Language Arts SBG Summit Q&A Where I Don’t Actually Attend or Get Asked for my Opinions but I Give Them Anyway

By | April 19, 2012

My school is hosting a totally sweet Language Arts Summit tomorrow. I will not be in attendance, but I will be there in spirit. (Pig dissection in full effect)

Here are my responses to the initial questions compiled by the attendees (Attendee Questions: My super thought out responses not typed the night before or anything like that)

  1. What does your grade book look like? BlueHarvest or ActiveGrade
  2. How do you calculate the final grade? Percentage of standards considered proficient. There are other options. Averaging standard scores (probably should add a bias of +6, if using a 4-point scale). Setting rules, like: Got any 2′s? That’s a ‘C’
  3. For reporting, we will use beginning-developing-secure-extends. For rubrics of written work (narration, for example), I am secure on making the rubrics on everything except extends. MORE of the same is not extends. What if we use ‘published outside of school’ as the extends for all written work? -Jim Calkins, WBMS. I love this idea. I’ve been toying with the concept of “audience” heavily this semester, and I think it’s a bigger idea than any of us realize. Although, I have a hard time with “extends” being the top of the scale from a bookkeeping perspective, but not from a philosophical one. I think it will be hard to avoid cookie-cutter extensions, though.
  4. How do you design instruction, handouts, and assessments to reflect standards being taught?  Are the standards explicitly mentioned?  If so, just as needed, or are they mindfully and meaningfully verbalized and/or written on handouts and assessments? I would recommend shifting the meta-cognitive load onto the students. Model for them the process of connecting class activities back to the standards, at first, and then back off. The most important thing is to have the students justify the usefulness of each standard. Without these few days at the beginning of a semester you’re psychologically sunk. For this reason, I’ve experimented with rolling out standards when they’re first “instructed” upon.
  5. Writing generally takes more time to assess than an objective math problem, for example.  With 100 or more students on a roster, describe and explain a manageable system for formative and culminating written assessments when multiple revision opportunities are offered. Just do what you already do. Break down each paper into the common writing/expression standards and assess each on each assignment. I thought SBG would be way more work, and it was for a while, by now I’m down to more efficient useful assessments that actually get at the kids’ knowledge rather than just making them “do enough work.” As far as allowing re-writes, I think you have to judge that based on whether they actually want to publish the piece, or just wait for the next book/prompt to show growth from the previous one. Don’t get caught in the false equation of reassessment and retakes. (Not equal)
  6. Explain how student accountability for learning the content is part of the standards based grading philosophy.  During our district’s grade reform discussions, not penalizing students for late work and giving half credit for missing work have both been mentioned.  For example, if students have not read a piece of literature for homework, then classroom discussion suffers.  How can I assess if the standard is being met if students haven’t done any coursework during the course? Do the students see the motivation in meeting the standard or reading the literature? People rarely shy away from learning, but they often do from mandates and ultimatums. SBG is designed to communicate what the student needs to work on to get better. This often comes at the cost of arbitrary deadlines, but ends up teaching the student the harsh reality of true deadlines (semester, summer, etc…)
  7. Do students need to master the learning of one standard before moving onto the next? No. No way. The central theme of SBG is that you can’t possibly know how long it will take anyone to learn anything.
  8. How do you define mastery of the standards?  Do we need to calibrate our understanding of a four, three, etc., for each standard to explain this process to students and parents? First of all, I would suggest using a 5-10 scale so that you don’t have to do a bunch of math each time a parent wants to see a grade. (unless of course you can wean them off of running grades) For me, and this is unpopular, mastery is meeting my expectations, which I keep as a high as I can possibly defend. A lot of people define mastery as extension, but I think that will come naturally from students who are engaged, not from an assessment scheme.
  9. With the number of standards we must teach and how they’re sometimes assessed in individual, multiple assessments, how do we easily monitor student progress?  Do we mainly indicate and assess power standards in the grade book? Yup. Don’t simply dump in Iowa Core or whatever zany, esoteric, jargonified list you’re nominally beholden to. Have the kids help you write the standards so that they can refer back to the names and descriptions later. I would say no more than 40 per class.
  10. How is standards-based grading different than putting a letter grade on an assignment?  Does a number or letter convey the same meaning? It’s all a form of reductionism, which implies loss of information. SBG is significantly less lossy than traditionally grading because it skips the step of arbitrarily averaging scores from multiple ideas (standards) into one assessment score on a quiz or paper. If you report out by major idea, then a number or letter will tell that student where to spend their precious remediation time.
  11. Does a retake mean a new assessment/test needs created and given?  Just correcting mistakes on a test doesn’t seem valid to demonstrate mastery but is it? “Retake” is a dirty word. Using that word will damn any SBG impetus you had at your school. It totally depends on the standard. If you’re assessing diction, give feedback on Paper 1 just like you normally would. Then on Paper 2, look for the implementation of that feedback. Who care is Paper 1 was about Hamlet, and Paper 2 is about Asimov. When a student flubs something on an assessment, feedback is the only currency (like I need to tell that to English teachers), but students will want to immediately throw that feedback up as learning, which is, at best, short term.
  12. Is it assumed that the standards of which we speak are the Common Core standards adopted by Iowa? Adapt them, reduce them, make them not sound like someone put the jargon machine on “random.”
  13. I too am concerned about what I perceive to be a lack of deadlines in SBG philosophy.  If a student doesn’t complete the reading, he can’t participate in the discussion that will enhance his understanding of what he’s read.  And when the rest of the class starts the assignment/activity/project that is built upon the reading, this student won’t have the necessary understandings to compete it. If the structure of our classes is built upon sharing common texts, kids can’t work on their own timelines.  And frankly, it doesn’t seem to be a case of some needing more time than others to master anything at all–they’re just not making the time to get work done.  I don’t want to enable procrastinating!  As a middle school teacher, I’m trying to teach timeliness (which, by the way, is a 21st Century Skill). They’re not going to do it in either assessment system, so don’t expect the way you grade to fix this. However, the idea that they’re never damned to an averaged grade because of late work or immaturity might spur some hope and time for actually finishing the assignment. But don’t get stuck on the deadline thing. I think it’s been sold way too hard that SBG is bereft of deadlines; that’s simply not true. There are hard deadlines, and you need to choose them, and have them make sense. They need to have as little to do with you wanting to teach responsibility (which is almost impossible), and everything to do with how a product of learning is time dependent somehow. (like publishing in a newspaper, or being in a play)
  14. Don’t we need to agree what a 4 means?  (And 3, 2, 1?)  I strongly believe that demonstrating mastery is NOT NOT NOT an A.  We need to expect students to go “above and beyond,” as least part of the time. This is a touchy issue, especially with inflated grades actually determining how students get into college. Here’s my defense of 4 as mastery: How many students master everything in your curriculum now? None? Thought so. How many get D’s by mastering none of it? A lot of the D’s. A ‘B’ in SBG implies 85% mastery, which I’m ok with. Even better, a ‘D’ in SBG implies that a student who’s used to learning nothing, actually learned more than half of the course content. Win.

I’m sweating; It’s really nerve-wracking to write for English teachers. I wonder how students feel?


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