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Standards-Based Grading, Citizenship Grades, Motivation and MORE With Guest Jennica Harrison [Episode 106]


Click below to learn about standards-based grading: 

I love talking about science content, curriculum, engaging activities, and practical strategies you can implement in your own classroom. But when my audience inquires about topics I’m not so sure about, I bring in experts who can share their knowledge. That’s exactly what I did when it came to discussing standards-based grading. My guest on today’s episode, Jennica Harrison, shares her perspective, experience, and implementation of standards-based grading in her secondary science classroom.

Jennica is very open and honest about the challenges she faced when implementing standards-based grading but says the pros outweigh the cons. She discusses her transition to this type of grading, practical tips for doing it, and how it impacted her students. Since this might be a different way of thinking, Jennica shares examples from her own classroom and grade book that provide clarification on how this works in a secondary science classroom. 

As our conversation flowed, each topic she discussed brought up more questions from me about how standards-based grading worked, along with the mathematical side. Jennica explicitly explained her interpretation and how she has made this switch successful in her classroom. Ultimately, she says it really comes down to being transparent with your students, making mistakes and readjusting, and knowing it’s not going to be perfect all the time. 

This new way of grading challenges teachers’ philosophies on assessments and grading, which it has done for me. This emerging grading system is the wave of the future, and Jennica shares her perspective and how you can successfully implement standards-based grading in your own classroom today.

Topics Discussed:

  • An overview of standards-based grading 
  • How to practically implement and real-life examples for this grading system 
  • Ways to motivate students, particularly intrinsically 
  • Citizenship grades and how they can be connected to social event participation
  • Tips and advice for those teachers wanting to implement standards-based grading

Resources Mentioned:

Meet Jennica:

Jennica is a secondary science teacher on the West Coast. She has taught Biology, Chemistry, and Anatomy and Physiology. Like many science teachers, Jennica has had to completely shift her thinking regarding how to teach to the Next Generation Science Standards (which she LOVES!!). She also loves learning and is always open to trying new things. So, when her school began a book study on Equitable Grading Practices several years ago, a new adventure involving 4-point rubrics and separating academic grades from student behavior began.

Since then, she has learned a lot about standards-based grading from other educators online, from her colleagues, and her own experiences of trial and error in the classroom. She comes to us today ready to participate in what can sometimes be a difficult conversation due to differing opinions, perspectives, and beliefs about what grades can and should represent in secondary science classrooms.

Connect with Jennica:

Related Episodes and Blog Posts:

Connect with Rebecca:

More about Secondary Science Simplified: 

Secondary Science Simplified is a podcast specifically for high school science teachers that will help you to engage your students AND simplify your life as a secondary science educator. Each week Rebecca, from It’s Not Rocket Science, and her guests will share practical and easy-to-implement strategies for decreasing your workload so that you can stop working overtime and start focusing your energy doing what you love – actually teaching!

Teaching doesn’t have to be rocket science, and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to simplify your secondary science teaching life so that you can enjoy your life outside of school even more. Head to itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/challenge to grab your FREE Classroom Reset Challenge.

Rebecca 0:00
Welcome back, teacher, friends, all of y’all in the states listening, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and a few days off and that you’re feeling refreshed to push through these last few weeks before the semester break. I am thrilled to be bringing you all today’s episode, you have asked over and over and over again for me to speak on standards based grading. And y’all I knew I had nothing to say about this because I literally know nothing about it, as you will very obviously be able to tell in today’s interview. So as I do when I don’t know anything, I pulled my email list and had a bunch of applications. It was so hard to narrow down. But I’m thrilled today to be introducing you to Jenica Harrison, who graciously agreed to come on and talk about her experience with standards based grading to help all of you Jenica is a secondary science teacher on the West Coast and she has taught biology, chemistry and anatomy and physiology. And like many science teachers, she has had to completely shift her thinking regarding how to teach the next generation science standards which she loves. She’s also someone that loves learning and is always open and try new things. So when her school began a book study on equitable grading practices several years ago, a new adventure involving four point rubrics and separating academic grades from student behavior began. Since then, she has learned a lot about standards based grading from other educators online, from her colleagues and from her own experiences of trial and error in the classroom. And she comes to us today ready to participate in what can sometimes be a difficult conversation due to differing opinions and perspectives and beliefs. You know, about what grades can and should represent in a secondary science classroom. So you’re I’m not gonna lie, like my thinking regarding grading students has truly been changed after this conversation with Jenica. Like my literal philosophies of assessment, are being challenged, honestly, in the best way. And I’m incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity to learn from her. And I’m really, really humbled by the immense wisdom she shares, but also super specific answers to a lot of yells burning questions that you’ve continued to send me. So I think you’re gonna get so much from this episode, whether you teach at a standards based grading school or not. Are you ready to hear more? Let’s dive in. This is secondary science simplified a podcast for secondary science teachers who want to engage their students and simplify their lives. I’m Rebecca joiner from it’s not rocket science. As a high school science teacher turned curriculum writer, I am passionate about helping other science teachers love their jobs, serve their students, and do it all in only 40 hours a week. Are you ready to rock the time spent in your classroom? And actually have a life outside of it? You are in the right place teacher friend. Let’s get to today’s episode.

Rebecca 3:09
Hi, Jenica. How are you? I’m good. How are you? Rebecca? I’m great. I’m just thrilled you’re here. I’m just so excited to hear your expertise. And just your experience just working with standards based grading. So why don’t you just tell us like, when in your career? Did you transition to standards based grading? Was that your choice? Was it something your school did? And kind of what was that transition like for you as a teacher?

