Saturday, January 31, 2015

Old Dog, New Tricks: Standards Based Grading So Far

My switch to Standards Based Grading has been... interesting.

This was my initial post on Sophomore English grading and my grade book.

First of all, I have changed using a √ and a 0 in the formatives. (I know how parents can freak out over a zero, even if it isn't affecting their student's grade. They assume the assignment hasn't been completed.)  Formatives are now rated with an S, S-or U.  The formatives still have no affect on the student grade, but they let the student (and the parent) know if they understand the standard or need further work before the Summative test.

The biggest challenge has been the mindset of the teacher. (That would be me. Gulp.) One short unit can involve several standards, and each of those standards requires two formatives, reteaching activities, and a summative test.  My grade book now looks like this:

(Well, that is a portion of this nine week's grades so far. Oh, and the Standard RL2 Determining Theme or Central Idea and its development is going to be revisited-probably more than once.)

Thankfully, formatives don't have to be a quiz. (Though they can be.)  They can also be teacher anecdotal notes from observation, exit tickets, standards practice in their notebooks, etc.  Getting past the idea that students only show progress based on a quiz has been quite helpful and not nearly so limiting.

I really like this grading rubric on the Summative assessment of a standard.

10= Advanced- superior mastery
  9= High Proficiency- progressing toward advanced mastery
  8= Proficient Grade Level- mastery meets standard level
  7= Basic- limited understanding
  6=  Improvement necessary
  5=  Insufficient effort
  0=  Absent for summative

That being said, my student grades have changed.  A student really has to go above and beyond to show superior mastery. An A+ was easier to earn using the old method of grading.  On the other end of the scale, fewer students are failing.  Most students can show at least a basic or limited understanding of a skill or standard.

What does this mean?
1. A student who has done the minimum requirements has a tough time earning an A+, and they aren't thrilled about being challenged to show advanced or superior work.  I haven't had the first parent/teacher conferences since switching to this system, but I have a hunch that will be a discussion with some parents.

2. I spend quite a bit more time in the planning stages of lessons and units that I have taught for years.  I have to determine which standards I will emphasize, write the summative evaluation of each standard, decide how I will evaluate the standards through formatives, create the formative evaluations, and create some method of reteaching for students who need it.

3. Above all, I have to limit the number of standards that I evaluate in a unit.  A short unit might have several reading standards, a writing standard, and a speaking/listening standard. Julius Caesar could have included 10-15 standards. (I have narrowed it down to seven or eight this year.) Keeping track of student progress on the formatives, reteaching, and summative tests is a bit of a juggling act; however, it gives a much clearer picture of what the student actually knows. And isn't that what a grade is supposed to show?

Right now, this switch to Standards Based Grading has been quite a bit of work.  The best part is that it is becoming second nature to me now, and I feel like I have a much more thorough knowledge of the standards.  The work that I do this year is going to make next year that much simpler, if only because I have walked through the process this year.

Have I mentioned that I have had company on this road to change?  I am quite thankful for Sweet Young Former Student Now Colleague, an amazing Student Teacher, and my math colleagues who are jumping in this year, too.  It is always better to have friends to travel the road with you!

Friday, January 23, 2015

HS ELA Interactive Notebooks

I'm not really sure how many changes a teacher should make in their class each year.  I seem to be pushing it.  Standards Based Grading, figuring out a Standards Based Grade Book, creating my own Sticky Note Lesson Plan book, and beginning Interactive Notebooks have all added to my workload this year. (And then I wonder why I spend every evening and weekend organizing.)

As challenging as this has been, I have really appreciated the Interactive Notebooks.  Daily work assignments that used to be in stacks on my counter, are now neatly tucked away in their notebooks.  I collect the notebooks every 3-4 weeks for a thorough grading, but I stamp or checkmark short in-class assignments when I need to see immediate results.

The notebooks aren't perfect this year and I already have a few changes in mind for next year, but I am pretty pleased with the way the interactive notebooks simplify grading.  The bonus is that students are creating their own reference book and can use it as a resource when they need to locate a format, a grammar rule, or an example. (The Table of Contents that they fill in will assure easy access.) These notebooks also teach students one of the skills that will make or break them in the future: organization!
The only drawback?  To simplify things, I had students add journal writings to their notebooks this year.  I haven't minded it, but my daughter (who was once my student) didn't like that at all.  She believes that the journals should be separate from their class notebook.  She is probably right.  That is food for thought for next year.

As much work as this year has been, I feel like the changes will benefit me in the years to come. I won't be reinventing the wheel every year, thank goodness.  And the interactive notebooks have already simplified the grading of daily work and short writing assignments.

This was just another change in Room 304 this year.

Oh, and did I mention this was a year of new textbooks, too.  Yes, a really fun year.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

I Laugh So I Don't Cry

For many years now, I have had my classes memorize poetry a couple of times a year:  "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Sara Teasdale, "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley, and/or "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrea.

Over the past decade, the assignment has become much more difficult for a larger number of students.   This year, I think I have hit the wall.  They might be able to remember a stanza at a time, and that is about it.  They stumble through the poem stanza by stanza, and frequently still need prompting. (I have to keep track of how many stanzas they have recited.)

