Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I am finding I rarely have time to blog while school is in session. So during the semester break, I am attempting to capture some of my thoughts from the past semester... the good, bad and ugly about the changes I am making. This post is part of that series of reflections.
My colleague across the hall, Blair Miller, and I have adopted a standards based grading system for our classes. We implemented it this past semester and debriefed over the semester break. Here's what we found out.

There is lots of marking
LOTS of marking. Because I want to give personalized feedback to each student in the form of written comments, the load of marking can be overwhelming. For the first time in years, I was regularly taking quizzes home to be marked. And too often students had to wait to get the feedback they need.

So, we have devised a quiz schedule. Every Tuesday and Friday is quiz day. Each quiz is about 3 questions long and addresses the objectives we covered. This will allow us to have about 5-6 quizzes per unit hitting each learning objective at least 2-3 times. The short quizzes will be easier and quicker to mark making life easier for me and feedback quicker and more beneficial to students.

We also experimented with Post Game Analysis. We give a quiz and leave copies of the answer key at the back of the room along with coloured pens. Students finish the quiz, then move to the back to self-mark and comment on their own quiz. This gives immediate feedback through the answer key when the quiz is still fresh in their minds. They still remember what they were thinking and how they approached the problem. Tomorrow, they may not remember. It also simplifies marking for me since they have already identified where they went wrong.

Timely feedback is crucial
The above comments about marking apply here too. But I would also add the need for students to get regular progress reports to inform their learning. I have devised a missing learning objectives list from the CSV data out of ActiveGrade. This report lists objectives not yet mastered to guide students in their remediation.

I am also going to adopt a 4 point scale rather than the binary system I used last semester. The binary system is too inflexible and doesn't give as much information as I would like. I found myself giving 0.5 for learning objectives where students were somewhere between mastery and completely lost. But there is a wide range of in between. The 4 point scale will help students (and me) know exactly where their understanding is for that particular learning objective. A 4 is still mastery and everything else is not so it defaults to a binary system. But, it includes more detailed information.

The system doesn't work if students don't buy in
This was the biggest problem. SBG is more than a grading system. It is a learning system. The learning objectives identify where students are struggling and guides their learning. Students remediate and then retry quizzes until they master the objectives. But, if no one retries, no learning happens. And because of the mastery criteria, grades do not accurately reflect student learning. My colleague across the hall had over half of his class below 50% simply because they refused to retry.

So, we came up with Relearn Friday. Every second Friday will be a type of forced retry day. I will identify 1 or 2 objectives that most of the class is struggling with and give a refresher tutorial. This will include a new approach to the topic and an activity to help students learn. Students who have already mastered those objectives will work on other areas they are struggling with. At the end of class, we will have our regular Friday quiz but it will include the objective being tutored. On the following Tuesday quiz, I will hit them with it again to test retention. Hopefully this system will teach students that retrying is not painful and actually beneficial to help them learn.

I think these changes will make the whole system run more smoothly, ease the burden on me and help students learn more effectively.

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