Saturday, January 12, 2019

Assessing Skills in a Standards-Based Classroom


How do you approach a skill that you will work on all semester? How do you take a Standards-Based Grading approach to skills while still allowing for feedback, formative assessments, and without going insane from the workload or record keeping it creates for you as a teacher?

The truth is: you have some options.

As a social studies teacher, I am responsible for teaching a boatload of skills. Maybe not as many as an ELA teacher but when you have content standards and literacy standards combined, it can feel very daunting and overwhelming to take an SBG approach and often it can feel like something will fall through the cracks.

First of all, there is a difference between what you teach and what you assess. You can probably teach it all, but where do you most need to focus your time and energy for assessing and grading?

Second, something will probably fall through the cracks so wouldn't it be better for you to make a decision on what? Even Marzano Institute, the education research giant, says teachers cannot possibly teach all of their standards so it is best if teacher make choices knowing that before starting their year. What are the essential skills they absolutely must master before they move on? When you determine that list then you know where to focus your assessments.

I know, I know, you want to yell right now "IT IS ALL ESSENTIAL!!!" And my heart agrees with you, but until there are some radical changes in education as a whole, it is impossible for a single teacher to teach and assess every skills standard assigned to them each year. This is especially true when most of us in secondary classrooms have 180+ students. So let's start by picking 5-10 you can focus on the most and remember, you can still teach everything else, these are just the ones you will assess fully. To be honest, this process works best within a PLC but I know not every teacher has the luxury of a PLC at their school.



In California, we have our State Standards for history and then we have our Literacy Standards (as you can see above) and we also have a framework on how to teach all this but that's for another post. What I want to focus on right now are the skills standards.

When I look at the writing standards, the first big one to tackle for the grades I teach is this:

WHST 9.10.1. Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
  • a. Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • b. Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form and in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level and concerns.
  • c. Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
  • d. Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
  • e. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from or supports the argument presented.
This is just one standard but it would be unreasonable for me to approach this standard as a one and done lesson. This standard has 5 complex components that need to be taught and assessed. Additionally, students will need to work on these standards multiple times, I'll want my students to grow and develop these skills over the course of a semester so I have two main options for how to approach putting this skill standard in the grade book but before I can decide how to assess them, I need to do the first step of all SBG work, I need to start with the standards.

Step 1: Make it student friendly. 

This is a time-consuming process and some out there will say you can have upper-level students do the exercise of rewriting the standards themselves. If you choose to do that, I suggest doing it as a whole class. When it comes to what do these standards actually measure and ask students to do, you don't want there to be any room for error in how students understand the standard.

Here is my student-friendly version of WHST 10.1.A:
  • I can write using a precise claim and distinguish that claim from counterclaims. My writing presents the claim, counterclaims, reasons, and evidence in an organized manner that shows a clear relationship between all parts. 
There is a lot to teach here, and as I said before, it cannot be taught in a one and done lesson. Additionally, if I want my students to become life-long learners who value a growth mindset then I need them to experience the process of returning to skills over and over again in order to improve upon that. That means I need to assess this skill more than once, but how do I do that with SBG and keep my sanity?

Your Choices 


Option 1: Measure the skill-based standard multiple times through the semester.


How does it work? In a normal history class students will write argumentative essays and short responses all semester so each time they do we review the skill and they are assessed again on where they are at with that skill.

How would that look in the grade book? Each time an argumentative writing piece is assigned the components aligned to WHST 10.1.A is assessed and measured on its own. It might look something like this:

  • Enlightenment Values Essay WHST 10.1.A - 2
  • Revolutionary Period Essay WHST 10.1.A - 3
  • Industrial Revolution Essay WHST 10.1.A  - 3
  • Imperialism Around the World WHST 10.1.A - 3 
Now, my reality is we don't write this many essays in my World History class (because this skills really can be measured in other forms of non-traditional writing) but for the sake of creating an easy to read example you'll see that there were four different assignments here and the skill was assessed each time. As a teacher, you could either use the average (because even Marzano Institute says it is okay to average the scores when they are summative scores based on standards on a 4 point scale) or you could use the mode. This is one of the choices that the teacher of PLC group will need to determine based on the needs of their students and how they run their class.

