I did it! Grades are in, and not only did I pull through, most of my students did as well. I have to admit I’ve learned more about teaching this term than I have for quite some time. Implementing Learning Objectives Based Grading (LOBG) has pushed me as instructor and I feel I’ve come out much stronger. Now it’s time to reflect.
The LOBG Philosophy (or SBG if you prefer):
Holding students accountable for mastering concepts and skills and giving them ample opportunity to reassess on those skills worked wonderfully. I can honestly say I’ve never had such a large portion of my class go on to Physics II with as good a grasp of the basics of physics. I’m dying to hear how they do during the next semester.
The Grading System:
I had a core group of about 60 C-level standards that students needed to complete just to get a C. In order to complete a standard a student needed at least two assessments marked as proficient. If students completed all of these standards they could get a C (or higher). Without completing all these basic standards the student could not get anything higher than a C-. If the student completed the C-level standards, their final grade was determined by how many of the A-level standards they completed. Despite considerable muttering and grumbling, almost all of my students completed the C-level standards and it turns out 3/5 of the class got an A or A-. I think this means either (1) I set the bar too low for an A or (2) the students really pushed themselves to master the material. I think the truth lies somewhere in between those two options so I’ll make an A a little harder next term and see how the students do.
The standards I used worked very well. I listed the first draft in an earlier post and towards the end of break I’ll upload my revised standards. The standards need a little tweaking but they got the students focused on the most important concepts.
What Didn’t Work:
Unfortunately, the only limits I place on my students was they needed to give me 48 hours notice of reassessment and they could only take one reassement per day. As Thanksgiving rolled around I could see the dark clouds on the horizon, telling me that I was about to be hit with the mother of all storms, namely ALL of my students rushing to get all standards completed in the last few weeks. I basically spent every day after Thanksgiving writing, administering, and grading reassessments. The biggest problem for the students was that even though they were trying to learn the material, they were trying to cram 15 weeks of learning into the last three weeks. Some did it, but it was not very pretty. Next time I plan on requiring students to reassess within three weeks of their previous assessment, to cut down on everyone putting it off to the end of the term.
I really didn’t want the students thinking of their assessment scores as points, so I refused to average or add or calculate percentages. I needed a gradebook that would determine how many “proficient” marks or higher they students got. This meant cludging together the mother-of-all Excel sheets (I’ll blog about this later in more detail). This spreadsheet has over 100 tabs, each with calculations out to column DDD. Opening this file take about 4-6 minutes and updating grades is a nightmare. I’m not sure how to do things differently but that is my major task over break.
Figuring Out “Midterm” Grades:
Students always want to know how they are doing throughout the term, but that is a little harder to figure out with my grading system. I had a near mutiny at one point because several students were convinced no one was going to pass the course. The issue is that up until week 14, when the last C-level standard was assessed, none of the students had passed the point where they’d get a C. What I mean is that, in a points based course, at some point midway through the term a top-notched student will look at how many points and realize they have enough points to get a C, or a B, or even an A. With my grading system, no body knows for sure that they will at least get a C until a week before the term ends. I need to come up with a way of reassuring students so this isn’t so stressful.
Communicate, communicate, communicate:
The key is to keep telling your students why you are doing this, to list the benefits to them, and to explain the grading system at many points throughout the term. Students experiencing LOBG for the first time are in very unfamiliar territory. They are professionals at getting points and calculating grades based on those points, but until LOBG becomes more common the students will need to hear again and again why you are doing this.
If You Push Them They Will Rise:
I’ve always heard that if you set the bar high for your students they will rise to the occasion and will even thank you for it. This was the first time I felt I had the support of my colleagues and the courage to try it. And the students rose to the challenge! And thanked me for it!