When has a student mastered a skill? Part of the purpose of Standards-Based Grading is to help us answer this question. (I’d even say it helps us to articulate the question in the first place.) Different teachers establish skills mastery in their versions of SBG in different ways–for instance, getting everything right on a skill quiz, or getting everything right on two skill quizzes in a row. In these versions, once a student achieves a certain outcome, she is exempt from further quizzes on that skill. For other teachers, a kid is never “done” with a skill until the year is over; skills continue to come up on new assessments, and the student’s grade for that skill is his most recent one. On top of these, I’m sure there are many other awesome variations and hybrids that people have devised that work well for their classrooms. I’d love to hear about your own twist.
This past year I was in the “one-and-done” camp, and I’m planning on staying there. That said, I think I will be keeping a better eye out for occasions when a student is struggling with the mechanics of a skill that he has previously quizzed well on. That may be a good time for a conversation and perhaps reviewing and requizzing. (Without grades in the picture, there won’t be anything punitive about this–just an opportunity to learn.) But I’m looking forward to including a new facet to my skills quizzes themselves this year. Like so:
It’s that last bit. I’m curious to see how asking students about their quizzing experiences affects the whole assessment process. I can’t say exactly where the idea to do this came from, but I think it was at least partially inspired by a student of mine from last year. She would often write notes to me on her quizzes explaining what she still felt fuzzy on. This was on quizzes she was choosing to take, buffet-style. I found that her notes both gave me a better sense for her understanding and provided a really natural way for us to start conversations about remediation. While there were times that she struggled with our course material, her ability to self-evaluate helped to make her year a successful one.
I’m sure you’ve taught both over-confident and under-confident students. I feel that by asking “How did that go for you?” on quizzes I may sometimes hear anxiety and doubts from under-confident students even when they get everything right. In the past, I’ve just checked off their correct responses, said “good job” and moved on. They were “done” with that skill, despite not feeling at home with it. No doubt they were in the short-term relieved, but perhaps they were left feeling uneasy about this skill in the long run. That isn’t what mastery should look like. By putting that quick gut check at the bottom of each quiz, I’m trying to give my students a safe and immediate place to tell me about their relationship with the skill, right after they’ve shown me their attempts to apply it. And if they’re telling me they don’t feel like they’ve mastered it yet–even with a perfect paper–then they haven’t. More steps need to be taken.
I’m sure you can fill in the corresponding things that could transpire with an over-confident student.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that a kid will pose as more confident than he really is, or decide not to respond to the question at all. To me, it’s not important that all of my students share their feelings toward their skills with me in this way. If providing the occasion helps even a few of them to do so, the fruits of that will make me feel like it’s well worth asking.
To sum up, I’ve come to think that any answer to the question “When has a student mastered a skill?” needs to include, “when she feels like a master of it.”
I hope that finding room in my classroom for the affective aspect of learning skills will make for more effective assessment and feedback.
(Ah, there’s the punchline. It turns out I’m not a spelling dummy after all.)