Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Standards Based Learning

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.
I now have one semester of standards based grading under my belt. There were ups and downs, successes and failures. I will write more about the details and changes I am making in another post. But, for now, I want to explore my overall impressions and thoughts of standards based grading as a learning system.

It hit me late in the semester that SBG is really not a grading system. As I calculated final grades based on learning objectives mastered, I found that the grades calculated were approximately what I would have expected for my students. I realized that means SBG is not a better tool for calculating grades. Any system could calculate an accurate grade just as well.

The real power in SBG comes from the other aspects of the system. This is why I don't believe SBG should be called a grading system. It is a learning system. Call it SBL. After all, we are really trying to get away from grades as a motivation for students or as an accurate report of their learning. So, let's focus on the learning.

SBL reveals exactly where a student is struggling. It highlights specific learning objectives that have not been mastered and invites that student to learn. Every SBL system I have encountered online includes a remediation process. Students can retry quizzes, assignments, tests in order to show mastery of the learning objectives. SBL focuses a student's attention on deficiencies in understanding so they can correct the problems.

SBL teaches students how to learn. The remediation process teaches study skills, encourages self-motivation and effort, and forces students to demonstrate mastery. I love the fact that I don't give partial credit anymore for stuff they haven't learned. They must master the objectives to get credit and SBL teaches them how to accomplish this goal. It stresses learning above grades.

SBL also teaches me about my own practice. I can easily see where most students are struggling and can adapt my teaching to address it. Maybe the reason most students can't use the Pythagorean Theorem is actually my fault. It forces me to be reflective in my practice and consider alternative approaches that may benefit more of my students.

Thinking of SBL as a learning system rather than a grading system changes my perspective and opens a wide range of new possibilities for my classroom. It is the beginning of the answer to a simple question. What can I do to create the best learning environment for my students?

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