Sunday, October 2, 2011

Checking In...

When we last left our intrepid hero, he had advocated trying something new this year.  But without reflection, trying something new = taking another shot in the dark.  So here I present an update on two initiatives I'm trying this year.....

1.  In our geometry classes, we've agreed to stop giving traditional "points" grades, and instead give students grades based on our assessment of their proficiency in (for this semester, 19) predefined outcomes:  skills we expect them to master, or concepts we expect them to understand and apply.  Quiz questions, for example, now refer to outcomes ("1a") rather than points ("3pts").  We assess overall proficiency at each outcome based on a student's most recent work, not an average that includes failed attempts.  There have been some logistical glitches, due in part to our district-wide grading software.  And there are some things we won't do again:  give a quiz with five different outcomes on it, for example.  But I've noticed two positive effects:
  • After giving a quiz, I'm much more aware of what kids know and don't know than I was in the past.  The simple act of recording, for each student, what his/her performance was on each assessed outcome, has helped me focus in on what I've successfully taught and what needs further teaching.
  • My standards have gone up. Before, I'd sometimes give an answer full credit--or mostly-full credit--even when it wasn't exactly what I was hoping for, thinking "Well, is this issue really worth 1/2 of a letter grade?"  Now there's no averaging, and kids are, in principle, free to try again as many times as they need to.  The result is that I hold out for answers and explanations that are well-nigh perfect.
2.  In my AP Calculus class, we're still using traditional points, but we've decided not to count homework towards students' grades; instead, we give many short "homework quizzes" that give problems similar to the ones assigned.  I check in HW to see what students have done, but I don't count poor performance against them.  Again, two positive results:
  • After an initial drop in HW effort, it's coming back up.  And students appear to be doing homework more mindfully:  they come in with six or seven problems done, saying "I knew how to do the rest" or "I figured I needed more practice on this."  Though I'm still seeing less homework than I did under the old check-for-completion system, I'm not sure I'm seeing less actual work:  before, many students rushed assignments, or copied answers from the back of the book (or their friends) just to have something to turn in.
  • Because I'm quizzing more often, I have a better sense of what kids can actually do.  We're retooling the lessons this year anyway, but now, our conversations usually start with a discussion of the most recent HW quiz.  And grading is fast: I usually find I can grade two classes of two-question quizzes in under 30 minutes.
So that's what's up with me.  What are you trying in your classes?  How is it working out?