Eric and I taught a course last week entitled, "Formative Assessment and Standards-based Grading in the 6-12 classroom."  It was open to any teacher in Iowa, but was mainly advertised via word-of-mouth and through our local area education agency.  From the online course description:

Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading in the 6-12 Classroom
This course will highlight formative assessment (assessment for learning) techniques from a 6-12 classroom perspective. Beliefs about assessment, homework and reporting will be challenged and refined as they relate to this Iowa Core Curriculum characteristic of effective instruction. Many examples and illustrations will be from math classrooms, but examples from other disciplines will be integrated throughout the course.
umber: 4427-10-01
Dates/Time: Jul. 7, 8, & 9, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Location: Grant Wood AEA, 4401 6th St SW, Cedar Rapids
Audience: Grades 6-12 Instructors, Curriculum Directors, Administrators
Registration: Complete registration form or register electronically at least two weeks in advance.
Fees: Registration is not complete until all fees are paid in full two weeks in advance of the first class. Total for non-credit or renewal credit = $80 paid in full at the time of registering. Total for Morningside credit = $160 paid in full at the rime of registering. Total for Drake credit = $165 paid in full at the time of registering.
Credit: R, D, M - 1 Sem. Hr.
Instructor(s): Eric Townsley and Matt Townsley, Educators

Every once in a while, people will ask me how to help their colleagues jump on board the standards-based grading express.  I will write about that in a future post.  This experience was unique, because thirty-one teachers and administrators actually paid money to hear what Eric and I had to say.  It was hard to believe that so many people took time out of their summer to take this course.   We would have been thrilled with fifteen participants.  Thirty-one was beyond our wildest dreams.  In fact, we originally capped the course at twenty, but the professional development coordinator emailed us less than a month before the course and asked if we would be willing to increase the cap due to it already being full.  Talk about a humbling experience!  Enough with the pre-course hoopla.  Here are the nuts and bolts of how it went down:

Course Objectives
Each participant will be able to…
  1. develop an increased awareness of the differences between summative and formative assessments, and
  2. develop an increased awareness of the impact grading has on assessment practices, and
  3. demonstrate multiple forms of formative assessment.

Established Norms:

  • Attend all sessions for credit
  • If you need to use the restroom, please do so
  • If you must make/take a cell call, please step out of the room
  • We will challenge you, please don’t take it personally
  • Please challenge our thinking as well!

Day 1
Module 1 - Intro to formative assessment.What is it?

What do you know about it?

Opener: Impossible quiz; check; "turn in for a grade" Discuss our default teach, check, grade sequence.  Is this a good thing?

brainstorming - forced groups of 3 to 4 answering questions (What is it?  What do you know about it?) about FA. 

Chappuis, "Helping Students Understand Assessment" article
New groups of 3-4 answer questions.  After reading and small group discussion, share out in large group.

  1. How does it relate to your previous thoughts on FA?
  2. What did you learn new?
Module 2 - HomeworkWhat is homework’s role in formative assessment?Scenarios spread out in room. Small groups rotate once the music plays. 

Challenge group with questions related to their HW policies and practices.  How does these ideas relate to Chappuis article big ideas that FA helps answer...

Where am I going?
Where am I now?  How can I close the gap?
Module 3 - Re-takes, late work and make-up workWhat do these have to do with formative assessment?Read Winger, “Grading to Communicate” article.

Small group discussion into large group discussion
- What do re-takes, late work and make-up work have to do with FA?

END: Journal prompt, "Describe how your ideas about formative assessment and standards-based grading were stretched today.  What questions do  you have?"

My notes from Day 1... 
Some of the participants have heard me/us talk already.  They've already taken deep sips of the standards-based grading kool-aid and are growing impatient based on their non-verbal cues and notes in their journals.  Other participants admitted they were not anticipating the challenges presented by the readings and our questioning.  Grading responsibility and using grades to report learning alone seemed to be the two most controversial topics, but that wasn't too surprising. 

