In this edition of the Roundtable, I spoke with five active K-12 educators who are on different assessment journeys. Although we all agree on the fundamental principles of going gradeless, you will a richness of different perspectives and areas of focus throughout our discussion.
Use the timestamps below to jump directly to topics of interest.
0:50 – Guests introduce themselves and describe assessment in their educational contexts.
9:03 – How would you make the case for going gradeless?
24:23 – What are some of your best ideas, strategies, and tips for educators and education leaders seeking to move into a gradeless assessment model?
44:45 – The proficiency scale currently used in most K-7 schools in the Canadian province of British Columbia.
45:59 – What are some books and authors you recommend on the subject of going gradeless and formative assessment?
JESUS HUERTA is an elementary school teacher at Kennedy Gardens Elementary School in El Centro, California. He’s also an instructor for the Krause Center for Innovation, a 3D print enthusiast, a futurist, and a believer that technology is for everyone.
Competing During Uncertainty
About a year before our interview, Jesus was a finalist for the Leroy Finkel Fellowship, an award given annually to a teacher who presents “an innovative technology-enhanced curriculum project that is standards-aligned, replicable, relevant … and fun.”
Jesus had entered the contest and had made it to the short list, but he was laid off by his school just days before he was expected to present. Despite the professional uncertainty, Jesus gave everything he had to the presentation and won the award based on the 3D printing work his students were doing to create prosthetics (see a full description of the project with videos). As gratifying as it was to be recognized in the contest, it was equally satisfying to be given another teaching position shortly afterward.
The Evolution of 3D Printing and Learning
Jesus has been teaching for six years, and he’s been 3D printing the entire time. From classrooms to conferences, he carried his printer around with him wherever he went in his first years.
One way that 3D printing has really changed in the period since, Jesus says, is that the financial barriers to entry have come way down: printers and filament have both fallen a lot in price. Software has also improved and diversified and the 3D printing community has grown over these years as well.
It’s an exciting space, because 3D printing just keeps moving forward. Jesus shares a number of ways (other than prosthetics) that 3D printing technology is being used to provide medical solutions and improve quality of life around the world. On top of all the other competencies and skills that students build as they learn to design and print in 3D, the list of real-world applications only seems to grow.
Board Games, the Design Process, and Entrepreneurship
Another project that has really energized Jesus and his 5th graders is a board game project. The project combines the best of entrepreneurship, the design process, collaboration, and presentation skills. Working in partners or small groups, students begin by drawing a board game design, followed by a cardboard prototype. Further iterations follow.
Jesus describes a very authentic learning experience that occurred when one 5th grader forgot to bring her group’s prototype into class for her group’s pitch. Yes, there was some distress and some tears in that instance, but after thoughtful debriefing and reflection, he knows the real life lessons learned will last a lifetime. By project end, Jesus is always impressed by what his students manage to come up with, saying he would likely purchase them for his own family if they were commercially available.
Increased Access to the Joys of STEAM Learning
Something that Jesus has wanted to do outside of his classroom for some time is offer evening classes that align with his core passions: 3D printing, robotics, the design process, engineering, game design, coding, drones, and anything else related to STEAM.
In particular, he wants to create opportunities for kids who can’t access this kind of learning in their schools, districts, or towns. He’s built a partnership with an LGBTQ center to share space, and he’s proud to support diversity and equity for all learners by doing so.
“Learning is for everyone,” Jesus says. A kid’s gender, culture, language, religion, or orientation shouldn’t be limiting factors – and that’s something that Jesus has always been passionate about. Historically speaking, STEAM learning has tended to include more boys than girls, and evening that playing field is another part of his mission. He’s also looking at ways to include adults and mature learners, too.
Personal Passions: Creating with Wood and Playing the Violin
One of the areas of learning that Jesus recalls fondly from his childhood is drawing. In recent years, he’s revisited this passion through woodburning and carving. He’s also passionate about the sounds of the violin, and it’s been a joy to practice an instrument he’s always appreciated but never played. Jesus brings these passions into his classroom, too, using applications like Google Quick Draw, Google Music, and SoundTrap to helps students create a wide variety of digital art and media pieces.
A Productivity Tool: Wunderlist
Jesus loves using the Wunderlist app to track to-do items and track his progress, and the gamer in him enjoys the satisfying ding the app makes every time he checks off another task.