What is important to note though is that the score in the grade book is not a score for the essay as a whole, instead, it is a score for the priority standard that was assessed within that essay. In reality, the grade book in this hypothetical class would look something like this:
  • Enlightenment Values Essay WHST 10.1.A - 2
  • Enlightenment Values Essay WHST 10.1.B - 2
  • Enlightenment Values Essay WHST 10.1.C - 1
  • Revolutionary Period Essay WHST 10.1.A - 3
  • Revolutionary Period Essay WHST 10.1.B - 2
  • Revolutionary Period Essay WHST 10.1.C - 2
  • Industrial Revolution Essay WHST 10.1.A  - 3
  • Industrial Revolution Essay WHST 10.1.B - 3
  • Industrial Revolution Essay WHST 10.1.C - 4
  • Imperialism Around the World WHST 10.1.A - 3 
  • Imperialism Around the World Essay 10.1.B - 4
  • Imperialism Around the World Essay 10.1.C - 4

Where I will actually grade in this format is in my AP World History class. This is how I will assess the writing standards for my AP World History Students second semester. You can see the proficiency bands here and you'll notice it's a lot of stuff I'll need to grade and give feedback on but by breaking it down into smaller components instead of essays as a whole, I can give students more specificity on their strengths and weaknesses and we can focus more on growth over time.

Now, if you are using a traditional grade book to report there is also a break down of options for how to put this is the computer system that measures grades. I am going to do a whole post on that next so if you can't wrap your head around how do you report these scores to parents and students and post to a report card while maintaining a Standards-Based Classroom: I got you. Just come back in a couple of days. 

Option 2: Break the Standards Down Throughout the Semester


This is the method I have used with my summer school students and my college prep World History class. Here, you take the standards and break them down into more measurable goals. This works well when the standards as a whole are too complex for students to really know and understand where they are at and where they need to be. 


So again, you start by breaking it down but you break it down a little differently:

Here is my student-friendly version of WHST 10.1.A:
  • 1. I can write a precise claim.
  • 2. I can write a precise claim and distinguish that claim from counterclaims. 
  • 3. I can write a precise claim and present the claim, counterclaims, reasons, and evidence in an organized manner that shows a clear relationship between all parts. 
So now, throughout the semester we work on one component at a time. Again, this works best for those meaty standards. Part of the purpose of going Standards-Based is for students to better understand what they know and can do and where they still need to grow when the standards are too complex this process allows for students to better take autonomy over their learning. 

How do these look in the grade book? Just like this! 
  • WHST 10.1.A.1
  • WHST 10.1.A.2
  • WHST 10.1.A.3 
Now, this does not mean you only assess each skill once, you still want to do formative assessment and give feedback but with this method, you aren't reporting the same skill every time a student writes, instead the skill is being assessed at greater and greater complexity or rigor throughout the semester. 

Continue Exploring Standards-Based Grading 


While there are some components of Standards-Based Grading that are essential to its success there are still areas where teachers have a lot of freedom to determine what will work best for how they teach and what their students need in order to promote learning and growth. 

If you want to know more, you can read all my blogs on grading here but what I really suggest is checking out one or more of the following books. All of these books I have read and have influenced the work I do in my classroom on a regular basis. 
If you need more book recommendations just let me know! I've read a lot of grading, assessment, and motivation over the past few years and these few are just some of the ones I always find myself recommending or referencing. 


How do you approach skills based assessment? Share in the comments or on Twitter

Sunday, January 6, 2019

How Routines Can Help You Embrace EdTech in Your Classroom


Last week, I wrote a little bit about how I want to establish more clear routines and procedures this semester and it got me thinking about where and when routines benefit my students and me the most. As I wrote before, my big takeaway from the first semester of this year was the need to begin and end each class, in the same way, each day so students know where to find the information they need to be successful.

But another area where I know from experience routines are helpful is when implementing technology. Now, I am not talking about how you check out devices (though that does help) I am talking about the actual lessons you do.

