So it is the end of the quarter and the past two weeks I have been bombarded by students “re-assessing” their standards. We use standards based grading and students can re-do any of their assessments until they meet the standard fully. It is supposes to be a process of student submitting work, getting feedback, and then refining their work and understanding. This is happening with some students, but what has happened this week has been more of an “Oh crap” moment of poor grades from students and/or their parents. So then they quickly write up and re-do as many standards as possible, often of questionable quality of work.
With the new quarter starting Monday I am instituting two changes to try to correct this gaming of the system and to encourage students to really wrestle with the content without focusing on grades. First of all to prevent the wait until the last minute attitude, students will be required to initiate a re-assessment of a standard within two weeks of the first assessment or they forfeit the opportunity to re-assess. With a re-assessment attempt they will gain another two week window to continue to work on the assessment. By this I hope to encourage students to begin re-assessment immediately and build in a habit of doing and receiving feedback and doing again and of course eliminate waiting until the end of the quarter to cram.
The second thing is also quite simple, but I think that it will be powerful is I realized an easy way to withhold grades from students. I think many teachers realize that as soon as a grade has been attached to any assignment students have been conditioned to view it as “done” and are not motivated to continue in it. We use an LMS called Echo(similar to Blackboard or Moodle) where students submit their work and we assign grades. What we normally do in our class is have students submit a link to a Google Doc where the actual work is done. We then add comments to the GDoc and put a score in Echo. The change I plan to make is that I will not “publish” the grades in Echo. Therefore students will not be able to see the score I have assigned to it. Instead I will tell the class that I have read their assignments and left them comments. I will give them time in class to look at the comments, revise their work, and re-submit. By not showing them their scores I eliminate the student who says, “I have a 70% (or a 80% or even a 100%) and that is good enough for me.” In a way I can force the first cycle of feedback/re-assessment without the students thinking about the grade. Hopefully they will continue to fix things even after I finally hit publish.
Of course if neither of these changes prove helpful I will adapt and look for other solutions to encourage students to always view their learning as a process rather than something that they are “done” with.
We have a nice discussion started in the comments of my last post about #sbar (standard based assessment) in elective classes. In that post I think I had some difficulty articulating my problems with sbar in my classroom. Most of the comments came from a point of assuming that there needs to be specific standards for my class. I do not share that assumption. I come from a more open perspective of giving students varied learning opportunities and they learn what they choose to learn. I think I found an example to explain this that makes sense (at least to me).
This weekend my family went to Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. This is a huge building full of the history and culture of technology in America. It has tons of vehicles, planes, and trains in it along with farm equipment. The amount of history and science in that place is overwhelming.
Now I know how schools sometimes “do” fieldtrips with a scavenger hunt of items to find and write about or some other assignment. That is not how my family does museums. We came to the museum with no pre-determined agenda about what we would learn. My family explored the various parts of the museum, looked at the exhibits, and interacted when possible. Interactive items were my kids favorite parts by far, no matter how simple it was. We talked about the exhibits and asked each other questions. I never assessed my children’s learning. I just let them experience it. I (lead learner) did steer them toward things I thought were interesting or important and they steered me to the things they wanted to see.
|Lin generating electricity
When the day was over I knew they had learned many things because we experienced them together. I felt no desire to give them an A, B+, or C-. They did not earn a 3, 4, or 5 either. The real purpose of grading of any kind is ranking students. Even sbar is ranking students against a list of norms for their age/grade level.
I feel the same way about my applied technology class. My goals for students are for them to problem-solve, think critically, and work collaboratively. These things are difficult to assess objectively. I want students to experience challenges in my classroom and feel free to attack them without worrying about failing attempts. Educators often talk about a “sandbox” space in schools where students can experiment and play. That is how I would ideally describe my classroom. Students, in my humble opinion, get enough standards in their other classes. I give them a freer environment to explore and experiment.
Again I think sbar is a good tool for core classrooms where meeting specific standards is required. But my classroom focuses on doing and experimenting and I believe a failed attempt at solving a problem can be just as important part of learning as success. Grades are not really necessary for any of us to learn.
So Monday afternoon (great timing having a half day for students on Valentines Day) we had a professional development centered on Ken O’ Connor’s 15 Fixes. The book basically argues for standards based grading #sbar (disclaimer: we did not get through all of it yet). I agree with most of it in principal and it was very good to discuss grading policies with my colleagues (refreshing to have conversation focused PD!). Even though I profess to agree with many of the principals I was challenged that in practice I do some things that I say are wrong (for example I sometimes give zeros).
Ultimately I think grades suck and are just for comparing/ ranking students. If I have to give them then sbar is probably the best method in core classes. But there are a few points that I have issues with/ am still sorting out for elective classes. I teach Technology and consider myself part of the fine arts department of my school. I use project based learning with no summative assessments. I use my standards as topics to expose students to with alternative methods rather than formally assess. I also try to make my class a place to “play” where students can experiment and learn without fear of failure.
The big fixes that the fine arts have issues with are #6 ” Don’t include group scores in grades; use only
individual achievement evidence” and #1 “Don’t include student behaviors (effort, participation,
adherence to class rules, etc) in grades; include only achievement.” In music/band/orchestra class the group is graded in performances together and how one acts on stage affects the group. I also do almost exclusively group projects. I do not always assign members the same score, but then I fall into the grading participation problem. For physical education participation/effort seems to be a very important part of the class and legitimate to grade. The goal is active fitness not just rewarding the best athlete. I can make a similar argument for art class.
So I/we are looking for some feedback. Next Friday we will meet with our principal to discuss our concerns. She is open to us using a credit/non-credit system and not using grades at all (which I think is ideal, but still requires some standard for earning credit).
Is anyone out there using sbar in elective type courses? I would love to hear from you if you are using it in art, music, PE, or technology. My principal is also looking for examples in language arts and social studies to mentor/share with other staff as this is a building wide initiative. If anyone would be willing to share with my fellow staff/ administrators please let me know. Perhaps we could skype some people in? You can contact me via twitter (mikekaechele) or email (concretekax at gmail).