cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Friday, November 16, 2012

Standards-Based Grading, or How Teaching For Mastery is Different

Teaching for mastery is different.

Teaching for mastery especially means giving up a lot of old and cherished assumptions about assessment. Anybody who has adopted SBG in any way can attest to this. But I am continually amazed at how unwilling many of us can be to letting go of old, ineffective methods, beliefs, and assumptions about assessment.

At its essence, valuing mastery means not only tracking relative mastery but also accepting mastery as the measure of student success in our classrooms. And that means letting go of the value we have always placed on the routinized behavior of the the dutiful student.

This is is probably the hardest shift of all.

As I shifted over to SBG, I noticed how much of our system of math teaching is organized around students being merely dutiful: sitting still, listening quietly, practicing silently, accepting information without challenge. It's a model of student passivity that places everybody into the known and accepted hierarchy. The "good" students land at the top. The "middle" students land in the middle. And the "weak" students land at the bottom.

But as we all know from having inherited, taught, and assessed these students, this schema does not measure mastery, skill, or comprehension. Dutiful students often lack conceptual understanding or procedural skills. They often have distorted memories of algorithms they heard about but never owned.

Changing over to an SBG system of teaching and assessment has meant that I have to create conditions under which any student — even ones with problem behavior or lack of "dutiful-ness" — can achieve mastery.

To me, this idea exposes the biggest flaw in the existing system. If a teacher or administrator decides from the outset that a given student is a "B-" student, then what reason does that student have to make the effort necessary for improvement?

This system also fails to allow for individual (or group) movement up the fixed staircase of the classroom hierarchy, except for improvements in "dutiful-ness." And it seems to me that if we want to improve access and equity to mathematics for all students, this is the single biggest obstacle we face.

It also seems to me that we need to consider the possibility that any hierarchical model might be transformed from a staircase to an escalator, in which all students can be expected to reach the target floor or level of skills and understanding. And that means we will have to allow for the possibility that all students in a class demonstrate the mastery that is asked in a way that permits them to receive a higher score than the "B-" or "B+" that they have always been pigeonholed into.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Day in the Life: cheesemonkeysf edition

5:59 am - Dog begins licking my toes and face insistently.

6:00 am - Shot out of a cannon. Or the alarm went off. Can't remember which.

6:01 am - Stand up to avoid falling back asleep.

6:02 am - Feed dog breakfast.

6:03 -6:13 - Shower while planning first two class periods.

6:14 am - Dog licks toes again.

6:15 am - Make coffee. Start drinking coffee. Assemble lunch. Check Twitter. Eat breakfast. Fend off further toe-licking. Read news.

6:40 am - Get dressed. 

6:45 am - Walk dog. 

7:00 am - Leave for school. Plan third and fourth class periods while driving. 
                Car dancing playlist: The Sign, Tweet Me Maybe, Theme to Sesame 
                Street, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Shuffle everything else.

7:30 am - Arrive at school. Remember great lesson idea to steal from @samjshah. 
                Set an iPhone alarm reminder to steal great idea from @samjshah later.

8:00 am - Students begin pounding on my classroom door. They know I am hiding inside, trying to get some work done. They do not care. They want to change the origami flower indicator on my technology podium from gold to blue. This is our indicator of which color day (blue or gold) it is. For some strange reason, being the first student into the classroom and changing the flower has become a coveted job of honor. 

8:10 am - Give up and let students in. Student W wins the honor of changing the flower. Student X settles for writing the day's date and "BLUE" on the whiteboard. Turn on the school's morning newscast and figure out whether PowerSchool will cooperate in taking attendance today.

8:15 am - Morning newscast. Take attendance. 8th graders provide witty commentary during newscast, much like Mystery Science Theater 3000. Remind someone to close the door so we don't infect the 6th graders with our attitude. I think the 6th graders fear me. Make a note to ask someone why.

8:20 am - PowerSchool attendance module works - hallelujah. Submit attendance. Answer random unrelated questions.

8:30 am - First class period begins. This is English. We are doing NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. Thank God. Students take out netbooks and proceed to write for the next 45+ minutes uninterrupted. I do some of my own NaNoWriMo writing, read and make comments on their novels via Google Docs/Google Drive, then grade papers and record papers like a champ. This is the last week of the term.

9:35 am - Recess. I eat yogurt at my desk in the dark-ish classroom while simultaneously planning a third-period activity and grading papers for third period. Make a note to nominate self for Cirque du Soleil.

9:50 am - Second period class begins. Another English section, more NaNoWriMo. More great reads and comments, more papers graded and recorded.

11:00 am - Passing period before third period classes. Dash out as students enter the room, reminding them to "Please don't burn the house down." :)  They are good kids. When I get back, they are noisily but busily comparing Interactive Notebooks (INBs) for today's double INB check.

11:06 am - Algebra 1. Start INB checks while students complete reassessments and solo assignments. All INBs are checked successfully. The lowest score on any INB in this round is 95%. Several 7th graders ask, "Aren't you proud of me?" I assure them I am very proud of them. Make a mental note to buy @mgolding at least one beer at Twitter Math Camp 2013.

12:00 pm - Lunch. Conversation with other grown-ups. Fabulous cookies in the faculty lounge. A few very good laughs. I would really like a four-hour nap, but I think I can make it through the rest of the afternoon.

12:35 pm - Algebra 1. Same as the previous routine but with more reassessments and solo assignments. Many INBs are checked. Most are successful. Some students need to find or fill in missing assignments/pages. We have a brief discussion about whether or not to start a new INB with the new term. We vote and decide to start a new INB on Monday even though the new term starts on Friday.

1:20 pm - Directed Studies period. There is some silliness, but everybody has assignments to finish before grades are due. I have papers to grade and record before grades are due. Somebody asks a question about a musical group I do not know. Somebody else answers this question. Silence resumes. At the end of class, several students tell me they plan to sign up for my directed studies class again next term. I find this puzzling.

2:05-ish - Prep period. I open e-mail and discover 40 new messages, of which about half are from parents or colleagues that need to be answered before I leave. Click and type, click and type. As we used to say when I worked in the software business, first we put the bugs IN, they we take the bugs OUT. I feel that way with e-mail. Delete a bunch of silly Reply All messages. Grade papers and record them, grade and record.

3:10 pm - The end of school bell rings. I stay at my desk and finish grading and recording as many papers as I can. More e-mails. A few phone calls. Go to the office and sign my overdue attendance summary from last week. Eat a banana.

4:00 pm - Leave campus. Drive home while listening to news and music. No set play list for the drive home. 

4:30 pm - Find street parking. Walk the dog. 

5:00 pm - Move boxes in the garage to create a path for something that's supposed to happen later this week (can't remember what; must consult notes).

5:15 pm - Take out trash. Make dinner out of things that are lying around in our kitchen (crusty baked mac and cheese). Put mac and cheese into the oven to bake. Answer more e-mails. Read Twitter and math teacher blogs. Consult notes from this morning about what to steal from @samjshah . Empty dishwasher and reload with dirty dishes. 

6:15 pm - Eat dinner while watching news. Catch up with beloved partner during muted commercial breaks.

6:30 pm - Beloved partner goes off to get ready to do his radio show. Dog assists me in putting dishes into dishwasher. When I sit back down at computer, dog flops behind my chair and passes out. Some snoring ensues.

7:30 pm - Remember the Day in the Life teacher challenge. Decide to write up this summary even though it is boring as all, well, whatever. 

8:00 pm - Press the "Publish" button. Sneak off to watch The Daily Show before heading to bed.