[SBG] My First Attempt at SBG

I have read up a fair bit on SBG (Standards Based Grading) and first heard about it after the start of this school year.  I didn’t feel right changing my syllabus on my students, and I was unsure of SBG at first, which are some of the reasons I didn’t use SBG this year.  I am still skeptical about certain aspects and implications of SBG.  However, I had adapted my quizzes to test only one topic each, as well as clearly define for students on quizzes what they should know in order to earn a certain grade.  In addition to that, I have allowed for students to retake quizzes and have changed the way I look at grading.

All of this has been done because of what I’ve read about SBG, but none of it is actually SBG.  Enthusiasts of the grading system will tell you “SBG is more than retesting“, so I am excited to try SBG for real for the first time this.

The class is a very specific, special class: it is 5 students who failed my chemistry class the previous year.  A few days into the new semester, after no-one had (or had been) signed up for “General Science”–the remedial, generic science class I teach just for the purpose of doling out credits, my principal approached me and asked about the possibility of teaching remedial chemistry, so that the 5 students who failed last semester would have a chance at passing.  At first I was frightened of the prospect of trying to teach the same thing over again when students didn’t understand it the first time.  However, after I thought about it, I realize this was the perfect opportunity to use SBG.  All the students have to do, to get a passing grade where they didn’t the first time around, is to show me that they understand what I thought they didn’t.  And so I’m not lecturing to the students at all.  I’m not creating activities or labs or anything for the students (because I did that all last semester for them), I’ve simply asked them to show me that they know what they’re supposed to for chemistry.

I’ve given the students 7 standards (I called them “learning targets”) for the students to demonstrate to me, and I’ve given them about 10 or so options for them to do this.  The favorite, so far, has been making videos using Doceri on the iPad, which I appreciate too because you really get to see how much they know.  I lastly gave them about half a dozen ways for them to learn the material if they didn’t understand it in the first place, so I think that, right off the bat, they recognize and understand that they need to understand in order to advance in this setting.

I decided to go with Shawn Cornally’s Blue Harvest feedback program because I had heard it was specifically designed for SBG.  What I didn’t realize was just how awesome it was for communicating with students and having a conversation about what they understand and where they are.  Students can submit work and comments in the exact same avenue that I can submit grades, feedback, and mark whether they are proficient or not.  It even plays well with iPads!  It has a few graphs containing information, and doesn’t have the fancy multiple info-graphs that, say, Khan Academy has, but it is perfect for SBG and I really think Shawn hit the nail on the head when it comes creating a program for students trying to learn and understand material.

The one downside to this process, so far, has been time.  I have spent just as much time on feedback and assessment on these 5 students as I have in my larger classes of about 20, and so I don’t know if that says something about the way I’m going about with the 5 students or with the 20, but I know I couldn’t do this specific, good feedback to a class of 20 students, let alone 6 classes of that many.

I look forward to this experiment in SBG (for me) and hope that I can find a way to use it in my other classes in the future, for the students’ sake.

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