One of my worst educational experiences came in one of my college courses when I inadvertently bombed a HUGE assignment in week 2. I was behind the 8-ball from the very start of this course. This hiccup prevented me from any possibility of an “A,” yet alone a “B” in this class. I had to be near perfect the final 8 weeks of this class just to pass! The amount of stress this caused sprouted a sporadic patch of gray hair on my scalp and probably took a couple years off my life. I knew I couldn’t have another hiccup in this class or I would be set back another quarter from graduating and my tuition costs would increase even more.
To keep the story short, I squeezed by with the proudest “C” of my life and passed the class by a narrow 0.7%.
Now I look back at this performance and realize I deserved much better than a “C.” Yes I struggled at the beginning of this course, but was able to turn around my performance and finish strong the rest of the way.
Teaching physical education today, many of my students have the same kind of hiccups I had. They get off to a rough start, dig themselves a hole, but amazingly climb their way out and finish the semester demonstrating mastery of my learning content. They are able to do this because of the standards-based grading approach I use in my classroom.
Next year, my school district will be transitioning to standards-based grading in many core academic subjects. Physical education will be one of those. For the past several years, I have used a standards-based grading approach in my classroom even though the language on my district’s report card doesn’t support that.
Report card language my district used for elementary physical education when I began teaching 11 YEARS ago.
Skills and Knowledge
Report card language my district uses for elementary physical education TODAY.
Skills and Knowledge
Report card language my district will use NEXT YEAR for elementary physical education.
Standard 1: demonstrate competency in a variety of motor skills and movement patterns.
Standard 2: apply knowledge of concepts, principles, strategies, and tactics related to movement and performance.
Standard 3: demonstrate the knowledge and skills to achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical activity and fitness.
Standard 4: exhibit responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others.
Standard 5: recognize the value of physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression, and social interaction.
Washington State Physical Education Standards
Years ago, before I could see this change on the horizon, I decided to implement a standards-based approach to my instruction. I had to make a change to my instructional approach and ensure I guided my students towards learning specific grade level outcomes.
Why the change? Well, trying to plan my teaching around the word “Effort” drove me crazy. I had to explain to students, and their families, what “Effort” meant and it was ridiculously tiresome. This wasn’t the only reason. You will see a few more if you keep reading.
I ended up changing my whole approach to teaching. Instead of organizing my instruction and assessments around a vague description like “Effort,” I looked for a standard I could link it to (Standard 4) and discovered a way I could implement correlating topics within that standard into my teaching.
I changed my teaching philosophy (below) to one that would only use a student’s current performance to determine their level of learning.
Students often need multiple chances to demonstrate their learning.
I switched to a more conventional standards-based approach that allowed me to teach to each standard multiple ways. I was able to have students show mastery of a learning standard by teaching grade level outcomes that coincided with each standard. These outcomes were broken into several topics that allowed me to form units and lessons to teach throughout the school year. This provided me with flexibility (every educator’s dream) in what I taught.
I ended up linking each unclear grading description on my district’s report card to the standards I was teaching. I changed my vocabulary, both in my instruction and visual aids, to correlate with the standards and outcomes I was teaching. I added words like personal responsibility, working with others, and safety and I threw out vague words like effort.
I analyzed the assessments I used with my students and made them standards-based. I created rubrics that aligned with these standards and posted these as a visual for my student anytime they were being assessed.
Standards-based Rubric Example
After implementing this standards-based approach, my students knew exactly how I was going to assess their level of learning. They soon became fitness literate in this new learning environment where it was okay to make mistakes and take risks. My students were able to analyze their performance and fix their mistakes by referring to rubrics I created (example above). My classroom soon turned into a mastery climate where students were able to learn specific key concepts and skills for their grade level. This environment gave my students the confidence and ability to enjoy performing to their highest level.
This type of success leads me to believe that a standards-based approach in the classroom is more effective approach than a traditional style. Let’s looks at some of the differences and maybe I can sway your opinion if you don’t already agree with me.
I have since reflected on my own educational experiences as a student since using a standards-based approach in my physical education classroom. I realize now that my final grade years ago in this treacherous college course did not represent what I had learned. My “C” was subjective and did not accurately show (at the time) my current level of learning when the course ended. My instructor had used traditional strategies that involved a cumulative grading system with heavily weighted assignments.
