Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars
A couple of weeks ago, our first trimester ended. It was the first time I had implemented a Standards-Based system in one of my classes, my Sports & Entertainment Marketing class. After taking some time to analyze how it went, I decided it’s time to put those thoughts in print for future reference.
Because I love Star Wars, and Star Wars seems to be all the rage right now, I’m going to use a Star Wars theme for my reflection.
LIKE THE FORCE, STANDARDS-BASED LEARNING AND GRADING IS HARD.
Just as young Luke Skywalker when learning the force, I discovered early on that trying to implement this system is very difficult to do well. I didn’t get the results I had hoped for, and I attribute that to the difficulty of taking this on. It certainly is much easier to be teacher-focused, developing lessons from a content perspective and not a student learning perspective: lecture, do some activities (some of which probably don’t really contribute to learning), review, take a quiz, take a test. Such a method is much easier to implement, but likely does not result in actual learning for many students, or in evidence of the SPECIFIC SKILLS OR CONCEPTS that students are supposed to now know.
SO WHAT IS SO HARD? MOSTLY, I AM NOT AS GOOD AS YODA.
Finding ways for students to TRULY demonstrate a FULLY DEVELOPED UNDERSTANDING of the standards is very difficult. Yoda knew all the right techniques and strategies (physical and mental) to help Luke learn the force. I have discovered that I am not nearly on Yoda’s level with my implementation of Standards-Based Grading and Learning. Along the way, I found that there just wasn’t enough time for students to really show me a well-developed understanding of the course concepts, and that was even after eliminating a significant amount of content from previous years in hopes of avoiding that very problem. The course format was basically like this:
- Start with a short lecture on the topic to give them a base understanding of the concept
- Let them work through applications of the concept, devising solutions to questions or scenarios. They would do this in teams.
- Review the solutions as a class, leading to discussions about the solutions.
- Students put their knowledge to the test in a more comprehensive scenario, done individually.
Here’s where it went wrong:
- Even after the short lecture, which included many examples of the concept put into practice, students struggled mightily to come up with reasonable solutions to the questions and scenarios presented. Often their answers seemed to demonstrate no more knowledge of the concept than if they just walked in out of the hallway and tried to devise a solution. This was very frustrating. At least Luke sort of “got” the techniques Yoda was teaching him pretty much right away.
- The class discussions of the different solutions presented quickly led to boredom and therefore lack of attention and participation. I own this completely. I really need to get better at having such discussions which can be so valuable for the students. Hearing the ideas of their classmates truly can help students develop their own thought process on the concept.
- The products that were presented by the students for their individual assignments, the ones that would be demonstrations of their proficiency with the concepts, just as often showed very little understanding of the concepts. I was frequently disappointed with the quality of the work I received. Because I stuck to the very important feature of Standards-Based Learning and Grading, I provided very detailed feedback to the students and allowed them to revise their answers. But because their answers were so frequently way off the mark, it seemed more like the students just took a shot in the dark on their first attempt and then waited for my feedback to develop a more correct solution.
YODA FULLY TRAINED LUKE IN TIME FOR HIM TO DESTROY THE DEATH STAR. IN MY TIME WITH THE STUDENTS, THEY ONLY REALLY KNEW ENOUGH TO DISTRACT DARTH VADER AND BUY SOME MORE TIME.
Once again, I was not on Yoda’s level of teaching prowess. Even though I recognized early on that the students were really struggling to show me even a basic understanding of the course concepts, I had to keep moving or they would not have been exposed to nearly enough of the important concepts of Sports & Entertainment Marketing. It would be like if Luke only learned how to fight with his lightsaber but did not master the art of controlling his mind and those of others. Sure he’d be able to hang with Vader in a lightsaber battle, but he never would have been able to use the force to shoot the lasers just at the right time to blow up the death star.
So what would happen if Luke had only a mediocre understanding of using his lightsaber and mind control? He probably would do poorly at both, and the Rebel Alliance would have been defeated. So what am I to do? I know I need to do better, but I am struggling to figure out how.
A NEW HOPE
Image Credit: http://lucasfilm.com/star-wars-episode-4-a-new-hope
In case it’s not obvious, I’m hard on myself. I demand excellence from myself so that my students can be excellent. But I can also recognize the positives in my transition. The top 3 positive things I experienced in this first iteration of Standards-Based Grading and Learning are:
- THINKING! If nothing else, my students definitely had to THINK. I forced them to think at all times. I gave no multiple-choice or similar assessments. Literally every task I gave them required them to think. And they often didn’t like it, but they were better for it. Many of them eventually admitted that, while thinking was hard, it was still better than taking multiple-choice tests all the time.
- PERSISTENCE. My Standards-Based Grading strategy was to give either a 0, 1, or 2 rating on each individual concept. A 0 meant the student didn’t get it or didn’t try. A 1 meant the student showed an acceptable level of understanding. A 2 meant the student showed a deeper level of understanding (with clear guidelines about what that meant). I gave A LOT of 0’s on the first submissions from students. But I was very impressed with how many students were not satisfied and revised and resubmitted until they at least earned a 1 rating.
Image Credit: https://www.tumblr.com/search/r:%20there%20is%20no%20try
- EVIDENCE. Because I now evaluated on each individual skill, it was very evident which skills needed more attention and which did not. This was extremely helpful. I now could tell a student, parent, administrator, or any other stakeholder EXACTLY what skills any student was lacking. Some parents with whom I discussed this appreciated that as well.
FINDING MY PERSONAL OBI-WAN AND YODA
Image Credit: http://www.moviefone.com/2015/12/21/obi-wan-yoda-the-force-awakens/
I won’t be attempting to implement a full Standards-Based system again this year. It will just be too stressful. I will continue to use some Standards-Based principles, however (lots of descriptive feedback, unlimited resubmissions, more task-based grading). When the summer hits, I will be using Twitter to find my own personal Yodas and Obi-Wans that can help me get better. Luke continued to seek guidance from his mentors. I will as well.