Thoughts That Keep Me Up at Night

I have been thinking a lot about grading, assessment, and the meaning behind these to both teachers and students. I have read Dan Meyer, Daniel Schneider, Educational Leadership, Matt Townsley, and Rick Wormeli while researching and talking with colleagues about mastery and standards based grading (SBG). I really like a lot of the ideas of SBG including more frequent and smaller assessments that allow one to know a student’s mastery on a standard. I also like the thought of a 1-4 scale and the language that is used to convey what each number means. One example I found that I really like is that the Solon School’s language in their rubric (1).  CaptureHowever, I am still struggling to wrap my head around SBG and mastery in the math classroom. I still have lingering questions that honestly keep me up at night. I want to do what is right for students and I want to push them to understand what they know and what they don’t. Even further, I want them to take charge of their learning and with my feedback, help them to know how to gain mastery on a concept.

Here is what I want to keep in my classroom regardless of grading…

Student communication and group work: I think when students talk out mathematical problems together, they cognitively grow a lot. A student’s ability to explain a topic further enriches their own understanding, and when they hear an explanation from another student, they relate to the language they’re using. So, regardless of how I grade and what I grade, I still want students to work together to solve problems.

Reasoning: I also want to be sure I am still allowing room for reasoning and processing skills beyond algebraic skills. I want to continue to provide opportunities for students to explain and justify their understanding of concepts through written and spoken dialogue. Whether this fits into a numerical grade or not, students still need to be pushed to think deeply and justify their reasoning.

Here are my questions that linger…

How do I keep students motivated to practice mathematical concepts they are struggling with? How do I motivate beyond grades in practice settings? Ultimately, how do you stop students from asking, “is this for a grade?” A lot of SBG research shows that you should not grade homework because you should not penalize a student when they are practicing their mastery. I agree with that to an extent. As a basketball coach’s wife, I know that practice is important, but that my husband should not grade his students in their practice sessions. It all comes down to the game. The game is where they will be graded based on if their shots fell, if they played zone defense instead of man to man or vice versa, if they passed the ball smart, if they turned the ball over, if they made their free throws, etc. If he included practice in their final grade, the score at the end of the game would be quite skewed. Similarly, homework practice should not be a penalty or a reward to a student’s average…it should be a check for understanding and an identifier of strengths and weaknesses on the road to understanding. Overall, I don’t want to penalize my students for practice they get wrong. However, most students are much more motivated by sports than math practice. So, how do I keep my students motivated if I don’t grade practice? Naturally, you would think that they should make the connection that when you practice, you get better. So, when you do more math practice you should do better on your quiz/test…but students don’t always think in advance and the most common thing I hear in the classroom is, “is this for a grade?” I think I need to hold them accountable to doing practice and/or homework by counting it for a portion of their grade, but it should not inflate or penalize their average. Additionally, I think the word “homework” needs to change. It has such a negative and dreadful connotation, but I am still thinking about what it should be called.

How do I create a balance between group practice and independent practice? How do I convince students that individual work time is just as, if not sometimes more, beneficial than group work? And finally, how do I convince students that individual assessments are meant to be informative not punitive, especially when we take points off for wrong answers rather than give points for correct attempts? Right now I give a lot of time for group practice. Again, I love the learning that happens when students talk through math. But I am realizing as I read more about SBG, I need to create more opportunities to show what they know individually. In that, I need to create time to give my feedback to them on an individual level beyond tests. I think by adding in more frequent assessments, this will do that and give students the opportunity to analyze what they know. These could just look like short quizzes done on note cards at the beginning of class. They could be graded on a 1-4 scale with more feedback than a regular assignment as it leads up to a cumulative summative assessment. The question then becomes, do I have the time myself to dedicate rich feedback more often to every individual student? How do I create that time, especially as a math teacher, when so many of my days are dedicated to teaching new material rather than refining knowledge students already know? Ultimately, can someone find me some more hours in the day? 🙂

Feel free to respond to any or all of my questions, share this with every educator you know, and continue the conversation of grading and assessment!


2 thoughts on “Thoughts That Keep Me Up at Night

  1. Matt Townsley says:

    Ashley – you’re asking some nuanced questions – that’s a good thing! Feel free to email [matt(at)mctownsley(dot)net] if you’d like to discuss a few of these questions…or we could Skype if that’s more convenient. I don’t have any silver bullets, but can share from experience as a teacher and now district administrator familiar with SBG shifts.


    1. ashleytaplin says:

      I’d love that! I’ll send you an email later this week and maybe we can set up a time to Skype. Thank you…and thank you for reading! I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s