Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dan's concept checklist

If you're semi-conscious in the math blogosphere at all you're aware of dy/dan. (I don't know why I'm providing a link since his traffic is multiple orders of magnitude more than mine.) He's been a long-time advocate of a concept/skills checklist model. Personally, I prefer a topic-based model but that may be based on our subject matters. From what I can tell, here are the differences:

Two quick disclaimers: I've seen this in one form or another in various places so I'm not quite sure what Dan's inspiration was so I can't properly credit it. If I ever happen to run into Dan IRL I'll try to ask. Also, the details are mostly from memory but I think I've captured the spirit.

One more disclaimer: I like the system Dan has developed. I don't want it to seem like I don't. It's a vast improvement over what we normally do. 

Dan's concept checklist:
His specific adaptation of the skills checklist breaks his math topics into a whole bunch of skills. There are more than 30.  His students take a specific test for each skill, with an easy and hard problem. If they get 100% two times, they pass out of that skill and never have to take it again. His skills checklist was 70% of his grade. I don't know if that's still accurate.  He had them track their scores.

My Topic Scores:
After fooling around with all these weird ideas (remind me to tell you about the year I based my grades on Bloom's taxonomy) the baseline for the exact system I use came from this Marzano book. I took my standards and grouped them in to topics based on co-variance. That's a fancy way of saying, "Stuff that is learned together." They get a 0-4 score for each topic, not down to the standard. So far this year we've done Motion, Graphing, Forces, Forces in Fluids, Atoms, Chemical Reactions, and next will be Periodic Table. I have a Scientific Literacy topic all set up but I haven't found the bandwidth in my year to include it yet. There will be 12-15 for the year. I also have them track their scores.

Tracking Forces

The scribd version looks ugly but the big black box is supposed to be a place to bar graph their scores. They put the dates on the right. On the back is a concept checklist and they just traffic light each one. On my tests I have a little letter at the end of each problem that matches to a standard. After we're done checking it they go through a plus/check/minus each one. The number to the left of the standard is the chapter in the book where it can be found.

I have a Word 2003 template if you want me to email it to you. Edit: A link is on the bottom.

Why I prefer topic scores

I prefer the topic scores because it forces connections. This might be a math vs. science thing but I think it helps both me, as the teacher, and my students focus on the larger concepts that link it all. Yeah, you have to learn the vocab and stuff. But keeping it all together helps create a "this is all related" mindset. Even in math, I think separating out is a mistake because of the hierarchical nature. You are losing the "why."

I haven't sat with the math standards long enough to write out an actual topic but I think if I was planning on building a topic it would sound like this in my head:
This unit we're going to solve insane problem X. (Could be a word problem, physics problem, area problem, or could be a scary looking math problem that doesn't contain Arabic numbers or letters in our alphabet). That's our goal. What are the skills my kids are going to need to learn in order to solve that problem? That's the subskills.

In my scoring, crazy, insane problem X would be the 3 and subskills would be the 2.

For a 4 a student would need to be able to take what they've learned and apply it in a new way that I haven't taught directly. So take this problem that we've worked on for a flat surface and apply it to a curved surface.

For me, there progress on this scale is 100% of my grade. Nothing else included.

Dan might argue that his skills checklist is simply to ensure his students have mastered the necessary skills to do the complex thing and he assesses that separately.  I guess I just don't see the point in having this very nice system that differentiates easily and doesn't punish kids for learning at different rates and then only using it part of the time. A little confused there.

I also am confused about his reasoning for overwriting the previous scores on the tracking sheet I linked to earlier. In the system I use, my students can see a graph of the history of their scores. They can see their growth in a very visual way. They lose that in his tracking system.

Too many students focus on the A (4) or on what their peers have, I don't know how many times I've pointed to a student's graph and said, "Don't worry about being behind your friend. Look at how much you've grown."

Again, back to Disclaimer 2. I like the system. I just think mine fits better for what I'm trying to do. I'm not trying to convert anyone (unless you teach at my school, which is statistically very likely if you're reading this post) but it's nice to know that there are other people out there trying to change the way assessment is done.

Edit: Here's a link to the .dot template. It turns out it's Word 2004 on a mac.


  1. Hi JYB,

    I would love to see the Word version of your new checklist! I do something similar, but your's looks much better! Glad I found your blog. Thanks! (fpn1_AT_cornell_DOT_edu)

  2. Here's the template I created. You just fill in and tab through. It's actually Mac version of Word 2004. It should fit on one page front/back.

    What do you do that's similar? I'd love to also see it.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Sure, here are some sample pages from the Learning Folders my students are required to keep in the classroom. I hole punch the sheets and the students keep them in a folder with clasps. Every time they get an assignment back, they update their folder.

    Feel free to share!

  5. Backreading on your blog and liked this-- really raises expectations by defining a 4, or what most students will think of as "full credit," as going above and beyond what was taught. Even a 3 requires more than just bare minimum memorization and regurgitation, which, one could argue, skills lists may (depending on how well they're written) let slide. Traditional instruction often doesn't extend beyond scores 1 and 2. Where do your students typically land?

  6. Jason,
    Does this mean you only have 4-6 scores recorded for each student during a marking period? my administrator has always told me, "The more the better," in order to help justify the grades they receive. Also, how often are you assessing if you only cover 4-6 topics. Sorry if you posted this elsewhere - I didn't see it.

  7. Hi Matt, I mention how the gradebook is setup here:

    So I have 4-6 scores that I update, but I also keep a weekly progress check. I have a TOPIC SCORE that I revise depending on how a student is progressing on the scale. I also have a PROGRESS CHECK score that just gets inputted weekely. The progress check score is zero weighted and just there to track progress.

    I can't resist letting this go, but your admin is just plain wrong. He/she is thinking in terms of CYA. More scores to create a more justifiable average. Anyone would take one really good measure over 100 crappy ones. That being said, I'm constantly assessing so I do agree that ongoing assessment is the best. I just think it's crazy to say you need to put more stuff in your gradebook for it to be justifiable.

  8. Hey Jason -

    I've just jumped into SBG this semester. I'm teaching 7-12 science at a small montana school. I'm brand new to this. I started when I happened across Dan's ted talk, stumbled upon his blog, started finding connected blogs, etc.

    I'm using a checklist more similar to Dan's right now...but I really like your system. I think it will make the grading a little less hectic for me. I also like the fact that it allows for a easier reference to an "A" "B" or "C" level...since our school still uses that system I have to convert my SBG grades to that at some point. It seems like it would also allow students to feel like they've achieved "mastery" (even if it is B level mastery) of a topic, even if they didn't get the top score, a 4.

    Do you think it might be too much for students to change up how I'm rating standards mid semester?

    1. Hi Logan. You've obviously got a lot on your plate being a new teacher. First, make sure you get admin approval. Talk it over with your principal and see what he/she has to say. This might be a non-starter. After that, I'd say start small. Choose one unit that you're really familiar with. It's always easier for me when I understand the content and my instructional goals really well. Just let your kids know you're going to experiment a bit and after ask them which they prefer (which is important but the amount of learning should be the main data point). I don't think it's that much more work but if you aren't familiar with the content or goals then it'll be a muddled mess.

      The easier reference to A, B, C is a double edged sword. You don't really always want them mentally translating the two because they're truthfully a different system. Apples vs. Oranges not English vs. metric units.