Preparing for SBG
Hey Math Blogotwittosphere (which, apparently, is the best blogotwittosphere out there – go us)! It feels like its been a while since I’ve focused my efforts to update this with math teaching material, but I think that’s all about to change in the next few weeks. My school starts in two weeks (YIKES!) and I’m in the process of finalizing some of the changes I want for next year. Here’s one issue I’m tackling: turning my classroom into an SBG machine. I’m excited!
What I Mean by SBG: I’m writing this paragraph after I’ve already having written the rest of this post because I realized what I’m doing isn’t completely SBG. I’m still categorizing my grades and assigning weights. Some types of assignments will have their own separate grades (ie: projects). So, for my own sake, I think I need to clarify what I think of as Standards-Based Grading (SBG).
SBG means the emphasis of the course is on performing well on targeted assessments which I have meticulously planned out. I have dissected my curriculum into discrete chunks and assess on those particular skills. My students keep track of their progress and are encouraged to reassess. Right now, I’m leaning towards a single assessment with the full range of difficulty but students may reassess as many times as they want (as opposed to old skills showing up on future exams but with harder questions). Before they can reassess, they complete a ‘Retake Ticket’, which is a collection of problems that I feel best represent the skills I want them to master. They must complete this correctly before being allowed to reassess (ps: I did Retake Tickets last year too to great success).
Oh – and pretty much no partial credit. Our math department motto: “Wrong is wrong”.
My perception of true SBG is that every other type of assignment is not entered into the gradebook, but explicit and targeted feedback is given. Every assignment is meaningful and students find value in doing them for the feedback they receive. I will be doing this for everything except projects, which will be counted in a separate category and graded with a rubric. I believe there are certain skills and behaviors that I want students to be able to demonstrate outside the confines of a pen-and-paper assessment (ie: habits of mind) and I want a way to assess these skills as well. We’ll see how it works – I’m always very conscious of grade inflation.
So, I guess all of this to say: I’m trying to implement the frequent and targeted assessments, encouraged reassessments, and everything-else-is-formative aspects of SBG, while still keeping a few things separate (like projects and possibly notebooks).
First thing I did: Make a preliminary list of skills I want to assess. Here it is:
I don’t know what to think of the length – it’s got 52 individual skills separated into 18 categories. Things like proof and argument are peppered throughout the skills instead of being their own individual skills since I think they need to be grounded in some sort of mathematical context instead of being taught in a vacuum.
Question: If you’re a Geometry teacher who’s tried SBG, what does your list of skills look like? How many did you assess in a single year? Does anything seem to be blatantly missing from my list?
Second thing I did: Analyzed the things I graded and collected from last year and tried to figure out how to adapt them into an SBG grading scale. One thing I like about SBG is the complete emphasis on performing well on the assessments and that the student is always completely aware of what they will be tested on (and, in fact, keep track of their progress themselves). This means pretty much everything else becomes formative assessment, which means (1) I give feedback/mine it for data, and (2) it does not contribute to their grade. So, I need to figure out which of my past routines (exit tickets, bellwork, homework, projects, etc) are things that I’m comfortable becoming formative assessments and which things I feel are necessary to demonstrate mastery and should therefore have some sort of evaluative grade assigned to them.
This is where I’m the most unsure. I started by making a table of things I did last year and how I could adapt them into an SBG grading scale:
It’s already clear to me that exit tickets and homework will become formative feedback – in fact, I doubt I’ll even collect their homework. My homework assignments are usually procedural practice problems that are intended for their benefit rather than as an argument to me that they understand the material (example of typical homework assignment). I’m leaning heavily towards assigning the homework, waiting a few days, then posting the answers and letting them check at their convenience.
What is less clear to me is what to do with bellwork. Here was my routine from last year: students come in with bellwork problems on the board. When the bell rings, I go around the room and stamp people who have already started working on the assignment (in principle – in practice, I became a lot more lax as the year progressed – it’s one of the things I plan to be more consistent about this year). Then they take out a colored pen and we talk about the problems as a class – they self-correct their answers. At the end of the week, I collect the bellwork and grade it – the stamp at the beginning of class acts as an extra credit point, and showing full corrections can also bring up your grade. In other words: as long as you are present and paying attention, there isn’t any reason for you to miss these points. Students can work with each other and ask me questions too. These are teaching problems, not evaluative problems.
I’m not sure how to transfer this into an SBG grading scale. From a purely philosophical level, it shouldn’t count as anything – nothing about this procedure provides an argument that students actually know the material – they may have copied from a friend or waited for the class to discuss the answers. However, the act of (1) starting work before the bell rings (which, honestly, helps with classroom management) and (2) correcting their own mistakes (which encourages reflective thought) are two things I want to reward students for doing. One thing I’m considering is making bellwork a separate category worth 5% of their overall grade where each day of bellwork is worth two possible points: one point for having the stamp and another point for having all the correct answers somewhere on the page (so it doesn’t matter if they were corrected or not).
I’m also really leaning towards having students actively construct a notebook for my class. Over the summer I visited a friend of mine who teaches in Seattle who uses the Core-Plus Mathematics Textbooks which is heavy on letting problems guide the learning and on real-world problems as the catalyst for discovering mathematics. I like the textbooks a lot. Anyway – part of teaching with this textbook is every student creates a toolkit, which is a personalized journal of all the important theorems and procedures that are discovered through the problems in the textbook. These toolkits are very consciously designed and become vital in a student’s problem-solving process. I like this idea because I didn’t use a textbook at all last year, so having students construct their own textbook sounds really meaningful and appealing to me. I might have every student buy a composition notebook at the beginning of the year, which will become their record of theorems from the course. A friend also threw out the idea of letting students use their toolkits on tests, provided we are explicit enough to not allow example problems within the toolkits themselves – I’m becoming more amenable to the idea the more I think about it.
So, with all of that, potential grading scale:
70% – Evaluative & Performance Assessments
10% – Final Exam
15% – Projects & Notebook Checks
5% – Bellwork
0% – Formative Assessments (Exit Ticket, Homework, certain classroom activities)