This past semester I had my maiden voyage with Standards-Based Grading. I wrote a little about it here, here, here, and here. What I’d like to do in this post is discuss the lessons I learned and posit some changes I’m thinking about for the future.
I am fully convinced, now, of the incredible utility of having students turn in recordings of themselves attempting a standard assessment. Students would typically turn in a 5-10 minute screencast of themselves and I would then rate them on my four-point scale (doesn’t meet expectations, approaches expectations, meets expectations, and exceeds expectations). Here’s an example of a “meets” or 3/4. It’s a good example to show the difference between a turned-in Mathematica document and having the student walk me through it. Why not a 4? Because he “modeled an interesting ride” as the standard says but he didn’t do anything above and beyond. Another way to say it, I didn’t brag about this one.
What was a little unexpected for me was the range in scores I gave for very similar looking work. In the past, I would accept hand-written or Mathematica work as the finished product and I would grade what was there. Now I grade mostly based on what I hear. Do they show clear understanding of what they’re doing? Do they emphasize the more important/physical vs mathematical points? Do they note the physical meaning of, say, the cast-away solution of a quadratic equation?
I also didn’t get that many complaints about the assessment scores. This is partially due to the notion of reassessments being allowed all the way to the end of the term, but, I think, also partially due to how they couldn’t say “but I’ve got that written down.” Instead, they had to show me that they said it and emphasized it.
Another thing that worked well was the collective editing we did of the standards. I put the original document together at the beginning of the term, but once we got into a chapter we’d often have conversations about the value of one over another. Sometimes we’d combine two or three, and sometimes we’d split one into several. The students also quite easily accepted it when I would proclaim that the original standards were bunk and we needed to start from scratch for a particular chapter.
One last thing that worked well was our collaborative oral assessments. Three times during the semester we set aside several days in a row to do in-class oral assessments. Students would be randomly assigned a standard and would have ~10-15 minutes to put their work on the board. The magic happened when we would all discuss the appropriate score for the work.
What didn’t work
Talking with the students toward the end and reading their anonymous student evaluations, it was clear that the lack of structure was a large adjustment for them. All I mean by this was that I said you had to get all your standards assessments in by the end of the term. I kept us on the schedule as far as introducing and discussing new content but they were on their own regarding when to turn things in.
As you might expect, some students stayed relatively on top of things and managed several reassessments on most standards throughout the term. And of course some students didn’t. There was an amazing flurry of activity in the last couple of weeks and not everyone got to the point where they received the final course grade they were hoping for.
Having some students in the class who hadn’t really engaged with some of the material made some of the group problem solving activities we did in class a little flat. In the past, I’ve clearly had students who were behind, but typically a test would happen and they could wipe the slate clean. This year, there were times when people were effectively months behind.
Things to try
The number one thing I’m planning to change for my fall course is to have some sort of due dates for assessments. I know, I know, that kind of goes against the gospel of SBG but I think at least one of my plans might win your approval. Here are the possibilities I’ve kicked around in my head, with colleagues, and with the students (many of whom will take the fall class as well):
- You must have an assessment turned in on a particular standard within two weeks of that standard becoming active
- “Becoming active” really means we’ve covered the material in class
- I don’t care what score you get on that assessment
- This will get the students “cracking the book” much earlier than the average this past semester. I look forward to coming into class two weeks later and saying something like “in your assessments it’s clear to me that many of you are misunderstanding X, Y, and/or Z. Let’s spend some more time on that today.”
- These “major points” will likely correspond to the times when we do in-class oral assessments. What I like about that is it’ll make the orals that much better since they’ll be better prepared
- Again I don’t think I care what score you get. However, it might be interesting to say that you have to have at least a 3 by that point if you want to reassess later in the semester.
- I set up a cool web page to do this in a way where each student would be assigned a random active standard at the end of each class period. I did that to give them a suggestion for what to do but I didn’t hold them to it.
- This would make sure that every student had forced reassessments for lots of standards, since, once they’re active, they stay active.
I see pros and cons to all three. I’m leaning toward “1″ right now but I’d love to get some feedback.
I’d also like to try to make my outside-of-class backchannel a little more vibrant. I used GroupMe.com, which acts as a texting version of a listserv this past semester and it was hit or miss on most days. If I seeded the conversation it tended to work better but I would have liked more. My buddy, Chad Topaz, at Macalester College uses Google Moderator to collect and crowdsource the priority of questions to be dealt with in class, but I like groupme’s ability to allow a true conversation before class. One thing I’m really interested in trying out is VoiceThread, where I can post screencasts (as this is also a flipped class) and students can add their own commentary, including questions. We’ll see.
Overall I was quite pleased with the course and I’m very excited to pursue SBG again this fall. There aren’t a lot of physics professors doing this sort of thing and it’ll be fun to talk to some this summer at a few different conferences that I’m going to. As usual, I’m extraordinarily thankful for the wonderful SBG community for giving me tips, encouragement, and a view of what’s possible.