Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Reflections on Year One : Standards-Based Learning

Over the past year, my classroom has been under transition from one where learning was assessed in a more traditional manner with deadlines, point penalties, and a certain amount of performance finality, to one that can be described as a hybrid standards-based system. Some readers might ask why I went with a blend of older and newer methods, so I'd like to go ahead and mention that we all need to embrace new concepts and ideas at our own pace, but with change happening. To that end, we must experiment and risk failure in the classroom in order to reach our learners where they stand. I prefer to take small steps rather than huge leaps when trying out new ideas, mostly because I believe in maintaining a balance between my personal life and work. Anyhow, as you read this post, I hope you will be inspired, whether it be to fully embrace the standards-based learning (SBL) model or to move a little bit in that direction. If you've already made changes in this regard, I hope that you will share your insights and tips in the comments below.

Our Learning Model

Essentially, learners have the opportunity to retake or redo most any task after a series of one-on-one visits with me outside of class time. Here's how it works:

  • What type of task may I redo/retake?
    • Most any task. (In year one, learners could not make up interpretive (listening, reading, viewing) tasks because I didn't take the time to create a new task. This year, students will have the opportunity to redo such tasks. Stay tuned for a decision on how I'll make this feasible.)
  • When may I redo or retake something?
    • I'm available at lunch or after school. (In year one, I was available during break, lunch, my study hall period, and after school. That may change this year, depending on my schedule.)
    • You must schedule a series of one-on-one visits outside of class time in order to qualify for a redo/retake. Additionally, you will qualify for a redo/retake if and when you have demonstrated a better understanding of the concepts and/or skills in question.
    • During the first visit, we will determine your areas of weakness and, then, practice together. During the second visit, I will informally quiz you to see if you're ready to redo a task or retake an assessment. During the third visit, you may redo/retake the task or assessment. 
    • You may choose to have more than one visit before advancing to the step where I informally quiz you.You may also come back for me to informally quiz you more than once, if necessary.
    • There can only be one visit per school day. The point of this type of learning is NOT for you to cram and forget the concepts/skills.  
    •  You must complete at least one step before the last week of each quarter. 
  • What happens if an assessment is near the end of a quarter?
    • Unfortunately, you won't be able reassess if we run into the end of the nine weeks.
  • What should I do to get the most out of standards-based learning opportunities?
    • Keep any feedback you receive on tasks/assessments because it can guide us when we meet for a redo/retake.
    • As soon as you know that you need more practice and want a chance to relearn any concepts/skills, take a proactive approach. See me before or after class to make an initial appointment. 
    • Keep in mind that the grade is not the end goal. The end goal is learning. Grades will look more like you had hoped when the learning happens. 

Reflections on Year One
  • The evidence of deeper learning is remarkable! 
  • The learning doesn't stop after a grade is posted. 
  • In the first year, it took students a while to understand how beneficial it was to relearn the material, not just in terms of their grade for a given assignment, but for (lasting) skill development. 
  • Once I stopped allowing students to come in for two visits in one day, the learner desire to cram (and therefore defeat the purpose of SBL) was lessened.
  • Initially, I was nervous about inviting students to redo/retake tasks/assessments for the possibility of full credit, but the ones who earned full credit the second time around deserved it. If students learn the material, with or without a ton of effort, they deserve the grade they earn because they demonstrated understanding. People have bad days or just need a second chance, ya know?
  • Now that I don't take points off for late work, you would think that deadlines would have no meaning in my classroom, but the fact is most students complete their tasks on time. In most cases, the repeat, late offenders caught on quickly that they were only hurting themselves, especially since I don't continuously harass them to turn in work that I have not received. 
  • As for behavior reporting, I must do a better job of it, moving forward. If I told a parent or wrote about a behavior on the report card, it was an extreme case. I'm going to try the TeacherKit app for the sole purpose of behavior reporting, but if I can't seem to keep up with it on the iPad, I'll just create a paper log and attach it to a clipboard, like I do for most data that needs to be tracked. 
  • The redo/retake log of learner visits, as seen in the sample photo above, worked quite well, so I will continue to use that template. 
  • The scheduled extra help sessions are much more meaningful now.  Sometimes, parents (or students) force extra help sessions because of low scores, but it didn't make much of a difference usually in the level of understanding. Now that students know that they are working towards something, that there's a possible pay off in both learning and the grade, the time together is very well spent. 
  • My school days are longer than they were in the past, but I'm OK with that change because there is real learning going on. I usually leave campus around 4:30 p.m. if I have several students show up after school. (The last bell of the day is at 3:20 p.m.)
  • Based on the interactions with and comments from learners regarding SBL, I could see, more than ever before, that they knew I was on their team. 
  • The response from parents has been positive. In fact, there hasn't been a single negative comment about SBL...except by a colleague or two, but I'm not concerned about those opinions.
  • Bottom Line: I will never go back to the old way of assessing learners. I will definitely revise this policy as I move along, but I have no intention of ever penalizing late work again. 
So, what do you think? Do you have any ideas or comments to share? I'd love to hear from you!



  1. Great post -- I love how the LEARNING is at the heart of the system you have constructed, because that is what is most important!

  2. Wow! that was a great explanation of how you will make changes for the benefit of your students and your new way of looking at the learner and your teaching style. Congratulations!

    1. Thank you! Looking forward to year two with some additional goals.

  3. Thanks for sharing! I have also been trying to make the transition to standards-based learning in my HS ELA classroom over the last couple of years, one little step at a time. I'm always interested to hear how others are making the theory of SBL work in practice -- it can be tricky! I enjoyed reading your reflection.

    1. Thank you! It is great to find out what others are actually doing in the classroom. I look forward to connecting with you on Twitter, by the way.