Science in the City

Jan 5, 2013

A Revolutionary Tool To Make Students Responsible for Learning

How to Make Your Students Responsible for Their Own Learning

Standards Based Grading

About 2 or 3 summers ago I spent quite a bit of time reading up on Standards Based Grading and trying to figure out how, or if, I could implement it in my classroom.  I believe in the idea of Standards Based Grading, which states "that grades are typically connected to descriptive standards, not based on test and assignment scores that are averaged together. For example, students may receive a report that shows how they progressing toward meeting a selection of standards." (Glossary of Education Reform). Students learn at different rates, and their 'passing' is based on mastery, rather than on averaging grades together. I agree with this concept, but found it difficult to implement in the classroom, and almost impossible when it is not done on a school-wide basis.

Description and a Freebie use to help students understand unit objectives and take responsibility

I tried a few things, but couldn't quite picture how it would fit and how I could successfully implement it in my classroom.

I got stuck on how to keep track of what assignments students were missing?  How to communicate to parents?  How to put into our mandated grade book? was overwhelming.... A lot of the research and writing on Standards Based Grading is relative to math, where it is easier to show mastery.  in science class so much of what we do is experiential, and process based, and it is critical that students participate.

The Keeping Track of Learning Tool - Student Language Objectives

But I did keep one aspect of Standards Based Grading (SBG) that I feel has made a real significant difference in my classroom.  I have modified it and continued to use in other courses, and other units from year to year. I have given students the objectives, in student friendly language, and had them check in at various points during the unit.

How do I use it in class

Depending on the pacing, and the group of students I like to have them check in at the start of the unit and check off the objectives that they already are comfortable with, or rate themselves on each objective.  As we progress through the unit I have them again check back with the objectives and rate themselves again, or check off those which they now 'know.'


By the time we get to the end of the unit they KNOW what they don't know.  I get questions that sound like "How can I tell the difference between....." and "Can you explain more about the process of ....."  Instead of just "I'm stuck" or "I think I know it"

I have made these in a graph format below, in a checklist, or in a format where they rate themselves on a scale of 1-5 (my personal favorite), sometimes I do a before/after.

I call these "Keeping Track of My Learning."   These "KTOL" sheets have the learning objectives for the unit written in kid-friendly language, and very concretely, so that students can determine if the can meet the objectives.

My students tend to get easily overwhelmed if this is handed out too early.  Depending on the unit, sometimes I hand it out at the start of the unit to give students an overview, and see if there is anything that they know in the unit.   A good closure activity at the end of class is to have students focus on just a few objectives (probably the ones that they just did).  They can rate themselves and then fill in things they want to remember for that objectives.

In addition, its a great review activity to do near the end of a unit. I found found students' attitudes very different when they know what they are responsible for learning, and I am less frustrated when we review, or at the end of lessons because we are speaking the same language.  I now get questions like

"What's another difference between plant and animal cells?  I only know one."  Instead of "I don't get this."  Or....worse yet...."Yep, I understand" (when they have no clue).

Try it out

Here are two freebies of the KTOL for one unit.  

Freebie of student objectives and checklist for cell division unit  Freebie of student objectives and checklist for Energy Unit

A few others are available as well:

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Make your own

Or use this editable template to make your own


I have modified them over the years to allow for more or less space for students to write notes, to include vocabulary, etc.

For more information

A similar strategy is discussed in depth here.

How do you communicate the objectives to your students and help them take responsibility for their learning?  Have you done anything similar?

And lastly, are there particular topics for which you would like to see these created? Let me know!
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Jan 4, 2013

Professional Sharing: A Blogging Exchange Around Differentiation

Primary Possibilities is having a Linky Party!  

I am participating in a blogging exchange, or blog circle this week.  Several people are posting on each other's blogs.  If you follow the link at the bottom to the next one, you should go in a circle.

