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.


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