1 standard per day

I’m often involved in conversations with people about Standards-Based Grading where we focus on how many standards we should have. I’ve settled recently on a “1 standard per day” approach that works for me and I wanted to get my thoughts down about it here.

For me, a standard is an important concept/idea/tool/ability that students should know by the end of the course. I tend to write mine in “I can . . .” statements like “I can derive the Euler-Lagrange equation.” Deciding how many to have in a course is difficult, especially as there are a lot of really good approaches out there:

  • Have a handful: the argument here is that students won’t remember the details years later, so try to decide what the 4-6 or so big ideas are and focus your course around them.
  • Have one per chapter: the book author has already broken up the material into similar size chunks, use it!
  • Have one per class period: This is what I do (lots of discussion lower in the post)
  • Have big and small standards: Have a handful of big ideas that then breakdown into smaller ideas. Josh Gates does this really well
  • Have one for every concept you can think of: this is how I started. Look through the material and write down every concept you would normally assess. This, for me, led to something like 2-3 per class period or ~10 per chapter

My general advice to people is to do what feels right and what you’ll be able to assess well. For me, the 1 per day approach checks those boxes and has a some other benefits as well.

One standard per day works out to ~30 for the whole semester. That’s well under the ~42 or so actual days we have, but I tend to use a bunch of days for oral exams. Probably my favorite thing about this approach is that it really focuses every class period. My students (and I!) know that the day has one major topic and we work to figure out what resources we have, what connections there are with other days/standards, what examples hit all the subtle nuances, etc. I end the day refining the language of the standard, but at the beginning of the semester I put a one or two word phrase on the calendar to let them know what’s coming (like “doppler effect” or “RC circuits”).

I also like the notion that I’m using equal time to help me figure out equal weight, since I tend to treat all the standards equally in the grade book. What’s cool is that I’ve been working my whole career on finding the right balance of how much to cover (uncover?) on each day. In the old days of plain lectures (and homework and tests etc) I really agonized over how much of each chapter to cover each day. I still do that! And often I come to the same conclusions. And, interestingly, I’m often right with the authors of the texts I use as far as how many days per chapter. This work involves looking at the complexity of the concept(s),  looking at the level of math involved, looking at the impact on the “big picture”, and lots of other intangibles. In the end, I feel like I mostly meet my goal of using each day as wisely as possible. That notion, for me, translates to figuring out what my standards should be pretty easily.

When I talk to others about this, some push back that I get is that just because a concept takes a while to learn doesn’t mean that it’s as valuable an idea as something that’s quick to learn. I find this to be a compelling idea, but, at the end of the day, I don’t think I fully agree. If it takes a while to learn AND we decide to teach it, taking the appropriate amount of time, we have decided that it is that important, haven’t we?

So what other push back is there? Here are some starters for you:

  • How do you deal with MWF vs TR classes? It would seem you’d have a lot more of the former.
  • Even 30 is way too many! Here’s why . . .
  • 30 is way too few! Here’s why . . .
  • How do you deal with labs? Here’s what I think you should do . . .
  • It takes you 40 days to teach them where Wolfram|Alpha is? That’s weird.
  • I’m a student in your upcoming class and I think this is great! What I’m especially excited about is . . .
  • I’m a student in your upcoming class and this makes me nervous. Here’s why . . .

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
This entry was posted in sbar, sbg, syllabus creation, teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to 1 standard per day

  1. Joss Ives says:

    Hi Andy.

    I am actually very curious about the MWF vs TR issue.

    From a course focus point of view, I really like the one standard per class approach. “Here’s what we’re going to work on today” and it’s one thing. Very easy for the student at the end of the class to reflect on how they did on that one standard or to figure out what they need to do to get caught up if they miss class. I have been developing a conceptual diagnostic for one the big UBC first-year courses and have to say that the idea of 30 important ideas per class seems about right as I struggle to balance the length of the diagnostic with the desired conceptual coverage of the course.

  2. bretbenesh says:

    Hi Andy,

    I am also curious about the MWF vs TTh question, and it may relate to my next question: for your “one standard per day” approach, do you

    Figure out what the 30ish most important standards are before the semester, and then decide not to teach the less important stuff (so the standards guide how you teach).
    Figure out what you will do (did?) on a particular class day, and then write a standard that summarizes everything you will do on that day (so you just teach however you like, and then make the standards fit to how you teach).
    Something else.

    I think that you do the first (the standards guide what you teach), but then that would mean that you might teach less content in a TTh schedule than a MWF schedule.

    The big difference between your approach and mine is that I like that my standards are not equally important. But I completely agree that we should all just do what we are comfortable with.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      It’s interesting that the only TR courses I’ve taught I’ve also folded the lab into the standards so that they were like another class day. That means I still ended at ~30

      On Mon, Jul 14, 2014 at 10:36 AM, SuperFly Physics wrote:


  3. When I first read this, I thought that one standard per day would be far too many. Looking at your calendar though, you end up with about 30 class meetings. Since I teach high school, this equates to about the number of weeks I have. Surprisingly, I end up with about one to one and a half standards per week. I think the pacing feels right for my students, as I use the broad type of standard.

    Honestly, I’d love to have taken a physics class with your style, Andy. Too often, I felt that we were just plowing through ideas with no sense of where we were going. I know the professor knew, but I felt directionless. I really appreciate the thought you put into the undergrad experience in your department.

  4. Hi Andy,

    I agree that the one standard per day is a good rule of thumb. In my classes it seems I already do this, though I also add in 1 – 2 classes that are ‘processing days’, where there is no new material, but students spend time working on their own to resolve the issues they have with the standards so far.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Yeah, I use oral exam days as “processing days”. I like that concept a lot.

      On Fri, Jul 25, 2014 at 10:53 AM, SuperFly Physics wrote:


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