Here is the post from our guest blogger this week:

FUNSHINE: the common core store for kids with special needs

Are you ready to rock? I'm ready to roll! Woohoo!
My name is Maria Angala and I am a special educator/ inclusion specialist/ reading intervention teacher in Washington DC. If your New Year's Resolution is to dive into something rigorous, fun and exciting for your classroom, you must make it a routine to visit FUNSHINE blog! I have tons of lesson plans and teacher-created materials for our exceptional needs students that are aligned with that sneaky common core standards. Of course, I made sure it's proven and tested in my classroom first before sharing them with you. Yep, they are modified and differentiated to target our exceptional needs students' diverse learning styles, and yet still aligned to the learning standard on their grade level.
Here's what I'm talking about:

1. Tiered Activity: MLK Constructed Response Practice & Word Work.Students will love this 14-page full-color constructed response writing practice which uses the RACE stategy to develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples. The Informational Text, "King's Dream Remembered", is presented in 3 different levels for our special needs students; graphic organizers for word work and guided notes for writing activities are also included. And because our valiant hero's very special day is coming up, I am giving away two FREEBIES for you! MLK Memorial Practice Writing RACE Strategy and MLK Quotes Writing Practice: RACE Strategy ...grab it now!

2. College Talk!. Having a strong vocabulary is critical to achieving success in College. I give each these 50- academic vocabulary words to my students for them to use in their everyday conversations in the classroom and in writing. Students will be able to acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases!! Great for Word Walls or for College Prep Centers, this is a big hit!
3. SPED Reading Intervention 300+ Word List A-Z with Menu. This is one of my favorites! This 166 page-packet has 300+ A-Z words which can be used for homework, word wall, spelling practice or reading drills as a supplementary resource to an existing reading intervention program! Included in this awesome packet are intervention suggestions for a student who has a difficulty with phonic skills when reading! Have fun!

Your support during my first month in 2012 has been tremendous and it shows me that we, educators, really do appreciate quality resources created by our peers that cater to the diverse needs of our students. For that, I thank you! Join me as we shape my 2nd month and beyond -- FUNSHINE 2013, to be bigger, better, and brighter than before!

Maria Angala, NBCT
Exceptional Needs Specialist
TpT Store: Teacher Sol's Funshine
Blog: Teacher Sol's Funshine
Twitter: Teacher Sol
Facebook Page: Teacher Sol's Funshine
LinkedIn: Maria Angala
Google +: Maria Angala

Continue to read the next post in our blog circle at 

Math Science Social Studies Oh My!

Hope you enjoy and get to check out some new blogs in the process! 

Jan 2, 2013

Get Your Students Outside of the Classroom - No Excuses!!

Why its so important to get your students out of the classroom

Do you want to spend your whole day sitting, reading, writing, etc.  A lot of what we ask of our students, we wouldn't want to do ourselves.  I think this is particularly true for middle school students.  They are wiggly, social, active creatures.  They need to be moving around.  It's nice weather. They want to go outside. So do we. We are teaching about the outdoor world. Its OK once in a while to take them outside and conduct a class or activity outside.

Suggestions for Getting Your Students Out of the ClassroomLessons outside the classroom

One of my favorite lessons when we learn about weathering is to take the students outside for about 10 minutes, with dry erase boards, to look for examples of weathering, draw it, and decide if its chemical or physical weathering.  Then, of course, they have to share they findings.

Students find it very exciting. It takes some management, but can easily be done in a short class period and on school grounds, even in an urban setting.  They love it! Its a big change.

I have also taken Biology classes outside to look for quick examples of living and non-living things, or to look for examples of different types of ecological relationships.

Where can I get more ideas to take my students outside? 

Here is a link to other ideas: 

Five Minute Field Trips: Teaching about Nature in Your School Yard (full-text)

AND 10 Minute Field Trips: A Teacher's Guide to Using the Schoolgrounds for Environmental Studies. (full-text) which is available in full text or for purchase as a bound book (affiliate link)

Enjoy, and let me know what you do in your classes to get them out of class!  
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