When you are new to using technology in the classroom it can seem overwhelming at first, there are just so many apps and tools and cool lesson designs and incredible ways to connect your classroom with the world and so on and so on. But if you are new to using tech in your classroom there are three realities you need to face: 1) you can't do it all 2) you are going to have to teach your students your digital expectations and 3) you will need to teach the students how to use the tools.

You Can't Do It All 


This is a hard one for me because so often I equate routines with monotony and so I am always looking for ways to spice up my classroom and it can often lead to me wanting to try everything out there. But the reality is that I do not have time to learn every single new app or tool and that isn't what is best for student learning in my classroom. Each new tool or lesson design I try means I need to teach my students those tools and expectations as well. That is going to take away from the content and skills I am here to teach if I try and do EVERYTHING that is out there for me to try.

This is where if you put pedagogy first the right tools will fall into place for your students and your classroom. You might use the same 4 digital tools all year and if you put pedagogy first then that is absolutely okay. It is not about the tool, it is not about winning some award for how many apps did you use this year, it is about good teaching. Technology allows for greater collaboration, creativity, choice, and student voice. Technology allows teachers to give feedback more efficiently, grade smarter so you can spend more time on feedback and connecting with students, and technology creates more authentic learning experiences that can easily adapt to what is happening right this minute to help keep students engaged.

So if you are new to using technology in the classroom don't be overwhelmed by all the possibilities instead, find the options that will best support learning in your classroom. Learn a handful of tools well and then I promise it will become easier to add more to your toolbox when you are ready but you don't need to learn them all to start creating an effective blended learning environment.

You Are Going To Have To Teach Your Students Your Digital Expectations 


Students have their own digital world with their own digital rules and their own digital culture. As much as you may want to mock the worlds they have created via Instagram or Fortnite, these are digital spaces where young people have created their own culture with their own norms. The norms they have created for those worlds are not the norms you are going to want for your digital classroom experiences so you need to be clear, specific, and direct about your digital expectations and you need to take time to teach those expectations to your students.

This is the same as setting students up for success by going over your classroom expectations, in fact, you can add it as part of how you teach those norms for students. But if you don't set the expectations from day one, they will default to how they understand communication to happen digitally and that is when you get incomplete sentences with slang that you can't comprehend. When you don't teach the expectations from the start you may then have to address each student individually. I see this most with my own students with digital discussions, students need clear expectations on what and how to contribute. This doesn't mean you need to have a rigid set of how many sentences but it doesn't hurt to start that way for the first few digital discussions so students understand the norms and expectations.

One of the hardest things to remember is that just because the students in your classroom might be entrenched in a digital world, that is not the same as the digital space you are going to create as a teacher. Just as with any lesson, by setting clear expectations from the start you will get better results from your students.

You Will Need To Teach Students How To Use The Tools


I will often forget this one, especially if my students have done really well with one tool for a long time I will try and throw a new tool at them and forget that they were successful with the first one because I taught them how to use it. Again, your students might have a robust digital life but that doesn't translate to knowing the tools you would use in a classroom to create and communicate. It is worth your time to review the basics of these tools with students before diving into them.

At the start of the year, a lot of my students will tell me they hate using technology in the classroom. They struggle with tech because the tech they know at home and the tech they are expected to use in the classroom are not at all the same. Students might be amazing video editors using Snapchat or Instagram but they won't know how to navigate Adobe Spark unless you show them how.

This is another reason why if you are new to creating blended learning experiences it is okay if you stick with a few solid tools to get you started or until you feel comfortable with incorporating a digital space in your classroom. You will need to take the time to teach students how to use most tools so if you have 50 tools you want to try out, that is going to take away from the other stuff you need to do in your classroom. But if you use 5 tools consistently all year, if you make digital routines within your lesson planning, it is easier to throw in a new tool now and then to spice things up without taking away from the goal: teaching the content and skills aligned with your class.

But Why Should I Take The Time To Do Any Of This?


Right now, you might be thinking that this sounds like a lot of time to give up in order to incorporate digital lessons and to create a blended environment. When you are first starting out and when your students are first starting out, it does take some time. This is where establishing digital routines for you and your students will make it easier to cross that bridge and create a more blended environment.

