SBG Express: I've got a ticket to ride

I mentioned it in my last post, and I'm officially announcing it here. My ticket is punched and I'm on board the SBG Express1 for the 2010-2011 school year!

I've spent the last few weeks reading and rereading several teachers' explanations and reflections on standards-based grading (including, but not limited to Shawn Cornally, Jason Buell, Frank Noschese, Matt Townsley, and several others who will be mad at me for not giving them a shout out). The more I read, the more I knew that standards-based grading was something that in some sort of sideways, subconscious way I've been working towards implementing the last several years even though I didn't even know what "SBG" stood for until May of this year.

Here's my basic understanding of SBG to date:

  • Assessment and grades should accurately reflect student learning (not just student homework-turning-in abilities)
  • Instead of using cumulative-points-earned as the basis for student grades, use progress towards a set of "standards (or "learning goals", or "knowledge criteria," or "whatever you'd like to call them")."
    • These standards describe specific areas of knowledge or expertise that students should gain. For example, "I can explain the law of gravity and understand what factors affect the strength of gravitational force."
  • Grades in your gradebook should help students realize where their understanding is great and where it's lacking.
    • Knowing they flunked "Quiz: Chapter 7" isn't helpful. Knowing they got 6 out of 10 on "I can explain why stars transition from one stage to another as they progress through their life cycle" gives the student valuable information that allows them to focus their remediation.
  • A grade on a standard is not set in stone (until exam time). Students can re-assess on any standard at any point in the school year. Grades can go down if the student shows a lack of understanding later in the course.
    • This should allow a students' grade to more accurately reflect their actual learning rather than be punished for not learning something before a big test when they knew it by the end of the course. Likewise, the student who crams successfully for the big test then forgets it all should have a grade that better reflects actual understanding.

I know! Sweet, right?

Fortunately, I've been blessed with a personality that's totally fine jumping into a project without having worked out all the details ahead of time. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to explain this whole SBG thing to quite a few students, parents, teachers, et cetera, in just a few days.

Tomorrow I'll share what I've got so far in the "details" folder.

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  1. copyright, 2010, Shawn Cornally (back)

Ready for day 1

Despite the problems I've been having lately with my new position, I feel (mostly) ready to go for day one. As part of my continuing crusade against my previously poorly designed presentations and handouts, I decided to peruse what my blogosphere (the one in my aggregator) had to say about the matter. I found plenty of great stuff, which is nearly inevitable given the quality of educators out there sharing. Here's my plan:

Getting to know you

I've always felt teachers often spend too much time explaining who they are, or what the course is, or what the rules are right away on the first day. I knew my first day plans would focus first on who my students are, then work my way into expectations and procedures.

I vaguely recalled an old post on dy/dan where a beginning of the year "get to know you" activity was shared that struck me as not being stupid.¹  It took me awhile to re-find it (luckily Google Reader had a pretty good search), but upon finding it I knew I had something. I had to track back to his original post from 8 months earlier in which he posted the original blank document.

Here's my version of the document:

Silly Bus

I really dread going over the syllabus every year. It's boring. It's so not a good indicator of what the course is about. But, we're required to have them, so lucky for me, in the same post where Dan introduced the above activity, he shared his more interesting syllabus. It required student participation, it looked good, and as Dan mentions, is different from the 47² other syllabi they've received that same day. At minimum, I figure a different syllabus will earn a couple cool points with students on the first day of school.

Here's my effort (blank):

And then...

I believe my fellow teachers generally go right into lab safety³, so I figure I'd better follow their lead at this point, since I'm still the relatively ignorant rookie. Instead of just reading each of the rules and making students sign their safety contracts, I figure I'll split them into pairs/threes and have each group design and create a safety poster explaining a rule of the lab. Then each group can come up, explain their poster and the importance of their rule, and we're not all bored to death.

Good reading

A few (other) good reads regarding the first day(s) of school I've found:

  • FirstDay Wiki
    • created by the aforementioned Dan Meyer, it has several good ideas for opening day, and you can add your own if you'd like.
  • An Open Letter to Teachers
    • from Bud the Teacher, a motivational post on getting ready for the new year. Read it.
  • What's matter?
    • Doyle does such a great job of verbalizing (textualizing perhaps) science as a process. Science as not a set of memorize-able facts. This post on something he's done the first day of school regarding how matter isn't all we typically think it is makes me want to use his idea, but I'm not sure I could carry it out in the expert way he's described.
  • Do it the right way, not the Wong way
    • Tom in his typically cynical tone nails problems with the "classic" book The First Days of School by Harry Wong. This post in itself probably contains more valuable information for new teachers than the entire book.

