Reflections on My First Year of SBG

This is my first year trying SBG (Standards Based Grading) after being inspired by a handful of teachers. (ddmeyer, jybuell, ThinkThankThunk, fnoschese) I taught five sections of physics this year and have used “traditional” grading prior to this year. So how do I feel about the switch?…

The good

  • I felt more focused by creating objectives and prioritizing objectives instead of like in the past, where I just throw things at them and “hope it sticks”. 90% of it sticks? “A” for you! 70% of it sticks? Even if none of it was a core idea? “C” for you!
  • Students were relatively on-task for most activities, considering nothing was actually “worth points”. I was afraid the first assignment of the year would be met by a conversation like this:
    S: How much is this worth?
    T: um… your grade is determined by quizzes and tests
    S: … so, nothing?
    T: …
    S: [sits back and stares at ceiling]
    But that never happened. Sure, I had students who didn’t do diddly squat, but based on my prior experiences, I’d say these students would have done no more work than if assignments were worth points.
    At first it was a bit difficult not having the crutch of threatening students with loss of points, but this only encouraged me to make my activities more meaningful and engaging, and eventually it was overall liberating not feeling like I had to “motivate” my students by dangling the points carrot in their faces.

The bad

  • Students focused on objectives by their labels (T3, CV2, EM4, etc.). I’m not sure they ever read the actual objective. So in their heads they were trying to “learn CV2″ instead of “learn how to calculate the average velocity of an object”. Instead of learning what was described, they were learning “how to do those types of problems labeled CV2″.
  • Some or most students were motivated to remediate missed objectives, but it turned into a bunch of 1-on-1 tutoring sessions. I’ll need some way for them to remediate that’s not such a huge barrier that they would rather take the lower grade than relearn the material. Currently the only ways for them to remediate is to ask a friend (not a viable choice for everyone), ask me (takes up my time), or research on their own using the textbook or online resources (not going to happen). I’d like to create some accessible resources so if they do come to me for help, I can direct them to these resources. Or tell them if they’d like to re-assess, they must first offer evidence that they’ve gone over the resources.
  • Homework completion was still an issue, although it’s hard to say how much meaningful completion there was compared to when I had “traditional” grading. Second semester I tried a homework incentive system (complete/attempt more than 70% of assignments, +1 grade letter). No significant increase in number of students doing homework. Also, if they fell below 70%, it seemed like less incentive to do homework than before. I felt like since I started dangling the incentive system in front of their faces, this replaced any intrinsic motivation they might have had.
  • I’d like to have large and/or long-term assignments/projects. I think students can do short-term work in class (attempt a worksheet, whiteboard, do an activity) for no points, but I have serious doubts about students doing extended writing or any real “serious work” for no points.

Random notes

  • I started out with too many objectives each unit. I now try to combine them down to 6 for each unit/model so the list doesn’t seem daunting. I feel like long list lowers motivation (“so many things to learn!”).
  • I’ll keep the same formatting, which took a while to evolve into the current state. Objectives written at the top of each worksheet and assessment, and scores embedded in the objective list. (Another– although not great– reason for fewer objectives)

Questions

  • How do I assess projects and provide the proper motivation/incentives?
  • How do I assess students individually for projects?

Conclusion

I’ll never return to the old (traditional) grading system, which is relatively arbitrary and emphasizes points instead of learning. Although the “bad” list looks longer than the “good” list, the problems are less with the philosophy behind SBG, and more with my implementation of it this year. I will continue with the philosophy behind SBG, but I’ll need to adapt my implementation to how I plan to teach next year — with more projects, as activities and assessments (Project Based Learning is my next venture).

Leave a comment

4 Comments.

  1. Here’s the approach I developed for projects at the end of the year, your mileage may vary.

    The projects were rather open ended, so the students had to make a list that said “in this project I will address these objectives” and we all had to approve the list before the project went on. In more structured projects, I gave them a list of objectives.

    At the same time that we approved the objective list for the project, we discussed how they would show me their individual contributions. This depended a lot on the type of product they were creating. Some made ppt slides with their initials on the ones for which they were responsible. others provided a google doc that showed the development of their movie script, where I could see individual contributions in the revision history of the google doc. Made a lot of work for me, but the students had a lot of responsibility and flexibility, too.

  2. Not sure what projects I’ll have next year (such a huge change in approach), but I’ll definitely consider this. Thanks for your input!

  3. Hi Frank! Your blog is great! Are you the only one at your school who uses SBG? Do you use powerteacher? I was asked to look into SBG more and the admin would re-evaluate next year. I’m glad you were given the opportunity to do this.

    Frank Noschese says that he counts (If I’m understanding him right) the standards for 90% of the grade and projects and final for the last 10%. He actually said 1/9th of the grade. His post is here: http://fnoschese.wordpress.com/category/standards-based-grading-2/
    I hope it helps.

    I’m so glad that I get to work with you on the Ner Physics Teachers Workshop, it should be a lot of fun!

  4. Thanks for the tip! Yep, as far as I know, I’m the only one at my school who tried SBG. I don’t use powerteacher and I’m not sure what it is. I use Easy Grade Pro to track my grades. I kinda made it work for the way I record grades.

    If you’d like more feedback from teachers who did SBG, check out the comments from Shawn Cornally’s post here: http://shawncornally.com/wordpress/?p=2149

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