Posted in student engagement, student-led assessment, Teaching

Small, little steps

small steps

Here’s a funny thing that is happening as I am progressing through my learning this summer. I am seeing parallels across things that I am reading, videos I am watching, and podcasts I am listening to.

I am taking the Student Motivation Course by Dave Stuart Jr. who is taking us through the implementation of 5 key student beliefs for maximized engagement and motivation in our classes. The chapter I am working on right now is all about student belief in belonging and the final lesson speaks about helping students make ‘small, little wins’ to give them confidence as they take on the identity of a successful learner in our classes.

This idea of small little wins is being reiterated by the interviews with and writings of Jordan Peterson, who I have been following. He has this phrase, ”aim low”, and in his interview with Joe Rogan from yesterday, Joe asked him to explain why he keeps saying this. Dr. Peterson explained that you can’t start lifting weights with 300 lbs, you have to start with the smallest you’re capable of and adding just a little more each week. This also integrates with the idea of the ZPD (zone of proximal development) of Vygotzky. You aim low but aim up and you’ll get there with those small little wins so that you can show yourself that you indeed CAN do it. Dave pointed us to this article by James Clear that reinforces the fact that students and people in general, need to settle in with an identity that will help them decide to work on the habits needed for them to be able to see themselves in that role, which for me is for them to identify as persistent learners.

I think that’s why portfolios are such a great idea. They should be implemented from the time a student starts kindergarten with short videos, pictures of the work they produce each quarter and self reflections that get students looking at who they are, who they want to be and who they are becoming along the way. With the proper guidance, they can make those little adjustments that are necessary to stay on track to the identity of being a persistent learner.

I applied this idea in a very small way this year at the beginning when I had students do a lesson about the worst presentation ever (borrowed from Jon Corripo). It taught them about what not to do in a slide presentation. I then had them revisit the previous years’ slide presentations in their Google drive and critique their own work, identifying the things they did most often that were not advised and then laying out what they needed to improve upon for their next slide presentations. As we went through the year I reminded them of the fact that I now expected these principles to be applied in their next Google slides that would be presented to the class and we had much better results by the end of the year.

Making sure to build our lessons in such a way that students are given the guidance to realize that they are taking those small, little steps to achieve those small, little wins, will help them to reinforce their core identities as persistent learners for ‘their future flourishing’, as Dave always makes sure to emphasize is our goal for our students.

Posted in going gradeless, individualized learning, mini conferences, self-paced learning, student engagement, student-led assessment, Teaching

I cannonballed in! Aaaaaah! #IMMOOC


So here is the text of the email I just composed and hit send to my principal:

Since this summer I have been learning about how to do assessment differently. I have read the book: by Starr Sackstein and have subscribed to the author’s Youtube channel (Watch her TEDxYouth talk here: ) with her video reflections about implementing a classroom without traditional points or letter grades for her assignments.

Obviously, she had to enter letter grades at the grading periods but she was given permission by her principal to use a coding system in a standards based grade book (Like JUMPROPE) for the assignments rather than points and percentages and she conferenced constantly with students with helpful feedback like the SE2R explained here:

One of the keys to a successful student-centered, Results Only Learning Environment is the use of narrative feedback over grades. Although feedback isn’t …

She used projects with clear guidelines aligned with the standards they had to focus on and she interspersed mini lessons and discussions for concepts that needed to get demonstrated in the project. She conferenced on a weekly schedule about the learning, and sent them back to re-do and improve until the grading period came. By the end of the year she had students talking about their learning and not the points they had earned.

There is research to support the idea that when students receive a grade, they tend to shelve the learning and stop wanting to improve anything on that one thing
How One Weird Finding Changed My Perspective on Grades Now that I know, there’s no going back

At the grading period she would give the students a reflection assignment in which they had to provide evidence of their learning according to the standards they had been working on and together they decided on the grade that they should have recorded in the grade book. All of this is also supported by the characteristics of growth mindset as well.

Here is a podcast with Mark Barnes speaking on his book Assessment 3.0 (which I have yet to get and read myself). He is speaking with the hosts of the podcast, a superintendent and his assistant from Pennsylvania.

Each episode we leave you with a couple of questions to think about…with the idea of provoking conversation. This episode’s question: Ask us a question or suggest …

And this is a TEDtalk by Mark Barnes explaining more about giving feedback instead of grades:

I would very much like to embark on this journey of downplaying grades and up-playing enjoyment of and awareness of learning to reduce the number of D’s and F’s in my DL classes. If you give me the go-ahead, I will be making a series of YouTube videos myself to document what I am doing, keeping data, and teaching students about how to take and give feedback. I will make my experience public to share with the parents and kids.
Let me know what you think and if you are ok with this, I will make a more deliberate, detailed plan of what I will do.

