Author: Thomas Gaffey

Building 21’s Open Competencies, Rubrics, and Professional Development Activities

December 23, 2019 by
Building 21 Symposium Session

Building 21’s annual workshop at the Symposium. 100+ participants show the growing demand for CBE!

At Building 21, we have created an open resource called Learning What Matters (LWM) Competency Framework which includes all of our competencies and corresponding rubrics, which we call “continua.” Every year at the Aurora Institute Symposium, we facilitate a workshop introducing participants to our competency-based model. This workshop is great for folks new to competency-based education (CBE) but it’s also valuable for experienced CBE practitioners who want to learn more about our approach.

A common question we get from beginners is, “but what does it look like?” One of the ways to begin to answer this question is to show participants what grading looks like in a competency-based model and how it is different from traditional grading.

In our workshop, participants assume the role of a teacher, as we challenge traditional grading practices, followed by a demonstration of how Building 21 uses the LWM Competency Framework to change instruction and assessment in its schools. This workshop features the same activities we use with new teachers at our schools. We encourage all schools to facilitate these activities with their teachers even if they are not using the LWM competency framework.

Activity #1 – What Are My Assumptions About Grading?

We start the workshop by asking for volunteers for a mystery activity. Once secured and without telling them what they are volunteering for, we send them out of the room. The remaining participants are given the following set of instructions:

“Each volunteer will come into the room and dribble the ball for 15 seconds. When they are done, you will grade their dribbling on an online form.”

Similarly, in the hallway, volunteers are told:

“You will enter the room and dribble the ball for 15 seconds. When you are finished, the  participants, who remain in the room, will grade your dribbling.”

You can imagine that those instructions are inadequate for many people. We almost always get followup questions from both groups about grading criteria, grading scale, or location of the dribbling. And we purposefully do not answer those questions.

Coincidently, we usually have a basketball coach in the grading group. Also, the volunteers typically have a novice dribbler and a former/current basketball player. Upon completion of the dribbling and online grading, as a group, we scroll through a spreadsheet of the grading form responses while participants look for patterns in the data.

Grades from Dribbling ActivityThe table to the right shows a typical result for a single dribbler:

We ask, “When you look at this data, what do you wonder?”

In the discussion that follows, the group considers the following issues:

  • The incredible variability between graders, who are all viewing the same performance
  • The diverse grading methods
  • The lack of feedback to help the dribbler improve

Additionally, graders share feedback such as noticing that their “standards” changed as they saw more dribblers, and they wanted to go back and re-grade dribblers.

  • Sometimes dribblers share that as they saw their grade, they had an emotional response to the low grades.
  • There is usually a comment that goes something like this: “The dribbler was told to dribble for 15 seconds, and they all did that, so how can I give them anything less than an A?”
  • Graders wanted standardized rubrics shared across graders to limit variability.

This raises some really important questions for the group. What is the purpose of grading? Who is the grade for? What SHOULD be the purpose of grading. What is the value of an F? Is a D good enough for credit? Are low grades motivating?

As facilitators, we close this activity by posing a question to the group that guides our own professional work: “What if you can create a framework for student assessment where the purpose of any grade or rating is to give specific feedback to help the student improve and to measure their growth over time?” (more…)

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