SBG Wiki

Great news if you’re thinking about implementing standards based grading in the fall. Or, if you implemented it recently. Or if you’ve been doing SBG for years and you want to lend a helping hand to those of us just starting out.

miss calcul8 has started a wiki for SBG beginners. I’ve signed up already. If you’re planning on jumping into the pool, you should too.


SBG, Hold The G

I have been frustrated with grading for as long as I’ve been teaching. The numbers don’t tell me what I need to know about students’ learning. They certainly don’t tell students anything informative, unless it’s “Oh sh*t! My parents are gonna kill me!”

Each year I swear I’ll do something different. Each year I fall into the same old traps. I’m grading too many assignments. I’m not re-teaching enough. And by the time the unit test rolls around, I realize too late that way too many of my students don’t have a clue what they’re doing.

Worse, no one really seems to care until the week before grades are due. Then, they ask plead for extra credit. I, looking at the mountain of work I need to get through before I input grades, refuse to give them extra work (why didn’t you just do your work in the first place?). No one is happy with this scenario.

There has to be a better way!

And then. At the end of the year. I discover it! Standards Based Grading. The holy grail of formative assessment. I realize: this is what I’ve been making baby steps towards for the past several years. And here’s a system that someone else has already figured out, tested, tweaked. I go from baby steps to strapping on my seven-league-boots.

I sigh with regret that I found this too late to implement it during the current school year. But next year…I’m gonna rock this SBG thing. But, with one small modification. No grades.

My school for next year doesn’t do grades. Instead, students and parents get a combination of narrative reports and rubric checklists. [Note to self: need to see what’s on those checklists, will come in handy for my new SBG gradebook.] For about three point seven seconds I wonder whether this would be a problem. Could I do SBG without the G?

Then, I mentally smack myself upside the head. Uh, yeah. The whole point is to use an assessment system that tells me information about my students’ understanding. Who cares if I’m not going to turn that data into a letter grade at the end? The important thing is to collect the data. So that I know what my students know, and so I can communicate that information to my students. Not so that I can assign them a letter, or a percentage. That isn’t the point of SBG.

I’m looking forward to seeing how things go next year and posting that information here. Definitely one of my big goals for 2010-11. Who else out there will be trying SBG for the first time?


Update: Maybe add a dash of G after all. Upon a closer reading of the school handbook, I discover that grades will need to be submitted after all. Not sure how I mixed that up. There are still narrative reports and rubrics, but also letter grades in the end. I think that this is better than just grades alone because of the scope of feedback that students/parents receive, but there’s just something about grades that bug me. I think it’s a labeling issue.

Pink-Slip to Private School

Or, Why I Decided to “Sell Out”

There’s been a lot of discussion over on Dan Meyer’s blog about one blogger’s decision to leave the classroom and head off to grad school. The repartee is everything you’ve seen before on other edu-blogs: Congratulations. Best wishes. People bemoaning the fact great teachers are leaving the classroom.

I, too, have made a change in my job situation. One that is just as open to judgments as Dan’s decision. Though, as I commented on Dan’s site, I think such judgments are a wee bit silly.

As the title says, I have accepted a job for next year at a private school. That’s right. I’m going to be teaching the privileged, the rich, the kids who, if they need to, can afford to get private tutors and college application advisors and whatever other crazy things people are doing these days to get into Hahvahd.

I am thrilled.

I can’t wait until my old (public) school district calls me in mid July to offer me my old job back. To rescind my layoff. I look forward to telling them just where they can shove my pink-slip. Not that I really would do that, tempting though it may be.

Public education—especially (?) in CA—is in the crapper right now. I am only one of the many, many new teachers who had to be sacrificial lambs for the good of the district budget, and the state budget. Let me tell you, it’s no fun. It wasn’t any fun the first time, when I was transferred mid year to another site, nor the second time, when I was laid off at the end of last year, nor was it fun this time around.

