ShiftThis Edchat

Interview with Our Upcoming “Live” EdChat Moderators

Don’t miss out on our first ever “Live” Discussion on TeachersConnect!

A different kind of edchat.

When: Monday, September 17th 2018 at 8:00 pm EST

Where: TeachersConnect Community  

Topic: Can Student-directed Learning Have a Massive Impact on Your Students?

Moderated by #ShiftThis author, Joy Kirr, and TeachersConnect CEO, Dave Meyers.

Meet the moderators and then scroll down to see the Key Questions that will serve as the framework for the discussion.

Joy Kirr is currently teaching 7th graders in a truly supportive district in Arlington Heights, IL.  She does workshops on how to bring Genius Hour into the classroom and why it is vital. She has been learning alongside her students since 1995. Joy is passionate about students owning their own learning. She enjoys being known as a “Genius Hour Evangelist,” and is grateful for how her students have stepped up their learning while giving and receiving feedback in lieu of grades. Presenting around the nation has helped Joy spread the message that educators need to strive for all children to become lifelong learners. Joy earned her bachelor’s degree in special education with an emphasis on deaf and hard-of-hearing in 1995, her master’s degree in reading from Northern Illinois University in 2002, and has been a National Board Certified Teacher since 2007.

Dave Meyers is CEO and Co-founder of TeachersConnect. He’s a former elementary and middle school teacher, union leader, and licensed principal. For over a decade, he’s designed products and learning experiences that give teachers the tools and techniques to get their students engaged with even the most complex tasks. Working together with teachers in their classrooms, he helps teachers ignite their students’ natural urge to communicate their ideas and experiences–clearly and convincingly, in speech and in writing. Dave is a real geek about writing, close-reading, and finding a way to build a relationship with every single student. As a result of his work in 1000s of classrooms around the country, Dave is firmly convinced that every teacher wants to get better each day. He’d love to hear about your goals for this year: What’s the one thing you’re working on? You can reach him at

Key Questions:

What is Student-Directed Learning?

Joy: I think it depends on where you are in your teaching career. It’s gone through fluxuations in my own classes, depending on what I need to cover that year, and who is working with me. My grand goal is for students to be able to learn what THEY want to learn, even within the confines of the curriculum I need to deliver. Some teachers think of it as “giving up” time to students, but I see it as helping them become lifelong learners. I started by implementing something teachers call “Genius Hour” one period a week, and now much of my ELA curriculum is student-driven.

Dave: It’s taking the time to get to know your students–to figure out what’s on their mind; what’s bugging them; what makes them curious; what in the neighborhood/town/city/state/world catches their attention and why. And then–together, or with them in the lead–designing a set of questions and activities that sate their natural desires to learn, grow, connect, and leave a mark on the world. It could be connected to your district curriculum (butterflies, Ancient China, the Pythagorean Theorem), or it could be thoroughly unrelated. Really it’s the stuff we should be doing all the time anyway.

What are the benefits of student-directed learning?

Joy: Students learn how to learn. With guidance (the teacher and other students), they learn how to find reliable resources, connect with experts, and share (with the world, hopefully) what they’ve learned. During this process, they learn certain “habitudes” (term from Angela Maiers) such as perseverance, adaptability, and courage. Many of my own students don’t know what they’re passionate about. Student-directed learning can often get them closer to who they want to be “when they grow up.”

Dave: There’s spontaneity. There are surprises–for the teacher and the students. Everyone in the room is subject to the momentary frustrations of a dead-end pathway as well as the wonder of a wide-open frontier. In other words, there’s bound to be authentic learning and experiences that make the learning “stick” for teachers and students.

How is your student-directed classroom different from your “regular” classroom?

Joy: There is so much more choice for students. Choice in what they’d like to learn, choice in how they learn it, choice in how to share and/or what they’ve learned… I feel as if I’m more in tune with what makes my students tick, and they know this, as the other lessons I need to present in class become more relevant to them – because I know them more than ever and can tailor my lessons. What convinced me to keep trying something like “Genius Hour” was when the lessons I, personally, learned were leaking into the “regular” classroom. I was asking for more and more ideas and feedback from students, and our classes grew more relevant as a result.

Dave: During the times when we’re doing more student-directed learning, I spend very little time asking questions to which I already know the answer. The kids know this–and that creates buzz, it generates excitement and energy, and it solidifies memories and learning.

What are some initial small steps a teacher can take to move toward a student-directed classroom?

Joy: You’ve got curriculum to cover? Share the topics from your specific curriculum with students. See which THEY are interested in, and let them find out more about it on their own. They can ask a question about it, research it, and then share it with the entire class. Can’t “give up” what you need to teach? Then start even smaller – when you’re preparing for a test, have students create their own assessments, and have them show you what they’ve learned in the way that works best for them. This would be helpful to you, as well, as checking over them will be WAY less boring for you. 😉

Dave: I love Joy’s response. I would add one other little baby step here: Take a few minutes to ask your students (in a group conversation, but with students speaking one at a time) one thing–anything–they’d like to learn. And then ask them why they want to learn that thing. You’re not making any commitments to them. Watch and listen as they nod, raise eyebrows, pile on, etc. You’re not promising/threatening to teach that thing. And you have to be willing to hear that your students want to learn how to win consistently at Fortnight or trick their siblings. The goal is just to begin to understand what’s on their minds and what drives them. The activity could end there, or you might very well uncover a topic that’s worth digging into and turning into a lesson or unit. Turn it into a habit–repeat it frequently.

What advice would you have for a teacher that wants to explore this approach?

Joy: First, get familiar with and believe in the reasons WHY you want to explore this approach. It’s NOT easy, and some of it will beat you down, even as some of it will make you think it’s the best thing ever. Once you believe in it, you’ve got to decide where it fits in your week. I’ve written a blog post that includes decisions you’ll need to make that would be helpful to make prior to implementation (even if that’s not how I began – I just jumped in!) –

Dave: Don’t turn it into a big deal for yourself. Don’t think of it as a “period” on your schedule. Don’t make yourself promise to “do” student-directed learning twice a week for the next five weeks. DO begin to change your regular lessons by spending more time finding out what drives the students about the topic you’re teaching and by making sure you’re listening very carefully to their answers. If you’re unsure about DOING student-directed learning, trying BECOMING more student-directed.

What are some helpful resources teachers can find online?

Joy: My favorite – the #geniushour LiveBinder:  Check out the WHY tabs first, if you’re still not convinced that this is right and good for our learners. Once you’re convinced, check the “grade-level” and the “how to get started” tabs, and find what works for you. You can also find a name for it in the “names” tab under “how to get started.” Or better yet – ask students what they’d like to call this time.

Dave: This is a great explainer video: What is Genius Hour? – Introduction to Genius Hour in the Classroom –


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