Participation Points or Standards-Based Grading

So this has been bugging me for a while now, and I’ve been wanting to write a post on this, so I think I’m going to finally sit down and just type and see what comes out.

So here’s the problem: I’ve got this “system” I call Participation Points.  The way it works is this:

  1. Students have a list of options to choose from (see below) on how to get points for the week.
  2. Students must get 100 points a week, but may get up to 110 points each week.
  3. This is 30-40% of the student’s grade (depending on the class).

Now, I want to list pros and cons, and I’m going to try to be as unbiased as possible.  First the cons:

  • Students could theoretically do very little work and earn an “easy A” without learning much related to what I am teaching.  Examples include: watching Khan Academy videos on topics we have already covered, pulling worksheets out of the Wall of Remediation that they’ve already aced, or writing on a PQ topic that is minimally related to class.
  • These points seem to be precisely the “extra points garbage filling up a grading book” that champions of standards-based grading point to when talking about how it does not show that students are actually learning.
  • There is a weekly deadline that I’ve been trying to be strict on.  I’ve made a few exceptions for those students who aren’t “with it” enough to understand how much it is hurting their grade to do nothing.  However, a students has 3 bad weeks in a row of not doing something outside of class, and their grade is reeeeeally hard to bring up after that.  Granted, that is a small minority of students, but as SBG-ers would ask “what if they could still master the content?!?”

Here are some positive justifications for having Participation Points:

  • It encourages students to find work that interests them: both in terms of “multiple intelligences” and finding work that meets them academically.  I’ve found that when it is left up to students, they will not choose to work on stuff way over their head (duh), nor with they choose to work on really boring “busy-work”, especially when they know a quiz on material they could be practicing is right around the corner.  Students who like to speak up earn points for that in class, but students who are very shy (me back in school, so I’m sympathetic) have several other ways to earn points without having to speak up.
  • It allows students to find connections to subjects and topics that interest them which might be outside the “list of standards”.  Students have only done a little of this, but the things like the PQs mentioned above allow them to relate the math they know to their “real life”.  How can that be achieved in SBG?  (I’m not saying it can’t be, but I have a hard time imagining how I would be able to do it as easily.)
  • I can create assignments on the fly and point students in the direction they need to practice.  An example of this is explained here, where students were having difficulty visualizing the inverses of functions (reflections over the x=y line), so I had my students create these and e-mail them to me for participation points.  If it wasn’t for participation points, most students wouldn’t give this suggestion for studying in this way a second thought.  (Perhaps that would be different if my students bought into SBG?)  Another example of this was students staying after school on a Friday afternoon to finish this class project.  I’m not sure they would have stayed had it not been for the combination of internal (cool project) and external (participation points) motivation.
  • I hold tutoring twice a week and students volunteer to be tutors because of participation points (they receive points for attending as well).  Yes, I’ve had some students help other students without that incentive, but this guarantees that I have a set of 4 tutors in my classroom, which is now full of 30 or so students every Tuesday and Thursday.
  • In Chemistry it is helpful to have a lab assistant, and even with the offer of points, I’ve had trouble convincing students to facilitate the labs instead of participating in them (I ask these students to make up the labs on their own time outside of class, hence the hesitation and the need to offer participation points for taking on these extra tasks.)  I even provide points for useful things around the classroom, such as “timekeeper” and “homework writer” (people who put up their HW answers while others are doing the warm-up so we can quickly discuss the HW and move on)
  • “Best notes writer” drawing.  This encourages students to take notes because I choose 3 students randomly and then we decide on whose notes are “the best” (often there are multiple winners).  That student then runs to the office, makes a copy, and now there’s a good copy of notes from class in my “previous work” folder for students who were absent or lost their notes.

Okay, so maybe I wasn’t completely unbiased, but I do want to hear feedback for how SBG teachers meet these items above without a blatant “earn points!” system.  I am especially interested in how you can motivate students to reach beyond the standards, in things such as extension activities, if they are focused on “reaching the standard”.

So here are some other things you should know about my classroom before burning me at the stake as if this is the only way I assess students.

  • I give tiered assessment quizzes which help me find out exactly where students are on a topic.  Students may retake any quiz at any time, provided they give me 30 participation points–a stipulation designed so that they will do some reflection or practice before retaking the quiz.
  • Students may make test corrections on their tests, which allow students to reflect both on the material and on their test-taking ability.
  • After both quizzes and tests, I’ve fallen in love with the “review sessions” idea: students teaching other students how to solve problems (for participation points, of course).

I might be writing to no-one, but I really wanted to think more about these because I honestly want to do what is best for my students.  This system is working so well in so many ways, but SBG is so appealing for so many other reasons.  Perhaps I can have a “hybrid” where some of the grade is based on SBG while some of the grade is based on this system.  Does that defeat the purpose of SBG?  I don’t know, but it’s late and I’ve written too much already.  Thanks for reading if you’ve made it to the end of this.

Edit: Thanks to Steve, I discovered that one of my links above is broken (kinda the whole point of the post!) so I’ve embedded the Participation Points document below.  Enjoy! (Here’s a (hopefully) working link to the Word document if you would rather be able to see this in Word.  It is formatted a little better here.)

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Participation Points or Standards-Based Grading

  1. As I often do, I read this post feeling like you and I have very similar philosophies about the classroom. You know that I am a half-SBG grader as well, with tiered assessments in place of whatever “pure” SBG would be.

    I like the idea of having different ways for the students to earn participation points, and that they have to actively earn them, as opposed to just getting full points for not misbehaving. I wish I could see the whole list, but that first link is leading to an empty dropbox for me.

    And I love the idea that your students have to “buy” their way to a test retake with participation points. I have been struggling with how I’d like to deal with poor test scores in the new curriculum I’m teaching this year. Though the numbers of students below C level doesn’t seem to be greater than in recent years, for reasons too arcane to bother with here it happens that actual retakes are much too much work to offer. I have been going with test corrections instead–a technique I’ve almost never used in my 18 years of teaching; they just don’t feel right to me–but at least a colleague has given me a set of requirements I can give the students to make the corrections something that requires effort on their part, rather than just adding something to each problem they got wrong in hopes that they’ll get more points somewhere. (Nothing to lose for them but some time.)

    Okay, I’m losing my train of thought here, but thanks for your post. I will be thinking about this idea in the days ahead to see if I can come up with a version of it which works for me. (And if you could find your way to sending me the PP options list, I’d be much obliged.)

    Thanks!

    • Oh, thanks for the notice about the broken link! I must have changed the name and I forgot that changes all those things. I’ll fix the post right away!

      Also, I hope you look at my post concerning “test corrections” because I agree that it should take some effort on their part to earn the points back. I strive to aim for some type of reflection on both their work on the problem as well as their study habits and/or test-taking abilities, which will hopefully help them in the future. The point I try to make to them is “if you had studied before the test, it would take *less* effort than doing all these test corrections afterwards, AND you would have done better!” but you’ll have to read the whole post for the whole story.

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