Tuesday, February 3, 2015

SBG Indicators - Your Experience May Vary

Learning targets are hard to write.

Here's one (of 27) that I used in F'13:
D.3 I can calculate, work flexibly with, and demonstrate understanding of statistical measures of center and spread for numerical data, including: mean, median, MAD, and IQR.
If you tease that target apart, you realize it contains 12 distinct skills: {calculate, work flexibly with, and understand} x {mean, median, MAD, and IQR}.

That's a problem: such a complex target is very difficult to assess. Do they have to show all parts on a single task for a proficient score? Can they piece it together over several tasks? If so, how do we keep track?

So I swore off using complex targets for my Su'13 College Algebra course:

C-p1: I can simplify imaginary and complex numbers. (3.1)
C-p2: I can add and subtract complex numbers. (3.1)
C-p3: I can multiply complex numbers and find powers of i. (3.1)
C-p4: I can divide complex numbers. (3.1)
Ok, so i kept a few complex targets!
L-p4: I can solve exponential equations by applying the uniqueness property. (5.2)
L-p12: I can solve exponential equations by applying logarithms. (5.5)
L-p13: I can solve exponential equations with unlike bases. (5.5)
You can see these targets are much more tightly focused on specific skills. I included conceptual targets too, but they were also narrowly focused.

By using narrower targets, I needed a lot more of them to span the course objectives. The final list for Su'14 included 67 learning targets.

It took 4 pages to print.

I worried it was too long.

Four pages of SBG Targets for College Algebra

I was right to worry.

I felt rushed and slipped into a "cover the content" mode of instruction much too often. My students felt it too. A few fell behind early and never caught up. Others worked hard, but mostly for the wrong reasons. I could tell they were thinking things like, "I don't have time to do an activity! I still have to show evidence for 43 learning targets! Let's get to the assessments -- we're running out of time!"

That wasn't good. Lessons should form coherent sequences. One lesson should flow into the next. When we notice something interesting in class, we should have the option of pursuing it. Having 67 targets made it less likely that we would opt to pursue it. There was too much pressure to cover the content. We felt like we had to keep moving.

So the next semester I set two planning goals. I would create an SBG target list that:
  1. fit on a single page, and 
  2. used targets that were broad, focused, and flexible.
To get at #2, I decided to think of targets as clusters (or categories) and to specify indicators in each cluster to provide specificity. The indicators were viewed as behaviors associated with the target that a proficient student should be able to do by the end of the course. But to maintain the flexibility I had been missing, the list of indicators did not require rigid adherence.

The excerpt below shows the indicators for two of the learning targets:
  • MC-M (math content knowledge for early measurement concepts) and 
  • MKT-M (specialized knowledge needed for teaching early measurement concepts)

"Your experience may vary"
The completed grid of SBG targets outlined a course assessment structure that mapped our journey while acknowledging: "your experience may vary."  My course was free to "flow" once again!

During the semester, I tagged assessment tasks with indicators from one or more target clusters. Indicators were expressed as "I can" statements aligned to the learning target (category) but tailored to the specific task.

The task provided the context, and the "I can" statement provided the focus. The students' charge was to use the task to demonstrate their proficiency.

 Here's an example of a task/target combination from the midterm exam:
Target MC-G: I can reason about the relationships between a shape and its boundary.
Target SMP-3: I can critique the reasoning of others.

A class of sixth grade students was estimating the area of a salt marsh on a map (a rather irregularly shaped region).
   a) Amy's group used this strategy: [details omitted]
   b) Tyler's group used this strategy: [details omitted].
Critique the solution methods used by these groups. Why are their answers are so different?

To answer this task, a student had to apply their knowledge of MC-G and frame their response as a critique in light of SMP-3.

This felt manageable, clear, and flexible.

It worked for us.
My 221 SBG Targets for F14 formed a grid of 14 clusters plus 8 SMPs.

Of course, your experience may vary. And if it does, please be sure to tell us about it!

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