Two years ago, I accepted a position at a new school within my school district. The job offered was to teach AP Government. I had requested for years to teach AP Gov, but seniority constantly found me passed over in favor of more senior and experienced teachers. The opportunity to teach AP Government was exactly what I was looking for, and I gladly accepted.
Not knowing much about my new school and student population, I decided it would be a good time to roll out something I had heard about at Solution Tree training: Standards Based Grading (SBG). Consequently, SBG was also being rolled out in my school districts' elementary schools. As a parent, I really liked the concept of knowing how my own children were doing on skill sets and learning goals. Grades assessed mastery of these goals and skills. Grades now enabled me to look at my own children's work and be able to assess independently of the teacher whether or not my child was learning and progressing. If it helps me as a parent assess mastery, why would a high school student not be able to do this?
The concept of Standards Based Grading is pretty simple. Assessments are grouped by learning goal or target. Students are assessed on these targets, and their grades reflect each of these individual goals in a clear language. Traditional test grades (like 78%) just emphasize a score. It takes considerable effort on the student's part to determine what concepts they did not understand. Even test corrections just isolate learning to individual questions students got wrong, and how to correct that question. It is hard to discern patterns. I feel in love with SBG because the patterns are evident with minimal effort, and kids focus on their knowledge of the course instead of just fixating on their score (although I am not kidding anyone... I know that grades = college, so it is still super important to my students).
Year One: The Evolution
Year one was a struggle. I was adopting my course to the SBG concept, and there was nothing in previous classes offered at my school that had prepared my kids for the format of SBG. It was definitely a trial by fire, from which I kept some things and ditched others.
Year Two: Reflection and Revision
After a lot of reflection over student input from year one, I decided to do some alterations to the program of SBG in the classroom. My biggest observations based on student feedback and my own reflection centered on a lack of student ownership and metacognition.
Student ownership Students did not really fully understand what the purpose of the "choice board." In part, the concept of the choice board is misrepresented in its name. It was not as important that students had choices in remediation. Instead, the instrument was more of a syllabus - and therefore the document got a new name. The mini-syllabus. A major concern I have for my seniors is whether or not they can function with a single guiding document to map out their learning responsibilities for the entire year. (Oddly enough, what influenced my shift on the purpose of this document was my own return to college for the third time... I started a masters program in Political Science and reacquainted myself with the course syllabus from a student perspective.)
The focus is now student action: what are they responsible for in the unit and on a nightly basis, when are they responsible for it, what words and activities support student learning. Students receive vocabulary, specific skills and content to answer at the conclusion of their homework, each class's activities, and remediation/review suggestions. I also distribute a study guide at the start of the unit, and can access all documents day by day on my course site (which is not externally shareable.)
Metacognition: I was never really sure if kids knew when they knew the material. In part, students expressed frustration after my first year because so much of my class does not rely upon direct instruction via lecture. I may discuss concepts for 20-30 minutes, but a lot of our learning is through case studies, document analysis, evaluation and synthesis of concepts, interrelation via debate and discussion, and literacy strategies that require students teaching and learning from each other. My students are more comfortable this year than last years' batch of seniors, but they still struggle extracting concepts from activities.
I did layer in a few SBG concepts to help this year's seniors that I think helped. Students were to expect daily reading quizzes. These quizzes tied back to our learning targets from their readings and are hyper-specific. Upon completion of the quizzes (anywhere from four to 16 questions in length) I would translate their raw score into a SBG 4-pt scale. This was usually me dividing the number of questions into four equal sections and assigning a raw score range to each value on the 4-pt scale. Kids recorded these scores into their Mastery of Unit Sheet (the MoUS) at the conclusion, as well as any concepts students struggled with on the quiz. Students could retake quizzes for a full credit swap.
At the conclusion of tests, students completed a Test Processing Sheet (TPS), of which there is an student sample above. The TPS broke down student scores using the 4-pt SBG score learning target by learning target. It identified what pages in the text supported each learning target, and enable students to reflect upon their studying habits. My tests rely almost entirely on previously released exams, and they are pretty challenging. I also have two versions for every unit, and tell my kids I want them to see more CB questions than less... so test corrections are not something I generally use. I rarely give my kids 60 question tests, instead focusing on just the released questions covering each learning targets, always presented in chunked multiples of four.
I liked the TPS reflection component because I could early on identify what kids need study skill boot camp (something that my students really struggled with... studying like a college student is not a skill we take time out to teach at my school, and I can tell.) I also ask the students to take ownership over the learning targets they have yet to master. Students had no more than one week (5 school days) to retake the test so long as they scored less than 80% on the assessment, but they only took the sections they wanted to. I then compiled the scores section by section, took the highest score in each section as a "super test" score, and gave them a new test score (not to exceed 79%, as mandated by my school).
If you asked me two years ago how I feel about data, I would have screamed. Math is not my thing. But the more I immerse myself in SBG, the more I rely on mastery learning and metacognition, the more I like data. I feel like I really understand what my kids know from the get go, and it has helped me plan a wiser AP Test review plan. I am not waffling around in "I think my kids did not understand the Constitution..." Even more meaningful, when I ask my students what they don't know, they can identify that information almost instantaneously. I think this is why in my course evaluations, students consistently identified the mini-syllabus, the SBG test structure, the clear learning targets as strengths of the course. It's pretty exciting to see my kids be able to own their knowledge and communicate clearly what they want.
Seeing these successes, I know where I need to go for next year.
Obviously, the most obvious assessment of SBG's success will be my passrate. But if my course grades are any indicator, this year's course average in my class is higher than last years, and I don't think it is because my course is easier. Even before I have these results, I can say that I have fully converted myself as a believer in the infinite wisdom of SBG in the high school classroom.
If you are looking for a shortcut into the world of SBG for your students next year, good news. Every single one of my AP Government units are available on TeachersPayTeachers. Just look for the AP Unit or Course designation in the description.
I owe a million thanks to Frank Franz (fellow AP Government guru for his SBG wisdom and generosity in my first year of AP and SBG) and Ken Halla (fellow AP Government guru who has invested too much time in being my mentor). Do you know them? They write the appropriately named US Government Teachers Blog. Without these two guys, this post would have never, ever happened. Thanks, my friends.
I want to start by thanking Mr. Snowden and Mr. Greenwald for their uncompromising dedication to giving the NSA violations air time and transparency. I wanted to share some of the most important things I have learned from this book bef...
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
by Bill Bishop
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
I lovgov. LOVE IT! I love teaching government, learning about it, debating, discussing, asking questions about government. And not the standard boiler plate questions, but the hard ones that are NOT in the books.