Voices and Resources That Spark His Thinking and Ignite His Practice
When it comes to a Twitter follow recommendation, Jesus doesn’t waste any time. “Paul Gordon does even more than I do,” Jesus says. One of Paul’s core passions is esports, but he also does 3D printing, laser cutting, design thinking, and more. He’s an advocate of risk-taking and a culture of yes, and he’s been a great education partner. Follow Paul @TeachTheTech.
One edtech tool that has really captured his imagination is the Oculus Quest, an all-in-one VR set. Users no longer need controllers – the set will now recognize user hands. His kids have played around with an Oculus app called Virtuoso that allows them to play piano in VR, and it’s blowing their minds. Other apps, like TiltBrush or Sculptor VR, allow users to paint and sculpt in VR as well.
Because his wife works in the criminal justice system, Jesus says they’re both enjoying a podcast called Crime Junkie. The series is so good that occasionally Jesus gets a few episodes ahead of her, and then he’s got some explaining to do! Follow this podcast on Twitter @CrimeJunkiePod.
Over on YouTube, Jesus points to the Uncle Jessy channel as a great source for 3D printers, techniques, and projects. Jesus appreciates how he follows up review videos with subsequent videos that clarify and update previous evaluations. Follow the creator on Twitter @UncleJessy4Real.
On Netflix, Jesus and his family are enjoying NCIS. They’ve been enjoying it so much that he’s actually a little sad that he’s been missing it for the last 15 years.
Looking for a way to reinvent your lessons? Try this formula on for size.
As a younger teacher, I would often jump straight into learning activities with plans poorly defined.
I wouldn’t activate previous learning. I wouldn’t mention learning goals. I wouldn’t have a clear sense of how I would check for understanding.
I wouldn’t plan for students with disabilities in advance. I wouldn’t plan for advanced learners. It was one-size-fits-all.
Not best practice.
Somewhere along my education journey, I picked up on the idea of structuring my lessons around the As you’ll see below. This form has evolved over time, and it’s helped me plan more mindfully than I once did.
Are my lessons now perfect? Not even close.
Are there some days when I don’t properly address every one of these points? Absolutely.
But I’d like to think my lesson planning has come a long way from where it began. If it has, my students are the beneficiaries.
Because, as always, this is NOT about being a perfect teacher. It’s about serving our learners and supporting their growth.
So in the hope of inspiring your practice, here is the bullet outline I use to structure my lesson plans (conveniently reproducible each day in Google Docs).
1. Administration and housekeeping.
Are there any announcements that my students need to be aware of or may have missed? Is there any information that I need from students? I want to get these items out of the way first.
In terms of our class climate, is there anything we need to address or discuss before we begin today’s learning? This is a great time to invest in my students by affirming who we are as a class and what we’re all about.
This is where I want to quickly read the temperature of the room. If something is amiss, I may need to address it before moving on.
Which skills and content did we learn last? I want to briefly activate this knowledge for my learners and check for understanding.
Do I need to collect any assignments? Do my students need to be reminded to submit work on Google Classroom?
What are we aiming to learn today? Post a learning target in the form of an ‘I can’ statement. (ie. I can reduce fractions, etc.)
Why are we learning this? How does it fit in the bigger picture?
What is our success criteria? In other words, what will it look like if we meet our learning target?
Introduce learners to the learning target. Define and describe key words and concepts.
Make the concept multidimensional through live demonstrations, student exemplars, text resources, pictures or video clips.
Engage student thinking and conversation using think-pair-share or similar collaborative strategies.
This is the key part of the lesson: how will my learners apply their learning? How will they demonstrate understanding of the concept?
At this stage, it’s critical to think about depth of knowledge. In the infographic below, notice the progression in keywords at bottom.
Our ideal learning activities will include justification, explanation, inference, and making connections.
What adaptations should I make to this lesson to accommodate students with learning disabilities?
Should the learning target be adjusted? It may not need to be. A better fit might be reducing or simplifying expectations in the learning activity.
How should I mobilize educational assistants in my classroom? What instructions or supports do they need? I like to use the comment feature in Google Docs to tag them in advance of the lesson — this works especially well if I’ve given them access to my lesson plan folder in Google Drive.