I believe traditional strategies tend to carry many flaws that don’t accurately dictate a student’s true level of learning. Take a look at these two scenarios that I have seen occur in some physical education programs. You may be able to relate.
Scenario 1: Two students, Joel and Caitlin, demonstrate the exact same HIGH level of proficient learning in their physical education course. Joel receives a “C” while Caitlin receives an “A.”
Caitlin’s parents look at her “A” and are proud to see she excelled. They buy her a new car! Hey, it could happen. Joel’s parents see a “C” and begin to wonder where they went wrong. Joel has to try and explain the “C” and ends up on house arrest for the next month. Definitely happens.
These two students demonstrated the same knowledge but received two entirely different grades. So how did this happen? Well, Joel received a “C” because he rarely dressed down for class. He was graded down on his participation throughout the quarter for not being in uniform. This scenario happens more often than you think. Please understand this scenario should never happen! Joel’s teacher used the “Everything counts” method and factored in non-achievement factors like dressing down to determine his final grade.
Joel’s HIGH level of learning was discredited by a non-achieving factor that is so commonly seen with traditional grading styles. Looking at his “C,” it would be very easy to make the assumption Joel didn’t excel in physical education. Joel may have had good reason as to why he was not dressing down. He could have had a fear of changing in front of his peers. Or maybe he didn’t have regular access to a clean uniform and was scaring away the girls with his hygiene. Regardless of the circumstances, Joel’s parents, his college counselor, and physical education teacher are going to see that “C” and make the assumption that he didn’t excel in that content area.
Joel needed his instructor to use a standards-based approach in the classroom to eliminate any misleading assumptions others could have of his learning level. Joel’s final grade would have solely been measured on his level of learning and not been susceptible to meaningless variables like dressing down.
Now, let’s look at this next scenario differently but change one part.
Scenario 2: Joel and Caitlin now both demonstrate a LOW level of learning in their physical education class. Caitlin still receives an “A” and Joel still receives a “C.”
So how did this happen? Well, Caitlin and Joel’s participation grade was weighted so heavily that their true level of learning had no precedence in determining their final course grade. Yes, this happens too. Caitlin appeared to excel but hadn’t learned much.
The following year, Caitlin feels confident that she will ace her next physical education course. She enrolls in a new class, but this time her learning is assessed using a standards-based approach. At the end of this course, Caitlin is distraught after seeing her final grade as a “D”. Her parents take away her new car. Caitlin is confused why her performance suddenly pulled a 180.
This scenario commonly happens in physical education. Caitlin had no idea that her level of learning was not proficient. She saw an “A” and assumed there were no issues. Caitlin’s instructor failed to communicate with her the true level of learning she was at.
Let’s take a look at how Caitlin probably interpreted her own level of knowledge in her first physical education course.
Caitlin probably thought she was in the proficient or advanced stage of learning, as evidenced by the “A” she was given. But in reality, Caitlin showed little to no evidence of learning.
So support your students’ learning and avoid these scenarios from becoming a reality with your students. Using a standards-based approach in your classroom will help you do that! There are benefits. Here are just a few I have seen.
Benefits Using a Standards-Based Approach in the Classroom
• Determine how students perform in relation to their learning of state content standards.
• Align grading with state content standards as measured by consistent and accurate student’s achievement data and common criteria for scoring.
• Communicate with students their current level of learning and what they should be able to do according to state content standards.
The biggest benefit I have seen since implementing a standards-based approach to my instruction is being able to communicate with students exactly where their current learning level is. This has paid off in huge dividends. My students constantly check in with me to see if they are proficient. They no longer have a fear of making mistakes along the way because they are reassured only their current level of learning will be used to determine their grade.
Most importantly, my students have a chance to redeem themselves and be reassessed to show their proficiency. Any student at a 1 (No evidence of learning) or 2 (Beginning / Emerging evidence of learning) in their current level of learning has the opportunity to be reassessed to show mastery of learning content.
If you use a standards-based approach in your instruction, share the success you see. If you’re still using a traditional approach to your teaching, don’t be afraid to break away from tradition. Your students will thank you!
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