Standards-Based Grading: History (4 of 7)

This is the fourth in a series on the implementation of standards-based grading in specific disciplines. A lot has already been written on this subject that I hope to expand on.  A bit of motivation before moving on: Ask yourself, “Does my gradebook mean anything to anyone other than myself? How can I use assessment tools to better communicate with  students about their progress?” Finally, can we use assessment to empower students to control their own formative behavior in the classroom?

Not a single mention of a single concept. If you smoke a pipe, consider that fodder.

And we’re back. The gaze of the Standards-Based Grading Tower averts itself from the Ring and focuses on social studies (history). Disclaimer: I am not, nor pretend to be a Social Studies teacher, and you may ask yourself what business I have telling you, the accredited history instructor, how to run your class. I don’t have any business doing that, but I do have issues with how you grade whatever it is that you’ve painstakingly decided to assign.

So I did some research (hah!), and by that I mean that I asked some kids what history class was like. They gave fairly typical student-ish answers like, “boring,” “fun,” and “we watched movies.” So, I asked a better question. What was graded in history class? Here’s a short list of what some of them said:

  • Projects
  • Map Quizzes
  • Timelines
  • Movie Questions
  • Book Questions

Pretty typical school fare, really. I’m sure if there’s an especially progressive history teacher reading this, they’d probably be a bit offended, but in the real world of education, this is what a majority of classes look like.

I then asked a different question: “What did you do when you missed points?” Here were the most frequent answers:

  • “I dunno, I just did?”
  • “Umm, I tried to do better the next time.”
  • “Mrs. So-and-so hated me, so I didn’t even care.”
  • “I tried to figure out why.”

Not a single mention of a single concept. If you smoke a pipe, consider that fodder.

Kids need to learn some basics about how we ended up with the society that we have, and what specific events have precipitated what specific effects. (My next post will detail how I run my Sweeping Generalizations business, don’t worry).

How can this classroom model be brought into the Standards-Based Grading fold? The same way every other class can be: Identify the key ideas that govern your class, however many, and then demystify your gradebook accordingly. Want the kids to know about the major players in ancient Greece (or even better, know what they don’t know about them)? Then teach it like you always do, give an assessment, and instead of putting “Greece Quiz” into the gradebook, put separate entries for: “Role of Aristotle,” “Plato’s Philosophy,” and “Themes of the Original Republic.” That way the kid can tell that he or she doesn’t know anything about what a republic is, but sure as hockey sticks knows about the movers and shakers.

If you’ve been reading all of these posts, I hope I’m beginning to sound like a broken record.

Here’s the trouble with history: there’s a lot of it. You, the deft instructor, are aware of this and have already distilled down each period of history into basic themes and ideas. These ideas and themes beautifully flow into one another through your vivacious curriculum. The key to Standards-Based Grading is reflecting the dynamic of the student’s knowledge, and sometimes it’s really hard to let a kid show this improvement when one ‘unit’ has been left and another has begun.

I’m asking you to give the students the freedom to review the standards and then build re-assessment into your system. The current quiz might cover the countries of Europe, but why not include a larger portion of the Earth that you’ve already covered? Too much to grade? Maybe you’re assigning too much. If the students attempt the Mediterranean portion again, then re-assess that and change the grade! If they don’t attempt, then you didn’t learn anything about them, and the grade remains static.

You may even make previous material compulsory on subsequent quizzes. (Don’t punch me) This will seriously force you to consider what the students actually need to know as you pick those questions. You’ll be met by a lot of student complaining at first (a lot) but, in the end, my students have come to appreciate the rigor and the quite-often result of their grade going up. They are forced to identify what the most important idea from each ‘unit’ was, which is an absolutely essential study skill.

Watch the movie and grade the questions. Assign the project and use your rubric. Just don’t forget to ask yourself what exact standards you’re assessing, and how a student might demonstrate increased (or decreased) proficiency later.