Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.


A Successful First Semester (An Assessment Successment)

Leif Segen is a teacher new to Iowa. He’s actively experimenting in his classroom, which is to say, he’s not accepting the laughable status quo.

Long story short, I’m a second-year high school science teacher. The education field is the place for me because it lets me help children and youth be agents of change in their own lives and in their communities. Also, this is the first semester I’m using standards-based grading.

My definition of SBG so far is: Standards-Based Grading is goal- or skill-oriented learning, goal-oriented planning, goal-oriented teaching.

I’ve been spending time here on ThinkThankThunk because I want to learn about making my teaching more meaningful and helpful for my students. This is what standards-based grading is all about. Hoping to convince you that good things can happen when you start using SBG with students, here’s a brief sample of went down in my class.

Student Epistemology:

About 75% through the semester, Sudent A says, “Why do we have to have a quiz every Friday?”

Before I can answer, Student B: “They’re not even really quizzes; they’re more like a progress check.” (And I don’t think this student has the pedagogical knowledge to forge that compliment/complement.)

Four students came in for help with momentum conservation after school on Monday. Two students made their own collision problem. After giving the problem to another student and getting the same answer they totally erupted into this: “I feel like I’m a little kid!!!”

What’s better than kids helping each other and being thrilled about it? This was gold to me after an underwhelming 15 week lull. (This is longer the advertised 5 weeks, because we’re not on the block schedule and I’m a SBG newbie.)


After assessing your students’ current progress along the path towards mastery, what’s better than clearly communicating your feedback to them? I’ll tell you: Conveying your feedback–not along a one-way street that students might detour to the recycle binz–but in a way that actually starts a continuing a dialog with your students. That’s what!

Does that sound like a pipe dream? Well, that’s exactly what’s going on between me and my students. We’re using BlueHarvestFeedback as the place for students to turn for my feedback about where they are in their learning process and what they can try next. (See @chrisludwig’s write-up on how to get started. It’s free for a year!)

That’s a noble idea, but does it work? Yes! This is really the direction my classes are going. We’re switching from students asking, “What do I need to correct?” to them asking, “How can I show that I meet this standard?”

BlueHarvest is becoming a space my students to go to see what they have yet to do learn. BH was built from the ground up with every line of code clearly intended to orient students to thinking of grades as completely based on their progress towards learning targets. It’s obvious that they understand how technologies are value laden; they take full advantage of that fact to benefit you and your students. More on that later, I suppose.

If you’ve been following this blog and haven’t tried out BlueHarvestFeedback, seriously what are you waiting for? There are other tools designed to help SBG teachers, but they’re all tuned slightly differently, and you should pick the one that fits you best. BH is for feedback conversations.

One last thing about BH – for now. My principal pretty much loves it.. He liked that I was able to pull up a student’s learning needs during a parent meeting. He likes what it adds to transparency.


Okay, I have some limitations that I’m dealing with. I’ve got close to 100 students, five different preps, and a family whom I love. No matter what feedback system you use, individualized feedback takes time. So I’ve figured out a nifty spreadsheet system that let’s me turn students’ quizzes into personalized, specific feedback that I can enter into BlueHarvest1. My heart is aching to give students more (à la feedback love notes), but I’ll get there in time.

I am among the hoards of teachers benefiting from Frank’s Keep It Simple SBG post this year. I’ve made a bunch of ideological and logistical concessions out of necessity (for sleep). This is okay, fellow wannabe SBG teachers.

Bottom Line:

I’ve got a long way to go. (I need to learn a lot more about quality assessment and genuine inquiry-based pedagogy across subject areas. The values of binary vs. numbered gradings still confound me.) But I’m thrilled to be on this path. I found it before I could be tempted by the whistle of the Disillusionment Express.

You can do this.

Are you new to standards-based grading? What are your successes? What’s changing in your classroom? What’s changing in you?

1 This rests on the =concatenate(text1,text2,...) function and the fact that BH ACCEPTS HTML INPUT!

Leif Segen • December 22, 2012

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  1. Katie Graf January 6, 2013 - 12:26 pm

    I was able to open it – thanks!

  2. Patti W. December 23, 2012 - 8:14 pm

    I have started using SBG on the sly, along with my mentor. I still have to follow the team’s grading key, which is points-based. But I keep the point score to myself and tack on a standards chart at the back of every paper-based assessment to tell kids how they did. I write all over their paper assessments in fun colors, which they seem to like (and read). I use a 4-point scale, with 3 indicating performing at grade level on that standard, because that’s what the kids have seen before in the elementary grades. Then I use the formula that was given in the “Keep It Simple” post linked above to calculate their total assessment grade for the grading period, which has to be on a 100-point scale.

    I also assess at least weekly through the clickers the kids are so fond of, plus I’m starting to use other assignments, like projects, as assessment tools rather than points to put in the grade book. I’m finding I’m much more likely to target assessment to what we’re really supposed to be learning, and I’m designing better quick, formative assessments as I go. Using SBG has put me on the path to being a more effective teacher.

    It’s only really been about 10 weeks of doing it this way and only letting the kids in on it a little bit at a time, but I had a kid ask me the other day what she had to do to demonstrate that she understood the standard we were working on that day. I felt like a million bucks.

