Tag Archive | standards-based grading

Can I PLEASE do my homework?

Recently, Ms. Proch and I took two huge steps: we flipped our Pre-AP ELA 9 classes and we also implemented Outcomes-Based Grading (Standards-Based Grading for my American readers). Needless to say, we’re really excited, but I’m also a little bit hesitant/nervous/anxious/terrified. I’ve done both before, but not in an English class. Math made some much more sense to me when it came to exactly what my class time versus homework was going to look like, but English is a whole new kettle of fish.

Today is the first day where I noticed a huge difference in what my class is like. I assigned some prep-work (the work my class will do the night before a class) last night for my students to do. (You can check out my class website for the resources mentioned.) Their job was to watch a short video on Shakespearean Insults and to do a little reading about how to paraphrase when reading Shakespeare. Today in class, we took our knowledge about how to read Shakespeare and applied it to how to write like Shakespeare. They were tasked to act as a “secret admirer” to another student in my class and write them a kind letter. In theme with Valentine’s Day this week, this letter could be romantic (not required) or platonic, whichever the students were comfortable writing, so that I can pass them out anonymously on Friday for a little Valentine’s pick-me-up (some of them were super sweet–I almost cried reading how kind-hearted my students are).

Here’s where my students were struggling with the flipped concept: they were working, but not very hard. I reminded them that the assignment was to be completed by the end of class. They had more than sufficient time to complete this work if they were working diligently, but many of them were not. As the deadline drew nearer–fifteen minutes left, ten minutes left, five minutes left–the students began to panic more. Several students put up their hand at the five minute marker, and asked if they could take this home for homework.

Normally, I would be OVER THE MOON if a student willingly volunteered to take work home so they could complete it and “do a better job,” but I’m in the process of retraining their thinking on how class works. I said no, and they were dismayed. I took time to have a “teachable moment” and explain that they need to be maximizing their class time or we aren’t going to accomplish anything all semester. I’m lucky to have a spectacularly motivated crew, so they were on board with actually being productive. I am also fortunate that I get to keep my class all afternoon, so we dipped into some of fifth period to get the letters done to their satisfaction.

All in all, this was a great learning experience for me: I need to be grateful for my very eager students, I need to be more diligent with managing class time, and I need to reinforce the difference between prep work and class work (and the absence of homework).

My question to you, as readers, is what strategies do you use to help your students to transition their learning habits from a traditional classroom to a flipped classroom? 

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Marks or Learning?

Part of my teaching load this semester is Pre-AP English 9. This group of students is highly motivated, and I love teaching them. They are very good about completing their homework, they are outstanding when it comes to participating in class, and they are ultra respectful. They are also keenly interested in their grades. They are driven by attaining a numerical standard, for which I have no reference point. What constitutes an 83% versus an 81%?

Part of what got me thinking about this again was a few weeks ago when report cards were due. I have one student who has failed a few assignments and does homework about half the time. I was expecting a grade in the high 50s or low 60s. After I entered a few grades, I decided to check to see how everyone was “doing.” I was shocked to see a high 70. Based on the quality of work I’ve seen, this grade seems disproportionate to the skills the student has demonstrated. Another student, on the other hand, had about the same grade, yet has showed significantly more ability. Needless to say, I was puzzled and dismayed.

Another complexity that has me thinking about this is the issue of getting on the honour roll. For the most part, my English class students are pretty much all on the honour roll. They get their grades back, quickly do a an average and figure out if they attained the above 80% standard or not. I don’t know if I am completely able to justify what makes a student less than an 80%, especially when some of my students with lower grades work harder than the students with the highest grades.

To complicate the issue, I have been living in a strange vortex with my teaching load as well — I also teach Modified Science 9. My science crew are pleasantly happy when I return passing grades, but otherwise have no vested interest in the number that appears on their report card. They operate on a pass-fail mentality. As long as they have 50.0 or higher, they are doing great in their minds.

Both classes are leaving me with a bit of a dilemma. I am working to create valuable learning experiences, only to slap a number on it and shatter dreams if it isn’t the number they want. I have a few solutions for how to remedy this situation, because I’m feeling like a terrible teacher for not instilling a better sense of wonder and excitement about learning (rather than an obsession with numbers).

Firstly, I tried out outcome-based grading last year in math, and it worked fairly well for everyone involved. I was able to translate exactly what a number meant, and the students knew where they stood exactly. I am grappling with how to use this technique in English right now, since everything we do seems to be covering 302378039843238 different outcomes and indicators. Currently, I’m thinking that it might be best to design a series of general rubrics for each strand — reading, writing, representing, viewing, listening, and speaking. I am weary, however, because I don’t want to short-change my students by over-generalizing their work. I would be remiss to only score an essay based on one strand, writing.  Each writing piece also has so many intricacies. Would I, however, be able to score an essay on writing, representing, and reading, depending on the content of assignment? I haven’t worked out the fine details, but I’m considering this my Christmas project to iron out some key points of how to implement this assessment in an English classroom.

The second remedy I’ve been toying with is self-assessment. I had the blessing of taking two classes from Dean Shareski in university. For the second course I took with Dean, he implemented a self-assessment plan. He gave use lots of great assignments with a wide-variety of choice. I can honestly say that I worked my butt off for that class. I knew that I wanted to get a 90% in his class, so I worked hard to make sure I got it and deserved it. I know that self-assessment can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Some students will give themselves more than they deserve after slacking off and some students will give themselves less than they deserve after working really hard. I don’t know exactly what my self-assessment piece is going to look like, but I need to build one in to add a sense of ownership for my numbers-driven students.

I won’t ever be able to undo their love of numbers. I probably won’t ever be able to escape it, though I will try. What I can do, though, is tie a meaning to a number, rather than it being an arbitrary digit with no significant meaning beyond “I’m passing” or “I’m failing.”

Here’s where I’m at right now: once I get some outcome-based grading rubrics set up, my students could use them as a scale for formative and summative self-assesment. Their thoughts might sound like this: “I want to get a 5. Today, based on the rubric, I think I’m sitting at a 3. This is what I need to do to get from 3 to 5.” Of course, this won’t happen overnight, and it may not happen in a semester either, but I am going to try.

Of course, it would be unfair to my students to walk into class tomorrow with a brand new grading system. I want to get it right, so I will likely begin to develop different assessment resources for myself (and find a bunch too) to begin testing them on student work to help iron out the kinks. I can’t say what my teaching load will be next semester, but if I can figure out how to make the jump from math to ELA, I think I just might be able to make it work for any subject.

How have you implemented Outcome-Based grading in your classroom (or SBG if you’re from the states)? Any tricks of the trade? What do you do to alleviate the pressure students put on themselves for a grade?