The other night at auditions for the All School Production, the director asked students to hop up on stage and recite the Pledge of Allegiance so that they could be heard clearly.  It was horrifying how many students needed prompting.  At least 75% of the students couldn't say it without help.  The other 25% left out words or phrases.  I was stunned.  (And I'm having them memorize "Invictus"?  What the heck am I thinking?  How about the Pledge of Allegiance? Wowsa!  I had no idea!)

A girl in class told me that she can't recite the Lord's Prayer unless she is in church.  She says she just can't remember it.

I'm pretty sure it is a sign of the times, and it really concerns me as to what memory issues our whole society faces in the future. Kids don't need to remember anything, because any information they need is at their finger tips. (That is if they can remember what it is that they need to be looking for!) And what are we losing?  Our collective memories.

Where will it end? I'm not really sure.  Fortunately, I'll probably be too dead to care.  Just don't say I didn't tell you!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Standards Based Grading in a High School ELA class

I understand why Standards Based Grading (SBG) is important, but for several months now I have not been able to find anything about how to go about SBG in a high school English classroom.  Everything I have read has been math and/or elementary and middle school related.  High school grades are different because they have to translate into a letter grade that contributes to the student's GPA, which determines scholarships and college admission. (Suddenly SBG becomes quite a bit more important.)

As for math, let's face it: English isn't nearly as clear cut as math.  I think I'm beginning to see that we English teachers bring on quite a bit of that ourselves.  SBG requires us to be much more deliberate in teaching skills. The way I have been teaching has become as natural to me as breathing. Why? I wasn't evaluating individual progress on those standards until the unit test--when it was too late for the student who wasn't understanding.  So, what would I do?  I'd just teach the next unit and hope the ones who didn't understand that skill the first time would understand it the 2nd time. (Sometimes they did; sometimes they didn't.)

Standards Based Grading forces me to take one short poem that I teach and recognize that for summatives I will be testing figurative language skills, understanding theme and central idea development, and small group discussion skills. In the same unit I will be beginning the first formatives to check understanding of representation in two mediums and giving a presentation making strategic use of digital media.  Whew! (I've never been so concrete in my life!)

Thankfully, bright young math colleague, terrific biology colleague, and a smart young student teacher have all helped me through the process of trying to find something that might work.  (I'm pretty sure there are still things to change and tweaking to be done.)

We use Power School's PowerTeacher Gradebook at Tiny Town High.  I was having trouble figuring out how to make the electronic grade book work so that I didn't have to create a separate spreadsheet to keep track of student progress.  I think I have finally hit upon a solution.

These are some of the things that will be happening:

*Formatives won't contribute to the final grade.  They will be tracked in the grade book, but they won't help or hurt the grade.  Students and parents will be able to see what the student needs to work on: a checkmark (changed to an S) will indicate adequate progress, and a zero (changed to a U) will indicate the student needs more work on the skill; however, the zero doesn't affect their grade. (I know parents equate 0 with a grade, thus the change.) Formatives will be happening almost daily: quizzes, writing, exit cards, and teacher observation. On top of that, our school has several interventions built in for students who aren't making adequate progress. I can assign them to a tutoring room for help or contact their advisory teacher for help during advisory time. Reteaching can be as simple as one-on-one conferences or as involved as an organized lesson with several assignments to work through.

*Summatives will be 95% of the class grade. My hope would be that every student can demonstrate at least basic understanding of a skill, especially after reteaching or tutoring. The summative grade for a particular skill could change if the standard is visited again and the student does better or worse on a different summative later in the semester. This will help students see how important it is to retain the skills they have gained and not just to learn it for one particular summative and then forget all about it.

*Finally, 5% of their grade will be based on Career Skills.  Right now, there are two career skills: following directions and organization.  (I know that this is one area that could/should be dropped, but I am finding it difficult to cut right now.)

This screen shot shows the final grade set up in PowerGrade:

These are my three category explanations:

This will be what the assignments could look like in my grade book.
The grade book looks like this with student names on the left.

Finally, each summative will be worth 10 points. This is the rubric for those 10 points:

10= Advanced- superior mastery
  9= High Proficiency- progressing toward advanced mastery
  8= Proficient Grade Level- mastery meets standard level
  7= Basic or limited understanding
  6=  Improvement necessary
  5=  Insufficient effort
  0=  Absent for summative

Clear as mud?  That's how it started for me, too.
Does it work?  I'll get back to you on that!
Am I doing it all wrong?  I could be. (I'm sure I will hear about it.)
Questions or comments?  Feel free to leave them below.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Favorite New Year Assignment

I love giving this assignment to my sophomores each year.  I've made changes on it from time to time, but the template hasn't changed much.

I had to screen shot the handout, but this is the assignment.  They fill in the squares and use color pens to decorate the entire sheet.  I let them use the internet to find headlines from last year. (I swear their memories are worse than mine--and that is saying something!) 

The first day back after the holidays is usually noisy with all the catching up, so this assignment gives them the chance to reflect on the past.  I don't even mind the chatter that accompanies hunting for the big stories and inventions of the past year. 

What surprises me every year?  The advice that they give to themselves. It frequently gives me insight into struggles the student might be going through or insecurities that they deal with daily.  

You might be wondering what proves to be the most difficult: the "Dream" headlines for the year ahead.  That stumps quite a few of them.  I don't think they have ever been challenged to think about what could happen in our community, the country, or the world in the coming year.  And of course, because it is a "dream" headline--they can make anything happen.  That freedom paralyzes some of them.  

There you have it: a fun and thoughtful way to begin the new semester.