Jennica 3:33
Yeah, so I am in my sixth year in the classroom. And so I made my transition to standards based grading a few years ago. So very early, like my first two to three years were very traditional grading, you know, zero to 100 points for worksheets, unit exams, at the end quizzes throughout 10% off, you know, for each day late, things being turned in. Then of course, for everybody that started teaching around the time that I did COVID hit at some point in there. And then I believe it was either the year right before COVID, or the year after that my school actually started doing a school wide book study on the book grading for equity by Joe Feldman. So that kind of prompted the math department at my high school to completely shift to standards based grading a zero to four scale. And then it was kind of encouraged for the rest of us to attempt making the switch if we wanted to. But really, it was the Wild West and we could kind of decide what we wanted to do. And so me and a few of my colleagues started kind of playing around with with writing different objectives. I think we started over the summer, and then that has just kind of, you know, grown to where I’m at today, which is kind of, I wouldn’t say I’m perfectly doing standards based grading because I mean, who is especially with the NGSS but I’m pretty confident in my implementation and understanding as of right now. So So very early transition. And I also want to say, I hope people hear me out when I say this, that it wasn’t that hard of a transition for me. But big, but that’s because it’s not like I was a teacher, you know, for decades before this, and I had, you know, my systems, and I really refined and figured out how to make that work for me, I felt like, you know, as a newer teacher, I was gonna spend that time planning, you know, my assessment system, regardless, that it didn’t feel like it was extra work, like I already, you know, didn’t know what I was doing and needed to figure it out. Like we all do, I do really respect and admire the entire concept of standards based grading. So with that in mind, as well, like it was kind of an exciting task to take on, not something I was doing, you know, because I was forced to.

Rebecca 5:47
Yeah, I would love to hear more about that, because I know you mentioned this kind of a spurred on with that book about equity. And so kind of what did you see that connection being between what you were reading and then now what you were choosing to do, which I kind of love, I didn’t realize it had been a choice for you, which is awesome to hear that you made that choice?

Jennica 6:04
Yeah, well, in my opinion, my experience, I feel like the entire standards based grading movement is driven by equity. Like, I’m not really sure the role that that book and, you know, those ideals have played, you know, around the country. But at least in my school, my experience, I think equity is the driving factor, because historically, like traditional grading has rewarded the privilege and has punish those without, I’m not sure if that’s a direct quote. But basically, that’s kind of a summary of it. And it’s really important to consider how measuring behavior compliance in in the form of like completion, credit, and things like that. And assigning zeros, we’re not turning things in is affecting different groups of people differently. I could talk about this forever, there’s a few different like, big issues with Yeah, like grading for the behavior, compliance, and then the mathematical issues that come with grading on a zero to 100 scale. Like when you really think about it, what is the difference fundamentally, between a 73% and a 74%? Why are there 100 different possible grades that a student could get on an assignment when we’re using this percentage based system, and then we start getting into all of the mathematical concepts behind that. And like, I don’t know about you, but we’re not taught about grading practices, we’re not taught about the math that is involved in you know, averaging assignments and averaging grades so that they match a percentage. And so I feel like we’ve all just been taught, you know, this way to go about it, or maybe not even taught, we’ve all just like, seen it, we experienced it, we grew up with it. And so we just turn around, and you know, and kind of regurgitate it, and do what, you know, what we experience without really knowing kind of the science and the math behind it. Absolutely.

Rebecca 7:57
And, you know, I’m feeling like, very humbled to be talking to you, because you’re saying things that I genuinely haven’t thought of before. Like, I never thought, Okay, are there really 100 different grades for this one thing, it’s too much. And I mean, the only time I really ever thought about this is I remember being at a school once. That was on a seven point grade scale. So like 93 to 100 was an eight, like, as opposed to another school I’ve been at that was the 10 point at least like 90 to 100, it felt a little bit more reasonable. Because like, if you knew at least 60%, like you should pass, that’s a lot of the material to know. Absolutely. But I think you’re really pushing me to think about this a lot farther. And so I’m excited to be talking to you because I also have so many practical questions, because if I’m honest, I’m hearing you and I’m like, okay, yeah, that makes so much sense. I agree with that. But then I’m like, immediately feeling tired. Okay, well, like how do we do it? Because like, what you say that the zeros and like the completion, like I do all that stuff, because it has worked in has been so motivating for them. So I’m interested to get into talking to you about when I guess that can kind of lead into I want to ask you anyway of like, okay, so how was this for your students? And how to changing a grading this way almost affect their behavior? Because like, obviously, there’s other ways to motivate them besides grades, but that seems like such an easy way to motivate them.

Jennica 9:22
Mm hmm. Yeah. So I would say like, I’ve learned a lot about implementing this the past few years. And I feel like the answer to that question is everyone’s favorite. It depends. It depends on how you implement it at the beginning. Because I think, you know, it’s funny implementing this as a newer teacher, you know, I’m sure veteran teachers are going to hear this and be like, oh, yeah, well, duh. But as a newer teacher, this was like, Oh, I guess I shouldn’t have about that. So the first time I tried implementing it, I was like, all jazzed and excited, like, alright, you know, this is gonna be a new way of doing it and I put it in the syllabus so I can look beautiful and it was like all of the Like, I’m very type A so like, all of the policies and stuff were like, were listed pretty pretty clearly. And you know, I sent it home, and then they like, required a signature from a parent. And, you know, I had a PowerPoint presentation, you know, I said, we went over the system once. And then I was like, okay, they got it. All right, they know it. And then I realized, you know, as the months started going, going on, I was still getting the questions, hey, when’s this due? Hey, how many points is this worth? And then when they finally did start kind of understanding that I wasn’t, you know, going to just give them points for doing things. They were like, asking me questions, why should I do it? If you’re not going to grade it? This is busy work, things like that. So I think, you know, the first year I tried it, it was kind of like I introduced it, you know, did it facilitate that well enough into like, like, throughout the beginning of the year, and then was kind of like playing catch up, and like trying to reconvince them to get on board with this. Whereas the next year, I attempted it, I was like, okay, you know, I’ve got a little more experience under my belt. Now, I know that this needs to be something that is like explicitly taught, practiced. And I’ve even learned, you know, throughout even just the past year, I realized that an even better way I could do it. Because I also like offering retakes for students so that they can, you know, show mastery over time, that a beginning of the year would even be advisable to do a practice, retake, like, Hey, this is what it looks like, when you come in to improve on one of the objective assessments that we’ve had, this is what it looks like, this is how you fill out the form. This is what you can use to study and this is, this is exactly like what I’ll say to you, so that everyone has practiced. And that really, I found, or at least in my mind, I’m predicting that that would also help help my students or help our students with anxiety, as well, because I’ve literally I’ve asked, I’ve asked students sometimes Hey, like, why have you never come in to like, try and improve your grade on this objective? And they looked at me, and I’m like, I was scared. You know, I didn’t want to do worse the second time around, I was nervous. And I’m like, I’m still not scary. Yeah,

Rebecca 11:57
you’re not? I’ve only known you for five minutes, but you don’t seem scary to me. Okay, so like, very practically, since you said, especially since like, your whole school did it? What does it look like? Then when you switch? Like, even in terms of like, how your gradebook is set up? Like, what is like your online gradebook? Like? What did that look like? And how did you have to train your students there? And, I mean, I’m literally like, what is it Michael Scott has, like, explained this to me, like, I’m five, like, like, I’m five.

