Tuesday, September 7, 2010

SBG: You Really Have to Want It

In the previous post, you may have read how my version of SBG is set up logistically this year. Today I wanted to point out some "issues" I'm noticing so far with my own classes.

I love the idea "in theory" of standards-based grading, but the practice and logistics is what was scaring me before this year. A few weeks into the year and trying it, it's still the logistics and work that are making it difficult for me.

Those of you reading this may cringe at the next bit, but it's what I did and what many teachers do, I think. Last year, I would go through teaching, give the students practice problems to work in class and as homework, then give a quiz or test over that material. I'd take those home and grade them for a few hours and then hand them back. We'd spend the next day or two going over any common mistakes and clearing up any issues and then move on to the next topic. I'd warn the students that the material built on itself and they would need to learn from their mistakes on the prior test and I would take the information from the previous and help out individual students and the group as a whole as we moved on and the students in my classes mostly seemed to understand that, but off we'd go into new topics.

I would spend my afternoons/evenings planning the next lesson on most days and grading heavily on the days with quizzes and tests. I'd spend my mornings setting up any equipment for the lessons and getting my head in the right mode for the next class (I have 5 different courses, so between each period I have to get in the right mindset for the next batch of students).

This year, I'm trying to allow for later-learning by allowing retakes of tests/quizzes. You've read most of how that works in the classroom in the previous post, but here's how it's affecting me, personally:

I now have to spend my afternoons/evenings as before, but IN ADDITION, I'm writing new questions for the students who signed up to retake quizzes and I'm constantly grading all the retakes that students are taking throughout the day. In the mornings, I have to do all the things as previously AS WELL AS printing out all the questions I've written the previous night, running those questions to the appropriate places throughout the building for students to take, administering the retakes to students who came in early for that, and helping students who missed the information on the previous quiz/test.

I feel at least a dozen times busier each day because of this "student-centered" program.

I also don't know if this system is actually working. The students (and parents) seem to like the safety-net of retakes, but still seem to be point-grubbers who aren't really changing their habits.

There are a LOT of factors here, mostly including the idea that it's a new year and a new system to me. So, am I not doing it right? Are the kids just not used to it yet? Are the kids not used to me yet? Is it this group of students?

There's a lot of unlearning to be done, and I'm not sure if/when it will get through to them how this is meant to work. I'm trying to emphasize the learning and understanding at every point I can, but I think their brains equate "understanding" with "grade on a test" (which is how it SHOULD be, I guess, but is most often not the case--and not in their heads, I'm afraid).

I'm sure a lot of this is just "change is hard" stuff. Eventually I think the students will come around and study more for the retakes rather than just come in right after the test and think they know how to do it now that they've got it back in their hands. Eventually I think I'll have a larger base of problems to pull from so I don't have to constantly be writing new questions for students all the time. Eventually I think it'll all be worth it. But right now, it seems to be a lot of work for little gain.

So, for all you readers who may be considering trying this method, know that the theory is great and will probably be wonderful in practice if you do it "right," but you really have to want it because it's a lot of hard work.

Then again, you're a teacher, so the entire job fits that description.


  1. I had some of the same growing pains when I started allowing retakes and a few things that I've found ensure I don't get more bogged down in the work are that I make my students REALLY work for their retests. They need to do test corrections, come in for remediation (or prove they've gotten it elsewhere) and then do some supplementary practice if I think it's necessary. I'm really strict with this at the beginning of the year, and grow more flexible as I trust the students are doing the work on their own. Also, if I have huge classes, I will decide on a limit of retests possible with my students. Sometimes this is one per exam, sometimes they want X number of opportunities during the year - I don't really care, but knowing they have a fixed number of chance seems to motivate them a bit as well (while still providing the safety net). Lastly, I collect tests from other teachers and try to use database problems when possible so finding retest questions is as quick as possible. For lower grades thinking up new questions is easy, but for anything higher level the more you can steal the better!

    Hope something in there can help!

  2. Its so true, you DO need to really want it.

    But I would add two parts that make the work less:
    1) Grading small quizzes instead of suffocating tests
    2) Less grading of practice. I don't grade hw, and I grade classwork on my seating chart as I walk around, so the ONLY thing I grade are quizzes (and the occasional notebook check).

  3. I take it even further than Surani. For this first unit, we are really only grading the Final Assessment (4-5 weeks into school) and the project they submit that day. The rest of our time is spent practicing various skills with different activities. I'm not sure if my process has been any more effective than yours in changing their philosophy and approach but it's been a lot less work than I'd had with my previous system.
    I'm having some other possible glitches that I need to blog on though, with regards to absences and such. This is quite an interesting journey.

  4. I'm having the same growing pains as well. This is my first year doing SBG, and it's going to take some hard work. As I create each quiz I am also creating 3 different versions of each standard for retakes. It's a lot of work now, but next year I'll have something I can go back to and use. Year two will hopefully be a lot easier.

  5. Thank you for sharing your growing pains w/ SBG. I'm trying it in physics this year, and I'm still a bit nervous. We started late due to construction, so I'm only a couple of weeks into it now. Explaining it took longer than I anticipated. I'm coming to my first real round of re-assessments, so we'll see how it goes. But they know that if the standards show up again, their grade can go back down -- that's how I structured it b/c cumulative knowledge is so necessary. I explained this, and how students would cram, not learn, and continually get points off in later work on the stuff they didn't learn earlier. I hope that some of this gets through.

    In terms of grading - I found grading my test didn't really take longer than it had in the past, so that was a relief. But setting it up and aligning w/ standards was work.

    I've decided that I will selectively collect homework problems to check as formative assessments, and the really challenging ones will be worked on or presented by groups in class. I also have a policy -- if you did not do your HW, you may not copy the answer down in class, though you may watch and listen and learn. If you attempted most of a problem, you may write in corrections.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing...you are not alone!!