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¹ I guess I'm not a big ice-breaker fan. Perhaps it comes from my somewhat introverted nature. I've always hated ice-breakers.

² 47 may be a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea.

³ Communication between everyone teaching my classes has been pretty slim, so this is based upon my best guesses.

Maslow's hierarchy of sorts

The Setting

  • Where: Small classroom
  • When: 6 hours (with a one hour lunch break)
  • Environment: 15 other new hires
  • Format: professional development lecture supported by PowerPoint
    • PPT format: 87 slides. White background. Black text. Bullets. Bullets. Bullets. Text. Text. Text.

Maslow's (modified) Hierarchy of Needs

If I don't have access to my room, colleagues who I'm supposed to be teaching, or any knowledge about what material to start with when I'll have real students sitting in my class on Thursday (it's Monday today), it doesn't matter how well-planned or effective the professional development, it's not going to be my focus.

The Update

I did get keys to my room today, managed to talk to one colleague who is teaching the same class for 5 to 10 minutes, and have a rough idea of where they start. I'm pretty sure I have enough information to make it through the first couple of days. By then I should be okay. But seriously...are they thinking when they plan professional development all. dern. day. for new hires?

Don't worry (Just fake it)

New school, new district, new state, new region. I was hired at the end of May and moved to Connecticut the end of June. In mid to late July, I started my attempts to contact my new high school to get information about my new position. What is the curriculum? Who am I teaching it with? What are the school's expectations?

My first teaching job saw me getting hired only one week before students rears hit chairs in my classroom. As a rookie teacher lacking in experience, I found that extremely intimidating and overwhelming. I was excited that for my new position, not only would I be bringing six years of experience, but also that I would have most of the summer to prepare.

Brick wallMy calls to the high school rang without being answered. I stopped by the high school once to seek out someone who would help me. Upon entering the building, I felt I should've been wearing a hard hat. There was heavy construction throughout much of the building. The offices were gutted. Besides the gruff looking workers, I couldn't find any administrators or anyone else in the building to help.

This week I started the "Teacher Academy" for new hires. School starts next week Thursday, and I was excited to get in and finally get some information on my curriculum and who I'll be teaching with. As a fairly experienced¹ teacher this time around, I felt I still had plenty of time to effectively prepare for the school year. Arriving at the "academy" on Wednesday, I was dismayed to find no time set aside to find our rooms, go over our curriculum, or meet the colleagues we'll be teaching with. In fact, there was no official plan at all for getting the new teachers access to our rooms, curriculum, or colleagues.

Red tapeWe were all told all about the district improvement plans, the data teams that meet to help improve instruction, and on, and on. The district's plans for improvement sound really good. I'm excited that they've made a serious commitment to make their schools highly effective for the students. But...how could they possibly overlook the fact that we haven't even seen the curriculum yet? I've seen my room once. I have a textbook for the classes I'm teaching only because one happened to be laying around and I took the initiative to snag it. The only reason I've accomplished either of these things is because a few of the high school new hires got together and more or less "demanded" a meeting with someone at the high school to give us a clue what was going on.

My favorite quote of the entire teacher academy, in response to my (and others) inquiries into what scope and sequence the teachers teaching the same class as me use:

Don't worry, take some deep breaths. All you need to do is make it through the first two days of school, then you have the long weekend to figure out what to do next. Remember, whatever happens, you'll get paid every two weeks in American dollars.

O.K. I've ranted enough, and I'm sure you've gotten the point by now. I am excited to work in this district (really!). I'm excited that this time around in a new position I have skills to bring to the table. I sincerely hope the lack of foresight I've seen so far is localized in the central administration and isn't systemic. To look for the positive in the situation, I've already overcome my fear of questioning the status quo and have learned that I may need to make a more conscious effort to push for change in this district. All I want to do is be the best teacher I can be for my students, my colleagues, my school, and my district. I sincerely hope that desire doesn't fly in the face of the professional culture here.

I just want to be like Akeelah, an achiever.

- Common, "The Game"

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¹ If you consider six years as having much experience

Image sources:
Brickage by Asten
Challenge by amsterdamfan