With Students in Mind: Episode 5

Russ Goerend and I have been producing a podcast for a few months now.  In episode #5, Shawn Cornally joined us to talk about standards-based grading.  Check out the audio below or feel free to  subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.  We've also started a separate blog for this podcast.  Episode 5 is cross-posted over there, too. 

Resources mentioned in this episode:

An experiment in grading homework

This is a follow-up post to "Is it REALLY possible to not grade homework?"

I teach a Statistics & Discrete Math course:  90% of the course mirrors a typical introductory statistics course in college - from descriptive statistics to inferential statistics including one and two sample hypothesis tests.  For the first half of the course, I graded pretty traditionally - points for completing homework assignments, points for quizzes and projects and even more points for tests.  I used weighted grades, because its a main idea in one of the units so it's a pretty practical way of relating with students.  I digress.

For the second half of the course, I made the switch to standards-based grading.  (Trying to put my money where my mouth is...) Points were awarded on tests using a 4-point scale and homework was no longer collected or graded. (The answers are always posted)  I used periodic "checkpoints" which were basically 2 questions similar to the homework that I collected every two or three days as an ongoing feedback mechanism.  I did not grade these, but instead wrote comments on the problems and handed them back to students.  I didn't make this change cold turkey though - it went something like this.  I wanted to remove the grading aspect of practice and emphasize the feedback.  This system seemed to make sense, but I was anxious to hear what the students thought of it using the end-of-course evaluation.

Here are the responses from my students, "My thoughts on the daily homework assignments and how it was graded are..."
  • I liked how the homework was graded.  It gives more responsibility to the student.
  • I really liked the method you used.  It seemed like I did better in the class.
  • good when you don't have to turn them in b/c then you don't have to keep doing problems you already know how to do
  • I liked having the homework graded because if you didn't do good on a test youre grad wouldn't be effected as much
  • I think I would rather have the homework graded because I would actually do it.
  • good liked it when if you didn't do your homework it wasn't good so you learn a lot more
  • I like the 2nd way of grading.  It gives us more responsibility and makes us control our own grade.
  • I love the new grading system!  I still did my homework
  • It was weird.  But it helped to do the homework wheather it was worth 1 point or no points
  • good.  I liked how homework wasn't graded.  I still did it thou because it would help you on the test.   I think that should stay.
  • I think daily homework assignments are good, because when we didn't have to do it, nobody ever did.
  • I liked the way they were towards the end better.
  • I like how we switched to optional homework cause it created less stress if I didn't finish it.
  • I liked not having them graded!  That way I still did my homework, but the pressure to have it done before class was off
  • I thought the homework was good not to much just enough and grading was very fair
  • I didn't do any
  • Awesome.  The homework wasn't too long, but you picked problems that really helped me understand what was going on.  
  • I wish homework was graded.  Though I did my homework, I felt it would be nice to earn points for it as well.  I felt it gave me a greater incentive to do my homework when it was graded.
Overall, I see a theme that students felt the second half of the course (no graded homework) was beneficial and made more sense.

For those of you who have stopped grading homework, what do your students think?  For those of you still grading homework, what's stopping you?

Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap - Voicethread Conversation

I'm participating in Bill Ferriter's "Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap" digital conversation and wanted to take a minute and explain why I'm spending some of my time this week participating in it with the idea that you might decide to as well.

First, I believe teachers should model lifelong learning, just as we expect our students to do outside the classroom.  This is ultimately the reason I blog and tweet, but spending some time conversing about a specific topic (professional learning communities and systematic interventions) for a defined amount of time (three days) keeps me focused on an area I would like to learn more about.

Second, in my new role next year, I will be charged with leading our district's professional development and overall vision in the area of teaching and learning.  I've long been an advocate for increased collaboration opportunities for educators.  It is time to put my money where my mouth is, learn even more about professional learning communities so that I can hopefully put theory into practice this fall.  Our district's leadership team has already decided that collaborative learning teams will be our main focus for next year, so it just makes sense to talk with experts Rick and Becky DuFour in this digital format when I have the opportunity to do so.

Third, I need to add a disclaimer that I am being compensated in a very small way to be a part of the conversation, but I would still be participating for free.  Collaboration is THAT important in education.  I'm looking forward to helping my district become more results-oriented.  Any single educator moving forward alone will only be as successful as his/her time and efforts permit.  I can attest from my own experience that I can't do it all by myself.

"Professional learning communities create a systematic process of interventions to ensure students receive additional time and support for learning when they experience difficulty.  The intervention process is timely and students are directed rather than invited to utilize the systems of time and support." Learning by Doing, p. 71
From a standards-based grading perspective, David Cox is constantly pestering me with questions like the one he left on Shawn Cornally's recent post,
"The two major weaknesses I see with SBG are in diagnosing and prescribing what a student must do between assessments and making the reassessments “optional” by having them done outside of class....but in order for other teachers in my district to jump on board, we are going to have to find a way for this to work “in class.”Question is: How?"
He, too, is right.  It is incredibly difficult for individual educators to remediate ALL of our students, even after standards-based grading helps us identify and report their exact weaknesses.

So...what are you waiting for?  Join me May 19-21 over at Bill Ferriter's Voicethread conversation.

Yet another reason standards-based grading is necessary

Most teachers I know (including myself for the first 4 years in the profession) take off a half point for missing labels and/or incorrect negative signs.  Why is this tradition ingrained in our heads?

My guess: Our teachers did it to us, so we do it to our students, too.  Dan Lortie calls this the "apprenticeship of observation."  In a nutshell, Lortie suggests that we teach in ways we were taught in school.  This is why standards-based grading is so difficult for the majority of secondary teachers to comprehend and adapt for themselves.  Points were (and continue to be...except for the innovative folks listed here) the classroom currency of choice in the overwhelming majority of U.S. public school classrooms.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

Uh...our traditional grading systems are broken

Take this test question as an example.

This student incorrectly answered question #4.  Are the negative signs a big deal?  If the question was worth 5 points, is a half point deduction reasonable?
A closer look at the problem indicates the student reflected the points over the line y = 0 rather than x = 0.  Most likely the student either misread the problem or does not know the difference between these two lines.  My observations tells me the latter is the more likely of the two for this particular student.  The negative sign here do not show a careless error, but instead indicates a misconception.  Does the student know he/she has this misconception or was it just one of those negative sign errors Mr. Townsley takes a half point off for...because he always does that?

Traditional system: Student takes the half point hit.

Standards-based grading: Teacher is forced to analyze what the student might have done wrong rather than blindly taking off points.  Student's score reflects the level of understanding, not a token value based on pre-determined deductions for labels and negative signs.  In this case, negative signs matter.  The student is made aware of this through feedback and the learning target score.

Have you switched to standards-based grading yet?  

Why not?