The value of blended learning and what it will allow your students and you to do is worth the extra time it may take to get started. If you start with clear expectations, routines, norms, and making time to teach students how to use the tools then you will have more time throughout the year to use these digital spaces to their fullest.

The reality is, we don't know what types of jobs we are preparing our students for. My reality is before I was a teacher my ability to adapt to technology quickly often led to promotions and job stability that I wouldn't have had otherwise. We cannot ignore that more and more work occurs in digital spaces and requires a level of digital literacy that students won't get from Instagram or Fortnite. By creating a blended classroom not only can you create a more personalized learning experience with greater authenticity and more efficient feedback but students will get some of the skills they need to navigate their future careers.

If you have no idea where to start and I have just seriously overwhelmed you, I suggest reading EduProtcols. This book does a fantastic job of giving you some solid digital lesson templates that can be used with any content area to help you get you and your students working in digital spaces. My big takeaway from this book was by creating digital routines you can focus more on the learning, not the tools, and in the end, learning is always the goal.

Friday, January 4, 2019

To Be Read: 5 Books I Am Excited to Read in 2019


I am obsessed with reading. It might actually be an addiction. I love books in all formats, lengths, and genres. The holidays meant I got some Amazon gift cards and so, of course, I used those to fill my Kindle with books. Here are 5 books that I am really excited to read in 2019.

So You Want To Talk About Race


I use GoodReads a lot to help me find books and this one came up based on other books I read in 2018 and then I found this interview with author Ijeoma Oluo and knew this was a book I needed to read immediately.


I don't think I read enough books on race in 2018. It is essential that I make time and space to educate myself on what experiences my students are having that I never had and never will have. This is one of several books on my 2019 reading list that I hope will help me better serve my students and my community. 

A Teachers Guide to Standards-Based Learning 



I've read a lot of books on grading practices and grade reform so it is rare that I get super excited about new ones but I am reading this one with a small book club and I am so excited for the experience of reading this book and discussing it with them. We are all teachers working to create Standards-Based classrooms, we created a Voxer group and a reading schedule, and I am anxious for all that I know I will learn from the experience. There is so much to be gained by talking about grading openly and honestly. I know I've learned the most when I have been able to talk grading practices with my colleagues, even if they teach different content than I do. I am excited about the process and the journey which makes me excited to read this book. 

Why Learn History (When It's Already On Your Phone) 



I love Sam Wineburg. If you are a history teacher and you haven't read his work please go out and read it right now. Because of my love of him, I am a little annoyed with myself for not getting to this book until now. He is the champion for how social studies is not about dates and names but instead about skills and understand the world in which we live. I am thrilled to see him producing a book that I hope will tackle the argument of "If you can google it, why are you teaching it?" in a more eloquent way than I do. 

A Very Large Expanse of Sea




Another way I find new books to read is through the Nerdy Book Club. This is actually how I find most of the YA books I read that are not recommendations from students. They released their end of year lists and their review of this YA book made me buy it right away. 

From the Nerdy Book Club: "A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a masterfully constructed novel that explores prejudices, racism, families, identity, and first love. The characters are beautifully developed and authentic. Shirin tells the story; her voice is fierce, funny, vulnerable, and honest.  I was completely pulled into her powerful narrative, and I could not stop thinking about her long after I finished. Mafi’s novel challenges readers to ponder their own beliefs, assumptions, and actions. And, also reminds us of the captivating bliss of first love. "

I am a sucker for a good love story but even more so when it is paired with powerful narratives and unforgettable characters. I am excited to read this book and share it with my students. 

Educated: A Memoir 


"Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home" 

This is my first book on my list of audiobooks for the year. The description has me fascinated and it is another book that was recommended to me via GoodReads and has amazing reviews and ratings. 

What books are you excited to read in 2019? Which were your favorites of 2018? Tell me in the comments! 


Thursday, January 3, 2019

Reinforcing SBG for Your Students in a Traditional School


There is a small but mighty force at my school site that is experimenting with Standards-Based Grading but at a school of almost 5000 students, the truth is that most of my students see traditional grading in the 5 other classes they attend. This makes the shift to a standards-based classroom even more challenging for me because not only do they have 9 years of traditional grading to contend with but they also have over 25 hours of traditional grading per week.

