Working Towards Mastery

The last five days concluded the first full week of school with students.  This past week teachers started to dive into content and policies were in full effect.  My school had its curriculum night on Tuesday and Wednesday.  It was there that many teachers explained their expectations, homework and grading policies to parents.  My presentation was similar to last year, but I added a brief component related to grading/feedback.  This part of the curriculum night presentation stemmed from the events in the paragraphs below.

Earlier in the week I spoke with my classes about giving them chances in class to review feedback and redo assignments.  I told them that students are able to do this when the environment allows for second chances exist. This year assignments completed in class will note a NY or M near the top of the paper.  I’m actually borrowing this idea from a class I took years ago.  I introduced this process to students earlier in the week using an anchor chart.

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The NY means that the student isn’t yet meeting expectations for that particular skill.  Students are asked redo any assignment that includes an NY.  They don’t need to necessarily redo the entire assignment.  Instead, I’ll highlight a certain section that needs to be changed.  Students then redo and return that assignment.  An M indicates that the student met the expectations for the assignment. Ideally, the NY papers eventually turn into M papers. So far the process is working well.  I’d say the majority of the NY papers that are returned have turned into papers that meet the expectations.

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Management is something that I’ll be looking at improving.  Finding time for students to redo the projects hasn’t turned problematic, but I’m looking at designating a certain time in class for students to work on the NY papers.  I haven’t yet set a deadline to when I’ll accept all the redo papers. It’ll most likely be a week for the trimester ends, but that decision hasn’t been set in stone.

Currently, I’m only using this process for projects completed in class. The good news is that students are starting to redo and turn the sheets back in.  Another positive is that students aren’t focusing on the grade on the project.  They’re looking at what concept needs strengthening, asking for help when needed and redoing the project.  In doing this students are working towards the mastery of concepts rather than focusing entirely on the grade alone.


Standards Based Grading Journey

I’ll admit it, I’m changing my policies again.  I’m moving more towards a standards based grading approach this year.  This is a big step.  I’m not completely using SBG, but I’m making subtle changes in my practice like removing homework grades and focusing more on content mastery. I’m removing a few traditional practices and adding others.  I still grade projects with a rubric, specific quizzes, and unit assessments.  Beyond the projects, quizzes, and tests, students are reflecting on assignments and working towards mastery. I’m finding that SBG is a step in the right direction although it isn’t the norm at my school.  I believe a systematic approach towards moving to SBG is in the future, but for the time being grading policies are created by individual teachers.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been assigning less homework.  I didn’t make it a goal to assign less, but focusing on student reflection and providing multiple attempts in class to master concepts have decreased the homework load.  Students were surprised at first that I wasn’t “grading” the homework.  I heard comments like “why do we need to complete this if it’s not for a grade?” and “so this isn’t mandatory?”  Too many times I find that students focus on the grade and not necessarily the learning process.  I communicated at my back to school night that homework is designed to be practice and I won’t be grading practice.  After a few weeks of SBG policies, student comments questioning the change have decreased and have been replaced with a more reflective tone.  Communicating SBG practices can be challenging at times, especially if students/parents expect traditional grading practices. Here (123)  are a few different ways to explain SBG benefits and policies to stakeholders.

Another change that I’ve made is increasing the amount of formative assessments that take place in class. In my class formative assessments are a tool that’s designed to offer direct and meaningful feedback to students.  Here’s an example:

I gave my students a quiz on central tendency (mode, median, range).  I reviewed the results and found that many students didn’t have a clear understanding of median.  Students weren’t ordering the numbers least to greatest first.  So, on each paper I gave specific feedback regarding how to find certain data points.  In the past I would’ve probably graded the assignment and handed it back to the students and move forward.  The reflection piece would’ve been the responsibility of the student.  This year I pasted this modified reflection sheet in students’ math journals.  It’s in a Word document if you’d like to edit it for your specific class.  Students completed the sheet to analyze their mistakes and looked for ways to improve in the future.

Assignment Correction Form
Assignment Correction Form

So far this SBG journey is paying out benefits.  Students are beginning to understand that reflection plays an important role in the learning process.  I believe that this is an #eduwin.  I think many teachers can see the benefits of SBG, although I continue to be concerned with the long-term sustainability as students move on to middle/high school where grades heavily influence grade point averages.

Top photo credit: Old Shoe Woman via photopin cc

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