Jennica 12:29
It was such an iterative process, I will say, and because like, this is coming at a time with the integration of the NGSS, it is just it’s so hard. There are no examples. There really aren’t. There are teachers that are individually, you know, doing things, and you know, they’re posting stuff online. So I would say I did a lot of research and like, talk to colleagues about like how they were doing it. So after all of the research that I have done, I decided on splitting my gradebook up into three categories. The first one is science literacy, which I decided on that being just content quizzes, I was like, Okay, so as I’m teaching, you know, whatever curriculum you’re teaching, you could do this, as you’re teaching, you know, periodically, give content based quizzes. And that’s the science literacy category. And then at the same time, you can also sprinkle in science skills, quizzes. Now these can be I mean, the word skills, it’s intended in my mind to mean scientific and engineering practices. But it could also be things like, I can keep my binder organized, you know, I can do this, I can do that. And so category two science skills. And then category three was three dimensional performance assessments. And these were, I don’t know if you are our listeners are familiar with Paul Anderson over at the wonder of science. Yes. I mean, rock star. I love him, love him. And so the three dimensional performance assessments category was basically assessments from his site, like kind of adapted for my own class, as well as inner orbit. That’s a new kind of budding NGSS aligned assessment program that is creating assessments aligned to individual standards. So those three categories and then kind of just sprinkled in throughout the year. Okay, so

Rebecca 14:18
when you were like grading, so you weren’t doing tests anymore, you’re like, well, the quote, like quizzes would be like an organelle quiz or something like that would be in your scientific literary category. And would that go be a grade that goes in out of 100? Or what does that look like? Like numerically?

Jennica 14:36
Yeah, so I also adopted I think this is kind of encouraged with standards based grading, I also adopted a zero to four scale for everything. So I think with like traditional grade books online, we kind of can’t get away from the zero to 100 per se, but what we can do is set point values. So I believe I have all of my assessments. And again, I am not claiming that this is perfect, you know, mathematically sound. This is just, you know what, what we’re doing to try and make this work. Hey,

Rebecca 15:09
and let me encourage you that we don’t need you to be perfect. I mean, I just had you on here because we just want to hear someone’s experience because, again, so many people are lost, myself included. And so just to hear someone else’s perspective is really helpful. So don’t feel like it’d be perfect. We’re thrilled to hear what you think. So that’s smart. I didn’t even think Hello ice do the same thing. point system. So just out of four points, basically. Yeah. Perfect. I hadn’t even so like, okay, let’s say you have a 25 question. organelle quiz? How do you decide? Do you still kind of do it a little bit? Like, okay, you got like, at least 75% of it. Right? So you get a three? Oh,

Jennica 15:47
my gosh, you’re bringing up things in that have gone on in my mind that no one knows the answer to Okay, so this was what I have done. But

Rebecca 15:56
it’s like so ingrained, like you said the beginning, like that’s how my brain thinks. So you’re saying don’t put it on 100 point scale, and my brain is like, okay, let’s just do mental math.

Jennica 16:08
Absolutely, no. So what I decided on doing is I would decide on an objective, like, let’s say, this is a literacy quiz, decide on an on an objective, we just learned about photosynthesis, the inputs and outputs, and kind of how that works. I write the objective, you know, I can explain photosynthesis, whatever. So I would think, in my mind, what is the bare minimum knowledge that students need to know about that objective, something that is like fair that we have said over and over again, that we’ve practiced over and over again, and I would write, like, two questions, or find questions online. That would be those like, kind of minimum knowledge questions. And I would almost require those first two questions to be correct for students to earn a one and not yet approaching. That’s like, you know, bare minimum, you have to know this, like, photosynthesis occurs in who are in which living things and it’s like plants, animals, right, like the most basic and then like, as the quiz went on, I would increase the difficulty of the questions, until the very final question, typically, or series of questions was for the for for the exceeding this is like, can you learn this? You can say it now, can you apply this knowledge? Or it would be like an open response? Question. And with that in mind, I mean, were there times where I absolutely Miss predicted what students would find difficult? Absolutely. What do you do when a student gets that first question wrong? They say animals do photosynthesis. But then they get all the other questions? Correct. So like, sometimes I would have to kind of, like rethink that system? Because like, is it fair to give a student a one? Because they missed one question. They miss clicked, they meant to put plants. So there was a little bit of judgment there that I had to make. And sometimes I did find that I was because Google Forms is how I use how I assign quizzes, you have to put points there, I would find that sometimes I would, you know, grade via points, I would try and hide it from the students. And then you know, on a spreadsheet, you know, do sort by, and then kind of, you know, look back and forth between the quiz and the score, the numerical score, and then determine where in meeting the objective is that is that exceeding Is it meeting? Is it approaching? Is it not yet? Or is it like you missed every question? Or there’s no evidence of like, cognitive understanding of any point of the standard? Like, maybe you did get a few questions, right? Because they’re multiple choice. But like, you got one right and then one wrong, they were asking the same thing. And so like, I have insufficient evidence to even say that you’re not yet approaching like you are you still you need to retake this basically, that’s what I would feel that that’s communicating.

Rebecca 19:09
I think in my head, I was like, trying to think of things I’ve already made, how would I make them work? But I like the idea of rethinking it, especially when you make it a quiz. It’s shorter. But pulling things in and saying like, in almost having, okay, every quiz has four parts. Part one is like the level one questions, you know, 123, or four or five, little multiple choice. And then part two is the level two questions or, you know, like you said, the next level and understanding. I think that’s like a nice way to simplify it. But like you said, there is still going to be some gray area there. So, practical standpoint, do you just have one rubric of what each of those four levels means? And then you apply it to each standard that you’re writing or you writing like brush rubrics for every single thing you make?

