Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SBG - Standards Based Grading With Metacognition

The system that I use in my classroom does fall under the category of 'Standards Based Grading, but what I'd doing I hardly think of it as such. The genesis for what I do in my class came from determining mastery, much in the same way that the early SBG thinkers were looking at this. However, what I'm doing is focused around creating and building a learning environment and enhancing the metacognition for the student who has mastered a skill of one sort or another. SBG is generally using the same communication lines developed over the last century that were meant to communicate the standard letter grades.

Setting Up A ‘Skill Mastery Board’

I went through several trials that were less than successful before hitting on a system that was simple and integrated into what I was doing already. The first attempt was an ambitious undertaking to use every state standard outlined for my math students and I made an enormous chart where over 50 skills were listed horizontally and all 60 of my students were listed vertically. That was some 300 skills that I needed to assess the students on and determine mastery. While I created the program with great thought, it was a logistical nightmare.

A few years went by and my efforts were simplified by condensing what I was doing to make the program what it is today. It is now 12 mastery skills that represents the entire year’s curriculum in one clean and simple board. The skills are assessed through my tests that I already give, and the make-up for those who didn’t master a skill is a small project, in which pay off greatly. 

3 of My 12 'Mastery' Categories

To create your own mastery board, you must first start with a hard look at the curriculum and assessments that you are currently using. Break your curriculum into logical chunks that you intend to teach as units. Many teach from a book and that is fine, but the tests that are given by the textbook maker are not likely good enough for you to determine mastery.

Now break up your curriculum into pieces where you expect to have assessments. I currently use twelve pieces representing one-half of each of the six chapters that I teach each year. Across four grading quarters, That’s three assessments a quarter and roughly one assessment every three to three and a half weeks of class where I have nine, ten or eleven weeks in any given quarter. These twelve main concepts taught that fast may be too much, and sometimes I don’t complete all of them by the end of the year. I work to stay on pace, so long as it is what is best for the class.

Some classes don’t have such a linear progression. For example, when I taught science, I taught through a very strict inquiry-based model. All the skills were integrated and the students were exploring through experiences that I had set up for them. However, I did identify time periods where I would focus on one skill as an emphasis through mini-lessons, one-on-one work, and making that specific skill a clear and deliberate goal for us to be working on. Some of those included; data collection, asking 80 questions, measurement, creating a quality hypothesis, data analysis and drawing conclusions.

My assessments of students’ lab work and lab reports were focused on the skills that were being mastered at that moment. I would sometimes only grade in detail the skills being mastered, leaving the rest as a completion grade, when it made sense to do so. 

A View of all 12 Categories on a large 'Mastery' Wall

Creating your own 10-14 categories of skills will require your own assessment of your course, and thoughtfulness when you create your assessments, to be sure that what is being reflected in the assessment is what you and others would consider to be mastery.

The twelve standards that I have created are not very expressive and include several smaller ideas. To be more expressive, I’ve given the students their own sheet to track their skills that they have earned. On it are several “I Can” statements that outline the different kills.

The “I can” statements I also write onto the white board. I write the one that we will be working on that day in class. This is similar to a ‘target goal,’ and is a good way for students to stay connected to the mastery wall.

 This quote came from Think Thank Thunk when responding to an article in the N.Y. Times about SBG. I tend to agree with it, now lets get the message directly to the students themselves.

High Achievers?

Many people argue that SBG hurts “high achievers.” This could not be more ridiculous. You are not a high achiever, if you can’t do the work, present it well, and retain it. I’m sorry that a student used to getting A’s actually deserves a C+ based on content knowledge, but I’d rather they know that than get hit by the bus that is college.

I will be digging deeper into this mastery board concept later....

Omega Unlimited & Dy/Dan 'Toasty Lessons'

If you have been following  Dan Meyer’s blog and the Toast experiment, then you likely saw Chris's response on his Omega Unlimited blog. I couldn't but help notice how similar this work was to my 7th grader's introductory work to y=mx+b, graphing and their relationships. 

While I'd say that my student's remained more interested in their own projects and finishing those, the riveting introduction to the class Monday to the toast video was incredible. A few moments into the plotting of their data points and it became clear that what they have is not totally linear. 

So, it was a hit and it raised as many math questions that I could have guessed would happen. What great stuff. 

Future steps for me include making sure to take the context of all of our work and guide it in to the most contextual arena I can. I don't know that displaying and working on the toast with my class would be the very best way, but it was a fun way to get the day started. With minutes as their time unit, the best answer they got was y=1/2x+1.5 Clearly, a few issues still exist that need to be ironed out.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Forget the Data You Have Always Known

I'd like to suggest that the standardized test data that we all know and, well, despise is not the end of the data story. In fact, it's just the beginning of the story.

I've been bouncing around the educational blog world where I expected to find the best educators doing the greatest things. No doubt this is true, but I didn't expect that the word 'data' would be so two dimensional. So, I've begun to craft an argument for a new prospective on data and the introduction to that new idea goes something like this...

I first clued into the power of what simple data can do to a class my first year teaching. One day, I tallied up the scores to a test and wrote onto the whiteboard how many students received an; A, B, C, D, F or below. This suddenly took each section of science I was teaching to near silence. This was uncommon in my class that first year teaching! Immediately following were questions from many students as they wanted to know why some achieved better than others, what a good or bad test grade would mean for their overall class grade. Also assertions and accusations were flung out into the classroom environment that took aim at either the high achievers or the low achievers. 

A- 4
B- 11
C- 3
D- 3
F- 2
I wanted to provide some simple feedback on the test just as I had seen my high school teachers and college professors do from time to time. What I didn’t expect is such great focus in that very simple data. I didn’t expect all the questions and curiosity and I certainly didn’t expect the vicious undercurrent between my students to rear its ugly head at that moment. It was a lightning rod for attention and I could see that, but I didn’t know what to do about it.

Over the next several years, I continued to present data in a variety of ways and tried hard to capture that energy, harness it, and use it to my advantage. The result shaped my assessments, and created the simple graphs (coming soon with tons of examples), along with a keen sense about how I wanted to lead conversations about this information.

Those several years have led me to believe a few things about data:

1.    Data needs to be in the hands of the student, in a simple and clear way that they can understand.
2.    There is great power in holding class and individual conversations about their data.
3.    Students will universally, and naturally, experience important self-reflection when presented with data.
4.    If I create the right class environment, students will be able to handle the data with maturity.
5.    Student’s are hungry for accurate and impartial information about their progress.
6.    Students want the teacher on their side, to work with them.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Philosophy of Team Building Introduced

One of my favorite topics as this blog gets going will be facilitating team building activities. Now, I have been doing team building activities for over 12 years and I still am not sure if many people understand the fatal, and common, flaw when they try to lead one them selves. My argument goes something like this.

"If you run a team building activity where you set a problem for your classroom group to try and you sit back and watch as the do the activity, then the following will happen: the leaders will lead, the followers will follow and your group might be successful at completing an abstract task involving rope and hula-hopes. However, nothing changed about your classroom dynamics"

"So, what should you do?" I'm often asked

"The activity needs to be manipulated in real time to force the leaders to follow and to force the followers to lead"

Much more on that topic and these five main components to a team building activity coming soon.

1 – “Set Expectations” This component involves planning for and discussing both good and bad behaviors and what they look like.  

2 – “Frame the Activity” This component involves providing a fictional storyline to the activity.  

3 – “Facilitate the Activity” This component is just as it sounds.

4 – “Debrief the Activity” This component is perhaps the most important component because it is where the real learning occurs.  Debriefing is a group discussion about what took place, what was learned and what can be applied to real life from the activity.