Friday, June 17, 2011

SBG and the Nightmare that is Grading

So I've implemented SBG. More or less. I have written my targets. I have savagely edited my targets. I have overcome mutinies and parental skepticism. I have brightly colored signs all over my room reminding kids what they need to learn.

Now, how in the name of everything scientific am I supposed to keep track of all this?

This is my first full year of grading by standards. While there are a lot of tweaks I need to make for next year along with a couple of major adjustments, the foundation has been laid and I just need to build on it.

Or out from it. I am so on board with all the calls to get rid of grades. I am so frustrated with kids coming into my room the last week of school wondering how they can get just a few more points. I flat out asked some of the kids if they were more concerned with grades than with learning. Talk about some blank expressions.

So here it is. A break down of the good, the bad and the ugly.

My Chemistry, Applied Chemistry and Applied Physics targets were pretty good. I ended up editing them a little bit, but this is more of a skill based class and I found that to be easier to assess. Can you balance a chemical equation or not?

The big problem I had were with my Earth Science Classes (I get to separate out into Astronomy, Geology, Meteorology and Ocean Science). I tried to make the target too skill based. This resulted in beyond epic failure. The thing about the Earth is that it is a system. Everything is interconnected and it makes it hard to separate out those ideas. And even when you do, those ideas do not easily translate into skills for assessment. For next year, those targets are going to be more ideas based. I'm sure this will probably result far fewer targets and we will circle back around several times to those ideas. How in the world I am going to teach in that way, I have no idea.

Man, I'm beginning to hate that word. I created a semi-complicated way of recording students' grades. Each target was (ideally) assessed at least twice with a score of 4 points each. So each target was worth 8 points. To determine how many points each student received out of 8, I took the most recent score and added it to the highest previous score. So assume little Johnny received the following scores of five assessments on balancing equations: 3, 2, 3, 4, 3. The most recent score (3) is added to the highest (4) for a total of 7 out of 8. My kids were so stunned by the Modeling and just the introduction of not getting an actual test grade that not many of them even stopped to consider how the number was actually determined.

I like it, but I don't.

I read Marzano's Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading. I am now reading Guskey's Developing Grading and Reporting Systems for Student Learning. Marzano's book talks about how to set up levels within each standard. So in order to get a 1 out of 4, the student must answer this question correctly. In order to get a 2 out of 4, a second, more difficult question must be answered correctly. And so on. I like this and am going to try this next year with a little adaptation. There has been a bit of discussion about binary grading lately that I has me intrigued. If I can get it set up, I would like to make a standard out of the "1" question. You either get it or you don't. A separate standard would cover the "2" question. You get a 1 or 0. To me that seems like there would be less interpretation between the levels. That seems like an awful lot of work, so we'll see how far I get with that.

I was pretty inconsistent on this. I got swamped later in the year and just couldn't sit down and get it done to the level that I wanted. This is going to be a main focus for me next year. I am thinking about having kids assign their own scores based on what I have written as feedback. I'm sure that will go over well.

These are gone. It became so unmanageable I took to hiding in my closet during my plan period. Especially in the second trimester (Chemistry), everything builds so much that we ended up assessing every target over and over anyway. If I can write my targets well enough, this shouldn't be a problem.

This got better as the year went on. I kept a bright orange notebook on my desk that contained a spreadsheet for each unit that we covered. The targets were written at the top and the scores were recorded. Red pen indicated a test, black was a quiz, pencil was a retake, any other color was something else (projects, etc.). I know this reveals a bit of my OCD, but it helped me keep track of why a certain kid was missing a grade since I wasn't recording it as "Test 3" anymore.

I started working on a Google docs method of recording grades that would also let me add in feedback. I know Riley has Active Grade available, but for some reason, I just never got the hang of it. Maybe if I can sit down for an hour or so without any interruptions (this seems to be my issue with a LOT of things) and just play with it I could get it to do what I want. I also see Shawn is working on something that I'm sure will shake the education table. I love the idea of getting rid of scores. I think my curriculum director might be somewhat tolerant of the idea, but my principal probably won't want to deal with all the questions it is sure to generate. He's kind of a don't-rock-the-boat sort of guy. Maybe I just won't mention it to him.

On the whole, I like the general set up of SBG. It makes so much more sense to me as opposed to the more traditional method of recording grades. I asked my kids at the end of the year if they liked it or not. 79% said they preferred it, so that is really encouraging and it also gave my principal something to grab onto other than me saying how wonderful it was.

So that's how last year stands. Now that the dust has settled and I can breathe again, I'm going to sit down and start over on my Earth classes. Chemistry just needs some light editing and it's good to go, but those big ideas are what is going to do me in next year.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I follow quite a lot of blogs. I mean a lot. I'm not even sure I can count that high.

A while back, I accidentally discovered the math blogosphere. I had no idea what a blog even was, let alone that there were teachers out there using them to share ideas.

From there, I discovered that there were science teachers out there who had classrooms that had kids doing what I wanted my kids to do.

So, I began filling my Reader with teachers who know what they are talking about. There was no organization to it, I would find someone who had something interesting to say and start following.

