Monday, June 28, 2010

SBG Anxiety - 8 Questions

8 Questions about SBG(Standards Based Grading)
My anxiety about implementing SBG next year manifested in the questions I've asked myself over and over as I am creating my grading policy.

1.  What will the administrator who is reviewing my grading policy think?
I've run it by the administrator in charge of my observations, and he has given it the okay.  We turn our grading policies in to another administrator at the end of the year.  Admittedly I'd love for it to be questioned/discussed, but would it be suggested that I revise it to a more "traditional" grading policy?

2.  What will parents think?  What will students think?

I'm hoping that it is a completely new and different experience for them.  A lot of guidance, explanation, and information will be key to making this transition for them.  There will probably be a large amount of resistance at first ("Where's the homework grade?").  I'm going to speculate that most will feel empowered to take control of their own learning once they have grown comfortable within the system(I don't enjoy that word).  They may be uncomfortable as it is much more difficult to work this system(yuck) than a points based grading system.  If the only positive outcome is that students stop asking "How many points is this worth?" I will consider my switch to SBG a total victory.

3.  Is it possible to raise or lower a "grade" at any time?  Should it be?
The raising part I understand and I'm looking forward to students being continuous learners.  If the mastery level can improve at any time, it should also be able to decline at any time (an indicator of a lower level of mastery than originally thought).  See Question #2.

4.  How will I ever manage to keep up with assessing students skill levels?
Idea #1: Share a unique Google Document with each student and have that serve as a running record.  Update gradebook at the end of the week upon looking over that student's running record.

Idea #2: Excel/Google Docs...Google Docs to keep notes to self about conversations/insights with students.  Use a Google Form to update a mastery level on any skill at any time (Name - Skill - Mastery Level).  I don't know enough about it, but I feel like Microsoft Access may be better equipped to handle this.  Summer project: Learn Microsoft Access.

5.  What defines an "A"?
Schools tell us that at least 90% of the material learned would be "A" work.  By this thought process under SBG, it would be impossible to have an A for the 1st or 2nd marking periods (I can hear the college-obsessed kids freaking out).  Using 4 mastery levels (advanced, proficient, basic, below basic), could you define an "A" as a majority of skills mastered at the advanced level?  What if that student was below basic in everything else?  To wrap some numbers around it, here are my thoughts...
Advanced - 1
Proficient - 0.8
Basic - 0.6
Below Basic - 0.4
Some Excel simulations I've done have led me to this assignment of points for skill levels.  Anything in the "A" range must be earned through Advanced and Proficiency with MINIMAL basic/below basic.  I'm not sure I want students to be even thinking about how to get an A, as this just creates a climate of "Do the minimum required to get an A".  Also, I am totally going to change those levels of mastery to something less Pennsylvania Dept. of Ed to something much more Mr. C

6.  Will kids do their homework/assignments?
This is a huge concern.  If you didn't do it, you're going to have trouble learning it.  On the other hand, if you already get it, why do another 30 exercises just because a teacher told you to do so?  Just like any homework assignment, it'll get done if it's worthwhile.

7.  Will it lead to higher scores/achievement on the AP exam?
I'm thinking that on the whole, content coverage and a frequent revisiting of old knowledge should be very conducive to high AP exam scores.  I will need to periodically do some focusing on AP exam type exercises and a more traditional classroom setting.  It'll be a welcome change to an open, self-directed learning environment :)

8.  Quizzes/Tests...what role will they play?
I think I answered this already.  See #8.  I know I am definitely going to give a quiz and have students grade it immediately.  Also going to give quizzes with Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced questions.

Whew, that's all...for now.

P.S. I end a ton of sentences with prepositions, and use quotations a lot more frequently than I should.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Goal # 1 For Next Year

Goal # 1 For Next Year

I'm going to begin a series of posts that highlight my goals for next year.  The main focus of my instruction next year is going to be to...

Never tell a student the correct answer

My job description is not to guarantee all students get the answer right.  My job description is to provide an education, and I'm going to do it through providing a learning experience.  Learning experiences MUST have failure built into them, otherwise they are not learning experiences.

If getting the right answer is all that's important to a student, then why not just get the right answer by asking a teacher?  It's the most efficient means to an end.  The problem is that it has nothing to do with learning information, simply collecting it and storing it until you can "spend" it on a test. 

In a mathematics classroom, instead of asking me if it's the right answer, they should use what they already know to develop a way to check if it's the right answer.  Why not just use the concept you're studying to verify it's the correct answer.  How about you experiment with a few other similar situations and see if in fact it is the correct answer?  Did the Greeks have someone to ask the all important, "Did I set this up right?"