Well, as they say, third time’s a charm. For me, that meant getting the hell out of a district that was not supporting me as a professional and that was treating me as though I was expendable. Such is the fate of many, if not most, first and second year teachers in California right now. I was lucky enough to land myself a job in a school that was exactly what I was looking for.

They have:
– A supportive staff that believes collaboration is essential
– A commitment to exploratory learning in the math classroom
– A vision for the school that is based in building strong community
– Lots of opportunities for staff and students to participate in a variety of ways (poetry slam, anyone?)
– A small school, with small class-sizes (someone complained that sections had been getting unwieldy at 18; I laughed)
– Teacher-leaders who carry out administrative duties while remaining in the classroom

Are you jealous yet?

For the first time in my career, I feel that I am being asked to do a reasonable task and that I will be given the support to do it well. Instead of trying (and for the most part failing) to teach ~150 students adequately, I will be expected to teach ~54 students well. I know I can do that. I’m not so sure about the former. I know some people can and do. I just know I’m not yet capable of it and I’m not sure I ever will be. And feeling unsuccessful is not really doing it for me and my desire to remain a teacher. It was time to make a change.

The public school I taught at for the last three semesters was not the right place for me. I couldn’t be the type of teacher I wanted to be in that environment. I believe that my new private school will be a much better fit for me. A friend of mine and fellow educator once said to a group of math-teachers-to-be, “It doesn’t matter where you go and teach, just go and teach. The profession needs good math teachers. If your first placement isn’t right, find another. Just don’t leave the profession.”

So on behalf of Dan, Avery, myself, and every other teacher who is going to grad school or changing schools, we are making the right choice. We aren’t abandoning kids. We aren’t turning our backs on schools. We are finding a way to shape our careers in a different direction. One that, hopefully, will keep us in the profession for even longer than we might have stayed otherwise.

Winning the Excuse Lottery

As I write this I’m realizing that the title isn’t as applicable as I’d thought it would be. It turns out that I can still type! You see, yesterday I was test-riding bicycles at REI. I haven’t been on a bike in years, but it turns out, it’s kind of like riding a…oh, yeah. Right.

So, I’m cruising around the side streets of Berkeley, wearing my stylish yellow reflective vest, feeling the breeze on my face. Enjoying life. Thinking to myself ‘why the heck haven’t I done this in so long?’ All together I try out three bikes. The first one is fine. I like the second one best. I do not like the third one. I didn’t like it to begin with. Even before I fell off the damn thing. Then, there’s no way it can redeem itself in my eyes. We are over. Nothing to do but take it back to the store.

I twist my ankle. I reach out to brace myself as I fall, thinking all the while, ‘this is a bad idea. I shouldn’t be doing this. Too late. Ow.’

More than 24 hours later, still ow. But without the capital. I email my doc and she signs me up for some x-rays. The readings get back to me tomorrow. I doubt there’s any broken bones (though there’s a part of me that secretly wants there to be, so my whining will be justified).

However, I think to myself, ‘this is the perfect excuse. No way I can write now. My wrist is in pain. I shouldn’t beat myself up over my little writing break. Fate intervened. Can’t blame myself.’

It would be more believable if I’d been typing my fingers bloody for the past few days instead of sitting around on my ass catching up on old Tivo recordings. I don’t even have the old standby of my job, since school let out last Friday.

I have the time. Maybe even have the energy. And, as of the beginning of the post, it’s clear that I still have pain-free typing in my toolkit as well. Damn. Nothing like reality to mess with a good excuse.

UPDATE: No fractures. Ergo, I am a whiner.

The Space Between the Jobs

I am writing this in the last weekend before the last week of school at my current job. Looking ahead to summer vacation, and further, to my new job (!), is both exciting as hell and is leaving me with a case of “I-suck-itis”.

This year has been…challenging. For the first time in my three-year career I was back at the same school where I taught the year before–I have been kicked around by the California budget crisis quite a bit since I moved here two years ago. Going into this year I imagined that continuing at a school would be dramatically different than starting over somewhere new. It would be easier. Things would go more smoothly. My professional growth would be obvious. I would be able to see how much I had improved over the past few years.

