For some time now, I’ve been a lurker in the standards based grading conversations (SBG & #sbar) that have been occurring on Twitter and in the blogosphere. I was taking it in so when I returned to the classroom from being an Instructional Facilitator, I would hopefully have built some basic knowledge in order to figure out how I could apply these principals in my own practice.
I recently accepted a new position teaching 10th grade U.S. History and 11th grade World History, and I have found that these conversations have been a great way for me to analyze and focus on what really matters to me as I reenter the classroom. This is not to say that I am going to go all gung-ho and become a SBG zealot and turn everything I’ve done upside down. It does mean that I am going to use it to ask myself some questions that I may find hard to answer and continue to study how I can use SBG to benefit my students. I want to take a critical look not only at my grading practices, but how I plan my lessons and my classes as a whole.
With this in mind, I’m using my blog to process some of my ideas and thoughts. I would love to hear from those of you out there who have studied or used SBG, those of you who are history teachers, and those who are willing to ask questions and have conversation in order to help us all become better educators.
My Niggling Question
Most of what I have seen regarding SBG has been in the context of math classes (along with some science and a dash of world language). While I am not a math teacher, I have done quite a bit of math tutoring using the concept of mastery learning. I feel this has helped me to better understand the basic concepts of SBG. While I have been looking for examples of SBG used in non-math courses, I haven’t found very much yet and none that I am aware of in social studies or history. (Please let me know if you find any!) I have been thinking about this a lot and I figured out one of the things that has been bothering me about using SBG in history.
When I think of standards, the first thing that comes to mind are my state standards. Here is a comparison of 11th grade math and social studies benchmarks in my state.
Math Standard – Students identify and apply scale, rations, and proportions in solving measurement problems.
Social Studies Standard – Students explain how various cultural influences impact society.
One seems more concrete, while the other can be subjective. Yes, I understand that there is not always one way to get the answer in math. However, using SBG in math seems a bit more straight forward to me than in social studies (please feel free to dispute this).
Take the skill of primary document analysis in history. We’ll use a very famous document as an example:
Amendment II of the U.S Constitution – A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
It’s pretty obvious what this means, right? Not so fast. The interpretation of these lines have been debated in judiciary circles for some time and there is a reason court cases keep popping up concerning gun control laws. The interpretation is not agreed upon by everyone. My concern is not whether students come up with the “right” answer or interpretation, it’s the analytical process they use to decide and support their answer. (Hmmm…this does sound a bit like math, doesn’t it?)
My state standards and benchmarks in social studies tend to be fairly broad. I don’t believe they lend themselves well to specific SBG entries in a grade book. I am left to decide on my own what I feel would be the best “standards” to grade. So I guess my niggling question is what are the important “standards” and how do I equitably and accurately assess them? There seems to be a lot of debate in my content area (at least in my state & district) on this question, so as strange as I feel asking it, I think it’s an important question.
I guess that’s what I really need to work on. I need to clearly delineate the knowledge and skills I want students to have when they leave my class. Hey, I can tell this whole SBG thing is worthwhile already…
Questions I have:
- How has SBG changed your students’ learning?
- What is the process you have gone through/are going through in order to implement SBG into your classes? What advice do you have? Suggested resources?
- Is anyone out there using SBG in Social Studies or another humanities style class? If so, what are the pros and cons? How are you determining your standards? If you’ve chosen not to use SBG, why?
Just some of the SBG Blogs I’ve been reading (I’d love other suggestions):
- MeTA Musings by Matt Townsley
- Think Thank Thunk by Shawn Cornally
- Always Formative by Jason Buell
- dy/dan by Dan Meyer
- Assessment for Instruction by Eric Townsley