That makes it even more important for me to make sure students understand the how and the why of what I am trying to do. While my syllabus spells it out very clearly and thoroughly, no one REALLY reads the syllabus and besides students learn best when they apply the knowledge they have so here are some ways I make sure students understand not only how I grade but what is expected of them.

Teach them how it works through a low-threshold activity. 

The 0-4 Scale is one of the most challenging things for my students to wrap their head around so I use an assessment on the names and faces of their classmates to help teach them how it works. They have a learning goal of being able to recall all names of students with just an image and they are assessed multiple times on it. This helps them learn the difference between formative and summative assessments and the power of the retake. It also helps them see how a test or quiz score on an assessment can convert to a 0-4 based on the performance bands for that assessment.


Show them the grade book in advance.

Students are so used to accumulating points per assignment, or question, or tissue box that they have a hard time wrapping their head around how it is the skill or the level of understanding that will enter the grade book, not the individual assignments. To help them better navigate this change, show them all the standards at the start of the semester or unit of study.

This semester, my students will start with this page as a reference for all we will cover in semester two.
It gives them the list of standards we will cover and even has rubrics for the skills standards. It has a place for them to track their formative and summative assessments to monitor their own growth as well. Before I send this out to students, I will also have a digital version that links to a content review and guiding questions for all the Key Concept Standards. You'll notice my categories are weighted (skills being 60% of the final grade and content being 40%). This is to mimic how the AP Exam works.

Give Them Reminders 

It is easy to forget that I am one of six teachers my students see. I am one of six grading practices they must navigate. I am one of six rules, routines, and expectations they are balancing each week. In a perfect world, my students would totally understand everything I say the first time I say it. But that just isn't how teaching works, and even with set routines and practices in your classroom, we all know that sometimes students forget. So it is important that there are structures in place to remind students how your class works and the same is true of grading practices.

The thing is, if a student doesn't understand your grading system, no matter how fair or thoughtful or progressive it may be, then they won't gain anything from it. I truly believe that students have to understand how a grading system works in order for it to benefit them. If my students don't know that they are assessed on what they know and can do and the rest is practice then I have failed them. This is why it is so important for me to give them reminders of how the grading works in my class. Usually, I send out something like this via email and remind every few weeks because I have to remember that I am probably the only teacher they see that is doing Standards Based Grading and I need to reinforce what that means in order for the grading practice to benefit their learning.

We'll also have small chats about grades, grading practices, and learning every few weeks. I take 10 minutes to talk to them about what they think, what they value, what works for them and what doesn't. When we don't have time for a full chat, I do a quick survey as an exit ticket to see if there are any students who need my help in understanding how this grading works.

Do you do SBG in a traditional school? What are your tips on helping students navigate this change? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Year, New Goals


I am one of those people that absolutely loves the idea of New Years Resolutions. I like reflecting on the past year and finding places where I can improve and change. I'm usually pretty terrible at keeping my personal resolutions but pretty decent at keeping the ones I make for my classroom. So to start the year off right, here are three resolutions I'd like to make for my teaching practice and what inspired me to make these changes.

1. Know My Students Better Than Ever


I was inspired by this article from Cult of Pedagogy on student engagement to find something new and more purposeful I could do to better build relationships and trust. While I feel like building student relationships is one of my strengths overall, I know this last semester those relationships really suffered because I was out of the classroom a lot more than usual. This is why I am going to start dialogue journals with all of my students.

I want to know more about them and find ways to be there for each of them, I thought about finding some kind of tech solution to this but there is something about passing a physical journal back and forth that I think will allow for us to share different conversations than we already do in digital spaces. I know that students are more engaged when they have positive relationships with their teachers but when I am out for PD's and conferences the momentum we started with seems to fade very quickly, I am hoping these journals will not only repair that disconnect but also help me better know and understand the students I serve. If I don't know my students, really know them, am I really able to teach them to the best of my ability?

