Last semester was my first semester being a full time assistant professor. As it was my first year in the job and my department said they wanted me to experiment with teaching I decided to implement some of the things I saw at MathFest and modify them to work for me. I decided to teach my calc 1 and discrete course with Standards Based Grading using inquiry based learning textbooks. I also saw a great panel on metacognition, so I implemented one activity that they had shown as well in hopes that I would gain student buy in for IBL and SBG. For those unfamiliar with SBG, I recommend you go to Kate Owen’s Blog on her experiences implementing SBG. It is not something new, as gk-12 teachers have been implementing the system for awhile. It was just new to me.
What I tried:
For Discrete, I tried a to do a full standards based grading system, where they would have almost daily “learning targets” and many chances to make up the 20 learning targets my coteacher and I had decided on. They also had a semester long project to create a proof portfolio (thank you NExT fellow who shared their resources with me!) that would focus more on proof techniques and latex skills.
For Calc 1, I was teaching on my own and didn’t want to do daily quizzes, so instead I implemented a bin system that some of my colleagues had been testing out. Each type of assignment I gave was assigned to a bin, and students had to score a certain amount in each bin to make the grade they wanted. I had a bin for webwork (their daily homework) in which they had to score above a certain threshold for me to qualify it as passing; a written homework bin where they had 2 chances per assignment to turn in an almost perfect draft of their work (only then would it count as passing); a project bin where they had to turn in an almost perfect project at the end of the semester (they had many draft deadlines prior to the final deadline for me to lead them to the bar I had set); a bin for the midterm where they had 2 chances to score about a 70 on the exam, and bin for metacognition reflections in which they had to watch videos and read articles on things related to how students think and learn and write me 3 one page essays (they just had to do turn an essay in for a pass).
How this all worked out:
Pros: I really don’t hate grading anymore. It used to be the worst thing ever and my least favorite part of teaching. Most students I have taught never look at the comments my graders and I would put and they would continue to make the same mistakes on every assignment. Since students had to keep retrying things until they mastered the material, they read through my feedback and tried to improve. I also have a better grasp of what my students do and do not understand, because the more they did on an assignment the more it became clear what in the process was being misunderstood.
For Calculus, the students that passed my course very well were not just students who had calculus before, which had been my experience the other times I had taught calc. I also think for both courses it was a system that was more forgiving to students who had personal issues pop up during the semester that impacted their attendance and learning.
Since deadlines were essentially all at the end of the semester, a student who had an emergency midsemester still had the same opportunities to master the material as students that did not have sudden emergencies (albeit they had a less time so they had to be more on the ball with making appointments and coming to office hours).
The reflections in calculus got me the buy in from many of my students who hated my teaching and grading system at the beginning of the semester. Some said they still didn’t like it, but they understood why I was doing it and accepted that they would have to adapt.
Cons: Oh my goodness! Learning targets eat up so much time in class and out of class! We even had a file with learning target questions from the prior year and it still took us a little bit to put ones together for this semester. You need so many versions of questions for each target. Then you have to spend time in class giving a target. Since we didn’t want to grade every single day, we had students grading in class to learn how to assess their work. This was good, but also took a lot of time. So we ended up covering less material (which isn’t terrible for a discrete course, but there’s so much cool stuff we couldn’t do because of it). Then outside of class, we had to hold so many extra hours for students to come in and make up targets. We tried to control the workload by limiting students to only 2 a week and only holding hours on Thursday and Friday, but there were still several Thursdays that every hour I had a student coming in to work and talk through a target. There was no time to do anything else like prep for my next class.
Grading 2 versions over every homework assignment in a timely fashion can be difficult when sudden obligations pop up. For example, I’m behind on giving feedback Calc 1 and Calc 2 homework right now because I needed to finish reading applications for an REU last week.
Student buy in takes a little time, so many students would push back against my system over the course of the semester and some left scathing reviews in my evals.
Our grading system on Canvas did not like they way I graded in either class, so I had to constantly remind students not to look at the percentages in the grade book, but to see if the amount of completes they were getting matched my grading scheme. Some students were still confused at the end of the semester, as they fell between categories. So I had to find a consistent way to score these between category students that was as fair as I could be to all.
No deadlines till the end of the semester means the last day of the semester I get to grade all the late work, piles of it.
I wanted to do reflections again because they ended up working so well, but my Calc 2 students next year have almost all already had me, so they’ve already done this assignment. I did not figure out before the start of the semester how to make an assignment that would go in more depth.
Things I’ve changed for this semester
I decided against doing learning targets in abstract algebra as it would have been far too much work. Instead they have homework everyday, participation (measured in how often and how well they present the material), and a proof portfolio that will determine their grade at the end of the semester. I restructured the proof portfolio to have more drafts and less questions so students can get more feedback and a better idea of what I mean by an excellent proof. That way they are not all in my office the last week of classes concerned that they still haven’t written a perfect proof.
I will probably try learning targets again in discrete next year, but I will have less of them, so I can better manage the time for my students and I. I will also share more resources with my discrete students so they better understand the research behind this style of grading and teaching. I will also modify the proof portfolio here as well so students get better feedback. I’ll also structure the regrading in class differently, the first few we will do as a class with several students recording on the board their solutions and we will carefully critique them. Then for later targets, I’ll share solutions so they can grade outside of class and post their solutions.
For Calculus, I really liked reflections and doing multiple drafts of each assignment, so I’m keeping with that. I think for next year, I will write a more in depth reflection for Calc 2, so student who have had me before get a new experience rather than the same information as before. I think I’ll have them do more research on the things they read on their own, rather than use resources I found (which means they are prone to be my views and biases).
I have more firm deadlines now (they are still really flexible so there is still the pro benefit from above). If students want the more flexible deadline, they have to have extra credit points that they earn by engaging with the campus or the community through lectures of volunteer work. Then the deadlines are one month after the original assignment is due, that way I don’t have all the things to grade on the last day (just some of the things).
Things that have helped make these systems work for me
Canvas is amazing. All work my students do has to be uploaded as a pdf and I grade it on Canvas. This means I can have version control when I ask students to regrade their work. I always have a record of everything they’ve turned in and what quality it was. This way it’s quick to keep track which versions of a learning target students have done.
My department really tries to encourage us to try new things in teaching and understands that this will come with growing pains. So when I get bad teaching evals from trying something new that did not work out as well as I hoped, I’m not punished for it. They also give me full control on whether I will give exams.
My classes are 2 hours each twice a week, so there is time for me to do things like learning targets and grade them in class and still cover new material.
All in all, I will continue to try SBG (and IBL) over the next few years. My hope is to get better and faster at it so that they don’t take as much time. I want to have a better bank of questions to pull from for both learning targets and proof portfolios. I will also try to improve on the reflection assignment to better accommodate students I’ve had multiple times.