SBG Trials and Triumphs

Continuing my Precalculus journey…

So I decided to try Standards Based grading this year.  I forgot to mention that we are also  moving to Bring Your Own Device next year and maybe going paperless? (The contract on our copiers runs out after this year and our principal has asked us to move to a paperless environment–another issue that the math department needs to deal with and probably the subject of another post.) I am the department head, so I think it is important for me to be the first one to try new things so I can help others in the department with the nuts and bolts of the transition.  So I have invested a lot of time in exploring online resources, checking out apps and various devices, and making videos of lectures and posting all of my notes and handouts and lots of extra resources on my website, in addition to changing to Standards Based Grading.  So how is it all going?  Amazingly well, considering the enormity of the undertaking.

I will start by explaining what SBG looks like in my classroom, since SBG is a broad concept whose details look different from school or school or from teacher to teacher.

1.  I don’t grade homework at all.  Students can do as much or as little as they need to do to learn a concept.  Complete answer keys for all assignments, with work shown, are posted online, along with all worksheets, notes, and other online resources.  (I use Google Drive, a Google site, and YouTube)  Here is the link to my most recent unit on my website.  After trying various ways to organize my resources, I like this one the best so far.  You are welcome to use my stuff, but my videos are not high quality–strictly amateurish.

2.  Videos explaining all concepts (mostly made by me) are posted online.  Some are repeats of lectures given in class. Some are assigned to view outside of class (partial flipped classroom).

3.  Students are given a list of learning targets (standards to master) for each unit.  Here is an example.

4.  Students are quizzed twice in class on each learning target (LT). There might be several LTs on each quiz, but each LT is scored separately as a 10, 9, 8, 7, or 5, (I also use 7.5, 8.5, or 9.5), which correspond to A, B, C, D, and F in our grading scale. (The reason that I give a 5 instead of a 0 is because I realize that this is a grade in progress and I don’t want students to lose their eligibility to play sports, for example, until they have had a second try.) The score for each LT on the second quiz replaces the first.  However, if the second grade is lower, I will only lower the first grade by one point. (I may change this to averaging the two scores. A student who gets an A and then an F on a standard doesn’t deserve a B, in my mind.  I want them to retain the information.) Two 5’s in a row becomes a 0 in the gradebook, because if a student doesn’t show any improvement at all, then their grade needs to take a hit at that point, to force the student to do something about it.
Students can then retest on any individual LT outside of class.  After the third try (2 times in class and one outside of class), the maximum score a student can get is a 9.

5.  Class time is spent in a mixture of whole group instruction, collaborative work, individual practice, and quizzing.  I don’t spend time in class going over quizzes or assignments, except to comment on certain questions missed by nearly everyone or to work with individuals or small groups on questions.

Positives:

1.  Students are actually doing assignments to learn instead of just to get a grade.  It took a few bad quizzes for some of them to realize that they still needed to do the work, even though it isn’t graded, but they soon realized that the effort they put in actually resulted in learning.  Some students who can master the concepts without doing much practice are not doing unnecessary (for them) busy work.  Students are even requesting additional problems so they can practice more.

2.  Students are becoming self-directed learners.  Because I do not grade homework, I can post answer keys and even videos explaining how to do some of the more difficult problems and encourage kids to use those resources to help them when they are stuck on something at home.  I have some students who watch videos multiple times and who reprint worksheets to do again for extra practice.  I have also recruited peer tutors and have paired them up with some of the students who struggle and now they are helping each other.   They are figuring out how to teach themselves and what works best for them and it is awesome to see.

3.  A clearly defined list of LTs helps the students to know exactly what they need to know and what they have mastered already and which areas they need to work on.  When students get back a quiz, the individual scores on each LT allow them to self-diagnose their strengths and weaknesses.  Clearly defined LTs also help me to identify the core concepts that require mastery and focus my teaching in those areas.

4. Grading is vastly streamlined and more informative.  I don’t waste time checking homework that may or may not reflect the student’s own effort and knowledge.  I can give harder problems and grade more strictly on assessments, not padding the grade with partial credit, because students can try again, if necessary.  I also have time to give more detailed feedback on assessments because that is the only grading I am doing.  Here is how I show scoring on a quiz.  Often multiple problems will contribute to a score and I grade holistically.

scoring

5.  Test anxiety is no longer an issue.  Prior to SBG, when students did badly on a test, a significant proportion of them would say that “I knew how to do the problem, but I always freeze up and go blank on tests.”  Sometimes that was true and more often it was lack of understanding or failure to prepare adequately.  But that is what they said.  Amazingly enough, no one says that to me anymore.  If students do badly now, they say things like, “I didn’t have time to study that” or “I wasn’t prepared” or “I need to get some help with that” and then say that they will be ready on the second quiz, and they usually are.  Test anxiety is not even mentioned.  Knowing they can improve their score seems to have taken off the pressure.

