In January 2011, I tried something crazy. It's now a local phenomenon.

I had a mind blowing meeting with a group of middle school teachers a couple weeks ago. A group ready to change just about everything they do regarding student work management and assessment. Not just ready, but determined.

I began to seriously look at my assessment practices almost four years ago. Really, it was a time concern. I spent my first year giving big unit tests and grading homework and all that stuff they say you're supposed to do and found it incompatible with the demands on my time from coaching. By accident, I wandered into SBG, notebooks and all that. Three years ago, I started sharing my successes with my math department. Two years ago, many of them were ready to try it.

And now, years after a secret experiment, SBG and notebooks is the majority practice at all levels of math in my school, Algebra 1 to Calculus. We've all implemented it differently, PreAP is excluded for the most part (though not mine), our notebook management systems are varied, and I will say that not everyone may experience the same altering side effects I did, but we made a change.

Even crazier, in just a handful of meetings, an entire middle school hopped on board because many of my colleagues had experienced such positive results and testified as much to them. At some distant point in the future, there's a kid who will graduate having spent their 6th - 12th math career judged by how they show growth.

Challenges remain:

  • SBG is no bandaid for bad lessons, learning to be interesting is a whole other hurdle
  • this middle school is in uncharted territory, with no one specifically on campus who has implemented this stuff before
  • our Algebra 1 team is trying SBG, notebooks, AND a tweaked curriculum, there will be kinks, but my role this year is their direct line of support
  • new teachers are always a tough sell, never getting the full philosophy behind the move or experiencing the classroom challenges that lead to this stuff in the first place
  • SBG and notebooks can't be forced as a matter of policy, it will guarantee half-hearted implementation, each teacher needs the eureka moment, and that may never come

We aren't perfect. It is not math department heaven on earth. Simple requiring a student to have a notebook does not mean you will have 100% engagement. Implementing SBG will not guarantee you have a 0% failure rate or that kids will achieve that understanding they've seemed to be missing.

The point of this is to say that change is possible. Change at scale is possible. And it happened organically. Our district did not mandate any of these policies. There is a ton of work to do. But the fact that we even have these discussions locally without anyone thinking I'm a crazy person is important.

If you have great practices that are working for you, you don't have to be the lone voice in the wilderness. Student results speak for themselves. Chances are there's a teacher in your district who wish things could be better but doesn't know where to start. Show them what to do. Share everything. And slowly, you can convince a lot of people to step back at their current methods and ask "why?"

AuthorJonathan Claydon