2. Create Better Systems So We Have More Time For Magic 


An area I really failed at this last semester was systems and routines. This used to be my strength but the list of excuses I could give you as to why I struggled with this recently seems to be almost endless. One thing that I hear a lot is that when routines are too rigid, magic can't happen in the classroom. I think I was holding onto this lie as an excuse to not have solid routines that my students can depend on. The thing is, my students see 5-6 other teachers who all have different expectations and routines, so it is absurd of me to think that we will be able to make the best use of our time together if my routines are inconsistent and messy.

One area I struggled with this year was keeping the whiteboard updated (GASP! I KNOW! I STILL USE A WHITEBOARD!!!) This might seem extremely trivial but my students really struggled without having a place to look at and find the info for the day. I know I'll never update the whiteboard each day but I can update a slide deck each day, so I created this:



The idea is simple, there is a template for how we start and end class and then I've created some templates for some of the more typical lessons we do (playlists, station rotation, lectures, etc). Each day I'll update 3 slides, the bellringer, the activity for the day, and the exit ticket. The most recent days are at the top of the slide deck. I share this deck with parents and students and it will always be the first thing they see and the last thing they see in class. Everything else in-between can be magical and wild but this will remain constant for them. This also gives me a new tool to use when a student is absent, they can always check the slide deck to see what we did. I found this idea on twitter but cannot remember who shared it! If you know who came up with this idea let me know so I can give them credit!

3. Give Feedback Daily 


The research indicates that feedback is where it is at for making learning happen. It's in Hattie's top ten. My goal is to make sure students get feedback every single day. This might sound absurd at first, the idea of grading every day and having a quick turn around is daunting, especially when for three of the sections I teach writing will be the primary focus of the course, but feedback can come in a variety of different forms and while I hope to give more narrative feedback overall, I know that isn't possible to do for every student every day but there are a lot of other ways to provide students with feedback daily, here are a few I intend to be more purposeful about making a part of our every day.

  • I'll use quiz apps to give content-related feedback in an automated format (using things like Quizizz, Quizlet, and Albert.iO). 
  • If it's not an assessment, the answers will be provided immediately for students to review. 
  • I'll use station-rotations and playlists regularly to meet with students and provide writing feedback in class (because if I take it home with me it might not get done, or when I do finally do it, I will rush it.) 
  • I'll use rubrics and checklists whenever possible to help students see what they are doing well and where they need to improve. 

There is more I want to do and change and more I need to reflect on but right now, these are the three main areas that I believe need my energy the most. While the new year is a great time to sit and reflect on what to change and how to do better, this is a practice I want to make a part of my every day. Blogging is one way that helps me be more mindful and reflective but I also plan on journaling more each day, even if it's just a list of what went well and what I need to change next year, to make sure I am the best teacher I can be.

And that's the last thing I want to mention today, teaching isn't a competition. When you see teachers reflecting on what they want to do differently or what they want to change, it doesn't mean you have to do those things as well. Social Media can do amazing things for teachers in providing inspiration, resources, and support but it can also put a lot of pressure on all of us to reach some level of perfection that honestly doesn't exist. If you're feeling the weight of all these new year's posts and wondering how you will ever do it all just remember: you don't have to. You are a remarkable human for choosing to become a teacher, you don't have to do it all. Do what is right for you in your classroom and remember if you are adding something new it is okay to reflect on what you can take off your plate to make room for that new thing.

Do you have any new goals for the new year? Leave them in the comments.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Grade Reform: You Can Still Hold Kids Accountable


One of the biggest pushbacks I get with Standards-Based Grading is that kids need to learn responsibility and without punitive grades from late work or missing assignments they will not be held accountable to their actions.

I've talked about this topic bfore when I explained why I don't grade everything but this the issue of how to create systems of accountability comes up all the time. I had a twitter conversation about it again last night so here are some of the things I have tried and some of the things to consider when working to hold students accountable in a standards-based classroom.

