and students will be tested regularly to track their progress. I hope this leads to more student ownership in their learning. Hopefully, I will be able to fine tune this process and build upon the results. I will “just keep tweaking”.
Shift This is a great read for teachers. Joy Kirr has countless great and simple ideas for improving your classroom and class culture. There is plenty of encouragement for developing your own small shifts in the classroom. She does amazing things in her class and offers inspiration to improve your class by making small and gradual changes that will lead to a huge impact in the classroom.