Monday, March 19, 2012

My Not-So-Active SBG

I have an issue with starting, but not finishing posts. This results in an overly large "Drafts" folder that more often than not gets pushed aside and forgotten. Every once in awhile I go back and see if what I started is still relevant to what I am doing now.

Today, I got lucky and found this:
I am sitting in our brand new gymnasium over in a corner, waiting (probably in vain) for the parents to come visit with me about their child. Ever notice that the parents that come to parent-teacher conferences are NOT the ones you really need to talk to?

So I have opened up my Google Reader for the first time in I don't know how many days. 397 unread posts. My first thought was to just mark all of them as read and figure out what to do in Geology next week, but it's been so long since I have heard what is going on in other people's classrooms that I decided to at least skim through some of them.

Riley has a "new" post on Active SBG.
Active SBG means:
  1. Emphasizing the learning that grades represent, and trying to avoid holding grades as the final product of education.
  2. Allowing students to react to their grades. Grades are the beginning of a conversation, not the end.
  3. Helping students to understand their grades by organizing them into topics (vanilla SBG).
  4. Actively keeping students informed by assessing their skills often and giving them feedback as soon as possible.

It's #1 that really has me stuck. It seems like the more I emphasize the learning process, the more my kids seem to emphasize the grades.

This post was started over a year ago, but I am in exactly the same situation, right down to not being sure what I am going to do in Geology next week.

I mentioned a while back how my SBG adventure is stuck in a rut. So I decided to start the Great Non-Grading Experiment. Actually, I didn't so much decide to start it as I accidentally clicked on the wrong box in our grading program.

Now, kids are still getting grades. I still have all of the same targets entered into the grade book. We use PowerSchool, and when you enter in your assignments, there is a little box that says "Do not include in final grade." Somehow, this box got checked.

So here I am totally oblivious that I am entering grades, but they are not visible to the outside world. Last week, some brave soul finally came up and asked me when I was going to put grades in because she wasn't sure if she was going to be grounded for Spring Break. Our internet was down that day*, so I asked her to get her grade sheets out and tell me what she thought she had.

This trimester, I am infinitely better about having kids keep track of their own scores. They get a grid with each target and I am even having them color code those scores. (If you have kids keep track, I highly recommend the color coding. Green = Good, Yellow = Almost, Red = Bad)

Anyway, we sat down and she immediately started figuring percentages. Her score sheet was all green except for one red box, so I had her look at her scores and tell me what she thought her grade should be. She looked at me like I had just asked her to explain string theory.

"What do you mean, what do I think?"

I nearly laughed at the total confusion on her face. She honest to goodness had no idea what I was trying to ask her. So we spent the next several minutes discussing what all those colors meant. We finally decided that  she should end up with a B+ and that she would come in and relearn what she had missed on that lone red target.

I have never felt so good about giving out a grade. So I decided to give it a try. The next day, I told the entire class that they would need to set up an appointment with me to discuss their grades. A stunned silence followed by that teenager look that says "is she serious"?

I have sat down with over half the class now to mixed reviews. Some kids really jump at the chance to defend that one bad score. Some still try to figure percentages. Some are hoping they can BS their way through until Mrs. Schroeder comes to her senses and just unchecks the box already.

I think I like it. One of the things that has always bothered me about the SBG idea is the percentages I am supposed to assign. They never really worked out like I wanted, and this just skips right over that part. The big issue I have is getting to everyone. The time and energy involved in this is incredible. I am working on a way to incorporate it into class time, but I have a terribly needy first hour and it makes it hard to give one individual my full attention. I got away from our Manic Mondays for awhile, and I am thinking I will revive that and work it in.

So just like everything else, we will see how this goes.

*Good Lord, have you ever tried to work on a day like that???


Teach Science Right said...

I think this is great. I've recently begun seeing the damage that grades can be, and how learning seems to stop as soon as the grades have been assigned. I think out of your list of 4, I jive more with number 2 - that grades need to be the start of a conversation and not the end (seems like a blog post for me pretty soon...).

So what I've begun to do is grade less and assess more. What I have found is that students truly are learning more (AND I spend less time grading, ha!). However, I can't seem to get to the place in which I give a grade, students relearn, and I am able to reassess in such a way that I feel the new "grade" (since I have to assign it) seems justified. How can I give students more points for "relearning" something, when I don't have the time to reassess them properly, ie - make another quiz?

The whole problem that I can see, is the whole points/percentages concept in general. I can't knix grades altogether, but if you've got any ideas or wisdom to share, please don't hesitate!

Great post


Tracie Schroeder said...

Thanks Chris
I am struggling with the same things. I think a big part of my issues is that I am the only one in the building that is trying to take the emphasis off grades, so it is a battle every day to get kids to buy in. My admin supports how I assign marks and I have had teachers ask me about it, but it isn't really catching on. I think part of the reason is that it is a massive amount of work up front. It's hard to get through that first year.
Good Luck!

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