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Team #PhysEd Stories: Standards-Based Instruction

There is no doubt in my mind that social media is helping teachers from all around the world be the best teachers they can be. With the #PhysEd community growing stronger every day, I wanted to create a blog post series to help share the stories of teachers whose practice has been influenced by the professional development they engage in via social media. To start this series off, I invited my friend Sarah Gietschier-Hartman to share her journey with standards-based instruction, including a pretty sweet (pun intended) trick she uses to help her students understand where their standards-based grades come from. Thanks Sarah for sharing this awesome post with us!

Last spring, while I was planning for the 2013-2014 school year, I borrowed my co-worker’s copy of How to Grade for Learning: Linking Grades to Standards by Ken O’Connor to learn strategies for improving my grading practices.

Halfway through the book I remember thinking, “Sarah, you have no way to prove that your students are learning in your class. You have no way to defend the content you teach each day.” Sure, I knew which students could dribble a soccer ball and which students understood the difference between an incomplete pass and an interception, but I didn’t collect any data to prove it.

Instead, and I’m ashamed to admit, I spent the first six years of my teaching career assessing my students’ effort, participation, and ability to dress out or wear tennis shoes in class.

Six years. Why did I do that to my students? I think it’s because it was the only way I knew how to grade them and I wanted to conform to the systems already in place where I worked. It was easy and at the time it made sense. Now, it just seems…wrong.

Before I finished reading O’Connor’s book, I decided to make the switch from a traditional grading system (i.e. percentage-based grades based on effort, participation, dressing out) in my physical education classes to a standards-based curriculum.

My current curriculum has two components, the standards-based grading system, which I implemented this past school year, and the standards-based instruction, a process that I’m working on each day this summer and hope to use this upcoming school year.

In a standards-based grading (SBG) system, a student’s grades reflect what s/he knows, understands, and can do in relation to grade-level expectations, course requirements, and state/national standards. The students’ grades are consistent, accurate, meaningful, and supportive of learning. I implement a standards-based grading system in order to give grades meaning, and give my students real feedback of what they have learned. I want my students, their parents, and myself to know where the child is successful and where s/he needs to improve. A standards-based grade provides an accurate portrayal of student performance. My students’ grades are not influenced by work habits, such as effort, attendance, or dressing out.

When designing my curriculum, one of my biggest challenges was choosing the performance standards for my grading system. Some SBG systems use terms like Exceeds Expectations, Proficient, Meets the Standard, Developing, Emerging, Falls Below Standard. Those make sense to educators and (some) parents, but I decided to use four levels with kid-friendly descriptions:

Level 4 = Wow! (100%*)
Level 3 = Got It! (89%)
Level 2 = Getting There! (79%)
Level 1 = I need more practice. (69%)
* My district’s online grading system uses a traditional A-B-C-D-F report card, so I convert the levels to percentages.

My next challenge was explaining the grading system to my students. My sixth grade students understand SBG because their elementary report card was standards-based; however, my 7th and 8th grade students (who may or may not have had me in previous years) were used to a traditional grading system in physical education. Plus, some of my students change teachers each quarter, so I had to find a way to explain everything multiple times without sounding redundant.

I love using analogies to explain things to my students, so when I stumbled upon a cupcake analogy on Twitter, I knew I had to use it in class.

Level One
A Level 1 on an assessment would be like going to a bakery, ordering a cupcake, and just receiving the cupcake wrapper. There are a lot of components missing.

Level Two
A Level 2 on an assessment would be like going to a bakery, ordering a cupcake, and receiving a plain cupcake in a wrapper. Some people do like plain cupcakes, but they just aren’t that exciting.

Level Three
A Level 3 on an assessment would be like going to a bakery, ordering a cupcake, and receiving a cupcake in a wrapper with icing. It’s pretty, tastes great, and meets the customer’s satisfaction, but it could be a little bit better!

Level Four
A Level 4 on an assessment would be like going to a bakery, ordering a cupcake, and receiving a cupcake in a wrapper with icing and sprinkles. The sprinkles add that “Wow!” factor.

This explanation makes sense to my students. It gives them a visual to think about and a goal to achieve. If you walked in my gym at the beginning of a quarter, you would hear my students say, “I want to be a sprinkle!” and, “I want to be a Level 4!”

Since making the switch from traditional grading to SBG, I’ve noticed that my students are more eager to come to class, they dress out every day (even though it doesn’t affect their grade!), and they think on a deeper level about game concepts, tactics, and strategies. I now know exactly what my students are learning, I give my students frequent, meaningful feedback, and I enjoy my job more than ever before. Perhaps, it’s because I teach classes full of sprinkles.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to connect with Sarah on Twitter! Also, if you would like to share a Team #PhysEd story of your own, feel free to contact me and we can work together to share your story with the world!

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Joey Feith is the founder of ThePhysicalEducator.com. He currently teaches elementary physical education at St. George’s School of Montreal in Quebec, Canada.