6.  A higher proportion of students are mastering the concepts, including my weaker students.  That is the bottom line.

Negatives:

1.  Coming up with the list of learning targets is difficult and time-consuming.  If they are too broad, students don’t know how to prepare.  If they are too detailed, grading is tedious and you lose the big picture and the inter-connection of the concepts.  It is hard to strike the right balance, but it does seem to be getting better as I gain experience.  It is always a hard call to determine what is essential and what is not as essential for students to know.  I’m sure I will do some revising next year.

2.  I am spending a large percentage of my time in class quizzing.  Some of that has gotten better as I have streamlined my learning targets, but it is still taking a big share of classroom time, to the extent that I am not going to be able to cover as much as I did last year.  Maybe that will get better with practice, as well.  I was flying by the seat of my pants at the beginning of the year and we have had some internet issues at school, both of which have contributed to wasted time in class, as well, so maybe that was part of the problem.  Having each LT on two different quizzes in class is more time-consuming, but gives me much better information on what students really know and retain, so I am not ready to give that up at this point.  Maybe my learning targets are still too numerous and need to be even broader.

3.  My best students need more to challenge them.  I started adding in bonus opportunities for those students who master all of the LTs quickly on the first try and don’t need as much practice to master concepts.  They still have to take both quizzes, to demonstrate mastery and retention, but they usually finish so quickly that they have time to do a bonus topic or a challenge problem.  There is a cap to extra credit, but just having the opportunity to meet a challenge is an incentive for many students.  I also have been giving some extra credit assignments (no key posted) for students who are not necessarily fast on the quizzes but are willing to do extra work outside of class.

4.  How do I incorporate open-ended problems?  I want to do some projects or open-ended collaborative work but how do I assess those types of activities using SBG?  I’d love some feedback on that.

I’d love some comments from other SBG users.

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6 thoughts on “SBG Trials and Triumphs

  1. Mark Schwartzkopf

    That sounds awesome. Do you think it would be as viable for less motivated students than the ones you have?

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  2. Teachers would less motivated students or less mature students might have to include some sort of effort grade. (Although I would still wait and see if they would rise to the level of expectation first)
    One teacher I read about gave a list of learning activities, each worth a certain number of points, and students had to earn a certain number of points per week or per unit. There was enough variety that students still had some choice and ownership in the learning process, but it kept them accountable. I thought about doing that but it was a lot of extra work for me and not necessary for my students. Had you been in a traditional high school, SBG would have been perfect for you!

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  3. I would love to go 1-1 and paperless at my school but we are still a long way away from that. I do teach with an iPad, however, and could go paperless if the students had devices.
    I also don’t grade HW. I just check for completion and give a score of 0-5 depending on how much is done. It is only 5% of their grade.
    I’m curious about SBG. It sounds good but I am strapped for time with only 43 minute periods so I have a hard time giving up time for quizzes. How long are your periods?

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    • I never really graded homework either – just completion, so there was no real incentive for students to make sure they actually got it right. Some did and some didn’t and everyone got the points. I like no hw grade at all better for my students. I am excited about 1 to 1 but not about paperless. I can do a lot without paper but some activities and testing are better with. Not sure what will happen with that. We have an odd schedule. Each class only meets 4 times per week, once for 45 min, and the other 3 times are 55 min. So it is about the same number of minutes you have. The problem is always that some students are slower than others so whenever I give a LT quiz (I call them quizzes but they can be long) it is hard to plan any other whole class activities that day because kids are still working. I usually give them something to get started on afterwards or they work on something introduced the previous day. It would actually be easier with five periods like you have.

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  4. SBG has so many benefits that non-educators can’t see. The classroom becomes more about learning than grades and that is a huge shift for most people. I’ve found that by providing snap-shot formative assessments, the “summative” assessment can focus more on the big ideas.

    For homework, I’ve found that providing the students a reason as to why they’re doing the homework has been really helpful. The only homework that “counts” is when they’re told it is going to be used as evidence. The other reasons homework is assigned is for practice and preview.

    The motivation piece in my opinion can be addressed with using something similar to Bloom’s or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (which I prefer).

    Good luck with the transition – remember it’s always about the kids’ learning and grades are just a tool for communicating.

    Also – that’s awesome if you’re moving 1:1 -good luck with everything!

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