Can You Defend Your Practices?

The most interesting classroom-related Twitter conversation of 2013 took place within the last week of the year, and has carried over to the early days of 2014.  An intense debate between a twitter “member” named @StopSBG, committed to “Stop Standards-Based Grading (SBG) in Ankeny Schools”, and a number of education professionals has produced spirited back-and-forth on the nature of grading, standards, test retakes, and what we value in our communities.

I can’t fairly summarize the many webs woven and arguments made over the past week, and encourage you to look up Frank Noschese, Ken O’Connor, and Rick Wormeli, and the many others who have joined the conversation.

Kudos to Frank, and his many, MANY tweets over the last few days in trying to defend best practices in grading.  In my own building, I have moved towards retakes in my classes, which I have blogged about here, and have worked to defend my ideas and practices with colleagues.  I have had some success in convincing colleagues to join me in making retakes part of their classroom culture.  But change of long-held practices takes time, reflection and discussion.  For me, my classroom guidelines on retakes are based on 3 conclusions:

  1. It’s best for student learning.
  2. It’s best for student reflection.
  3. It’s best for student feedback.

And aren’t those the most important things?  My opinions on retakes certainly didn’t develop overnight; I read literature, sought out research, shared ideas with colleagues, and found opportunities to hear experts share their ideas (which is much easier with things like YouTube and Twitter around to facilitate self-directed PD).

But my opinions aren’t sufficient if I can’t defend my policies.  And they need to be defensible, not only to colleagues (who I hope to get on-board as part of a department and building network), but also to:

  • Students – who have mostly been exposed to “traditional” classroom practices.  How do I get them to become better learners by investing themselves and trusting in my classroom practices?
  • Parents – who may have legitimate questions about their child’s education.  Can I defend how my practices are best for their learning?  Also, can I explain my practices without throwing other teachers “under the bus”?
  • The community – who often only hear about schools through quick bites of often mis-leading information.  How can I be an effective communicator of how schools are adapting and evolving?

This is where the recent Twitter debate has been so fascinating.  A chorus line of edcucators, well-versed in best-practices in the classroom, have been debating the nuts and bolts of education policy with a non-education professional.  And while I trust some head-way has been made, it will take a lot more folks with the will and persistance of Frank Noschese to deliver clear, well-researched messages in order to forward the national education debate.  I find myself often sitting on the sidelines when debates intensify, and I feel the conversations of the last week have given me inspiration to become more involved in 2014….so there’s my New Year’s Resolution!

At the end of January, we start a new semester at my school, and I will have a 9th grade Prob/Stat course.  This is a course I have taught many times before, but this time around will be after a 2-year absence in the classroom, and this will be an “academic” level class – for students who have traditionally required more intense instruction.  I am eager to implement a Standards-Based Grading system, and have been poring through blogs and readings on SBG to help craft an approach I think will be manageable for my classroom.  Despite my enthusiasm and planning, the success of my programming will only be as good as the communication I provide, and the clear goals I set.  The past week’s debate has provided an opportunity to clarify my goals, and think about their importance in the process:

  • Create a culture where students routinely reflect upon their progress.
  • Provide opportunity for students to communicate their strengths, weaknesses, and needs.
  • Allow for multiple opportunities and avenues to demonstrate skill mastery.
  • Help guide students “out of the pit” (a Rick Wormeli phrase!)

I appreciate the vast network of professionals I have connected with through Twitter, and their kind assistance in helping shape my goals.  It’s quite a time to be an educator…it’s also a better time to be an cheerleader of best practices!


By Bob Lochel

HS Math Teacher. Hatboro-Horsham School District, Horsham, PA.

2 replies on “Can You Defend Your Practices?”

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