Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Differentiation & Standards Based Grading

I have always believed in differentiation.  This started in my math class as giving choice to students about a lot of things.  When I assigned homework, I would offer two choices for them to do, an A-level homework and a B-level homework.  I also allowed many options to show learning when we would do projects.  Although students liked the options, this led to many questions that involved fair grading and fair assessment.

On a trip to MCTM (a Minnesota math teachers' conference) one spring in Duluth I came across 2 ideas that changed my teaching forever, differentiated assessments and standards-based grading.

I currently use assessments that are based on learning targets.  Each assessment of a learning target is split into an "A-level section" and a "B-level section."  Each section has only a few problems in it that cover the major ideas of the learning target.  I am currently working on refining/creating a 4-3-2 rubric for each learning target.  I have always had an informal one in my head as I created the assessments, but I am finally getting around to writing it down this year.

With ideas stolen from teachers at MCTM, Dan Meyer, and countless others I have adopted and adapted this system and still love it.  The kids love the choice on an assessment, they can do both sections or just 1 section.  I always tell them if they do both I will correct the A-level first, then if they get that wrong I will correct the B-level.  Scores are assigned on a 4, 3, 2 or 1 basis.

4 - Everything right on the A-level
3 - Everything right on the B-level or very minor errors on the A-level
2 - Minor misunderstandings of the learning target
1 - major misunderstandings of the learning target

Using ideas of standards-based grading, these concept scores make up the majority of the students' grade.  I have stolen a lot of ideas from Thomas Guskey, Ken O'Connor and countless others.  Standards-based grading was the theme of my master's action research project, so that helped quite a bit in developing the system.

Buried in the idea of SBG is that we do a lot of practice in the class.  Practice is non-graded work.  Over the past couple years, students have stop asking if this is graded, and learned that we do things for practice.  A book called "Fires in the Mind" really helped me solidify my thoughts about the role of homework and practice in the math class room.  Homework must be a for a purpose, and hopefully the students realize the homework is not busy work, but meant to help them improve on their skills.  (good luck with this in junior high...)

Homework is still differentiated in my classroom, in various ways.  There are still "A-level" and "B-level" homework assignments each week.  I only give 1 assignment per week, as students are really busy now days and their time is valuable.  This also helps drive home the fact that I will only ask them to do homework that is relevant and improve their skills.

To further help differentiate homework we use various websites to practice.  IXL, Buzzmath, BrainGenie and MangaHigh are some of the sites we have used/will use this year as homework.  The sites help meet students at their level.  This is pretty basic practice, which some students really need to help solidify their understanding of various math concepts.  We save the higher levels of Bloom's stuff for class time.

For grading their assessments, students take assessments on each concept at least 2 times.  They are free to schedule re-takes as many times as they want after that.  When entering their grade for each learning target I consider their last 3 assessments.  I take the best 2 scores of their last 3 tries.  Not sure this is perfect, but I feel it is pretty fair for the student.

I push each student to "master" each learning target.  I consider mastery two scores of 3 or higher.  There are two levels of mastery: "B-level" mastery which is two scores of 3 or a score of 3 & 4 and "A-level" mastery which is two scores of 4.  Either of these accomplishments will get a student on the "Wall of Mastery."  We have a wall in the room dedicated to hosting the names of the students who have mastered the various learning targets.  The students seem to really enjoy and want to get their name on that wall.  I have been taking pictures of the wall throughout the year and hopefully can put together a stop motion animation of the wall growing throughout the year.

This has gotten really long....I did write a 100 page paper on this very topic, so I tend to get going and not be able to stop.   So if you are still with me, thanks for reading all this.  These things do require a lot of work, writing all the quizzes, tracking progress of students, and trying to provide effective feedback on various practice.  It is all very time consuming.   Some of my colleagues think I am nuts...

Alice Kingsley: This is impossible. 
The Mad Hatter: Only if you believe it is.


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