Jennica 19:57
So what I was kind of informally do thing was for the content quizzes. I mean, it is impossible to write a rubric for every single one of those and especially like content quizzes are the time for multiple choice questions like it’s not going to all be multiple choice. But like that is an easy way of doing it and of testing knowledge. And so I would not like create actual rubrics for each individual assessment. For the skills quizzes, though, yes. And so, again, I’ll just kind of informally how I went about doing it. Like, let’s say I was giving a quiz on a skills quiz on I can develop a model. I would, I mean, if you’re gonna assess kids on I can develop a model, they need to be developing a model? Sure. Can there be some introductory questions, maybe for the one, maybe for the two, that are going to be you know, what are the relevant components that you would include in this model, or like, here’s a model, list the components that are relevant, and maybe I throw in, let’s say, let’s say the model is about photosynthesis, and then I throw in a dog in the corner. And the level one question is, like, in which of the components in this model is not interacting with anything, something like that. But for the three, or for the four, like, they should be developing a model. So that’s going to be almost kind of like our project, you know, a visual thing that they create, that needs a rubric. So then I would create, you know, a level one, what that would look like 234, and then grade it that way, and, and then pass it back. So literacy quizzes are multiple choice, kind of, where are you at in the objective? How well did you meet it? And then the skills that’s where really detailed, objective rubrics come in?

Rebecca 21:52
Right, I love the idea of the categories, especially with the Hiva NGSS, like it makes so much sense. The contents like your DCI, then you got your SCPs for the skills. And then the third category brings it all together the CCC like, Yes, that makes a lot of sense. And so I think that’s really helpful. And I’m really tracking with you. I’m loving this. And so I feel like I’m going to so off our questions I’m going to get to them. But like, you’re just making me think a lot of things. So my, what this makes me kind of think then, okay, I know so many teachers, they don’t have to use, it’s not rocket science curriculum, they have some other curriculum they use, or they’ve, like you said, those veteran teachers have who have developed their own curriculum over the years. Now they’re switching to standards based grading, they’re overwhelmed, because they’re like, do I have to start from scratch, like what I love, I’m thinking, and you’ve correct me if I’m wrong, like you could use everything that you are already using, you’re just not really going to grade it. And then maybe just write your pull from old tests and things right, your literacy stuff, your skills and stuff could be labs, activities were already doing, maybe you need to tweak them some and then same with projects may seem to like make other investigations, things you already had more robust, or sorry, for your 3d category. Like, I feel like you could make it work, you’re just have, you really need to like restructure really that scientific literacy category. But from your perspective, what and I know you’re like, Well, I’m not as much of a veteran teacher, but like, what would be your advice? And for someone who has like, all these things already? Can they use them? Or do you feel like they do kind of have to start over a little bit?

Jennica 23:26
Well, I think with the way that I’ve determined how to structure it, again, I didn’t come up with this. But I feel like that is kind of transferable, no matter what curriculum you are using to do these kinds of three categories. I will say though, especially with the skills quizzes, that might require a little bit of restructuring, because you want to make sure that you are really providing students the opportunity to practice multiple times on a skill before you give them an assessment. And so like, if you’re giving like let’s say, a modeling quiz, or an asking questions quiz, like you should be providing them ample practice, like for several weeks, if not longer for modeling, in particular, with like, lots of opportunities to reflect on those models, like I do a lot of show calling, like, you know, pulling models that look good. And then just like putting them into the doc cam. And like having a discussion with the class. This is like weeks, maybe months before the actual like modeling quiz. And we talked about, you know, what’s good about this model? What’s, what could be improved? Practice practicing with components, what are components? I don’t know, they’re parts of the system. So what is this, if I can put my finger on it? It’s a component. And so just doing that practice reminding them at the time throughout. This is practice you’re going to eventually be assessed on your ability to do this. What does good modeling look like? Well, good models are scientific. They’re not drawings. Oh, like the first model we always do as a class. It’s about In the Serengeti, the buffalo in the Serengeti, and without fail every year, I get kids drawing buffalo with little thought bubbles that are like talking to each other. And we go, All right, everybody, like we’re not being we weren’t being critical when we started. Now let’s circuit and critical. Is this a model? Or is this a drawing? Do buffalo speak? No, they don’t. So what were we trying to model? We were trying to model the ecosystem that the buffalo live in, and how the abiotic and biotic factors, you know, affect them? We were not trying to model them talking to one another. So, yes, and that sounds, there is a little bit of restructuring that you have to do. And that does take time takes thought,

Rebecca 25:43
which, that’s where I always try to encourage people like, Okay, well, if you are using curriculum, at least you’re done, hopefully, with some of that, as you’re not having to source resources. Now you maybe have more capacity to tweak what you have, like, instead of starting completely from scratch, so it’s still not, I think, because people are afraid, they’re like, Okay, I’ve done all of this. Do I have sort of, or or maybe I’ve invested all this into something else? And do I have is it wasted? So I think that’s encouraging to think that it’s not necessarily the case. But it does require that shifts. So I still thinking though, like you said, you’re still gonna have to do so much practice, like, especially for a quantitative science, like chemistry, there has to be so much practice for them to get those skills. So how are you motivating then, if it’s not even for a completion grade? Yeah,

Jennica 26:35
and I think that’s kind of where citizenship grades come into play. Because, like, with the concept of standards based, it really does away with participation points and completion points, and really is trying to motivate intrinsically, as opposed to extrinsically. Sometimes kids just want a little outside motivation, you know, there are definitely those students that will feel that way. And I feel like the best way to come back that is tying it to citizenship in some ways. And then also really aligning your assessments with your assignments, which, again, requires a lot of thought and pre planning. Because if your assignments don’t actually prepare them for the assessments, they’re going to figure that out really quick. And they’re just going to stop doing the work. They’re going to attempt all the assessments, and they’re going to realize, oh, like I didn’t actually need to do that practice. So I’m not going to do this. And so that’s a big motivator, for sure.

Rebecca 27:36
Even just hearing you say that, I’m thinking about students I had, I remember like being in high school, and you’d get like, 25, math practice problems. And you’re like, What the heck, like, that was something I tried to change when I wrote my physical science now chemistry, which are so quantitative, like, Okay, here’s 10. But I would tell students like jet, if you can do the odds, and you’re good, you can stop. Like, because like you said, I’m not just giving you this for busywork to fill the class and give me this a practice, if you feel good after doing half of them cool. Like you don’t need to, but if we need more practice, they’re available. So I think that can be, like you said, a really good motivating factor of not actually, because students know when they walk in a classroom, is this when we actually do stuff that matters, or do we not? Oh, yeah. 100%, you know, and so if you treat your time, like it matters, and you treat them, like they matter, then that makes a difference, you know?

