Bellwork as Practice & How I Grade It
This post started as a comment on Lisa Henry’s post about Homework & SBG, but it was getting long so I decided to turn it in to a blog post. The essential question on Lisa’s post is: “what do you do about homework/practice problems when you are doing Standards Based Grading?”
Most of my daily practice comes in the form of bellwork and exit tickets. We have bellwork pretty much every single day – this is a very consistent part of my classroom. Bellwork is included as 5% of their grade in my class (very small). Here’s the typical routine:
The bell rings – I start a timer for 5-10 minutes. I take attendance, then I walk around and stamp students who have begun the bellwork. If a student hasn’t done anything more than write their name on the bellwork, no stamp. As I do this, I answer small questions but try not to get caught up tutoring individual students. When time is up, students take out a colored pen or pencil and we go over the bellwork as a class. This is mostly me calling on students to explain their answers (Cold Calling), unless there’s a specific point I want to clarify or a common mistake I’ve seen most students make. Students give themselves points when they have correct answers. If they don’t have a correct answer or they didn’t finish, they correct their bellwork with their colored pen or pencil, making notes about what mistakes they made. This last sentence is key. I collect the bellwork every day, but I never return it – I skim over it, then throw it away.
This is important because of how I grade bellwork: each bellwork is always worth 3 points. They get 1 point for the stamp – a motivation to not waste time and get started on time. They get another point for having every problem attempted, whether in pen or pencil. This means if a student doesn’t know how to do a problem, but follows along when we talk about it as a class and fills in their answer with a colored pen, they still get the point. However, if a student leaves a problem blank and doesn’t pay attention when we discuss it as a class, no point for this person. They get the last point for having corrected any mistakes in their colored pen or pencil. Notice that none of this has to do with whether or not a student answered a question correctly on their first try – what matters is that they tried to clarify their understanding as we discussed it as a class. I make a big deal about this at the beginning of the year – the purpose of the bellwork is to get practice, then reflect on that practice to determine what you need to work on, which is why you need to switch to a colored pen when you correct. Lots of corrections = come talk to me after school so we can see what’s going on.
A student who’s on-track should get 100% because they started on time and they know all the material. A student who is struggling should get 100% because they attempt every problem and realize where they get stuck, then correct their mistakes when we go over it as a class (which still earns them a point). A student who’s been absent for the last week can get 100% by asking a neighbor for help as I’m walking by with a stamp, then filling in the correct answers when we talk about the problems as a class. The only way not to get 100% is to not care about the practice in the first place.
The purpose of this system is to encourage self-reflection and ownership of where they stand in terms of understanding the course material. When we talk about the bellwork, students are focused and ask questions – they know that their points come from fixing their mistakes and making comments about their work. Eventually, this attitude stops being about ‘earning points’ and becomes a habit for them as students – to analyze how they did and what that means for them as students. In my mind, the whole purpose of practice is to encourage students to realize where they stand with the material – to help students become more self reflective and realize where their weaknesses are and what they can do to turn these into strengths. So, I grade bellwork in such a way that encourages these reflective habits, rather than rewards completeness or correctness.
So, the answer I’m pursuing to the ‘homework/practice in an SBG world’ problem is finding ways of grading that rewards reflection, correction, and self-regulation about how much practice they need before the assessment.