SBG Plans 

I’ve spent A LOT of time thinking about grading this summer. As summer winds down, I have put focus on getting some solid planning done and after lots of coffee, sketches on scratch paper, and chats with colleagues and friends, I think I’ve finally found a happy place where I feel comfortable and confident with my plans. This is going to be my first year trying out SBG, so I want to keep it simple as to not confuse myself or my students. Here is what I’m thinking:

In both Algebra I and Geometry, I am going to be diligent about maintaining short, frequent assessments on one standard at a time. These will happen every couple of days after we learn a standard. After reading the math=love blog, I loved her idea (I pretty much love everything she does) of having students write the skill and learning goal on their paper. I think this could reinforce the topic we are learning, and overtime, I think having students write “I can” statements will increase their confidence in their understanding. For example, when we learn solving linear equations, this will fall under the skill, “linear equations,” and the learning goal for the students would be “I can use algebraic methods to solve a linear equation.” Both of these will be posted on the board along with the 2-3 problems they will be solving. Hopefully by just writing the problems on the board, it will save me time typing up problems and making copies since they will happen frequently (again, keeping it simple will be my SBG motto this year). But, I will need to be specific in helping students understand how to write the problem and show their work in a neat and organized manner. I am also pretty sure I’m going to use a 1, 2, 3, 3.5, 4 scale and require students who make less than a 3.5 (88%) to retake. Below is the example of the SBG quiz template I revised from the math=love blog. This also takes place of the red, yellow, green systems I talked about in a previous SBG post.

sbg quiz header


sbg quiz footer

These SBG checks that will happen about twice a week will comprise 60% of a student’s grade. Projects and larger Quizzes that comprise multiple standards will count for 30% and then there will be one cumulative nine weeks test that will be 10%. Students may retake any SBG check or larger quiz if it is below a 3.5.

I think by having frequent checks, followed by more comprehensive projects/quizzes, will help kids retain their knowledge beyond just for one day, one check. Then, having one final test at the end of each nine weeks, my Algebra 1 students will have the feel of a larger spiraling test like the STAAR test, and my geometry students will also keep retaining their spiraling knowledge.

Feel free to comment with any thoughts or ideas as I start to move forward into the new year!


Skype Updates (Thoughts That Keep Me Up Part 2)

Last week, I Skyped with an educator who works as the Director of Instruction and Technology for the Solon Community Schools, Matt Townsley. After reading his blog, I was intrigued to find out more about SBG and somehow he must have either found out that I linked him on my post (Thoughts That Keep Me Up At Night), or maybe the Gods of math just brought us together, because he asked me to Skype with him to further the conversation. The Skype chat we had is essentially why I created this blog…to get the conversation going about education, math, and positive adjustments/additions we can make in our classrooms to better student learning. I was so excited to get a message from Matt saying he wanted to Skype because I knew he had been successful with the SBG changes he made in his district and so there would be so much to learn and so much to discuss. Next on my list of people to meet and chat with…Dan Meyer…he’s like the Justin Timberlake of math blogging to me!

So, here are some big takeaways I got from our conversation:

1. Red, Yellow, Green: One quick addition I liked that he did is to have students write red, yellow, or green at the top of their quiz. The next day, a teacher can make pairs easily either by similar understandings or heterogeneously and set up a productive tutoring environment. This would just save time because “red, yellow, and green” are so easily identifiable.

2. Likert scale: Here is a sample Matt sent me. I like this added on to quizzes and tests. Likert Scale

3. No points for homework: I’m convinced…I will definitely be doing this next year after talking with him. I already provide my students the answer key during class which because I believe in his similar philosophy in which we should not make students wait until the next day to see if they are working problems correctly. Furthermore, as I said in my previous post, I don’t want to take off or inflate grades based on practice. So, I will keep track of the assignments/practice we have done and in order to retake, students must be able to prove they have completed all assignments/practice up to that assessment. The homework category, however, will be set to 0%. I think this will help remedy the motivation or accountability factor of 0% homework.

4. Teacher insurance policy: This was just an explanation of what students need to do in order to retake. Right now in my class, any student who got below an 80 on a quiz can retake before the test that covers that material. Under my SBG system, I will still allow students to retake because I know students learn at different rates and paces. I know some need second, or third chances to master material. However, right now students are simply coming in to tutoring, cram studying (or requesting to be retaught on all the concepts) and then right away while it’s “fresh in their minds” they are wanting to retake. Honestly, because I feel like I should capitalize on a student actually coming in to to tutoring, I let them retake right then and there. But, this does absolutely no good! Instead, I like how Matt had it set up…first, I will be sure students have completed all the assignments/practice before they can retake (I say this every year, but I have been too lenient on it throughout the year. That’s only making me work harder because they are coming in blind to the material…I will be better about it this year). So once that the assignments/practice are complete, students must correct the piece of the assessment they want to retake and go over it with the teacher (I do this too)…so here’s the new part: one more practice will be assigned…this could be something sample questions done at home, or telling the student to go home and record themselves teaching the material to their mom or sibling. THEN, they can retake. This ensures several things…students are not cramming, students are doing the learning, students are not retaking in the same day and then forgetting it the next.