Make Them Turn In Something


Most of the books I have read on Grading Practices have stated that you need to collect something from every student when an assignment is due. I believe in this practice on big assignments and I find it's power lies in consistency and repetition. When it is time to turn in that assignment I ask for them all to take it out and put it on their desk, if they don't have it I give them a form to complete, if it is clearly incomplete I give them a form to complete. If you use an LMS to have them turn in work then give the forms out immediately after the turn in time for that task or assignment. The forms are about making them accountable to turn in something, they don't get to get away with not doing anything and the forms ask them to make a plan for when they will turn in the assignment as a reminder that the assignment is essential to their learning.

The forms are then stored in a file for that student and become a record of their reasoning for why they haven't done the work. You can use this information when contacting home or when conferencing with the students. Will there be students who don't care and don't take the form seriously? Yes, but if a student is truly not doing any of the work and you have them fill out the form, it acts as a starting point for conversation. You have given them the opportunity to explain their why, you've asked them to be accountable for their actions if they don't take those opportunities that is on them but now you have more pieces to the puzzle of why this student chooses not to do the work.

I think most teachers have that student in each of their classes that needs more help and support to get back on track than the individual teacher can give, these forms help paint a picture when we go to administration or counselors for help with a student like that. Now it's not just "I have a student who doesn't do anything, how can we help this kid?" Now you can walk into that meeting with "I have a student who doesn't do anything, here is what he has told me, how do we help this kid?"

Make a Meaningful Consequence For Them 


Just because you do not impact a letter grade doesn't mean there can't be consequences. If deadlines and due dates are important in your classroom then create consequences for not meeting them. The point of Standards-Based Grading is to make sure the grade is an accurate measure of what they know and can do, the point is not for it to be easier for the student but for the grade to be more accurate.

When creating your consequences it is important to remember that a point penalty on late work doesn't make students finish their work on time, it makes students copy and cheat. Because of this, it is important to measure and determine appropriateness, if the consequence is too harsh and too severe then students will continue the culture of cheating. For example, in my AP Class when measuring classwork and homework combined, they are allowed 2 missing assignments at a time with no consequence (these assignments are not assessments, they are the daily work in class) but once they hit three I email home. If they have 4 or more they get an invitation to an academic intervention which is just a tutoring session during Office Hours or after school. On formative assessments and summative assessments, there is less wiggle room. If it is missing, they get an email home immediately.

But these are the consequences that work for my students, yours may need something different. This is one of the areas where I truly believe there is not one perfect way to make this work for every class, instead, it depends on the students in the room.

Conferencing 


If there is really a pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed a conference can sometimes turn things around. It gives students the opportunity to explain their actions and allows you a chance to help to clarify any misunderstandings or perceptions the student may have about a grade. This is a great place to bring out the No Work forms and discuss the patterns you see but in the end, try and get the student talking more than you, you are trying to find what the issue is. I believe in taking the approach of gathering knowledge and not the approach of the conferences being punitive. I want students to see it as their time with me to express themselves more than anything.

Celebrate the Awesome 

This one won't work for every student but just as you call home for negative behavior or document when things are missing remember to celebrate the awesome even more. I call and email home for outstanding work, when there is no missing work, or just because a student was kind and caring in my class that day. I don't call or email every single day but I make a point to make positive contact once a week. The easiest is through the mass email function our grade reporting system has, I'll click all who scored high on a summative assessment and tell their parents to take them out for ice cream to celebrate all the hard work they put in to earn that score.

I don't give pretty points on assignments but I will shout to the world about the amazing work my students did on Twitter or Instagram. Knowing there is recognition for hard work means something to a lot of our students so sometimes when the reward they knew before is taken away (they get full credit for turning it in on time) they may not participate at the level they used to.

And Finally, 

Again, this won't work for every student. But by having systems in place to address issues of compliance and work ethic it will help the culture of your classroom. Having systems of accountability will help students see the importance of timeliness without it impacting them academically.

If you've done any research on school-wide behavior and the tiers of intervention (which can both be applied academically and behaviorally) then you know that most systems that have been studied have found that a small percentage of school populations need more than the average classroom teacher can provide as an intervention. The more we as teachers can document, both through test scores and narrative data, what is happening with a student the more likely we are to get them the intervention they need. Going Standards-Based won't magically help these students, these students still need more than the average classroom can provide but going Standards-Based often makes it easier to see where the struggles really are since they are no longer masked behind 10 point worksheets and 100 point projects.