Today, I got a chance to sit down and do a little much needed Reader organization. I wouldn't have worried too much about it, but I would sit down and start at the top. It was an emotional rollercoaster going from one blog discussing SBG, to someone else trying to explain to the world how education is failing, to still another describing their struggles in going paperless and back to another incredible teacher getting their kids into inquiry.

Looking to compartmentalize a bit, I created six folders:
1. My Classes - Stuff that specifically pertains to the classes I teach. This is mostly connect-me-to-the-real-world type information and a lot of it gets reposted for my kids to see.

2. Technology - Pretty self-explanatory, really. I've come across many incredible tid-bits that I can try to integrate into my classroom.

3. Fun - Not education related, but help my brain change gears. Some days, believe it or not, I just need to not focus on teaching.

4. Policy - Educational policy and commentary on how education is being treated by our federal and state governments. I believe it is important to have this information, but these are the ones that make me cry, cuss and spit. I honestly have a hard time believing a lot of what is being done.

This is what makes me want to quit teaching.

5. Classroom - Here are the people who matter, who make a differenceHere I find my inspiration. These are the teachers who love teaching, love their kids and are not afraid to say so. AND they are willing to let me visit their classrooms.

This is is what makes me want to stay in teaching.

I have to say, this has made a huge difference in my outlook.

Probably because I have read everything in my Classroom folder and have 285 unread posts in my Policy folder.

I can really get used to this.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The End of the First Model Year

School's out.

I think.

It's been a strange year and it doesn't really feel like the end of school yet. Maybe it was the weather, but even the kids on the last day were just kind of laid back about the whole thing. Well, um, okay, see you next fall!

Now that my classroom is finally cleaned up, I've been able to sit down and think about the year. There are so many things I did differently this year that I am having a hard time sorting it all out in my head.

So let's start with Modeling.

If you didn't know, I accidentally took a workshop on Modeling Chemistry last summer that totally changed the way I teach. Well, that's not entirely true. It totally enhanced the way I teach. It filled in all those gaping holes and dead ends that I kept running into. I was so excited as I went through the workshop, and I still love the program. I am taking the Physics workshop in July and can't wait to go.

What I Like: The Plan.
Modeling isn't just a teaching method. A lot of work has gone into developing the curriculum and coinciding the information with the methods.The curriculum starts at the beginning of our understanding of matter and takes those kids through those observations and discoveries. Kids have to think about why matter behaves the way it does. They create their own "model" of matter, just like all those famous scientists did.

What I Like: The Interaction
At the end of our workshop, we were supplied with a dozen giant student whiteboards and even some dry erase markers. This is where it gets good. Instead of me standing up there telling the class what they should be getting as their model, the kids stand up there and tell the class what they got as their model. Even if you don't follow the Modeling curriculum, go get some whiteboards and have those kids work out and explain what they know. The idea here is that kids are able to ask questions of their peers in order to further their understanding. It's brilliant, it's interactive, I love it.


What I Don't Like: The Interaction
I didn't do this well at all. My kids never truly took ownership in their own learning enough to be able to ask the right questions. I would ask them questions, they would more or less answer them. The other students rarely asked questions and when they did, they turned around and asked me. It's hard to create a student centered classroom when they know where I am. This spring, my Chemistry class was the last hour of the day. I would leave for track. Girls would leave for softball. Boys would leave for baseball. Don't even get me started on the FFA teams. We more or less gave up on the whiteboarding toward the end. If I would do it right, it would be a better tool. As it was this spring, it was so much of a stressor that I simply dreaded it. I'm not sure how, but I definitely am going to come up with some ways of getting the kids more involved.

What I Don't Like: The Curriculum
I have never been one to blindly follow a curriculum. There were a few things that simply were not explained sufficiently for my kids. I just needed to come in from a different angle. This wasn't a big deal, but some of my kids needed more support than what this curriculum supplied. I wouldn't even go so far as to say this is a problem with the program, just that some might need more.

What I Don't Like: Inquiry
Now, before you get all in a fit, I don't mean to say I don't like inquiry. I LOVE inquiry. I want to do more. The program allows for inquiry, but isn't really set up that way. When we went through the curriculum in our workshop, we were supplied with all the labs*, so this is what I did with my kids. It's not the worst thing I've ever done, but I would like to do better. It is hard to turn kids loose in Chemistry (well, for me anyway) when they don't know much about the chemicals in the closet. Shawn has his kids apply for a grant in order to start on their labs. I really like this idea, and am going to come up with something like that. Or maybe I'll just use his. I love the internet. When I cleaned up my room, I more or less organized my books according to subject. I have 17 chemistry lab manuals collecting dust on my bookshelf. I'm thinking that if I give kids a question, if they get stuck coming up with a procedure, they can use the manuals to help guide them along. Someone might as well use them.

Now that I have that out of my system, I can honestly say I love this program and would highly recommend the training to anyone who can possibly get it. The problems I have had I think I can chalk up to this being my first year and not knowing what I was doing. Now that I have at least tried it in a real classroom, I can focus on those things that weren't terribly successful the first time around.

It'll be here before I know it.

*Thinking on this now, it's entirely possible this was done because of time constraints. We covered the entire curriculum (including doing the labs) in two short weeks.

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