Mrs./Maestra Espinoza

South Meadows Middle School

Dual Language Science teacher

Room 118

503-844-1220 ext. 5878

Posted in classroom management, dual language teaching, middle school science, student engagement, Teaching

The Question Focus Technique

Last summer I decided to prepare for teaching my students how to ask questions themselves instead of asking all of the questions myself. I got this idea back in January at the Organization for Educational Technology and Curriculum , or, OETC’s IntegrateEd 2016 Conference, when I attended a presentation by Jennie Magiera called, Curiosity Based Learning: Reigniting Students Wonder. In this presentation, Magiera introduced us to the Question Focus Technique taught in a book from The Right Question Instiute.

The book is called, Make Just One Change. I devoured the book once I purchased it and formulated a plan to adapt the presentations that are provided on the website of the institute by translating them to Spanish and creating Google slides presentations: one to introduce the lesson to the students and one to use at the beginning of each unit as a template that I can adapt for the content coming up. Below, you can read about how a lesson goes.


Students work in small groups of 4-6 for this activity. In the introductory lesson for the technique at the beginning of the year, students are taught the rules for how to make their questions. The rules include making as many questions as possible, no discussion, judgement, or answering of the questions is allowed, the scribe of the group is to write all the questions just as they are stated and if anyone makes a statement of observation, it needs to be changed to a question. (I give the example of  someone saying, “the sky is blue” and that this can be changed to “why is the sky blue?” or ‘how can the sky have other colors?”).

I have these rules on laminated sheets on each table so they are present to the students through the whole lesson. I also have question starters on a laminated sheet to help them get the questions going (How, why, where, who, when, etc…).

Students are presented with a whole class presentation of a short, looping video clip with or without sound (depending on whether there is an explanation –do not allow sound if something is explained in the video), a teacher demonstration, a statement, an intriguing picture or a quote. They are given a large piece of flip-chart paper, one marker and the mission to formulate as many questions as possible about what they are seeing.

The teacher circulates and encourages as many questions as are possible, without judging or answering any of their questions, just as is stated in the rules. The teacher also makes sure to draw them back to the rules when they forget, with a gentle reminder.

Once all of the questions are made, students are then asked to mark all of the open questions with an O and the closed questions with a C (they are taught what this means in the initial lesson in the technique at the beginning of the year). They then are asked to choose the three most pressing questions they have about what they have seen. I have found that this takes about a 50 minute class period to do once they have gotten used to how it goes. The introductory lesson usually goes about two 50 minute periods.

The teacher then collects the small piece of paper they have written their three top questions on and later takes the time to read through them and compile them into 8 -10 main questions that are then posted on a poster in the classroom that will guide the whole unit.

When the question focus is chosen well, the students get very curious and interested, making many questions that will be relevant to the work that will be done to meet the standards. I especially like that they are the ones from whom I am guided, not from some curriculum that was made in an office somewhere far from our classroom and neighborhood.

Below are a couple of the question focuses that I have used this year:

Gauss gun loop – play with no sound This one I had them actually take some magnets, rulers and ball bearings and do themselves with no instructions from me except to try to make one of the balls shoot off the end of the table without flicking it themselves. Once the groups accomplished this I had them do the question formulation technique with this loop in there on the question focus slide.

For my 7th graders as an intro to molecular movement in response to changes in temperature I took a flask with some water in it, stretched a balloon over the opening and set in on a hot plate to boil. As they watched, I asked them to think of what they saw and made a list of the observations that they had made on the question focus slide.

For 8th grade evolution intro I used this question focus:

Screenshot 2017-07-15 at 11.20.58 AM

(Descent with modification)

And for the 7th grade intro to cells this was what they saw:

Screenshot 2017-07-15 at 11.20.12 AM

(All living things are made of cells.)

Posted in Chromebooks, Google classroom, individualized learning, middle school science, NGSS, Project based learning, student engagement, Teaching

Where’s the passion?

I am naturally curious about the way things work. My children are naturally curious about the way things work. Most youngsters are naturally curious about the way things work, however, I don’t see many signs of this curiosity in most of my students.

I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s just the age. They are 12-13 years old and their lives are changing so drastically. They are focused on themselves and where they fit in the social scene, where they rank in the games they play, who is the best or worst at soccer or getting the attention of the opposite sex.

Sometimes I think that maybe it’s me. Am I a boring teacher? Do I fail to be “with it”?

I am challenged to include videos and online activities in my lessons but all too often the students don’t’ get as enthusiastic as I expected about it all.

Could project based learning be an answer? I read and watch videos about other teachers doing things within the community, projects that seem to be meaningful to their students. But are these teachers having us look through rose-colored glasses and we only see the great things that are happening? I wonder…

How do I find the things that will turn my students on to science? This is what I am taking up as a challenge this summer as I prepare for next year.

I have been granted enough Chromebooks to have a near 1:1 ratio in my 2015-16 classroom. I am boning up on the NGSS in a class I will take through the local University and I will be taking several PD courses about using Google classroom and Chromebooks.

My vision is to have an interactive, hands-on, computer data crunching, student centered classroom that will come alive with budding science enthusiasts. Woah! Is that too idealistic or just optimistic?

We’ll see.