I have been working on the syllabus for one of my classes, and I wanted to start the year very purposefully. This is, in part, taken from Making Thinking Visible (my summer read, review forthcoming).

This class will be a place where thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the daily experience of ALL students.

This class will explore properties and interactions of atomic and molecular structures of matter.

This class will explore the impact of chemistry on our local and global communities.



As the beginning of the school year draws ever closer, I realize it’s time to put aside my summer books and start getting serious about school. I have been doing a lot of thinking about what I would like to do/change with my classes. I’ve got a lot of new ideas I’ve heard and practices I would like to try, so I wanted to sit down and set some goals for myself and my classes – partially so I know what I still need to do in the next couple of weeks to be ready for school to start, and partially to hold myself accountable by checking in on them as the year goes by. Here they are:

1) Alignment with new district standards of grading and reporting.
At the end of last year, my school district finalized its plan to begin implementing new standards for grading and reporting. There are 5 standards that, over the next 3 years, the district will be expecting teachers to begin implementing and switching from current practices. As a young teacher that isn’t too ingrained and invested in my practices, I feel it will be the easiest for me to jump in as quickly as possible to adjust to these new(ish) policies. It also helps that I know I am not satisfied with my current grading and reporting practices, so these will give me some guidance for constructive changes to make.

The standards are (summarized) as follows:

  • Grades will communicate student achievement based on academic achievement
    So… standards based grading!  I’ve already been looking at the MN state standards for chemistry as well as the MYP science criteria (International Baccalaureate Program standards) and how my classes align with them. I still need to develop some sort of rubric for grading said standards to translate their learning into a grade. The toughest part of this will be working with our current gradebook to easily communicate grades and learning. I know the district is working with the developers (TIES) to make some changes, but I spent a couple of hours yesterday creating a back-up plan spreadsheet in case I need it.
  • Non-academic behaviors will not factor into academic grades
    Easy enough. You can still assess them on “non-academic” behaviors, but it must be reflected separately – just like an elementary school report card. The standard also says grades should be also based on individual assessment and not a group grade. The big dispute that caused a bit of hubbub among teachers was cheating – the standard says that if a student cheats, they still have to do the work “or a reasonable alternative.” A lot of teachers claimed this was punishing them for their student’s indiscretions, but I don’t buy it. Cheating falls under the “non-academic” behavior, and students should still have the opportunity to prove what they’ve learned for a grade regardless of whether it means more work for you, the teacher. Suck it up, it’s your job! (Note: I didn’t actually say that last bit to anyone. Just thought it in my head.)
  • Quality assessments and recorded evidence are used to determine grades
    The toughest part of this is the “quality assessments” part. For me, it means I won’t rely on previously created multiple choice/problem set tests. There are a number of issues at work here, and a lot of what I want to change comes from Dan Meyer’s “problem solving” ideas and development. I also have a lot of work to do in designing assessments that align with and analyze learning of the standards. As I said before, I still need to develop rubrics to use as guides for measuring students’ learning.
  • Grades accurately represent attainment of standards and promote learning
    Biggest change here is grading scale and grade weighting – equal-interval grading scales (a la Doug Reeves), and at least 80% of the grade should be weighted on summative assessments, no more than 20% formative. I will (hopefully) be at 100% summative and have already begun using an equal-interval (4-point) grading scale. Oh, and no extra-credit (I say: duh!).
  • Students are involved in the grading and assessment process
    The first part is that they should know how they will be graded (Once again: duh!). But the other part of it I think has to do with involving students in tracking their progress over time. I realize there is more to it than that, but this is what I want to work on this year.

2) Learning objectives (goals…? targets…?)
This has been the most time consuming thing that I have been working on recently. When I took my first grad class back in June, we focused a lot on developing a course as a whole; part of that being writing out “intended learning objectives” for an entire course. I also attended the Minnetonka Summer Institute, and went to a breakout session about using “learning targets” to promote learning, with many uses of formative assessment and feedback from students to teacher as well as teacher to student. This got me energized and excited to work on writing out my own objectives/goals/targets to use for guiding learning.

Any thoughts on what to call them? I think “objectives” is a decent word, and I think my high school students (should) clearly understand what an objective means. Would students benefit from the use of more “symbolic” terms, like goals or targets (things that you can aim for, or achieve, more concrete?) Still not sure about that yet. The idea is the same for all; maybe I’m over-thinking.

3) Feedback!
This, I believe, will be the most important change that I make. When I was at the Summer Institute, we heard about how students received feedback in the form of constructive comments vs. scores (I think it was Doug Reeves again, but might have been Bob Marzano). Their research showed that the students that had the best attitude/outlook and improved their learning most after an assessment were students that received ONLY feedback (the study also looked at giving only scores, and a score and feedback). I think it really speaks to the power our feedback has to motivate and guide student learning. I really want to put an emphasis on giving students constructive feedback that is aligned with the standards so they have the ability to move forward in the best possible way. Whether they actually do or not, well… I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!