    My mentor thinks it’s time for us to come out of the closet and present what we’re trying to the principal and the rest of the math department. I suspect there will be a lot of resistance, but you never know. We made ourselves a little spreadsheet where we keep track of kids who are at grade level, above (we use special questions on assessments to determine this), and below. It’s made a huge difference in targeting remediation and intervention.

    Getting kids to take more control over their learning seems to be the obvious next step for us.

    • Leif Segen December 25, 2012 - 1:37 am

      I thought I had to be sly, too. Letting grades rest solely on students demonstrating understanding does change everything after all.

      At the same time, though, you can share what your doing by being clear about what sort of awesome and important information you are sharing with students, how your methods might be elevating classroom discourse beyond points and on to the content. That’s what everyone wants. It can accurately be sold as goal-oriented teaching/learning. The term “standards-based grading” doesn’t have to come up at all in the conversation.

      I’m starting to use multiple choice as well – one of my ideological concessions. I’m curious how you map the clicker Q&A to standards and how your spreadsheet helps with intervention.

  3. Katie Graf December 23, 2012 - 3:48 pm

    Can I get a copy or outline of the “nifty spreadsheet system that let’s me turn students’ quizzes into personalized, specific feedback” from you? I have my own developing methods but I sure could use some help organizing my thoughts and saving time! I teach 4 preps and would like to give good and timely feedback, while minimizing the extra teacher work and maximizing student responsibility. Thanks!

    This is my first year trying SBG as well. I am only using it in my elective Physics class – mostly seniors. There are 12 students and they are among the more motivated and older of my students, so I figured this would be the safest environment in which to embark on SBG.

    At first, I faced pushback from some of the seniors as they are used to getting good grades and they realized they would “really need to understand” the material in order to get a good grade. I loved hearing this from one student and she was actually very positive about it -realizing it was a GOOD thing! :)

    Next year, I’m hoping to start SBG in one of my younger-grade classes – possibly 9th or 10th graders. Any recommendations for SBG in a required science class with students at VERY different levels (high, low, medium)?

    I use a 5-10 point system to best fit the grading percentages that students expect. It’s not perfect, but I’m hoping to revise it more for next year. I aim for consistency and retention in student understanding.

    I use grade tracking (students do this on paper) as well as PowerSchool. I am trying to have students make regular grade checks and set goals on standards to keep working on. I have not found a good system for this yet.

    As far as feedback, I have found my time grading to FEEL more fruitful as I know a score of “8” or “6” on a standard alone carries meaning. So, even if I don’t have time to write much, the # carries the feedback! I continue to try to write more comments – and find myself writing in explanations for how they got it wrong. That gives them a chance to reflect on their work and then, when the next reassessment comes along, they will at least have seen those comments.

    I have not tried Blue Harvest yet – as it will take me a bit to learn and become efficient at using. I would also need to teach it to my students. I feel as if this will be a summer project for me as I try to move more classes to SBG.

    Finally, I want to encourage students to continue to take on more responsibility for their learning. I have found most students need the structure and don’t, in fact, know how to be responsible for their learning. Some just don’t want to be… So, I’m hoping to infuse more structure in my younger classes and a system which students use in all my science classes (I teach 9-12) so that they get used to it.

    I’m very excited to be a part of SBG discussion and I’m sure there are a many successes and failures I have forgotten to share – so please ask!

    Katie Graf

    • Leif Segen December 25, 2012 - 1:12 am


      Here’s my spreadsheet. It’s not polished, but the green columns are where I input a problem number/feedback if something needs to be improved.

      Is your question about teaching lowerclassmen with SBG about choosing standards? Tips about getting them on board / pitfalls? What can you say to this, people?

      My experience so far: I’m teaching 9th graders Earth science. The standards I could come up with are currently lumped-together objectives from a CK12 Flexbook. (I know, where’s the inquiry in that? Never took Earth sci, so I’m teaching cold turkey.) These standards are on BlueHarvest and on a guideline sheet that students get at the start of each unit. When I check in with students, I record the concepts that I can see they know understand as a comment. I’m using binary grading; percent proficiency gets scaled mapped to the 50 – 100. What courses are you talking about, though?

      Regarding BH, it can be phased in. Even start it as a space to reflect on learning on, say, an overarching theme – or to storify the development of students’ ideas during of a PBL adventure. I actually started it a couple weeks into the school year. This is the (10 min) video I used to introduce it. I emailed it to parents. What’s missing is an example of the dialog that takes place and how that’s connected to a student planning her next steps.

      It sounds like you have awesome goals and are doing great things for your students. Thanks for sharing!

      • Katie Graf December 25, 2012 - 8:10 pm

        I don’t have Google Plus – is there another way I can access the spreadsheet? I have a regular gmail account if it helps.

        I teach General Science (introduction to physics and chemistry with some biology as well) for freshmen, Biology for mostly sophomores, then Chemistry for mostly juniors.

        I’m okay writing standards (except that it seems to take forever…) but I’m mostly interested in ways to make the grading process more streamline and structured with students who still need to be taught how to be responsible for their learning. I don’t want to put any more work on myself in the long run.


      • Leif Segen December 30, 2012 - 9:39 am

        Hmm, I set it as public so you wouldn’t have to log in to view it. I exported it to an Excel file: How’s this direct download?

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