• Katie Ames

How Standards-Based Grading Has Made Me a More Purposeful Teacher

(Editor’s note: Katie is part of the 6th grade team at NH’s Governor Wentworth Regional School District that’s piloting JumpRope this year.)

If there were a perfect formula for what to teach, what to assign, how to grade it, and how to get each student to master every standard, teachers everywhere would simply be replaced by robots. Fortunately for us, robots cannot replace the emotional connection that we make with students and the passion necessary for effective teaching, so to teachers everywhere I say: You are doing good work.

Now, standards-based grading is one way to help improve that formula. I see it as a way to make my teaching more purposeful and cohesive.

One of the reasons that I like standards-based grading is its purposefulness. It makes me feel like my teaching decisions are more intentional. Even small things - such as displaying the Common Core State Standards and our district’s grade-level Essential Understandings and “I can” statements in my classroom - can make a difference in my attitude as well as in the attitude and focus of my students. I found that once I displayed the standards and referred to them, I received fewer questions such as, “Why are we doing this?”

In addition, one of my goals throughout this year is to make more cohesive units so that my students understand the learning objectives for each unit and see that each assignment is working toward a bigger picture. When I first began teaching the Common Core State Standards, I felt that I had to create some assignments out of need, one at a time, based on which standards I hadn’t gotten to. It felt disjointed, and my students didn’t necessarily understand the purpose of the assignments because they didn’t come from anywhere or go anywhere.

I still use some of the individual lessons that I created last year, such as reading short stories either in whole- or small-group settings and having discussions about them, while I assess students in reading or writing or speaking and listening areas. Now, however, I have devised better ways to connect the lessons to each other through themes such as perseverance and tolerance or through examining one specific standard such as citing evidence with multiple assessments. These learning objectives are then either displayed on the board or in a rubric, so that my students know what they’re being assessed on. There’s far less anxiety, as my students don’t need to guess how grades are determined.

Thinking about my teaching in this way - its purposefulness, its cohesion - has allowed me to cut out the fluff and the “busy work” papers and to add more meaningful writing, which students complete on Google Docs, which gives them the chance to better show me what they know so that I can determine my options for what’s next.

Although I’m still just beginning my exploration of standards-based grading, these changes to my teaching practice and my organization make me feel as though I’m becoming a more effective teacher.

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