Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sinking in the Ocean of SBG

To say that I am struggling this year, really doesn't begin to describe this feeling.

A couple years ago I dove right in and switched over to Standards Based Grading. I loved (and still love) the idea of kids showing mastery on specific learning goals.

However, as some of you know, it can quickly become overwhelming trying to keep up with assessments, reassessments and fielding questions and criticism from the confused administrators, parents and children.

For the first month or two of a new class, I have to explain, again and again, why there is no entry in the grade book that says "Quiz 2". I think this comes back to the whole points chasing theme. We have focused so much on points and grades that it is extremely hard for those kids to let go and focus on the learning.

Some kids buy in right away. They get what I am doing. Some are even relieved. These are typically the kids who have struggled or those kids who have never needed the safety net that busy work points provide.

Some dig in their heels and refuse to come along with me. These are the grade junkies who don't really care about their education unless it makes them look good on paper. Points is points and that is what is important.

Some kids don't really care one way or the other, there is still no way I am going to make them do any work.

I also think there is a small group who simply don't get it. They seem to be so confused by the whole process that they simply accept the number at the top of the page and move on.

Try as I might, I can't keep this up if the kids don't buy into it. And it is nearly impossible to convince some kids to focus on the learning when other teachers don't focus on it at all.

Then there are the targets. I'm still not sure about my targets. I have gone through at least one year in each of my classes with the targets that I have written and I like them, or at least rewritten them to where they are less horrible than they were. They are good goals, but some are easier to assess than others.

And that right there is my big obstacle. The target must be written so that anyone who reads it can figure out what exactly it means. I had a few targets that were pretty vague. This works pretty well when I am writing test questions that I want to ask, but don't really fit in with any of the other targets.

I have also had targets that were not nearly vague enough. For example, I wanted kids to know that a milliliter contained the same volume as a cubic centimeter. So I wrote a target specifically for that. Well, there are really only so many ways you can ask that question. When a target is too specific, you kind of back yourself into a corner when it comes to assessment.

In my Chemistry and Physics, the targets are more skills based. I find this so much easier to handle than my Astronomy, Ocean, Meteorology and Geology classes where the targets are based more on the big ideas. I am pretty happy with my Chemistry and Physics targets, my big problem now is developing ways to assess them. I give tests and quizzes. I would love to use other assessments, but I haven't reached that comfort zone when it comes to the unwritten. That is one of my priorities this year is to step out into that abyss.

My other big issue, as mentioned, is my Big Ideas targets. I think my targets, for the most part are pretty good, but I don't have a cut and dried way to measure how those targets are assessed, so it always feels so subjective.

So I am slowly getting there. I only have a couple issues that I really need to work through. The thing is, they are pretty big issues and I can stare at the problem for hours and never get my mind wrapped around a solution.

Baby steps. I didn't get in this mess in a single day, so I can't expect to get out of it too quickly. This has been a huge change in my classroom that I have taken on more or less alone* in my district. I think I have a long way to go, but I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of comfort level. Once I can breathe again, I can take a step back and look at it  from another angle.

*In the words of Spongebob, "Not you guys! You guys are awesome!"

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