Foundations: Standards-Based Grading, Incorporating Skill Names into Classroom Life!

After I put together all of the skills for my AP® Physics and regular physics courses and began using them in my first foray into SBG, I realized that I was saying things like, "Remember to use APM.1 here!" or "Let's practice some FPM.1!"  Some students knew what I was talking about, but many didn't.  I realized I wasn't getting my new vocab out there enough.  It wasn't working for me to keep saying these terms.  The students needed to use them and think about them and say them.  Over the last few years, I have been gradually incorporating elements into the function of my classroom to increase the amount of active usage of these skills with the aim of increasing their understanding of the skills and their sense of their proficiency in these skills.  Below I have compiled a list of my strategies (which I am constantly re-evaluating) targeting this skill engagement.

1. Packets!

Every unit begins with a packet.  The packets contain absolutely everything we do in class for an entire unit and consist of the following elements.
  1. The cover page includes the title of the unit as well as the SKILLS we are going to practice.  The first day of the unit is the first time the students see these brand new skills!  During our whiteboarding work, the students can quickly flip to the front page to check the skills they are using.
  2. There is a section for notes from class discussions.  Sometimes there is a table for the students to fill out as we talk for easy reference.  
  3. There are lab investigations sprinkled throughout including spaces for data and reflection. For AP®, I have a separate lab packet for the year.
  4. The majority of the packet contains problems, problems, and more problems.  After each problem, there is a box for the students to fill out with what skills they used to solve it.
  5. At the end of the packet, there is a summary page on which I have the students rewrite the descriptions of each skill with their own words or pictures or diagrams on the last day of the unit. 
The packet is truly the main arena for learning what these skills truly mean and by engaging with these terms on the very first day, each day in the middle, and the last day, I am striving to basically give my students' brains no choice but to adopt these terms!

Here is a sample cover page:
Sample DiSanto packet cover page for balanced force unit.
Here is an example of a problem from the packet (note: the tension isn't given as I change up the value for the students) with the skills box at the end.
Sample force packet problem demonstrating skill reflection at the end of the problem.

2. Homework Reflection

Homework is an excellent opportunity for students to see how they apply our course skills when they are ALONE.  In class, they are supported by their tablemates.  It can be (and most often is) such a different experience when students are working by themselves, and I want them to get a taste of that before an assessment.  When I assign homework, I post the problem set as well as the solutions.  The instructions for every assignment are as follows:

Step 0:  Print out the assignment, not the solutions. If you can't print at home, do it at school!
Step 1: Read the 3,4,5,6 scale on the assignment.  Take note of what a 6 requires.
Step 2: Skip the top of the cover page at first and do the problem(s)!
Step 3: The solutions are posted on Google Classroom.  Correct your homework in ANOTHER COLOR.  These corrections should be clear.  This is your time to see what you are not understanding.
Step 4: Fill out the cover page based on your work and the corrections.  Think of the cover page as your reflection on the assignment.
Step 5: Turn this assignment in to me at the beginning of class.
Step 6:  If you have questions about the assignment, come find me!  We will figure it out!

The cover page of the homework looks like this:
Sample homework cover page incorporating standards-based grading skill reflection
The reflection portion is the key here.  This is where the students really begin to understand what the skills mean and recognize when they are using them.  I have noticed this repeated, reflection element really speeds up the course language acquisition process!

Here is a sample from the start of our energy transfer unit.
Sample homework cover page filled about by DiSanto's physics student

3. My Verbal Feedback

When I rotate around the room during whiteboarding sessions, I strive to use the skill names in the feedback I give.  When encouraging them, I reference the skill they are rocking.  When helping them, I reference the skill they are struggling with.  During extra help, the student and I discuss the skills they struggle with and may even reassess on.  I basically try to use the skill names as much as possible!

4. Assessments

If you have read any of my SBG posts, you know that all of my assessments revolve around the course skills and that on assessments, students receive feedback on a skill-by-skill basis.  For more details on this, check out my SBG posts!

I hope you have a good idea of how pervasive I strive to make our skill names.  I don't want the students to have to work to know them.  I want them to know them as a result of the environment we create together.  I love feeling like we have our own special language.  One of my past AP® said with a smile, "I am gonna tell my college physics professor when he is solving a problem or something, that he just used FPM.1!"


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