Wednesday, November 16, 2011

SBAR with light bulbs and spanners

So how has my experiment with Standards Based Assessment and Reporting been going? Here is the first in a series of reflections.

Half way into my first year using outcomes sheets with my students as the basis for Standards Based Assessment and Reporting, I realised the outcome lists I was making every few weeks were really just a list of skills I expected students to master. When the penny finally dropped that skills were only one part of Working Mathematically, I realised my outcomes sheets had to change.

Here is my first attempt to be different - which I've been doing now with my outcomes sheets for a few months:

Click on the image for a full sized image.

The key idea is to separate outcomes into the categories of the Working Mathematically proficiencies:

A light bulb icon indicates an outcome that requires some new understanding of an important idea.

A spanner icon indicates a skill to be acquired - 'fluency' in the Australian Curriculum description.

A balance scale indicates that a reasoning process is being used.

How has using light bulbs and spanners changed teaching and learning in my classroom?
  • Clearly showing the understanding and reasoning outcomes forces me to focus on these important elements. If I find my outcomes sheet for a new topic is full of spanners and no light bulbs or balance scales, I know I've made an unbalanced teaching sequence.
  • It sends a clear message to the students that understanding and reasoning are important - it's not enough to just be able to mechanically follow a process to get an answer to an exercise. I will be expecting them to be able to explain and reason.
  • Any time during a lesson when I'm about to introduce or consolidate the development of an understanding outcome, I stop for a moment, and point to it on the outcomes sheet, making it very clear to students were are working on a "light bulb" outcome. I emphasise this means it's a time for quality intellectual engagement: thinking, listening and asking questions. While we can get the idea behind a skill outcome by reading a text book, or perhaps watching Salman Khan do it on YouTube, the understanding outcomes are much better learnt interacting with peers and the teacher.
Where is Problem Solving?
The big challenge I'm facing now is how to integrate the problem solving proficiency into a set of outcomes related to a content heavy topic.  What this really reflects is the fact that real problem solving (beyond just "harder skills questions") aren't yet integrated into my content heavy program. For now, I'm experimenting with specific Problem Solving lessons which stand outside the regular content sequence - and that's something I'm going to work on in 2012.

You may notice the outcome sheet above doesn't make provision for recording quiz results - which you would normally see on my sheets. That's because for this course I'm actually not permitted to use SBG, but have to follow a statewide assessment method and schedule. But this doesn't stop me using the idea of standards, or using them for formative assessment. More on this in the next few posts.


  1. I love this post and I love the methods you're using. I've just started using rubrics similar to this for formative and summative assessment. Self ans peer assessment check-lists are being introduced gradually as well. The icons are great! I reckon this is probably FAR above what the average teacher is capable of creating ... so much thought and understanding of learning AND the Syllabus is required ... you need to keep writing this blog and then maybe do some workshops/presentations.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement Bianca!

  3. Do you give a copy of these to the students so they know which skills they need to acquire?

  4. Absolutely Susan - that's the whole point. The idea is to continuously assess (and have students assess themselves as well) their current mastery of each outcome. For Year 11/12 it's informal since I have to follow BOS assessment procedure, but with my Year 8 class I actually (tried to) use this as my main assessment. I'll be writing more about this soon. Check out my earlier SBG/SBAR posts on the idea.

  5. Thrilled to see formative assessment "happening". If we don't use the students as co-conspirators in moving their learning forward everything is going to stay the same. If you haven't read Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam can I encourage you to take a look. Love your blog, Nordin.