The “Real” SBG

 

It seems to me that SBG is in danger of falling into the trap of over-simplification that plagues most educational reform systems. This makes things easier to implement, but far less effective than doing the heavy-lifting of figuring out what’s broke and then fixing it. Those of you who attended Lucy West’s talk on academic discourse at Asilomar last year (or those of you who committed my post on said-talk to memory) may recall her warnings about this phenomenon.

It seems that every time I turn around on the inter-webs these days there is another post about SBG. [Here I am…growing the pile a little larger…] This isn’t a bad thing, but there are aspects that make me stop and wonder whether I should be getting concerned. Is SBG getting watered down?

I see SBG described as:

  • Skill lists
  • Multiple quizzes on each skill
  • Grades are based on a standardized rubric (usually on either 4 to 5 point scale)
  • Homework (i.e. practice) isn’t graded
  • Re-assessment opportunities for students

…and I wonder, is that all? I don’t believe that it is.

The way I see SBG is this:

  • Assessing students on content rather than behaviors (e.g. doing homework every night)
  • Transparency in grading
    • clear explanation of what a “point” means (and what it doesn’t mean)
    • increased communication about what grades represent (and what they don’t represent)
  • Increased levels of feedback
    • so students know what next steps need to happen in order to improve their understanding (which will in turn improve their grade)
    • so students know what they are doing well in order to make sure they keep doing those things
  • Re-assessment opportunities for students

The problem with my list as compared to the previous one is that there isn’t a clear plan for what to do. There isn’t a checklist that someone can go through to determine whether or not SBG has “been implemented”. There is no road map for how to get there.

Now, I admit that I’m trimming down to bare bones in this ‘what I see’ list. I think the majority of people in the blogosphere who have started doing SBG have done an awesome job and are rocking it out. But I think these people have spent a lot of time thinking about what each of these practices actually means before they started doing them. And I wonder, like Lucy West did, whether this thought process is an essential component of effectively implementing something like SBG. For me I believe it is.

Personally, I have backed off of SBG this trimester. I implemented it (in a self-admittedly half-assed way) in the fall and I initially intended to continue on this winter, but I decided not to. The reasoning behind my decision was that I needed to grapple with what SBG means to me before I can find a way to work it into my practice in a way that is effective for my students and also works for me. I had a Lucy West realization, that I hadn’t done enough of the thinking about what I needed/wanted before I started taking on this new project. I hope to be ready to re-implement in March for the spring trimester. We’ll see.

I think I’m already doing a great job on the first item on my list, an okay job on the last two (a lot of my assessments involve written work which is cumbersome to reassess). The transparency part is what is most difficult for me. Part of the issue is that I would really rather not give grades at all. Sadly, that’s not in the cards for me right now. So I need to find better ways of communicating with students what their points and grades mean in terms of their understanding.

Only then will I become a true SBG Jedi Master.

 

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