Jennica 28:26
Yeah. And I think your pacing, like, has a lot to do with that as well. If you, you know, kind of circling back to your question about, you know, do teachers have to throw everything out and start over? This might be a controversial statement, I do think that true alignment and transition to the NGSS does require kind of a full rethinking of how you’re delivering content. So like, let’s be clear here, like, what am I doing in my classes? Or how am I teaching, I am fully embracing the I Am the guide on the side, I’m not the sage on the stage, I don’t lecture, there are no worksheets that they spend 45 minutes working on, and then they turn it in, like it is very, it’s a very kind of exhausting, but engaging way of teaching where it’s very discussion based. It’s very, like, let’s, you know, we’re trying to figure this out together, what’s the best way to do that? Let’s talk about our ideas. And then I’m gonna direct you to the best way, you know, to figure this out. So we’re talking we’re learning we’re figuring out I’m sprinkling in some direct practice, you know, some like quizzes, Kahoot stuff, some vocabulary practice, but in general, you know, we are figuring out the science the way NGSS intends, because I don’t you know, give these worksheets that anymore that you know, they’re spending 30 minutes on our pacing is very for five minutes. We’re doing this for 15 minutes, then we’re doing this, the next 15 minutes we’re doing this and so it almost like in some ways, I mean, it’s motivated Of course, some students do is going to not student. Like, there’s like, for some situations, there’s nothing you can do. And that’s, you know, the choice that they’re gonna make at the high school level. But when you’re like constantly, you know, moving through things and constantly moving on to new assignments and activities, like they kind of start to learn to get with the program, you know, and like, oh, well, you missed it, you missed it. So,

Rebecca 30:22
like, do with that what you will,

Jennica 30:24
I think, is also pretty motivating.

Rebecca 30:26
I think one of the things that can be hard with NGSS, with teachers who are really trying to do it, though, is it so other from every other subject they’re in? And that’s where I feel like most of us, and I know I’m definitely in this camp, I fall into the middle ground, like, I’m obsessed with the three dimensions of NGSS, I think it’s so correct. And I love like being challenged to be less in front, you know, whatever. But, I mean, you know, I still do lecture notes, I still have practice, like, I’m trying to balance it, so that they still feel like it’s familiar to what they’re seeing everywhere else. But how do you do that? Like in your school, especially, like you said, when not everyone is even doing SPG? Anyway, so not only are you already different doing NGSS style, teaching and learning, you’re also doing a totally different grading system, like our parents, not just like, freaking out, Are they fine?

Jennica 31:15
I think it, it depends. I am very clear in my syllabus, and like the information that goes home on like, how this is going to work. And I also like I’m very meticulous and detail oriented. So I am constantly as I’m creating, you know, these systems in the back of my mind, I’m thinking about, you know, hold on a second, like, Is this fair? Is, is this assessment that I’m about to give? Like, is this a good assessment, you know, because no one’s perfect. And also just coming at it with humility and awareness that this is the Wild West, and I think I put something in my syllabus one time that was like, like, parents, please be aware, this is a an emerging, you know, best practice. And it is definitely going to be unfamiliar, and just like leaning into that, and encouraging students that, you know, it’s okay to feel like, Whoa, this is different. Well, this is weird, because it’s different. And it’s weird to me. But it’s also really rewarding to learn this way and be challenged in this way. Like, when I actually got my teaching credential, I was not given the science content tests for my credential, the way that I was taught, I was given the CSET exam, aligned to the NGSS. And I walked out of that test, having no idea how I did, like, you know, coming from my background, like, you know, always like trying to get the A’s like always, you know, feeling like a disappointment if I didn’t get the 4.0 like walking out, not knowing if I’d pass because there were so many application questions was very foreign. And so I think not pretending like that’s not a factor is really helpful. And just really trying to highlight the benefits of not just this way of, like teaching and learning and grading, but just, you know, what this is doing for your learning and your understanding of the world. Like, I’ve had students, I always give a like, end of semester survey. And, you know, ask, honestly, you know, what are your thoughts. And I’ve gotten some really interesting responses from students saying, like, I, you know, at first I didn’t like this class, but it really grew on me. And I really enjoyed how in depth, we went on these topics. And I feel like I really understand this thing as a whole as opposed to, you know, it kind of goes back to that, you know, what’s a better way of teaching do we want to teach, you know, a mile long, or an inch deep, or whatever, they are a mile long, mile deep, whatever it is.

Rebecca 34:00
So, I love that. I love your humility, too. I think it’s super important to be transparent with students. I remember the first time I taught AP Biology just straight up saying like the first day, like, I’m not going to know all of this either. Like I’m literally going to be studying alongside you guys. But I feel like I got a piece almost have a little bit of the standards based grading vibe in the sense that I told them straight up from the beginning. Like I’m basically not grading anything, because like y’all are all like and I will say that this was so nice. It was like a small group of really motivated students who really wanted to learn together. But it made I will say the one thing from it labs were such a delight. Because for once in my life, we got to just like actually explore and find data together and not deal with fuel being like so stressed about getting the right data. And I was like, That drives me insane during labs, I’m like, There’s no such thing. Like just do it and then we’ll talk about it you know, so I love that I love thinking about this and be like wow, this sort of set us so free on lab days to not be like about Getting the grade. But I’m still like, caught up in these, like these numbers. So what then goes on their report card? Since your whole school is not an SPG? thing? Do they get a four for your class? Or does that afford translate to an A?

