Getting Students to “Get” SBG

I’m starting my 3rd year of Standards-Based Grading (SBG), and in short, I freaking love it. SBG has allowed me to increase the rigor of my assessments and increase student accountability at the same time. My parent-teacher conferences have laser-like focus, my feedback is more timely and effective, and my students demonstrate more of a growth mentality.

For the purposes of transparency to students/parents and ease of calculation, I use a 10-point scale, but I don’t write any numbers on the student’s paper the first time around, just qualitative feedback, and if on the second time, their score is lower than a 6, I just write an “R” (the actual numbers are viewable through our online grade report). It’s great, but students aren’t used to it, and some of their strategies that have made them “successful” in other classes no longer work in mine.

So to get them on board and change their mindsets, on our REAL first day of school (not freshman first day), while other teachers hammer away at syllabus, rules, expectations, consequences, etc., I have my kids break into groups of three and talk their way through four grading scenarios. I preface this by explicitly telling them not to give the answer they think I want, but to really think about what grades would be fair. After their small-group discussions, I bring them together as a class and we compare notes. It’s a great opportunity for me to practice their names (I walk around and introduce myself to everyone when they are in groups, then call on them flawlessly by name during the discussion — thanks, seating chart!), to introduce the norms for discussion without getting them lost in the syllabus OVERLOAD, and for kids to realize that talking in math class doesn’t have to be scary. And of course, I make sure to slot Futurama characters in as the protagonists.

Bender Bending Rodriguez: Ruining school-appropriate images since 1999

There is a lot of disagreement usually, as well as the opportunity to dig deep into some interesting questions — “Does it matter that Fry didn’t learn the material in the same time-frame as Amy?”; “Who would you rather have as your financial advisor, Hermes or Zoidberg?”, “Why might Scruffy’s 92% be artificially high? Why might the 70% be artificially low?”, “For what classes might Hubert’s strategy be more effective than Leela’s?”

So if you’re looking for a way to introduce SBG, here’s a first-day discussion I have found to be effective. I hand the .doc out to students and then summarize the class results on the board using the notebook file (the last page is to show how each situation would actually be graded under my system). Feel free to take and modify for your own purposes.

Grading Scenarios Word DOC:
Grading Scenarios Notebook File:


Freshmen First Day

Our school does a modified first day schedule, for freshman only. No sophomores, no juniors, no seniors — just the frosh. It’s an awesome way to create a supportive environment and ease some of those first-day jitters as our young men and women transition from middle school and high school. Here’s the basic idea:

First thing is an assembly in the gym, and because the size of the school permits it (500-600 students total), we do a whole staff receiving line. Every freshman walks down a snaking line of teachers, introducing themselves, shaking hands, exchanging pleasantries, and at the end, running for the hand sanitizer. We all wear nametags and do our best to be cheerful and friendly without looking like total losers.

Welcome to high school… DUUUUUH!

Then the assembly is short speeches from the principal, VP, activities director, academic dean, resource officer, student council president, etc…. It drags on a bit, but people keep it short and cycle through pretty fast. We teach the freshmen their class cheer (necessary for the all-school assembly the next day), and this year, the faculty entertained them with what I’m told was a heart-breakingly beautiful rendition of the school fight song.

Following the assembly, students are sent off with a staff member (4-5 students per teacher usually) for an hour long “advising” period. We make sure their lockers open, take them on a tour around the school and point out all their classrooms, then break out the student handbooks and give them the highlight reel of “need-to-know” info. Any extra time we fill up with getting-to-know-you stuff, questions about activities, etc.

Then it’s off to an abbreviated class schedule, with 25-minute periods. This is in some ways the weakest part of the schedule, because it’s pointless to start with the usual first day stuff, as you’ll just have to repeat it the next day for the upperclassmen, but everyone else is doing the “get to know each other” routine, and after about 2nd period, the kids are sick of it. I usually play games (Lone Wolf is ideal if you have enough students), show magic tricks (either math, cards, or object manipulation), do puzzles, or show the students cool SmartBoard tricks (if it’s a small enough group that everyone can get involved).

After the last period, there’s a quick 10-minute debrief with the same “advisor” as before, then a return to the gym for the a closing 20-minute assembly, which usually involves singing and some sort of ridiculous Double-Dare style competition that the Student Council dreams up.

Why don’t more schools do this?
Freshman-only first day is a great way to begin the school year. Most first-day issues are freshman issues, so we get those taken care of immediately and on the actual first day, it’s only the upperclassmen who can’t get into lockers, find classrooms, etc. Walking through the school without the usual crush of bodies helps orient our newest students so that they feel comfortable finding their way around once the hallways look like this:

Hi upperclassmen!

It also helps build student-faculty connections and gives the usual anti-bullying initiatives an added boost, because the most vulnerable students are all there together when we go over who to contact, what bullying is, etc.

Anyway, this is one of the things I feel my school really does right, and from talking with other teachers, I do not think it is common practice elsewhere. BUT IT SHOULD BE.