This post is the first in a series about my journey with Standards Based Learning and Grading.
My journey of positive deviance
Positive deviance…the way I see it, I will do anything to help my students learn. I don’t care whether it will make me popular or well liked among my peers. I am driven, passionate about education, and willing to work as hard as possible to reach every student. I want to create passionate lifelong learners.
That being said, at times I am not the most popular in the building. I am seen as the one who is always pushing the barrier, always innovating my instructional practices. I have been told to my face several times, “Oh, well, that works in your classroom, but it could never work in mine.” How do you know unless you try? I understand that no two teacher’s classrooms will or should look exactly the same. But to keep with old methods just because that is the way it has always been done or because it is the way you were taught is a ridiculous notion. Times change, people evolve, research continues, learning happens, and we cannot in good faith sit idle and expect our profession to stagnate. If we stagnate, our kids stagnate. If we don’t work to improve and learn ourselves, what kind of example are we setting for our kids? We must be the lead learners in our environments. We must model what we expect and lead our students to seek knowledge.
Standards based learning and grading were an easy fit for me. I needed to be learner focused. I wanted a system that clearly communicated proficiency and mastery levels to my students and parents. I desired to be criterion referenced rather than norm referenced. As good of a fit as standards based learning and grading are for me, they are still finding their way into my school and district. It is a tough road to be one of only a few charting this course, but it is well worth it to see the positive change in my students. The culture of learning that is present in my classroom is a testament to the value of standards based learning, assessment, and grading. My students are performing at higher levels and are more engaged in the learning process than ever before.
At the beginning of my teaching career, I was a traditional grader. I had been taught in my undergraduate work and throughout student teaching how to assign points to assignments and assessments, grade behaviors like participation, and was encouraged to have a ‘no tolerance’ approach to late work. I followed these practices and maintained the status quo in the educational world. My students learned information, but did they excel? No, they maintained the status quo as well in an system based on one size fits all standardized instruction and assessment. Every student was supposed to be treated exactly the same in order to be fair.
After 10 years of teaching, I needed a paradigm shift. I had finally recognized that my students were individuals and had very different needs in the classroom. Being fair to my students meant that I not only needed to understand them as learners and people, but also that they required a variety of instructional methods, assessments, and practice. I reflected, studied, read, and evaluated my methods. I began to differentiate my instruction and felt like my students were changing along with me. Relationships were formed, trust was established, and a learning environment conducive to growth was created.
Once I had successfully implemented differentiated instruction, I still felt like I was missing something. I started to reflect on my assessment and grading practices. Why was I still demanding points, due dates, and compliant behaviors in my grading policies? Back to researching, planning, and implementing new strategies all over again. Now standards based learning, assessment, and grading drives my classroom experience and my students excel. Students go above and beyond my expectations on a daily basis. They are learners first and foremost. They seek knowledge, understanding, and new skills over points, scores, and grades.