I’ve now introduced my Standards Based Grading system to the following people:
1.) My chemistry teacher friend, whose opinion I trust and respect the most on all matters pedagogical. (This isn’t hyperbolic. She beats all y’all, blog and twitter friends!)
2.) The learning specialist at my school (I had to give her a super brief and inarticulate overview)
3.) The Upper School head of school (read: principal)
4.) My department head.
And I will soon be talking to the senior class dean.
Why? I’m not about to embark on something so different, in terms of how things are done at my school, without ensuring the support of those people who will, or might be affected, by this change. Also, I was just darn excited about it and wanted to share with them what I have decided upon.
What was really heartening was that people really seemed to understand it, and interested to see how it actually panned out on the ground. As you know, I’ve been thinking and reading — from y’alls blogs — about SBG for a long time. And it took me a while to finally “see” it . But because of that struggle, and thinking through all the drawbacks of SBG (logistical and pedagogical), I was able to deftly and confidently field all the questions I was asked. And more than anything, I was really heartened by the serious interest and great questions coming from the Upper School head. The last few days have made me really proud to work at my school.
So without further ado, I am posting what is my final version of the introduction to the new calculus grading system.
There it is.
Some decisions I had to struggle with to make:
1. Rubric goes from 1 to 4, not 1 to 5 if a student attempts a problem. Because as @jlanier said on twitter, you don’t want to give yourself a middle option so you can straddle the fence.
2. I decided to not include homework as part of the grade. I’m scared of students not doing it, but part of teaching them involves them seeing for themselves that doing homework [read: practicing problems] is a necessary skill to be fully confident with (and to retain older) skills. I am, however, still requiring students to do homework, and they need to keep it neat and chronological. That’s because if they are doing poorly, I may want to point out the fact that they haven’t done the homework, or haven’t done it well, that I can use their work as a jumping off point for a conversation, about what’s working for them and what isn’t, in their learning practices.
3. I have problems with the fact that everything is so broken down. Where’s the higher level thinking? Where do students draw connections themselves? Unfortunately, when I thought about these questions, I realized that I rarely introduced or had students work on higher level thinking questions in calculus before anyway. We did bits and pieces here and there, but nothing super consistent. We did do a couple 2-3 day problem solving marathons with formal writeups.
I think each quarter, I will do these problem solving marathons and writeups, and simply break down the skills associated with these problems and writeups, and grade them. Having them broken down into individual skills is fully in line with the SBG plan.
4. Because I’m scared of having too much work to do — and I have so much non-math related things on my plate this year — I have limited the times and the number of skills students can reassess.
5. To get students to think about their own learning processes and styles, what works for them and what doesn’t, I’m having students reflect on why they might have done poorly, and what they did to rectify the situation, before they can reassess. As my Upper School head said, “you’re coaching them in metacognition.”
6. Only the latest skill score counts. I had some debate — highest of the last two scores, average scores, etc.? But I came down on the side that skills have to be retained. And historically except for final exams, I never really taught, demanded, or tested retention. So this is a huge shift.
7. I am going to try to assess most skills twice. But it’s not going to be possible for all.
8. Most importantly, I’m going to go slowly with this, and run with the punches, this year. I’m not worrying about being perfect, or having the perfect skill list, or finding the perfect questions for assessment. Maybe I do have too many skills, and I should chop the list in half? Maybe I am not focusing on integrating problem solving, or making two levels of problems (easy and hard), or intending to change most of my old smartboard lesson plans or what I do in class? I’m going to take it slow, get kids in a routine, get myself in a routine, see how this works out. And once everything is smooth sailing, then I’ll worry about tweaking the system.
 The three big “click” moments that got me on board, and then totally shifted my outlook with this:
1. Grades can go down — and retention is part and parcel of this grading scheme.
2. You have to take the most recent grade.
3. I want all my kids to earn As.