Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.

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Beware! Are You The Points-Buffet Impresario?

If I had a drug problem, it would be a really big problem. I’m a junkie. When I get in to something there is absolutely no amount of it that can satiate me until the job has been finished. When I record music, I master every nanosecond for maximum volume. When I make bacon, I make 18 pounds. This junkie tendency, coupled with the constant product roll over (i.e. graduation) that we see in education, whips me into a frenzy nine days out of ten. These frenzies are often directed towards making my students care about learning, love learning, and wanting to self-actualize.

More-so, I’m an assessment junkie. While we still have to grade, and we do, Joe, I’ve decided that I’d like to use the system to my advantage rather than cry into the Internet’s wind about how crappy it all is. The furor created by some members of the blogging community seems like an echo chamber constructed of mirrors when you think about the non-blogging, effective-yet-traditional masses of teachers out their slugging their way through each and every day.

So, I’ve implemented a change that has really created a SBG system that is working for both my sanity and the kids’ love of learning.

SBG is not an all-you-can-eat points buffet:

In fact, that’s the opposite of what we want. This is not about A’s, B’s, or points. This is about learning, when too much control over the reassessment schedule is given to students without the proper philosophical shifts, we get exactly what happens when a bunch of teachers are forced to use new techniques by their administrations: deluded silliness.

I have abnormally large classes this semester, and writing on-demand reassessments was becoming not only daunting, but counter productive. Kids had learned that I would accept a shotgun style of points grabbing, and that made me cry.

I since have changed my system so that each class can reassess on only one day per week. Today was Block 2 Calculus’s day. I had three really solid reassessment attempts initiated by students. I also gave a quiz today in class, all students took it, and it assessed three standards: limit-sum areas, definite integrals, and related rates. The third standard is from way back, which is me getting at retention. Each class’s day is randomized each week, so that scheduling conflicts are not persistent.

I had a room full of addicts, and I’ve taken away the fire hose of heroin points that I was spraying everywhere. By thinning (not removing) I think you get better reflection. They also take the teacher-initiated assessments more seriously, as they know that’s the easiest shot for showing improvement.

What this one little change has gotten me is more self-directed students, as they know they are limited. They also feel a slightly higher pressure to perform better the first time (as they can no longer try one per day ad infinitum), I also maintain a little more sanity. I have not taken away anything from the central tenet that is SBG: grades should reflect progress and initial attempts should behave as formative indicators.

A crazy side effect has been that students who normally would never study and come in, are now doing so. One student said, “Now I feel like I know which day to do this [reassess] on.” That seems crazy to me, but at least this kid is studying. Before, he said he felt like being able to do it whenever made him procrastinate it.

This translates directly into him using his professors’ office hours correctly. Win.

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7 thoughts on “Beware! Are You The Points-Buffet Impresario?
  • [...] to improve).  Grades can go down as well as up.  I took to heart the suggestions by many people that one day per week should be chosen for reassessment.  We’re blessed with 3-hour shop [...]

  • Gilbert Bernstein says:

    I wonder if some of the effect you’re seeing comes from changing your assessment rather than what you changed it to. Perhaps changing the assessment style is a strong signal to students that they cannot go about their grades in a business-as-usual fashion.

  • sam shah says:

    I allowed my students to reassess two days a week in my first quarter of SBG. It became too much, so coincidentally, I’m doing what you’re doing. This quarter, they can only reassess one day a week. I told them why (1. I was getting overwhelmed, 2. For some, reassessments were a crutch not a safety net). I was honest. They seemed to understand.

    I too want to shift them away from the Point/Grade mentality. I would argue it would be impossible for me to do it completely, but it would be nice to start that reorientation process.


  • JoVE says:

    That last bit? Evidence that kids actually like boundaries. Too much choice is paralysing.

    Putting limits on your workload isn’t just good for you, it’s good for the kids.

    I hope you stay addicted to getting kids to “care about learning, love learning, and wanting to self-actualize.”

  • nancym says:

    I’m not sure I understand the change. You now reassess only on one day per week for a given class. How do you schedule everyone (lunch? after school?). What about the kids who say they can’t make it that day? Maybe I’m not understanding how you do the reassessment. I’m dealing with the same frustration, so I’m looking for new ideas. Thanks!

    • Shawn says:

      @nancym: Yup, each class can only choose to reassess once per week. They are never forced, and many go weeks without choosing to reassess. The day changes randomly per week, so that scheduling conflicts like you mentioned are not persistent. It’s just too bad for them. My goal here was so slow down the whole process so that the learning would take hold and be deeper, not just day-after-the-quiz-omg-i-want-points-back.


  • Jan says:

    Sounds like a winning situation for both the teacher and the students. Maybe we are even on the same team…