Well…not so much. At least, not as much as I had imagined.

Despite the doldrums, I have learned a lot about myself and what I find important:

  • It is incredibly hard to work in a school where my vision is not supported by my administration.
  • I want to work with a team of people who are actively working on implementing a major goal not just maintaining status quo/tweaking things.
  • I need to work on moving towards practice that complements my beliefs rather than conflicting with it (e.g. SBG).
  • Building community in a classroom is vitally important if I don’t want to fight things out on a day-by-day basis with a class that just “never gels”.

The great thing is, I believe that I will have success at addressing all of these points at the school I will join in August. I feel extrodinarily lucky to be in this position.

The Lemon Tree

Tommy stood beside the floor-to-ceiling office windows, gazing out at the street eight stories below. A man dressed in a brown leather jacket appeared in miniature, unlocked the door to his black convertible and climbed in. The car’s turn signal blinked twice and the vehicle pulled away from the curb. Tommy closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the clear window glass.

The faint click of a woman’s high heels sounded on the floor outside. Tommy opened his eyes and raised his head to see Lucy turn the knob and peek around the door. Her brow furrowed above her square eyeglass frames.

“I’m so sorry,” Lucy said. Her long stride brought her across the office to Tommy. “Steve told me he was running late, but I didn’t have time to call you and give you a head’s up. I told the receptionist to warn you, but she took an early lunch break without passing on the message to anyone.”

Tommy’s blue eyes stared at Lucy. Not for the first time he wondered if the real estate agent was a natural blonde. She seemed a little old not to have any grey hair.

“Tommy?” Lucy asked, “Are you okay?”

Tommy shook himself. I need to stop worrying Lucy, he thought. She has more important things to do.

“I’m okay,” Tommy said. “No big deal.” His voice cracked, exposing his lie. He cleared his throat and continued. “In any event, we had to see each other again sooner or later.”

“Well,” Lucy said with forced heartiness, “on the bright side, at least all of the paperwork is done now. I’ve got both of your signatures everywhere I need them.”

Tommy couldn’t bring himself to look Lucy in the eye, but he could hear in her voice that her concerned expression hadn’t gone away.

“The only thing left to do is tidy up for the open house,” she said. Your home is such a great space. I just know it will sell. The fruit trees out back are incredible. They’re definitely going to bring in some foot traffic. You did get rid of the boxes in the basement, right?”

“Not yet,” Tommy replied. “I’ll make sure to do that.”

“Remember,” Lucy said, “I’ll be arriving around one o’clock to open up. You need to go visit with friends or go to a café. Something fun. I’ll give you a call on your cell when I’ve locked up.”

“Right,” Tommy responded. “I remember.”

Lucy had explained to him when they had met the week before that buyers liked to see the property without the owners or their belongings hanging around. Somehow this helped them to visualize themselves in the space. She hadn’t said the words, but the implicit message was clear—lingering evidence of failed relationships did not sell homes. Nothing like getting kicked out of your own house.

“Well, I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” Lucy said. She pretended to be busy sorting the files on her desk. Her green eyes darted up to the clock. “Look at the time.”

Tommy picked up his jacket and shuffled over to the door. His hand rested on the brass doorknob. He turned back to Lucy. His mouth opened to say something, then shut again when the lump in his throat blocked any words from forming. He lifted his hand to wave instead. Turning once more to leave, he spotted something on the window. His forehead had left an oily smudge on the otherwise immaculate glass.

*    *    *

Tommy thought back to the encounter in Lucy’s office. He had walked in head held high, ready to sign the forms that would allow Lucy to put the house on the market officially. Seeing Steve’s brown head, with the familiar thinning spot on the crown, stopped him mid-stride. Steve—being Steve—had turned around in his chair and greeted Tommy with a grin. As if we were just old friends, Tommy thought, as if Steve hadn’t just left me high and dry after three years together. Just like the prick to show up without telling me.

