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 . . .