Sunday, February 20, 2011

#sbar rejected

Exploded Model T 
We have a nice discussion started in the comments of my last post about #sbar (standard based assessment) in elective classes. In that post I think I had some difficulty articulating my problems with sbar in my classroom. Most of the comments came from a point of assuming that there needs to be specific standards for my class. I do not share that assumption.  I come from a more open perspective of giving students varied learning opportunities and they learn what they choose to learn.  I think I found an example to explain this that makes sense (at least to me).

This weekend my family went to Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. This is a huge building full of the history and culture of technology in America. It has tons of vehicles, planes, and trains in it along with farm equipment. The amount of history and science in that place is overwhelming.

Now I know how schools sometimes "do" fieldtrips with a scavenger hunt of items to find and write about or some other assignment. That is not how my family does museums. We came to the museum with no pre-determined agenda  about what we would learn.  My family explored the various parts of the museum, looked at the exhibits, and interacted when possible. Interactive items were my kids favorite parts by far, no matter how simple it was. We talked about the exhibits and asked each other questions. I never assessed my children's learning. I just let them experience it. I (lead learner) did steer them toward things I thought were interesting or important and they steered me to the things they wanted to see.
Lin generating electricity

When the day was over I knew they had learned many things because we experienced them together. I felt no desire to give them an A, B+, or C-. They did not earn a 3, 4, or 5 either. The real purpose of grading of any kind is ranking students. Even sbar is ranking students against a list of norms for their age/grade level.

I feel the same way about my applied technology class. My goals for students are for them to problem-solve, think critically, and work collaboratively. These things are difficult to assess objectively. I want students to experience challenges in my classroom and feel free to attack them without worrying about failing attempts. Educators often talk about a "sandbox" space in schools where students can experiment and play. That is how I would ideally describe my classroom. Students, in my humble opinion, get enough standards in their other classes. I give them a freer environment to explore and experiment.

Again I think sbar is a good tool for core classrooms where meeting specific standards is required. But my classroom focuses on doing and experimenting and I believe a failed attempt at solving a problem can be just as important part of learning as success. Grades are not really necessary for any of us to learn.


  1. Thanks for continuing the conversation. I think we are in agreement about grades. In my perfect world, I would not give grades at all. However, I feel that it is my job to ensure that my students leave me with certain skills and knowledge. These are my standards. If we do not have a goal or objective toward which we are working and I don't have a system for assessing whether my students have mastered the skill, task or goal, then I am not doing my job. These assessments, however, are mostly informal and based on observation. I see a place for Standards-Based (i.e. goal/objective/mastery-based) assessment, and agree that grades (letters, numbers, etc...) are not necessary for learning.

  2. I have yet to read the other post or the comments. I too tech an Applied Tech class and it seems as though we have similar feelings about assessments. However, I'm being "asked" by admin to develop tests that my students will take. I could object, but at the end of the day, I get paid to do what they tell me to do. I wish I worked someplace where my knowledge about the things we teach would be valued more, but it seems my opinion about this matter little.

  3. Mike,
    Is your difference in opinion the assessment piece itself or *what* should be assessed? Plenty of literature out there states that classes should have clear learning targets. These can come in the form of process or content standards. Do process standards make more sense in your context?

  4. @MaryBeth I am hoping for "my perfect world" in that I may be able to change my class to credit/no credit and hopefully eliminate almost all grades.

    @Chris I feel for you. You have to follow directives and I agree it shows a lack of trust.

    @Matt I have learning targets: critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. My class has structure to it, but it also has some freedom for student exploration. I give informal feedback as students work and the projects themselves give feedback.

    For example when they build Balsa Towers and test them for how much sand they can hold before breaking they get objective data on how good theirs was. It is not my opinion, but the field testing that determines the quality of their work.

    On the other hand they only build and test one tower. If their idea is awful, they still may learn alot through their failure and by observing their classmates' towers. I will not "punish" a student who works hard and attempts a design even if it is a terrible design.

    I am not really familiar with process standards so I can't comment on them.

  5. I use an sbar framework in my class (all subjects), including our design and problem-solving. It's possible to assess problem-solving with a criteria (Is this new? How was it tested? What types of connections were made?) I used sbar last year with a very constructivist digital media class.

    It's possible to use sbar with process, concept attainment and skills. All of them work well in that framework; especially when given the opportunity to use authentic assessment and reflection. To me, it's much more realistic than using the traditional A-F system.

  6. @John
    I am not saying that sbar is not possible in my class, but rather that it is not the best system if I am given the opportunity to not grade at all. Of course either way I give personal feedback.

    I would be interested to see an example of sbar with process skills.

  7. Standards-based assessment & reporting is just that. Providing feedback to students based on pre-determined standards. In some implementations, it is tied to grades (because they're required by the district) and it others, only the narratives or lykert scale is reported. Whether or not letter grades or numbers are tied to the standards, I think it makes sense to provide explicit feedback to students based on the intended standards.

    "Good job" is much less effective than "You're doing a nice job thinking through the process of ______ here" which is even less effective than "Your ability to think through _________ is at an extremely high level." The last feedback phrase mentioned becomes even more valuable to a student when he or she realizes that their work is not as high as it could or should be related to the expected level of work. This, too, is standards-based assessment & reporting. It is using standards to provide detailed feedback to the student. Is this the type of feedback you provide for your students, John?

  8. Mike,

    Like others have already said, SBAR can be used for process, not just content.

    You might find it helpful to look at the Scientific Abilities rubrics designed by the Physics Education Research group at Rutgers. Within the rubrics, there are process standards such as:

    Is able to think and evaluate different possibilities when solving a problem.

    Is able to evaluate another person’s problem solution or conceptual claim by direct comparison with their own solution or conceptual understanding

    Is able to describe how to minimize experimental uncertainty and actually do it

    Is able to communicate the details of an experimental procedure clearly and completely

    While these are for science, I assume analagous standards exist for engineering, design, and art?

  9. For some reason, Mike, Blogger is blocking comments on my sbar post, so I can't respond there!

    If parents received no feedback from my class I would actually be offended! There's nothing worse than not be considered 'worthy enough' for your class to be part of the report system.

    That said, I wish that my reports could be more narrative since what I do is not always quantifiable.

    As for the ISTE NETS, the fact that they're vague is great. I use them to organize the skills and concepts that I teach in a way that helps students master each standard.

    I don't know if other tech teachers use SBAR, but I think more specialists should.