My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Standard Based Grading. Expeditionary Learning

I’ve been heading in this direction for a little while now, so it has been good to see this first hand at King Middle School and Casco Bay High School in Portland.

I'm reminded of this passage from Graham Nuthall. "Significant knowledge and ability are not like this."

As a teacher I know I can only attend to the items of learning that we want our students to learn. I really can’t do a great deal about turning a C grade into B grade, these are averages of performance and therefore an abstraction.  I can do something about a student not understanding how a star develops or a how to balance a chemical reaction.  I can explain these in different ways, design tasks to break these ideas down, to make them memorable or to practice them. In these terms separating the grading system and the knowledge is a rather bizarre practice.

Staff at King Middle have found students are better at articulating there understanding of the content and of what they have learned and still need to practice.  This is the big advantage of Standards Based Grading. These items or learning targets are communicated with parents and provide for concrete conversations about learning and next steps.

It appears that the students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate competence in each of the learning outcomes for a module. I think this four chances, and have been told categorically that the school will not report on an learning outcome if the student has only had one assessment on that target.  A wide variety of tasks are used for assessment.

Some students in year 8 have found the transition difficult after being used to a percentage style grading. A few students (and parents)  have been a little confused by this, and some have found it more difficult to get the highest grades.

My big concern over SBG is how it could be used in a very reductionist way, valuing only small items of knowledge rather than the beautiful complexity that learning brings. The context of Expeditionary ( and Project) Learning seems to be the counter balance to this. I will need to ask some questions around some of the more “stand alone” courses.

Both staff and students seem happier with the HOWLS grades being separated from the academic grades, and have found these easier to be acclimatised to than the academic ones. The HOWLS grades are not too dissimilar to Cramlingtons 5 R scores.

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A few of the do not’s and do’s  in grading have been pointed out.

1.       Do not include behaviour in academic grades.
2.       Do not consider attendance in academic gradings.
3.       Have clear rubrics
4.       Do not use mean scores ( and I am assuming “best fit” too)
5.       Only summative assessment counts.
6.       Involve students in the process.
7.       No zero gradings.
8.       Look at recent or current scores.
9.       DO not lump grades into one
--  Do not use group work for individual assessment.

Following the identification of the benefits of SBG was made three staff working groups were established to develop the school practice and to begin to share the vision of this.

1.       Academic standards
2.       HOWLS
3.       Remediation
A simple but thorough approach. These categories all feed into the student led conferences and have already improved the focus in these sessions.
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The book A repair kit for Grading by Ken O’Connor has been recommended and on first glance looks a worthy purchase. This book was the start point for their work.

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