5. Buffet-style final exam: Day 42 on this blog describes this concept. I really like this idea!

6. Grading rubric for SBG: I like the kid friendly language here.


Lots to think about! But luckily, I feel like these can be easily applied to the classroom I have already set up.

Thank you again, Matt, for taking the time to chat with me and giving me so many ideas to think about!

Sources: Solon Community School District

Thoughts That Keep Me Up at Night

I have been thinking a lot about grading, assessment, and the meaning behind these to both teachers and students. I have read Dan Meyer, Daniel Schneider, Educational Leadership, Matt Townsley, and Rick Wormeli while researching and talking with colleagues about mastery and standards based grading (SBG). I really like a lot of the ideas of SBG including more frequent and smaller assessments that allow one to know a student’s mastery on a standard. I also like the thought of a 1-4 scale and the language that is used to convey what each number means. One example I found that I really like is that the Solon School’s language in their rubric (1).  CaptureHowever, I am still struggling to wrap my head around SBG and mastery in the math classroom. I still have lingering questions that honestly keep me up at night. I want to do what is right for students and I want to push them to understand what they know and what they don’t. Even further, I want them to take charge of their learning and with my feedback, help them to know how to gain mastery on a concept.

Here is what I want to keep in my classroom regardless of grading…

Student communication and group work: I think when students talk out mathematical problems together, they cognitively grow a lot. A student’s ability to explain a topic further enriches their own understanding, and when they hear an explanation from another student, they relate to the language they’re using. So, regardless of how I grade and what I grade, I still want students to work together to solve problems.

Reasoning: I also want to be sure I am still allowing room for reasoning and processing skills beyond algebraic skills. I want to continue to provide opportunities for students to explain and justify their understanding of concepts through written and spoken dialogue. Whether this fits into a numerical grade or not, students still need to be pushed to think deeply and justify their reasoning.

Here are my questions that linger…

How do I keep students motivated to practice mathematical concepts they are struggling with? How do I motivate beyond grades in practice settings? Ultimately, how do you stop students from asking, “is this for a grade?” A lot of SBG research shows that you should not grade homework because you should not penalize a student when they are practicing their mastery. I agree with that to an extent. As a basketball coach’s wife, I know that practice is important, but that my husband should not grade his students in their practice sessions. It all comes down to the game. The game is where they will be graded based on if their shots fell, if they played zone defense instead of man to man or vice versa, if they passed the ball smart, if they turned the ball over, if they made their free throws, etc. If he included practice in their final grade, the score at the end of the game would be quite skewed. Similarly, homework practice should not be a penalty or a reward to a student’s average…it should be a check for understanding and an identifier of strengths and weaknesses on the road to understanding. Overall, I don’t want to penalize my students for practice they get wrong. However, most students are much more motivated by sports than math practice. So, how do I keep my students motivated if I don’t grade practice? Naturally, you would think that they should make the connection that when you practice, you get better. So, when you do more math practice you should do better on your quiz/test…but students don’t always think in advance and the most common thing I hear in the classroom is, “is this for a grade?” I think I need to hold them accountable to doing practice and/or homework by counting it for a portion of their grade, but it should not inflate or penalize their average. Additionally, I think the word “homework” needs to change. It has such a negative and dreadful connotation, but I am still thinking about what it should be called.

How do I create a balance between group practice and independent practice? How do I convince students that individual work time is just as, if not sometimes more, beneficial than group work? And finally, how do I convince students that individual assessments are meant to be informative not punitive, especially when we take points off for wrong answers rather than give points for correct attempts? Right now I give a lot of time for group practice. Again, I love the learning that happens when students talk through math. But I am realizing as I read more about SBG, I need to create more opportunities to show what they know individually. In that, I need to create time to give my feedback to them on an individual level beyond tests. I think by adding in more frequent assessments, this will do that and give students the opportunity to analyze what they know. These could just look like short quizzes done on note cards at the beginning of class. They could be graded on a 1-4 scale with more feedback than a regular assignment as it leads up to a cumulative summative assessment. The question then becomes, do I have the time myself to dedicate rich feedback more often to every individual student? How do I create that time, especially as a math teacher, when so many of my days are dedicated to teaching new material rather than refining knowledge students already know? Ultimately, can someone find me some more hours in the day? 🙂

Feel free to respond to any or all of my questions, share this with every educator you know, and continue the conversation of grading and assessment!