Day 2:

Module 4 - Formative Assessment Techniques #1Journals - Eric
Red/green card - Matt
Fist to Five - Matt
Exit Slips - Eric
Self Assessment Slip - Eric

Demo each of these;  Hand out example of self-assessment slip. 

Fist to Five notes - one possible way to set it up in your classroom:
5 - I could teach this to someone else!
4 - I get it!
2 & 3 - I think I get it, but I need more help
Fist & 1 - I'm still lost!

For each technique, leave time for participants to discuss how they might use it.

Small groups - share the technique you're most excited to try out so far
Module 5 - FA Techniques - Matt
Google form - Matt - Eric
FA techniques smackdown - Eric
Demo each.  Leave time for participants to discuss how they might use it.

Smackdown is time for participants to share the best techniques they've tried in their classrooms with the large group
Module 6 - Formative Assessment - what do we do with all of this data?Addressing the “How can I close the gap?” questionGive out sets of exit slips...what do you do now?  Rotate around the room while groups are discussing to challenge their thinking.

Discuss connections with PLCs, common formative assessments; interventions are difficult to handle on an individual basis.  

END: Journal prompt, "Write about one lesson and how you will use what you learned today to improve it."

My notes from Day 2... 
We promised not to talk about grading today and it worked!  Participants were in a great mood today and appreciated the time to talk about ideas that work in their classroom.  I was surprised to find out how many participants had not used exit slips or thought of using journals as a way to reflect on the day's learning goals.  We modeled journals throughout the course!  I think this is the type of class most folks were expecting: low key and little, if any, challenges to their educational philosophy.  Some are asking how to put it all together and are anxiously awaiting tomorrow.

Day 3:

Module 7 - Intro to standards-based gradingWhat is it?
How is it different?
Why do it?
Guest Speaker: Shawn Cornally (Shawn's notes on his talk are here)
Module 8 - SBGLearning Targets
Gradebook changes
Multiple models
Questions? Clean up Shawn's mess. :)Divide group into two to provide a more intimate setting to answer implementation questions.
Module 9 - Putting it all togetherLingering implementation issues/questions.Piece everything together.
END: Action plan
My notes from Day 3... 
Shawn's talk wasn't as practical as I anticipated, but it was more emotional and effective than I ever dreamed possible.  He knew coming in that responsibility and allowing new evidence of learning to replace old evidence were the two major hang-ups of the group.  His talk started out slow.  At first, I thought to myself, "Shawn, can you just get to the point?"  He started talking about bacon and that's when I knew it was starting to get interesting.  The guy received a round of applause - something Eric and I hadn't even come close to earning on the first day.  Participants asked quite a few questions about implementation.  Based on the questions, comments and action plans, I estimate that 25+ of the 31 participants were tasting the sweet flavor known as standards-based grading.  I'm not kidding when I say that a core group of the class asked if we would teach a follow-up course of hold a mid-year meeting for the group to get together to discuss their progress.  This was a strange, but encouraging turn of events.

A course website was created to post additional resources as well as archive those discussed during the three-day course. 

Final thoughts:
We told the group towards the end of Day 3 why we felt like Day 1 had to be so frustrating.   Without challenging one's educational beliefs related to grading, the formative assessment cycle tends to be viewed as an add-onSo many educators claim they believe all students can learn at varying rates, but few secondary teachers embrace this philosophy through their grading practices.  Three days seemed like just enough time to break down the majority of the participants' educational philosophies related to assessment and grading.  Cramming the workshop into a two-day format would have been a stretch.  Teaching this course online as we had originally planned to do this winter would be nearly impossible due to the face-to-face real-time interaction needed on Day 1 to challenge each others' beliefs.  Teachers in so many other schools face the same realities we do - even if they change their grading practices, it takes a systematic change in order to maximize SBG's impact on students' learning in the long haul.

What do you think?  What topics/ideas about standards-based grading did we leave out?  What would you add or omit to the course?