Tommy’s eyes glanced unseeing at the numerous house listings that papered the walls of the real estate office. He wondered if Steve and his new lover had started looking at houses together. The thought that Steve might be buying a home with someone else made Tommy nauseated. He tortured himself imagining scenes in which Steve walked arm in arm with a faceless bear of a man into open houses. They picked up flyers, took measurements, discussed square footage and decorating plans. Tommy pressed his hands to his ears to shut out their voices. He could still hear them droning on in his head. They debated the curtains and bed sheets and discussed whether or not they could knock down the north wall in the kitchen.

“Shut up!” Tommy hissed at himself. The receptionist at the immense walnut desk in the lobby glanced up at him in surprise. She must think I’m crazy. Tommy hurried out towards the elevator, hands stuffed into his pockets, jingling his keys. Time to get out of here and move on with my life.

*    *    *

Tommy turned his key in the lock and stepped through the front door. His feet echoed on the expanse of bamboo flooring. Amazing how much bigger the space looked without the furniture, the books, the accumulation of two lives.

Tommy walked out into the garden. His shoulders warmed in the sun. His eyes squinted against the bright light. There, tucked in a corner underneath the wisteria trellis, grew the lemon tree he and Steve had planted. He remembered how the two of them had laughed and joked about how they would always make lemonade together. They had made love afterwards, kissing on the grass, touching each other with dirt on their hands and underneath their fingernails.

Would the new owners share a kiss each time they picked one of the plump yellow fruits? Would they sit together on the patio in the evening sun sipping lemon drop martinis like Steve and Tommy had every summer? It made no difference. Either way Tommy would no longer squeeze home-grown lemons. He would buy them at the grocery store just like before he and Steve had co-signed the mortgage. Only now he wouldn’t have someone to make lemonade with. Typical. The person who screws everything up gets the happy ending and his partner gets left behind to pick up the pieces. I feel like an old man, Tommy thought.

The phone rang inside the house. Tommy walked back across the grass and opened the sliding glass doors into the kitchen. His hand grabbed the phone on the third ring.

“Hello?” Tommy said. “Who is it?”

“Hi Tommy, Steve here. Funny running into you today at Lucy’s, huh?” Steve paused. The silence stretched awkwardly until Steve cleared his throat and continued. “Anyways, I remembered when I saw you that I left some tools in the shed out in the backyard. I can swing by later to pick them up. Would you mind getting them out and putting them by the front door for me?”

“Sure,” Tommy said. “No problem.”

“Thanks,” Steve said. “Oh, by the way, Jason and I were thinking we’d stop by the open house tomorrow. You know, check out what Lucy and you have done with the place. Maybe we’ll see you around.”

“Yeah,” Tommy said. “Maybe. I’ll put the tools by the door.”

His hand shook as he replaced the phone on the receiver. Tommy looked at his fingers clutching the mouthpiece. His knuckles had turned white from the force of his grip.

“Jason and I…coming over to see the place…” Tommy repeated to himself. His breath hissed out through clenched teeth. He walked back out into the yard. “I’m so mad,” Tommy yelled up at the sky. “I’m so fucking mad.”

Tommy stared at the lemon tree. He saw Steve’s face peering out through the green leaves and yellow fruit, laughing at him, taunting him. You’re so pathetic, Steve sneered. That’s why I left you. You’re a loser. No one wants you anymore.

Tommy’s breath quickened. His nostrils flared. He spun around, walked away. Tommy found himself opening the door to the garden shed, looking down at the tools. How did he get there? He grabbed the red-handled axe and strode back to the lemon tree.

“Bastard,” he shouted. “Lying, cheating bastard.”

Tommy swung the axe down with each choked out word. The blade bit into the soft wood. Branches cracked and split. Splinters flew around Tommy’s ears. Yellow orbs rolled on the grass at his feet. Tommy sobbed and gasped. His arms gave out and Tommy dropped the heavy tool.

He squatted on the lawn, cradling his head in his hands. What had come over him? Now he would have to call Lucy and tell her to change the flyers for the open house. What a waste.