Saturday, August 18, 2012

Standards Based Grading: The Foundation for Learning in my Classroom

The other morning I got up early to journal before my first PAID day back to school.  I emphasize the word paid because if any of you are like me, I had already spent a handful of unpaid days in my classroom knowing I would need the extra time to get myself ready for a new school year.  Before I wrote, I closed my eyes to visualize how I wanted our (students and educator(s)) classroom to look:

When I close my eyes and picture walking into my classroom, I see students busy or should I say INTENT on being mathematicians.  Some are working in pairs, others individually.  I am sitting at a table with a small group providing instruction or intervention or enrichment.  There are students on the computers, sitting on the floor, working with tools, writing, sharing, creating and they are all engaged, self-directed, and self-monitoring so that I can focus on working with my small group.  Everyone is involved in meaningful math activities all with the same goal of proving their understanding of the math standards.   The students are focused on the standards individually rather than everyone doing the same thing at the same time.  It is calming for me to think about my classroom operating the way and also daunting - it takes a lot of work, preparation, and foundation building to have a middle school classroom that actually works this way!  I've always had this vision and when I taught elementary students, I took the needed time to establish this vision.  So, this year, I am going to do the work to create a classroom that is as close to my vision as possible.

The foundation for building a classroom environment described above is Standards Based Grading.  I will be using what I learned from reading the book: The Daily 5 which is a book about elementary literacy.  The reason I bought and read the book is because they go through and describe exactly how to create a classroom of self-directed, self-monitoring students who are focused on learning.  The authors describe some "Core Foundations" one of which is "Creating a Sense of Urgency".  They also state that
"Purpose + Choice = Motivation".  As I thought of these two ideas, I realized that the driving force for my classroom would be my use of Standards Based Grading.

So, as I begin my second year of working to implement standards based grading and having it drive my vision, I decided to re-visit an invaluable resource that I found November 2011:

Educational Leadership:Effective Grading Practices

For those of you interested in implementing standards based grading or changing your grading practices to support student leaning and achievement, you need to read these articles!

Here are some highlights:

  • Susan M. Brookhart:  "Standards-based grading is based on the principle that grades are not about what students earn; they are about what students learn."
  • Thomas Guskey : "No research supports the idea that low grades prompt students to try harder.  More often, low grades prompt students to withdraw from learning."  
  • Rick Wormeli:  "Lawyers who finally pass the bar exam on their second or third attempt are not limited to practicing law only on Tuesdays."  
  •  Alfie Kohn: "Grades don't prepare students for the "real world"- unless one has in mind a world where interest in learning and quality of thinking are unimportant."
  • Robert J. Marzano and Tammy Heflebower: "Demonstrating knowledge gain can be intrinsically motivating to students." and "Teachers should allow students to upgrade their scores from previous grading periods."
  • Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Ian Pumpian: "When practice work is part of the overall grade, students don't take risks, and teachers don't get valuable glimpses into their understanding."
  • Carol Ann Tomlinson: "An A that doesn't represent personal struggle and growth is a lie."  
There are other great articles from inspiring educators.  The final quote I want to leave you with is from Susan M. Brookhart: Teachers who are skeptical about standards-based grading need safe honest conversations about their beliefs."  Keep this quote in mind as you take the next step in sharing your successes in using standards-based grading with your colleagues.

I did not mean to be this wordy, however, I felt I needed to share my re-focus process at the beginning of the new school year and this ASCD issue helped me.  If my vision is to work, and my grading is to be motivating, then I need to keep these articles close!  At my school, I am still a salmon swimming upstream against an incredibly strong current, as are some of you out there who are taking on standards based grading in your classrooms.  

Thank you all of the #sbar folks!  You keep me going and fighting the good fight!  There is no way I would have persevered with this one if I did not have your resources and support!  I look forward to a great school year of learning and sharing with all of you!

Let the fun begin...  Happy New School Year!