SBG: One Dollop of Fear

I should also record what I’m afraid of. Here’s one that keeps coming back:

Suppose I really do try standards-based grading (SBG). I’ve been reading and lurking. It sounds really attractive. But in order to have SBG, you need S. You need a list of standards (or objectives or outcomes, whatever).

There are lists of these things for statistics, but they don’t list everything that I value. So I’m trying to figure out how to write that list. The problem is like—you know when you’ve been dreaming, and you wake up, and for just an instant it’s all there? But the moment you start telling about it, two things happen: the thing you’re not talking about dissolves, and then what you remember is the words, not the underlying ideas?

That’s what I’m afraid will happen about these other, less effable things that I care about.

At somebody’s suggestion (probably Meg’s) I have been keeping a document that’s a brain-dump list of whatever ideas I come up with, and it is purposely unordered. It’s allowed to be redundant. I don’t have to organize it. And so far, it has gone pretty well. I think the guts of a good list are in it.

In addition, I know that I’ll have ideas in the class and in collaboration with the class, and they’ll let me add or modify these standards on the fly.

What kinds of things am I thinking of? besides, you know, content, I want to include stuff we might call “habits of mind” and the like, such as:

Data Goggles. When appropriate, the student spontaneously looks for the data in a situation and does something useful with it (e.g., make a display).

House of Mirrors. The student consciously and explicitly uses multiple perspectives (graphical, tabular, model, formula, etc) to get insight into a situation through its data.

Could these be standards? By writing these down, do I lose the thousand other wisps of aspirations for my students? Will kids point-grub to get high marks on these? Experienced SBG-ers, any advice welcome.


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Tim Erickson

Math-science ed freelancer and sometime math teacher. In 2014–15, at Mills College in Oakland, California.

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