6. Advancing learners.
It’s possible that my learning target may not properly challenge some of my learners. Last year, this was especially true in my Math classes. I needed to build in extension activities with these learners in mind.
Thinking back to Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (pictured above), how can I challenge these students to take their learning to the next level? How can we go above and beyond? This can tax a tired teacher’s energy, but I need to plan for these students as much as I can.
How will I check for understanding or mastery? In the language of Visible Learning, how will I know my impact?
There are a plethora of ways to do this, but the key is simple: I need to have a sense of where my learners are in their learning, because that information will direct my next moves — the purpose of formative assessment.
Where is our learning heading next?
How should I start thinking about (and preparing for) our next lesson?
How am I planning to conclude this unit of study? What’s my timeline?
9. Additional Time.
This is always helpful to keep in mind, especially when planning for a substitute teacher. How will I plan for students who complete this learning activity before the bell?
Are there extension activities that might further challenge my quickest learners? (See point 5 above.)
Is there a review game (think Kahoot or Quizlet) that we could play as a class that might further reinforce today’s learning and act as a decent check for understanding?
Upgrading This Structure Through Project-Based Learning
An acknowledgment. This lesson planning outline doesn’t address project-based learning — or at least, not well. In a PBL or IBL context, students may engage in learning activities for several consecutive periods without any direct instruction at all.
In a sense, though, all nine of the planning points I’ve outlined here still apply. Instead of one lesson, block, or day, they’re being stretched across the duration of the project, which allows time and space for more design thinking, more ideation, more prototyping, more coaching, more real-time feedback, more revision and iteration before completion. Win-win!
Is it really possible to plan 9-point lessons for every block of every day? Should we place this burden on every classroom teacher?
In a word, no. But for me, this framework is my ideal. It’s a structure that helps me think through every step of the learning and account for every learner as thoughtfully as possible.
By creating this planning template at the beginning of the year, I’m setting myself (and my learners) up for success by nudging myself toward more mindful lesson planning.
If all my learners are learning and growing, that’s a win. And it’s worth it.
This edition of the Teachers on Fire Roundtable featured writers on the Teachers on Fire Magazine publication on Medium, including Heather Edick, Debbie Tannenbaum, Kelly Christopherson, Tammy Breitweiser, and Jamie Brown.
Talking About Writing in Education
🔥 What does education writing look like for you? 🔥 WHY do you write about education? 🔥 How does it affect your professional practice? 🔥 What is your favorite time of the day to write? 🔥 What is your go-to writing beverage? 🔥 What is your go-to background sound? 🔥 Where and how do you complete your rough compositions? 🔥 How do you collect future blog topics and headlines? 🔥 Who is a current education blogger that you admire? 🔥 What is one book that inspired you to write? 🔥 What are some tools and strategies that you use to share your content?
If you’d like to join a growing community of education writers that are passionate about growth and change in education, join us on Medium today! Comment below or DM me @TeachersOnFire on any social media platform for more details.
KELLIE BAHRI is a 5th grade teacher at the Birmingham Public Schools in Birmingham, MI. She’s a supporter of the Sustainable Development Goals, a member of Nohea Kindreds, an Agent for Agency, and a co-founder of the @CrazyPLN. She’s also the cohost of the EDU Exchange Pod podcast and is currently working on her PhD in educational leadership. Best of all, Kellie is a tremendous elevator and amplifier of other educators.
Falling Back in Love with Education
A few years ago, the state of Michigan moved to a high-stakes model of evaluation for teachers. It turned Kellie’s world upside down, increasing stress and anxiety, isolating her colleagues, and making her fall out of love with the profession. “I wanted to walk away,” she explains, but she felt trapped in the classroom by her need for health insurance.
After taking some time to reflect on herself and her role in these circumstances, she concluded that she was actually the source of the problem. Her inclination to hoard ideas and outshine others in order to keep her job were actually the cause of her misery.
From that realization, Kellie changed things up completely: she re-opened her classroom doors, started sharing ideas and resources again, and took every opportunity to spotlight the work of others. This pivot in her approach allowed her to rediscover the joy of teaching, strengthen her friendships with colleagues, and change the culture in her team … and she’s been on fire ever since.
