As a teacher, change is a constant I am becoming quite used to.
From our textbooks, state standards, state testing, technology, and accountability criteria here in Texas constantly being altered to the evolving ways our students are learning and communicating, we as teachers are continually forced to reevaluate our teaching practices along with these changes.
For me, I am especially feeling the change this year as I embark on teaching a new prep of Algebra I, which just happens to have a newly adopted textbook, new state standards (TEKS), and a new calculator. I have been lucky enough to teach the same preps (Algbera II and Geometry) for the past six years, so perhaps it is time for a change.
Nervous at first, I am now embracing this change as a way for me to capitalize on all the resources available to me. I am not saying I didn’t branch out and try new things in my years before, because I certainly created new projects and lessons throughout my career, but I think this year will help continue to push my thinking as an educator. I have done a lot to prepare for next year, and although we all know as teachers that we will never be 100% prepared for all of teaching’s unexpected situations, there are several things I am excited to share that I have learned, created, and planned.
1. Grading implementations
To prepare for this next year, my first focus was on grading implementations. Towards the end of last year, I reevaluated my gradebook and realized that so many overall grades were inflated by homework and classwork completion.
Moreover, looking at my gradebook and seeing a student’s homework average gave little to no indication of what they really understood within a unit.
I was struggling to find a good solution as I wrestled with what was best for students, and, at just the right time, I got the opportunity to hear Rick Wormeli speak about standards based grading.
What is Standards Based Grading (SBG)?
This system of grading is done by breaking down topics into specific skill sets that a student should be able to demonstrate mastery on.
Typically, skills are based on state or national standards and for clarity, the teacher may synthsesize standards into a student friendly language (Dan Meyer). For example, instead of titling a quiz “Solving Linear Equations” and assessing a student on 10-15 various standards from this broad topic, a teacher would break this down to a small 2-3 question SBG quiz and assess one skill under this topic such as solving linear equations with variables on both sides of the equation.
Therefore, instead of giving an overall grade for an entire unit of study, the teacher (and the student) can pinpoint exactly what a student has mastered and what he/she needs to continue working on to gain proficiency within the unit. Consequently, because students process and learn at different paces, he/she is given multiple opportunities to show mastery.
This last concept is sometimes difficult to buy into because we don’t want students to take advantage of the system in negative way. However, I think if we are open and forthcoming about the reasons why we are allowing multiple representations, we can help students take ownership of their learning.
I had already bought into his idea that students work at different paces and we should be giving students multiple opportunities to show mastery on topics. I was inspired by his affirmation of this, but unfortunately because I only got one afternoon with him, I was left with many more questions on how to implement these ideas.
So I continued to read his research, and spiraled into more and more thoughts from Dan Meyer, Daniel Schneider, Educational Leadership, Matt Townsley, Sarah Hagan, and Julie Reulbach. I would encourage anyone who is interested in SBG practices to spend some time diving into the work these educators have done.
I think the idea of SBG is going to be so helpful in not only giving me an accurate representation of what content my students know and what they don’t know yet, but also giving students the power to understand the diversity of mathematical topics balanced with the connectivity of each standard. By that, I mean that each standards based check will divide Algebra I into identifiable skills enabling me (and students) a check for their understanding, but also incorporating authentic projects and larger summative tests will help students connect each skill to another.
After all my research, I have come up with three main things I will do in my classroom this year for SBG implementation.
- SBG checks formatted on a template (see post here).
- Grade SBG checks out of a 4 point scale and allow students to retake any SBG check below a 3.5 (see post here).
- Keep a record of but not grade homework (see posts here and here).
2. Twitter resources
Stemming from my SBG research, I have found Twitter to be an incredibly helpful tool as I prepare for next year. Honestly, I was a bit scared and labeled myself as an anti-Twitter-user because I didn’t want to be sucked into yet another time consuming social media product.
However, the educational resources that can be found through Twitter have become a saving grace for the times I think of an idea, but am not sure of what direction to go in.
I have found that there is always someone who has a similar idea you can connect with and build upon ideas together.
There are also so many resources I never knew of such as LearnBop, which again, was connected to me by Twitter. This year, I plan to use Twitter by doing the following:
- Join in on as many math chats as I can using specific hashtags (so far, #alg1chat and #geomchat).
- Explore and continue to post to the MathTwitterBlogosphere (#MTBoS…if you are not familiar with this, I encourage you to explore it).
3. Communicating goals
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I plan to begin the year by telling my students about a goal I have for them in which I believe 100% of my students can pass our state test, STAAR. As explained in the hyperlinked post, this may sound a bit lofty, but it would be unfair and unjust for me to exclude any student from such a success.
I plan to tell them this goal on the first day of school because I think there is something powerful in them knowing I believe in every one of them without any reservations, without any preconceived ideas of who they are or how they performed in previous math classes, and that it is my hope that we all strive for an expectation of success together. In explaining the goal to them, I want them to understand that test scores do not define them as learners, but rather it is a combination of their effort, resilience, and grit throughout the year that will help them reach success on the designated state test.
Although this year brings about a lot of change, I look forward to what lies ahead for me and my students. I am excited to collaborate with colleagues I know and colleagues I do not even know yet. I am eager to meet my new students, full of anticipation for their new experiences in high school, and will embrace change as it yet again becomes the constant in the school year.
I hope you found this post helpful. I’d love to hear about your goals for the new school year—please let me know in the comments below!
About the author
Ashley Taplin is a high school math teacher in San Antonio, Texas. She has taught sophomore Algebra II and Geometry for 5 five years, and this year she will be teaching freshmen Algebra I and Geometry. She graduated in 2009 with a Bachelors in Arts in mathematics from Trinity University. In 2010, she graduated with a Masters in Arts in Teaching, also from Trinity. In the summer of 2013, she traveled on a Fulbright scholarship to Germany and learned a lot about curriculum, diversity, and differentiation.
Ashley loves helping students make connections to what they’re learning and finding authentic ways to explore math concepts. When she's not teaching, you may find her hanging out with her husband, also a teacher and coach, at one of his basketball games, playing with her two pups, or spending time with family and friends.
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