Jennica 35:12
Yeah, so I, it’s a two, I’ve done it in two different places. Well, one school, I believe, we use one management system, one Gradebook system, that actually allowed us to switch from zero to 100, to zero to four. So what showed up on the online gradebook was a numerical number between zero and four. And it was like C is 2.74, whatever it was an A, they have a 3.75. Like, that is what they would see on the gradebook. Not all management, Gradebook systems have that option. So we’re limited a little bit there, because I believe the other school I worked at, we couldn’t do that. So we had to translate the zero to four grade into a percentage. And I think what basically, we ended up doing there was like a zero to like a 25% was an F, and then a 26, to whatever percent was a D. And so it wasn’t a perfect kind of alignment. But we did what we could with the digital tools that we had. So like

Rebecca 36:16
a student who has a four though, I’m just like thinking about those kids, you know, they are they’re trying, if they have a 99, they want 100. So did the fours go in as hundreds because they’re, they’re battling for their GPA to be the first in their class of 365? So like, how did that affect their GPA? And were kids not freaking out? So I think

Jennica 36:33
it got and we’re getting into the math here. So let’s say

Rebecca 36:38
you’re like, Please stop, I keep like, I’m like, okay, but let’s talk more about the math. Like, I don’t want to. So

Jennica 36:44
I guess, if you’re using the point system, like four points is the AE and then three points is the B. I believe that yeah, that would go in as 100%. That would then translate to the person. And a

Rebecca 36:57
would be like anywhere from like an 80 to 100. If you’re dividing 100 by five, because you have 01234, you know, or whatever. So but aren’t you just put it in then as 100? Or does it go in as a 90,

Jennica 37:09
you would put it in as four to four? And that’s 100. Okay, maths, math stuff happens behind the scenes. And then yeah, so they

Rebecca 37:16
probably like it better. So when I’m saying because it’s like, rounded up, essentially?

Jennica 37:21
I mean, yeah, what I’ve experienced is that there are a lot less phase there are, it’s harder to get an A, but there are a lot more b’s and c’s and DS and RS than there are F’s. Yeah. So that’s kind of what what ends up

Rebecca 37:40
happening, which is so normal, but we all have such distorted views. We all think we should all be all AP students. All should be straight A’s. Like, I mean, I even think about my son is in kindergarten, my oldest, so like, I’m like just starting all this, but they do standards based grading until they’re at least. And I think in third grade, they start getting actual letters. But like, it makes so much sense. Like we just got his proper support. And it’s like, he’s not approaching or he’s meeting expectations, or he’s exceeding like, or,

Jennica 38:10
you know, they’re clear. Yeah, so clear.

Rebecca 38:13
I’m like, I don’t need a number. He’s five years old, I need to know, like, is he on track? As long as he’s meeting expectations? I’m fine. You know. So I, I just, I think I have such a hard time living in the in between, I’m like, Okay, are we like, Can we all just like stack hands? And just like say, we’re all going to do it one way. And then we’re because I think that’s where it’s like, I’m always trying to balance making all the people happy. And yeah,

Jennica 38:38
yeah, I think the lack of unity, like in the education sector, just across the country is so I mean, it’s shocking to us as teachers, and I think it’s even more shocking to the general public, just how different everybody is doing everything, which, you know, I mean, there’s, there’s arguments both ways, you know, like, because you don’t want to be a standardized robot. Yeah, like, different kids, different areas, different populations have different needs. And so we don’t want to like take away that ability to, you know, really specialize whatever it is you’re doing, and that and like in each individual school, but at the same time, you know, there’s that issue of standardization. And yeah, just making sure I mean, even within schools, teachers aren’t doing the same thing. Right. Different teachers are implementing standards based in different ways. So,

Rebecca 39:23
yeah, that’s interesting to think about, okay. You mentioned a not an ideology, but you mentioned this idea of a citizenship grades, is that something that goes in your gradebook or like your school has a separate thing or what? Tell me more about citizenship grades?

Jennica 39:37
Yeah. So how I’m learning that different districts are implementing it is they are completely separating the kind of behavior grade from the academic grades. So the citizenship grade is what is being proposed. And in my opinion, how it is best utilized is when it is tied to like social event participation like being able to or dances, football games, things like that, as well as sports eligibility. Because, like, you know, I’m with you in that, you know, not being able to provide those participation grade points not being able to say, Hey, do this and, you know, and it’ll be 10 points, like, it is harder to encourage students to do the work. So they need some kind of other reason to, you know, behave correctly in the classroom. And I think citizenship rates are a really great way to do that. And, you know, in our perfect world, if we can also, you know, tie that into, like, you know, college admissions or, you know, things like that, like, I think that’s an interesting discussion or like, you know, students entering like vocational, you know, programs like maybe they have access to those citizen citizenship grades as well. Like, I think it totally opens up our world to thinking about education differently. And like, what the report card looks like and what it means.

Rebecca 40:56
I never thought that that’s such a great idea that the motivation is not that you get this grade, but it’s you get to go play, go to the away game for the football and play on the team. Like that’s an interesting because that more correlates like what you’re learning should correlate with academic what your how you’re behaving as a human being in terms of like respecting the classroom, respecting what your teacher is asking, should rule late in the extra curricular things you have the opportunity to do, which is really interesting. I love that question. I’m like, my, like, wheels are like exploding. Okay, I

Jennica 41:30
love talking about things like this. And

Rebecca 41:32
I’m so grateful now, Mike, because I’ve just my head’s been so down in the weeds, just trying to write this chemistry curriculum. And I can’t wait till January to start like dreaming again. And now I’m like,

Jennica 41:43
idea, though, relating, like

Rebecca 41:45
never going to take a break my entire life. Okay. So a couple of really specific questions to talk about because again, people just love like, practical practical help. Okay, this whole phenomenon, which is like, way predates even standards based grading is like the Don’t give anyone zeros. Everyone gets at least a 50%. Or, you know, when where our student taught, it was like, everyone got an eye like you couldn’t give them a zero, they got an iron incomplete until there were these whole different things. So kind of what it what do you think about that? And how do you think that kind of what do you do with that listeners is grating? Yeah.

Jennica 42:18
So controversial? statement coming up. Next. I hate the no zeros. 50% Minimum idea. I think, based on you know, what I’ve learned and I understand is that, that idea, it’s, it’s very well intended, it is like, it’s meant not to punish students like zeros on a zero to 100 scale, where a 59%, zero to 59% is an F, like that. Tanks grades, and it is inequitable, it’s affecting different groups in different ways. And so like, that’s not cool. The answer to that, then is not to give, you know, 50% minimums for students that do absolutely nothing. So what is the solution? A zero to four scale?