The EDU Exchange Podcast
Kellie and co-host David Hennel @HennelD_EDU recently teamed up to create the EDU Exchange. Their hope is to publish educator stories that resonate with the masses and push the thinking and practices within our education systems. David manages the tech side of things, and Kellie brings the perspective of a homeroom teacher. The podcast is still in the early stages of development, but Kellie and David look forward to publishing more episodes soon.
Elevating the #CrazyPLN and Nohea Kindred
ELEVATE is Kellie’s #OneWord2020, and most of her activity on Twitter does exactly that: it elevates and celebrates the work of others. Hashtags that Kellie follows closely on Twitter include #CrazyPLN and #NoheaKindreds.
#CrazyPLN began as a small group of educators who simply came together to support each other, but that small group has grown into a swelling community of teachers, authors, and leaders. It’s a community marked by collaboration and a deep belief in student agency and empowerment.
“They’ve transformed my teaching and my life,” says Kellie. If we become the people that surround us, she can’t think of better people to want to emulate. A care for kids is at the center of everything they do.
The mission of Nohea Kindreds is to “help school and district leaders create information peace of mind, so they can lead effectively, teachers can teach joyfully, and students learn.” Kellie commends Nohea’s co-founders, Aubrey Patterson and Lori Harvey as possibly the kindest, most lovely people in education.
Nohea is built around a three-step leadership philosophy that puts special emphasis on three actions: simplify, amplify, and clarify. Much of their consultation and coaching work for schools and school leaders helps education organizations increase capacity by decluttering communication, clarifying mission, and strategically investing in leaders within their communities. The Nohea Kindred tribe is made up of givers: educators who want to freely share with educators around the world.
What’s Setting Kellie on 🔥 in Education Right Now
“I feel like I’m on fire for every possible angle that education has to offer,” Kellie laughs. One of her many areas of passion right now include the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She combines the UNSDGs with design thinking to transform her middle school classroom.
“It breaks down walls and brings the world right into our classroom,” she says. It’s given her middle schoolers passion and mission and some deeply authentic project-based learning. “This work has me so on fire that I could go on and on about it.”
Kellie is working on a PhD, and she admits that part of the challenge to come will be narrowing the focus of her activities. She’s also enjoyed working with Evo Hannan and his Agents for Agency, an association of educators committed to changing paradigms in education that give students more agency and ownership in their learning. Find out more about Agents for Agency at EvoHannan.com.
A Personal Passion Outside of Education: Nature
Kellie has a lot going on at all times, she admits, but one thing she always makes time for is fresh air. Getting into the woods and walking through the trees is calming, clarifying, and centering, and she’s incredibly blessed to have easy access to the wilds of northern Michigan. Her summers are filled with camping and kayaking, although she doesn’t share Abigail French’s love of snakes! Getting off the grid once in a while is important, she says. It helps us get back to basics: our health, others, and nature.
A Productivity Hack: Preparing for the Morning the Night Before
Sleep is Kellie’s ultimate productivity hack, she says. “I’m a sleeper. Once my head hits the pillow, I could sleep for 13 hours. Getting up in the morning is so hard for me – I could sleep until noon if given the chance.” With that in mind, Kellie has learned that absolutely everything for her morning routine must be prepared and ready to go the night before.
Voices and Resources That Spark Her Thinking and Ignite Her Practice
Over on Twitter, Kellie recommends following #SDGwomen, @CrazyPLN, and @LPortnoy. “Lindsay has changed my teaching and how I approach learning with students,” Kellie says.
For a great edtech tool, Kellie points to FlipGrid. “Flipgrid was really great for student conferences,” Kellie explains. “It was wonderful for parents to hear their child talk about the things that they loved about the classroom and what they were learning.” Flipgrid has also offered a nice way for Kellie’s students to communicate with students in Africa and around the world. Follow Fligrid on Twitter @FlipGrid.
Kellie is a huge supporter of the Teachers on Fire podcast and claims to never miss an episode. Amazing! Another one of her podcast favorites is The Staff Room Podcast with the very charismatic Chey and Pav. They’re fun, they’re human, and they bring some great down-to-earth perspectives on the state of education today. Follow this podcast on Twitter @StaffPodcast.
Some of Kellie’s recent Netflix viewing has included The Stranger and The Five. Both series are based on fascinating books by Harlan Coben, and Kellie will consume anything he puts out.
We sign off on this conversation, and Kellie gives us the best ways to follow her online. Check the links below and get connected!