Arlington Heights teacher puts focus on students leading discussions

  • Joy Kirr, a seventh-grade teacher at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights, works with students on a gamification exercise in her classroom.

      Joy Kirr, a seventh-grade teacher at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights, works with students on a gamification exercise in her classroom. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Joy Kirr is a seventh-grade teacher at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights.

      Joy Kirr is a seventh-grade teacher at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Joy Kirr, a seventh-grade teacher at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights, works on a classroom assignment with her students.

      Joy Kirr, a seventh-grade teacher at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights, works on a classroom assignment with her students. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Joy Kirr, a seventh-grade teacher at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights, works with students on a gamification exercise in her classroom.

      Joy Kirr, a seventh-grade teacher at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights, works with students on a gamification exercise in her classroom. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
Posted4/11/2016 5:30 AM

Joy Kirr is a seventh-grade English/language arts teacher at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights, a role she's held for 14 years. For the previous seven years, she was reading specialist at Thomas. Away from the classroom, Kirr blogs about her profession and other interests at joykirr.wix.com/portfolio.

Q. How do you help students mature with their writing and literacy skills to get them ready for the expectations of a high school English class?

 

A. We try not to "prepare them for high school." We try to prepare them for life. Our focus is on proving the point. If a student makes a claim about something, we are constantly asking, "Where's your evidence?" The research or text we're using comes out, and students discuss or write about how that evidence can be used. We're asking them to write pieces that can be revised as often as needed until they are polished (no "extra credit" here!) and ready to publish. We're working toward "publish-ready" work, and we're still trying to figure out ways for them to write for an authentic audience instead of just their teachers.

Q. Reading and writing tend to be more solitary activities, but there's so much buzz these days about student collaboration. How has an English/language arts class changed since your students' parents were in school? And how do you appeal to the high-tech generation?

A. English/language arts has changed dramatically in our district. The focus is now on communication and students leading discussions. We no longer "teach the book," and teachers are no longer the only experts in the room. Students direct much of the learning through their questions, and then we refer back to the text for answers. Closed-book multiple choice tests about which character does what are out the window and replaced with short essay questions about development of the theme or some other questions that pull meaning from the text instead of memorization. Rich writing and discussions come from student ideas, and that sometimes appeals to them more than the allure of tech. Of course, if the tech is available, and if it works on that particular day, we enhance lessons with digital collaboration tools which are not only engaging but also easy to manage and share.

Q. If you could remove one tried-and-true piece of required reading from the curriculum, what would you take out and what would you replace it with? Why?

A. Each year, we evaluate our required reading, and we're able to adjust as necessary, so we're keeping "The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton until it goes out of style. We are fortunate to be able to find time to have thorough discussions about our curriculum and replace text as needed. The different students that come to us each year have different needs, and we accommodate as best we can.

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