Rebecca 43:06
Yeah, fix the scale,

Jennica 43:08
like, like chant, yeah, change curve, every

Rebecca 43:10
single student does think, ya know,

Jennica 43:12
like, make it equitable, to give zeros. And so this is actually something I learned in the weeds as well. When I first started using four point rubrics, it was a four was exceeding a three was meaning a two was approaching a one was not yet. And I didn’t include anything on the rubric for a zero. And what I started doing, or when I was grading, I would of course, the kids that didn’t turn anything in, of course, they got zero, you know, what the kids that tried, I was marking as a one they were not yet approaching. And then second semester, after, you know, after grades were finalized, for first, I looked back, and I was like, I have students who have done no work, who do not demonstrate any understanding of biology have any of the learning objectives, but they’re skating by with a D. And so like, I have to completely rethink that. I’m like, I have to add a zero to this rubric. And it can’t just be you tried, you know, I think there’s, there’s an argument to be made about, well, you know, students that try should get some credit for that, which could translate to 0.5. But on the other hand, like what it’s kind of getting back into the weeds of like, well, what is what is the decimal point mean? Like, zero is, you did not meet the minimum level of understanding of knowledge like we were talking about earlier, those minimum basic knowledge questions. If you did not demonstrate any kind of understanding, you are at a zero, you are at missing or, or you could even like, label it, retake you, you must improve and you must retake this 50% Yeah, well intended but misguided, because

Rebecca 44:54
the scale is wrong. Like you said, like, I’ve had teachers asked me so much over the years, like okay, do you curve do you record your curve? are. And I’ve always said No, I’ve never curved a test because to me if it gets to the point, it looks like I need to curve a test. To me that’s a sign that the test was not a good assessment, or I just didn’t do a good job teaching it. And so to me, it’s more like we scrap it because the scale was off. So it’s not that I’m anti curve. It’s the curve to me as indicators and the URL. So I think that’s really wise. You said that so you just mentioned retake takes, because to me, okay, so with this standard, it sounds like you’re saving time and that you’re not grading all these little things that used to always be grading, but then on the back end, you have to give them so many opportunities then to meet it which like from an equity standpoint, like love it like thinking about the human beings in the classroom, love that we want them to have every chance I want my five year old to have every chance he can learn how to read until he can read. But from a practical standpoint, how do you just manage that like from time as a teacher, to not constantly be regrading? Or are you making retests every time new things? How are you dealing with all that entails of unlimited retake?

Jennica 46:04
Yeah, so what I have used in the past is unlimited retakes, there are pros. And there are cons to this. Pros are like, it doesn’t matter what day it is, like how much time is left in the quarter or this semester. No student can ever sit in my classroom and say there’s nothing they can do to improve their grade. There is until a certain deadline which I bake intentionally like two weeks before the end of the year. So I’m not bombarded with those last day, last minute students is like two weeks before, that is your last opportunity so that I can get all those great all that grading done. And it does help with behavior problems, it’s not a perfect fix. against some students, they’re still not going to come in to try and improve. But it gives it it takes away that excuse completely. For from the teachers perspective. So kind of how I’ve managed it is I don’t do I haven’t done retakes during class, maybe at the beginning of the year as a practice, and so that they can they see what it’s like. But after that, I do. And you know, this isn’t for everyone, I do two days a week where you can come in, I do office hours, like you can come in this this day at lunch this day at lunch in this one day after school for an hour and a half. And I will be there every single time regardless, that is on my own time it is. But I have found that it really ensures that the only students that are coming to take retakes at the bare minimum, you know, are taking time out of their day. It’s a little bit of a barrier. Now, also, you know, not for everyone, I have tried the whole, you know, fill out this form. And then you know, have no missing assignments. And, you know, do this practice so that you can come in and retake. And that was just a like administrative nightmare for me. If a student wants to retake the quiz, it is less work for me to just say, all right, are you ready? And then just give it to them? And they’re either going to do better? Or they’re going to not? I’m sorry, changing it every time? Yes, that is also I’ve played with a few different ways of doing this. And I think what I’ve landed on is I will return my quizzes to them with correct answers for multiple choice questions, but not for the open response ones. Those it’s kind of like well, that, because that’s typically for the for like that is you need to look back over your notes and figure out how to answer the question. And maybe if you come in not to retake to office hours, but just for help. I can point say, Hey, you should read this again for lesson three. That’ll help you with this question. So returning the first attempts, and then yeah, I mean, sometimes like we don’t have time to make a completely new retake for a student, sometimes you don’t have time, I have absolutely just assigned the same quiz again. But every time like as much as possible that I do have dedicated towards making a retake, yes, I changed the questions. They hate it every single time beginning of the year. Like if actually, this is important. If there is ever a time to make sure that you have different versions it is four months, right four months so that they don’t get used to

Rebecca 49:21
this to me, I’m like, they’re just gonna go memorize they’re gonna find a friend who got number five, right? And just memorize it.

Jennica 49:27
Oh, yeah, I’ve had students, I’ll change the last question. And they will answer the first question. As if the question was exactly the same and like, they didn’t even read it and like, Wait, this is this is different. Or they’ll bring their computer up to me and be like, this Harrison, this looks different than the first than the first. First time I try this. I’m like, yeah, they’re different questions. They’re like, Well, how do I know what the answers are? Like? You have to meet the objective.

Rebecca 49:51
Right? Another specific question like this, do you then like for thinking of like a project that might be one of your 3d assessments do you have have like a due date? Or? I mean, I’m sure you have a due date. But how do you actually motivate them then to actually turn it on the due date? If they know, like, I’m not going to get penalized for being late? I’m assuming you don’t penalize for being late. No,