As teachers we should turn this question on it's head more, and ask kids "Did I set this up right?" and "Is this the right answer?".  Too many teachers respond by saying, "Let me look and see and I'll tell you."  I would say, "Why don't you compare and discuss with a classmate, or use something you already know to verify it?  Let me know what you come up with."  Math should be as much the investigation, verification, and generalization(can I get any more "-ations" in here?) as it is about getting the right answer.  It's a shame that the only thing we ever assess is getting the right answer.

 If the goal is learning, we need to allow our kids to fail sometimes...that's what learning is.  I could ask a rocket scientist for the answers to a 100 question rocket science test and get them all right, but that doesn't mean I'm ready to build a rocket.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Necessity is the Mother of All Invention

Necessity is the Mother of All Invention
Just 10 minutes ago, I was grading some assignments that students had submitted electronically via creating a Drop and e-mailing/wiki messaging the link to me.  I'm aware that this is a "cheap" way of going paperless (they used paper to do the assignment, they just didn't turn it in).  The point of this was to get students to start thinking about ways to make things paperless.  While generating the correct solutions, my thoughts were, "How am I going to provide feedback?" 
So, the idea I had was to create one Google Document per student.  I would write any and all feedback for the assignment on the Google Doc and send them the link.  They could check their grade and their feedback whenever they chose to, and they wouldn't have to wait for me to give the paper back to them.  In a math classroom, there's learning that takes place in decoding the feedback that your teacher has given you.  It also makes it hard for me to just put a red circle around what's incorrect, I now have to articulate (you lost a negative sign when you were combining like terms).
Then I started thinking about, "What if I graded/assessed my students like this all year?"  In moving towards a standards-based grading approach, this would be an amazing way to assess kids.  Just writing about what they've done well and not well, I'd be able to pull together a good picture of what they've done throughout the year.  I would list each skill, then write feedback underneath/with the skill.  If a student repeats an assessment, I would simply add/change feedback, or denote that another assessment was taken.  At the end of the marking period, I'd be able to pull together whether the skill is mastered, partly mastered, basic ability, or below basic ability on that skill.  So that they could see where they stand on every skill, they would each have their own personal document
Here's the Prototype.
Your comments are appreciated.  I'm not sure if it's a time-saver, but I think it allows me to give much better feedback and it's useful in standards based grading. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Oh, so you just..."

Is Your Math Class More Like an English Class or a Food Science Class?

"Oh, so you just..."

I cannot stand hearing students say this as it is a major indicator that a student does not understand why, and understands mathematics as a procedure.  I'm going to attempt to fit this into other subject areas in an attempt to understand why it happens so frequently in mathematics.  My initial feelings

English - "Oh, so you just write"...too general.  "Oh, so you just write the theme?"...Why don't students say this in English?  Writing the theme in English is meaningless without any context around it.  The theme of "Betrayal" manifests itself much differently in the book 1984 than in Julius Caesar.

Social Studies - "Oh, so you just memorize"..."Oh, so you just figure out the type of government"..."Oh, so you just compare and contrast the interactions between Islamic and non-Islamic nations".  I don't think I need to belabor the point about a relevant context, but Social Studies is all around a kid and they interact with the content of the course constantly.  Kids must study social phenomena to remain relevant in the world.

Science - "Oh, so you just add the two chemicals together"..."Oh, so you just cut the frog here"...Science provides the great purpose that is so elusive to students these days.  Yes, you are following the procedures, but with the purpose of learning something greater when the procedure is done.  Most frequently, our end result in mathematics is what value makes a statement true.  Scientific procedures often have a more relevant purpose than this.

Food Science - "Oh, so you just add the milk after the eggs?"...if you add them before, your meal will come out wrong

Context, relevance, purpose all generate much higher outcomes than the procedures we follow in Mathematics. Our outcomes in Mathematics are the answers and never the "why and how".  Many of our mathematics classes follow the instructional models of Food Science where if you don't follow the right procedure, you wind up with something that tastes bad.  Couldn't mathematics be enriched by delving deeper into the why's and how's, instead of just placing caution signs for what you should be careful not to do? 

So many of the great math educators whose blogs I've been reading (dy/dan, Point of Inflection, and f(t)) instruct from the perspective of having their students understand the rules before they even begin to follow them. 

This post is in no way meant to belittle any of the subjects listed.