Do you have a way to keep students accountable in your class? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Thoughts On Grade Reform: What Does A Grade Measure?


When it comes to grade reform, I still and probably won't ever consider myself an expert. I've read a lot of books, I've tried a lot of things, and I've been lucky enough to be able to document and discuss it all very publicly. When it comes to what is the best practice I have two core beliefs I keep returning to:

  1. Teachers are at their best when they collaborate and share ideas. Not only can we learn from those who teach the same grade and content as us but we can learn as larger cross-curricular communities. 
  2. I don't believe grade reform is one size fits all.
  3. I believe there are some essential conversations that need to happen regarding grading practices. 
One of the essential conversations I think all educators need to have more is what does a grade measure? I don't think this is a one and done conversation, I don't think that once you "reform" your practices you get to check this conversation off your to-do list and move on, I think this needs to be constantly on the radar of teachers because what a grade measures is essential to every aspect of lesson design and planning. 

In most public schools, grades are required, and while many colleges and universities have ways to allow for alternative grading systems, our students and parents mostly see grades through the traditional lens of being a measure of what comes next. But what do those letters mean? What are they a measure of? 

So much of what I used to grade was compliance: did you complete it? did you turn it in on time? did you participate in the discussion? And while none of these behaviors were anywhere in my standards that was the real grievance here: none of them were measured as individual skills. None of them were reported in a way that I allowed me to then tell a student or parent: this is where you struggle and this is where you excel. Whether you determine that Standards-Based Grading or Portfolio Grading or Reflective Grading works best for you is a whole other beast of a conversation to have but something I wish more teachers would get behind is delineating grades to show what is truly being measured. 

Rubrics often do this, but a rubric attached to an assignment with no conversation about it or no time to review it with students will result in students only looking at the averaged total score. A rubric on its own changes nothing, to make grades a tool of learning requires a circular pattern process of setting a goal, working towards that goal, getting feedback on where you are towards that goal, and making the changes needed to meet the goal. 

Often as teachers, we know what the points mean when we grade out of total points, but how often do we communicate that with students? Even in classrooms that are Standards-Based, I have seen students confused about what a grade means or what it is measuring. I know personally when you go standards-based in a school where few others are standards-based you have to work extra hard to get students to understand the process but if they don't understand how you grade how is what you are doing a tool for learning? 

I started this post by saying I think there are conversations that need to happen more and the one that weighs heaviest on my heart is: What does a grade measure? What does a grade mean?


I don't think this has to look the same in every classroom, I personally teach English Learners and AP World History and my grade books are different based on the needs of my students, I know that it is not one size fits all. But I do think there are two big things we can all do more of to help make grades a tool for learning. 

1. Delineate grades more to show what each number truly measures. And make sure to have conversations before, during, and after the assignment is done to help students understand how to meet those measures, where they are at, and where they need to improve. This step will help make grades a tool for learning. 

2. Make sure students understand how you grade. As I said before, this can be particularly challenging when you implement grade reforms in a school where the majority of teachers are sticking with traditional grades but if you want grades to be a tool for learning and not just an end result, students have to understand what is being measured, when it is being measured, and how it is being measured. You have to teach them how you grade when you move to non-traditional practices, not just review the syllabus at the start of the year but actively and consistently check that they understand how you grade. Because if a student does not understand why or how they earned a B in your classroom what would make them work for an A?

As I've said before, I am not personally convinced that this must look the same in every single classroom. I also think that as teachers explore these concepts it is important that we continue to discuss what works, what doesn't, what challenges we face, and create a culture of collaboration where we share resources, ideas, practices, and challenges. 

John Hattie's research shows that Collective Teacher Efficacy (when a school staff believes it can collectively accomplish great things for students) is the most impactful practice teachers can do right now to increase student achievement but collective teacher efficacy means we need to tear down our classroom walls and work together with a belief that the hard work will impact student achievement. We need to put aside our egos and have tough conversations and I think one of the most important ones we need to continually come back to is: What does a grade measure? 

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you, share your thoughts in the comments. 


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