This semester I’m teacher Advanced Electricity and Magnetism to juniors and seniors. I’m once again using a standards-based approach, and, once again, I’m having all assessments involve the students’ voices. I have made three major changes to what I did last semester and I wanted to document those here.
Combating extreme procrastination
In an earlier post I posited a few different approaches to dealing with this problem. Essentially, many of my students felt they could produce miracles in the last few weeks of the course and a few fell short. I wanted to find a way to get students to turn in assessments much earlier, much closer to the time when we’ve spent time as a class on the topics.
Even though I got a little negative feedback on it, I decided to go with what I call the two-week rule. Once a standard becomes active, students have two weeks to get in an assessment on that standard. It doesn’t have to be a great or even good one, just one that helps me understand how far along they are with their understanding. If they don’t do it, they are forced to take a zero for that standard for the rest of the course.
The negative feedback I mentioned was centered around the SBG-philosophy-based notion that students should be able to learn things when they’re able, not according to a time table. I get that, but I knew I had to find a way to keep the log-jam from happening at the end of the semester.
There is another huge upside, though, that I think really brings this policy back into the SBG fold. On any given class day, I’ll be able to talk about the assessments I’ve received on two-week-old standards and plan ways with the students to spend more time on any common problems. Last semester I would get a small number of assessments within that kind of time period and, if they were good, I would not spend any more time on that material in class. Then, as long as months later, I would start to get assessments in from other students and I’d realize there was some sort of fundamental misunderstanding about it. At that point it was awkward to use class time to help the students with those content issues. I’m really excited for these two-week windows for a standard where most of the class will at least be on the same page about them.
One of the biggest pieces of feedback I received at the Physics Education Research Conference this past summer was that people were nervous about the scalability of this approach. Can you handle all these screencasts with 20, 30 or more students?
At the conference, many of us brainstormed the notion of peer review of these screencasts. For my current class I thought I’d see just how valuable that sort of peer review could be. One of my standards in the class is “I can accurately assess another student’s work and provide useful feedback.” This is one of roughly 30 standards so it represents about 3% of the course grade. Last semester there were many times when I felt that one student would benefit from hearing how another student had approached a particular standard, but I never really followed up with making that formal. I’m really excited to see if this one standard helps the students with their learning this semester. One thing I’d love to ask you, dear reader, is how I can assess that?
This one was a last minute change on my part right before the semester started. I was reflecting on the screencasts from my students last semester and I remembered how some of them were quite long. I asked a few of my colleagues both in person and online about the notion of brevity when showing understanding, and, even though there wasn’t a large consensus, I decided to put in some flexible language in my syllabus:
Being able to show your understanding of material efficiently is a sign of deeper understanding. It shows that you know the priority of the important concepts, as you don’t spend too much time on less important ones. You will not receive a 4 (see scale below) for a technically correct assessment, even one whose content is “brag-worthy,” if it is deemed to be too long. A good rule of thumb for the duration of a typical assessment is ten minutes.
I’m, of course, hopeful that this will cut down on the 20 minute+ screen/pencasts but I’m also hopeful this will cause some self-editing and meta-reflection by the students as they’re preparing their assessments.
The semester is just getting started and I’m still quite excited about this course. It’ll be interesting to see how that enthusiasm changes throughout the semester. I’ll be paying close attention to how these three changes affect both my students learning and my enthusiasm.