“Being an SBG teacher in a non-SBG world”

The struggle is just seeping out of Sam Shah’s really terrific post about Standards-Based Grading and student motivation. (And I’m not just saying that because he gave us a huge shout out on his blog recently.) Check this out:

The thing is, though, I started to worry that SBG wasn’t serving the purposes I adopted it for:

1) Independence and Responsibility

2) Students learning about their learning process

3) Clarity about what students know and what they don’t know

4) Making mistakes, but learning from them

I was having, and still sort of am, having a true crisis of faith. Because if SBG didn’t address these things, what’s the point? And clearly much of this is on me. Because careful implementation is crucial and that is my responsibility. I’ve seen it be wildly successful with students since starting, students who wouldn’t have a chance in hell in a traditional class to learn and be awesome at calculus. And for those kids, the kids SBG really works for, it’s enough to keep me invested and wanting to continue. 

If you’re ever wondering whether a post is a good fit for our blog, check to see if it ends with a question. Sam’s post ends with 3 killers:

1) What concrete things do you do to keep the philosophy, spirit, understanding of SBG alive… so that it doesn’t become a mechanized system by the third quarter?

2) If you are in a school that isn’t SBG, have you found any ways to combat the notion “SBG class can come last”?

3) If you are teaching SBG in any school, what mechanisms/procedures do you have to help kids individually understand how they learn, and how SBG can help them learn how to learn better? Do any of you have individual conferences with your kids or anything? Do you have them reflect about what they’re learning (or not) through SBG regularly, and do you respond to those reflections?

It’s a great post, with probing questions and you should go to his place to check it out.

Though Sam is thinking about SBG in his post, I’m wondering whether he’s just having trouble about reassessments. Though he also talks about homework, I don’t really think of that as part of SBG. But I also think that SBG isn’t particularly helpful language right now, because it’s being used as a catch-all for at least four separate things:

  • Standards versus Assessements: Determining one’s grade by averaging scores on a list of standards rather than by averaging one’s scores on a list of assessments
  • Reassessments: Determining a kid’s grade on a standard through multiple assessments
  • Student-initiated reassessments: Allowing kids to initiate a reassessment
  • Homework Policy: Refusing to grade homework for correctness, and often refusing to grade homework at all.

As annoying as it is to urge a change in language usage, Imma go ahead and urge it. Let’s try to limit SBG to the simple grade-book change of keeping track of standards instead of assessments.

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2 thoughts on ““Being an SBG teacher in a non-SBG world”

  1. jnewman85 says:

    I agree that SBG is becoming more of a catch-all phrase, but for many teachers (and I’d put myself in that category), SBG just doesn’t make sense in class unless you include other 3 things. So while they (Sam & others) might be struggling with “Homework Policy”, the root of the issue is SBG because it includes the philosophy of re-centering students’ views of what grades mean. I know that Shawn Cornally has given plenty of example of teachers with different views on items 2, 3, & 4, but especially for math classes, I agree with Sam’s approach: to allow reassessment (perhaps even student-initiated), and thinking of HW as practice instead of the assessed work.

    I only say “they struggle” because I’ve yet to initiate SBG in my main classes, and I nervously anticipate doing that next year!


  2. samjshah says:

    I just want to chime in that I have to use SBG as a catch-all because it’s an all encompassing philosophy which results in many changes in classroom practice — not just the separating of a course into standards. I use SBG to stand for the philosophy and the resulting practices that come out of trying to instantiate the philosophy — the whole shebang. And I can’t easily look at each thread separately from the others, as they all tie up with the same philosophy which begat it. However I agree there are many flavors.

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