preparing for #sbar: did i miss anything?

I've done a lot this summer to prepare for my first year implementing standards based grading in my ninth grade physics classroom.  I'm sure things will change here and there, as I can't prepare for everything, but I feel pretty good about what I've done so far!

gradebook.  I thought the bulk of my summer would be spent trying to design my own gradebook.  Then I found ActiveGrade.  The program itself and the accompanying blog led me down a lot of paths, some really frustrating and some hugely productive.  I had already thought about dividing my standards into 3 levels after reading Marzano, but ActiveGrades grading policy builder really forced me to think about how those would fit into the grading constraints used by the rest of my school (quarter grades, semester grades, and final grades).

The other great thing about testing out ActiveGrade this summer was the ability to make up some fake students and take a lot of time figuring out how ActiveGrade looks and feels to the students, as well as entering a range of different assessments to figure out if my grading policy worked the way I hoped it would.

summative assessments:  this was another item I thought would take up a lot more time.  I wasn't sure if I could use my old question banks or design new questions of varying types for each objective.  I spent a lot of time poking around examview and found that my question banks are tagged with words from Bloom's taxonomy:  knowledge, comprehension, application, and analysis.  This way I can choose questions by cognitive skills or by content objective.  The only drawback to using examview is the limitation to two choices for question grouping:  either sort by question type (in which case each question type appears with a set of instructions) or mixed question types (in which case sets of instructions will not appear).  I would really like to mix question types, but separate them by objectives, with headings to let students know which level of standard they are working on.  The workaround I've found for this is to make three short test files in examview, one for each standard level I'll be using.

formative assessments and feedback:  giving more feedback doesn't mean talking more, it means stepping down from the podium and listening to students more often.  To that end, I went through all of my previous lecture presentations and eliminated anything that was just transmitting information and left in everything that was questioning or thought provoking.  The only information I left was when I thought it was absolutely necessary to set up a specific hook or question.  I'd like to get much much better at this, and use them in small groups with my students instead of full class discussions.  I want to do much more of the instructional conversation model I learned when I first started teaching.  Small groups and better conversation starters seem like a good way to do this.

I've also brought back another idea I used in my second year of teaching:  task trackers.  While I'm having this instructional conversation with a small group, each student has a menu of activities they can work on.  The newest addition to these task trackers are a way to match suggested activities to specific standards and objectives.  These activity menus will be attached to the inside of a folder with fasteners, and the students can insert their work at the end of class.  I can review it and let them know how they're doing with appropriate written feedback.  The folder will stay in the classroom, and at the end of a topic I plan on running the papers through the scanner so we can have an electronic record of the work without busting the folder.

There's another dimension to the folder: increasing small, positive interactions with my students.  In the first grade class I volunteer teach, my students make nametags on large index cards which they decorate with their favorite colors and stickers.  When they arrive at class they come to me to get their nametag, and I love how I immediately get a chance to smile and welcome them by name.  I'm hoping the folders can increase the potential for smiles and personal welcomes in my ninth grade class as well, even if we're just standing around the same file box getting out  the folders.

Eventually, I'm hoping to refine my activity menus using information from Differentiation by R. Wormeli, and even use the folders to route students through different homogeneous and heterogeneous work groups as in the CREDE model.

I know I can't prepare for everything, but I'm feeling pretty good about my readiness for starting standards based grading this year!  what else should I be thinking about in the few weeks I have before the students arrive?


  1. Have you thought how you're going to communicate the new system to kids and parents? That's usually a big stumbling block for a lot of people.

  2. oooh, good point. I borrowed heavily from Frank Noschese and put together a letter to parents and students based on his letter (http://goo.gl/JRV7e). I also made a screencast with jing that shows how to view progress on ActiveGrade. It's hard to anticipate when I'm still wondering what kind of questions the parents and students will have. I have a feeling I need to be clear and consistent throughout the first quarter and up to conferences.

  3. Jason's point is an excellent one, although I'll add on the additional difficulty of trying to communicate a new grading system to kids and parents *without* giving them the impression that your class is all about a grading system. I definitely screwed that up more times than I ever got it right.

  4. @Raymond I went to your blog and found your SBG post (http://goo.gl/AOcyA). Thanks for your reflections!

  5. I'd add that the plan for communicating with students should be more than thinking about the conversation during the first day or week of school. Think about how you'll frame the first assessment. What will the conversation look like when you hand back that first assessment? the second assessment?

    Looking forward to reading about your progress!

  6. thanks Matt. I've had students who will estimate their percentage score before they even hand in a test, so I;m sure this will be an adjustment. I've made a sample test in my new format that we'll go over as a class before the first assessment, and I hope that helps a bit.