Standards-Based Grading: The Smiley Method

One of my former students just came back to visit. All teachers know that this is usually super fun, rewarding, and mortally terrifying . Young undergrads rarely have enough experience to look back on what I did to them and wonder why I was so negligent.

That said, I really try not to be; teaching is just really hard. At the end of each day–when I rest my locked arms on crooked knees supporting my entire upper body, exhausted from answering 650 Maslow-rific questions, standing for 7 hours, and not peeing once–I can’t help but think about those kids who still don’t have an effing clue what a spleen does.

This student wants to become a math teacher. Again, maybe because I’m inspiring, or maybe it’s a subtle kick in the junk. Who knows! But she’s going to be damn good either way.

The Smiley Method:

She shared with me an assessment method that I can’t help but love: The Smiley Method.

One of her professors gives students a timeline for becoming proficient, which he records as semi-arcs in the grade book. 180 degrees = half way to mastery.

The kicker is that each assignment has a deadline at which you have to meet proficiency (270 degrees), after which you can keep reassessing as you wish in order to get the full circle, which is then playfully transformed into the ultimate in motivation, a smiley face (see dog, above).

Genius? Games? Questionable psychology? The roulette that is assessment is never boring! Discuss in the comments, please.

I can’t help but wonder how a timeline for proficiency makes any sense. What happens if you only get 265 degrees on the “due date?”

$!@#&^%! DUE DATES:

That said, a lot of people are hung up on retaining due dates, and I hope the previous anecdote provides something to chew on.

Personally, I only believe in due dates that exist, and my arbitrary assignment of when something should be learned is just that, arbitrary. However, our semester does end, the science fair is one night, and students do need to graduate. (see disastrous summer assessment below…)

Those dates feel a little more natural to me than, “Welp, I guess it’s time for a quiz… because… um… It’s been 5 days?” Or, worse, “I’m done teaching this, let’s move on…”

I’m going to make a wild, hand-waving declaration that this will be the flavor of SBG I sit on for a while*

  • Quizzes every Thursday (or so)
  • Quizzes cover a relatively new standard and a random old one.
  • All scores will be binary (got it or don’t)
  • Scores are reported rarely, and comments are given in their stead more often than not. (BlueHarvest will allow for limited number entry soon)
  • Onus will be on students to demonstrate proficiency in ways other than quizzes so that they can curate their own feedback profile.

My current experiment, which consists of totally asynchronous project-based learning, and intermittent TED style talks, is working ok. I’ve had to extend my course into the summer to relieve the stress of the May 30th deadline.

I suppose what I’m asking is a little intense. A binary “yes” is really hard to get. An ‘A’ now results from high mastery of 90% of the content, whereas it used to be an mathematical game where some standards could be thrown under the bus.

Students are slowly taking to the idea that feedback is valuable commodity. The number of students that queue up just to talk something over is increasing, while the number of dejected, but-I-deserve-credit-because-I-made-this-crappy-PowerPoint is going down.

Experiment or die. Right?

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