Jennica 50:10
I’m here with the citizens administrative nightmare if I could, and some if I could hire someone else to do to do to do that and deal with that. Absolutely. For me to do it. It’s just, I don’t have the patience for it. It’s it’s like it’s too much. Too much tracking. But, yeah, all I’ll tell you about what I’ve done. And what I would probably do with would try and the next time I have done there is basically one due date, and it is the two weeks before the end of the semester. And it again, it eliminates that excuse from students for well, you know, why bother? Because I’m getting an F, regardless. So it does take that away. Cons, you know, I always without fail, the last office hours that I give the after school, especially the after school one, two weeks before the end of the semester, is chaotic, it is crazy. I have 20 to 30 students across, you know, out of all my rosters that are coming in for that final retake. And I’m not sure what the reasoning what the reason for that is because I have heard from other teachers that they don’t have the same numbers that I do have students coming in to retake. And I don’t know why I don’t know what the what the cause is. But like without fail, that last chance, like so many students really do take me up on it. And a lot of them do improve their grades. I’ve seen grades go from D’s to B’s, you know, overnight, because of that final that final opportunity. And yeah, is it a little bit of a pain for me to have to grade something from three, four months ago? Absolutely. Which is why I’ve kind of I try and create systems on my on my computer and like my Chrome browser so that I can easily pull up each of the quizzes like I have a little folder and it’s like assessments and it goes, you know, quiz one, quiz one retake one was one retake two was one retake three, awful, awful, but it helps. So I can at least you know, just quickly go. And then also, you know, administratively dealing with the retakes, I do first come first serve, there is a Google form that is posted in our LMS that they have to fill out. And I have like a little checkbox in the little spreadsheet version that I can check off once I’ve graded it. And I literally wait, I sit there at my computer, you know, they come in to do the retake. I sit there, and I wait for the form submission to pop up. And then I look up and I go, you know, Jason, whatever. Can you see you’d like to retake quiz to? Okay, like, Alright, are you prepared? You know, if there’s four students in the room? Great. It’s a, you know, it’s a maybe more detailed conversation. If there’s 30 kids in the room? It is Jason, you ready? Okay. It’s opening. And like, I’ll open it up for him on, like using go guardian or her party or something. So yeah, that the retake form? godsend. Absolutely. I’m

Rebecca 53:15
like, just enjoying this conversation with you so much. So I think just to wrap us up. I really appreciate hearing from you multiple times in this conversation, you said, Okay, pros and cons. And I think that is such a good way to almost try to end this and wrap this up is this idea that like we’re all looking for, like the one magic way to teach and do things that’s best for students with the least amount of work for us. And and there’s no one way, everything has pros and cons. And that’s why each teacher has to decide your capacity isn’t to track all those little missing things someone else might be, but then they don’t have the capacity for whatever. And so it’s doing the best you can in the season you have with what you have. And, and like you said, just deciding what matters most to you. In terms of your pros and cons. So before we wrap this up, is there anything else you wanted to say?

Jennica 54:06
I guess at the end of the day, you know, really addressing the teachers that are trying to make this switch but that are scared. Like don’t think that you have to do this perfectly right out of the gate. No one, you know, is doing this perfectly right now. I think the if there is a theme of our conversation, it is it is like no perfection, anti perfectionism. Do the best that you can, you know, be honest with your students that this is new. And you know, if all your students take one of your assessments, is it possible that it was their fault? Sure. But let’s also be really, you know, critical and understanding that this is something new and that there is potential here that it was something that we did and that maybe we should throw that out and try again, learn from whatever that mistake was and Just try it again. Do it as you go. I know backwards planning is like the Holy Grail. Of course, we should always keep the end in mind. Sometimes we don’t have that time. If you need to come up with your objectives as you go, that’s what you have to do.

Rebecca 55:16
Absolutely, I mean, that’s 100% what I did my entire first time teaching AP Biology, it was like, we’re working at the same pace people. I think that’s just super helpful and really wise. And I’m really grateful for you coming on. So one last question, I asked every guest, what’s one way that you’ve simplified your life recently,

Jennica 55:36
doing away with perfectionist thinking, not just in my job, but in my life, like, we teach our students about the engineering design process that you know, you make a prototype, you test it, it, you know, their failures, their successes, and then you refine it, and you try it again. So just, you know, doing tackling everything in my life with that philosophy of it doesn’t have to be 100% Perfect, correct the first time, just learn from every mistake every flaw and improve it the next time like we teach our students this, like we should embody

Rebecca 56:12
it as well. Yes, no bad data, just error analysis, like, exactly and apply it everywhere. I love that I need to I think I’m decent at this in the classroom, that I’m challenged by you saying applying it to my life? Right? That’s a good challenge. Okay. So I know my listeners are going to want to stay connected with you. And I’m sorry if you get them. Sorry. But they’re awesome people. So I hope you love them. But if they want to connect with you, what would be a good way to do that? Yeah, so if

Jennica 56:44
anyone’s interested in learning more about how I haven’t implemented standards based grading, they can check out my website, jump into PD, professional development, jump into pd.com/science. And they can sign up to receive a free download of my plan. You know, like I said, it’s just an overview. It has real specifics, like things real excerpts from my syllabi that I’ve that I passed out to parents. It’s just an overview meant to give you real ideas for how to get started, my different categories, the literacy category versus the skills, the percentages that go along with that. And then, you know, while they’re there, if you’re also interested in some professional development courses, I have created several for science teachers. So if while you’re there, you’d like to check that out. You can earn units to advance on your salary schedule. If your district uses that, for a more direct line, if you’d like to email me, you can email me at Jenica at jump into pd.com. I love conversation, and we’d love to hear from you guys.

Rebecca 57:50
Awesome. Thank you so much, Annika, I really appreciate it. All right. Thanks, Rebecca. Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode and my interview with Jenica. Harrison, you can find all links mentioned in the show notes at it’s not rocket science classroom.com/episode 106. And stay tuned for next week, we are going to continue the conversation about standards based grading. Because y’all honestly, I had so many great applications when I sent this out. And when I was reviewing them, I narrowed it down to two people to Jenica Harrison and Bonnie Hamilton, who you will meet in next week’s episode. And I couldn’t decide I was like, You know what, I’m going to interview both. And I’m so glad I did. Because they offer really different and helpful perspectives. I think it’s really interesting to hear about this topic from Janica, who’s been in the classroom, you know, about five years. And then next week, you’re going to hear from Bonnie who is in the classroom for over 20 years and she’s now retired. So I think it’s really helpful and I want you to stay tuned for that. And get excited to hear more about standards based grading and really the NGSS next week. All right, teacher friends, that wraps up today’s episode. If you’re looking for an easy way to start simplifying your life as a secondary science teacher, head to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/challenge to grab your classroom reset challenge. And guess what? It’s totally free. Thanks so much for tuning in, and I’ll see you here next week. Until then, I’ll be rooting for you teacher friend.

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Grab your FREE RADAR Signs

Use these signs to equip your students to take on any question - and never say "I don't know where to begin" again!

Submit your email address to receive your FREE RADAR Signs from INRS!