SBG: Frustration


I am so frustrated with myself. I guess I am guilty of just jumping onto the SBG bandwagon and now I am dragging behind the wagon and hitting every pothole. That is filled with mud. And pebbles. And maybe some quicksand.

SBG just makes so much sense in my analytical brain but the concept is still not sinking in. It's not changing my teaching yet. It's merely pointing out how much my teaching and question writing and grading and assessing suck. But I don't know how to fix it.

I'm using ExamView to write my quizzes and I'm picking 3 levels of Bloom's to use on the assessment: application, synthesis, and analysis. Here is my sample quiz for the distance formula and midpoint formula. The 3 levels are there but do they make sense? Some twitter people responded with:

mathhombre @misscalcul8 maybe a line w. slope=1 so tempting to count dots; don't get how #6 checks objective. (Midpt means =, but buried in there)

mathhombre @misscalcul8 Maybe A=(2,3), B=(5,1). Find the distance from A to C if B is the midpt of AC. Allows multiple methods.  
mdsteele47 @misscalcul8 Good start, but those are all procedural questions. There's nothing that assesses what they understand conceptually 

On #6, midpoint means a segment is cut into two congruent halves and you have to know that to set up the equation correctly.

The problem of using one endpoint and the midpoint to find the other endpoint is a good question, but we didn't do it in class so they won't know how to do it.

And how do I assess conceptual understanding? My brain can't think outside of the box that is all things procedural.

Also, I'm reassessing last weeks 4 skills in addition to 2 new skills this week. So with 6 skills and 3 questions per skill, that's 18 questions. Isn't the idea of sbg to have frequent shorter assessments? Should I be assessing after completing one skill? Should I not assess each skill twice? Should I just give one advanced question the second time I assess the same skill? What is the best way to do this?!

park_star  @misscalcul8 give your quiz when it feels natural to do so. it makes marking them so much better :)  

This is good advice, but I can't tell when it feels natural. I like doing it every Friday but the students told me today they felt rushed and like they were cramming while at the same time I feel like we're behind. I feel like I need two spend at least two days per skill: one for introducing, one for mastering. If we do that, I feel like we will never get far enough. But if I am about learning, then rushing through material is counterproductive to that.

Even creating my skills list of things to teach, I still feel like I don't know what to teach. Comparing different textbooks makes me question how deep I should go into a specific skill. One book gives this type of problem, another gives another type. How do I know what is too little and what is too much? I don't have enough experience to know what type of problems aren't as important or what's most important. It took me two class periods just for them to correctly use the distance formula, and that's just procedural.

What am I doooooooooooooiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnngggggggggggggg?

I keep changing the notes we do in class, changing the quiz, and the way I grade. I  think my students have no idea what's going on and neither do I. I owe it to them to find a system that works but in the meantime they have all this confusion to put up with. I'd like to just ask them what would be the best for them but if I don't know, how can I expect them to know? And they aren't mature enough to really answer my questions anyway.

How did Dan Meyer pull this off in 34 concepts and I have over 100? Maybe I will just steal his list and his sample questions and make my life easier!


  1. Thank you for this post. Because I am going to be following right behind you (students come back next Wednesday) - and I am afraid of similar things. I love the honesty, and I hope I can be as honest as I embark on this journey too.

    You probably are getting advice from all over the place. I'll throw some out there based on reading between the lines of your post. But take the advice only if it resonates - obviously.

    You seem really concerned with depth - Bloom's taxonomy and all that. Great. You are focusing on a student's conceptual understanding. Great. You are going to multiple textbooks to see their approaches and problems. Great.

    I say: STOP ALL OF THOSE. Stop worrying about those things for a moment.

    Right now you're getting frustrated, and you're changing the system on your kids early on. That's probably frustrating you to no end, and your kids too! You need to get to stasis.

    Screw Bloom and screw worrying so hard about if your questions are really getting at what you want them to get at.

    Get a basic, simple system in place, and see if it works for getting kids to learn the procedural stuff. That's not easy, to begin with.

    Then, once you are done with that and you've hit a stride, then come up with ways to get at the deeper cognitive levels. The different kids of questions you can ask, ways to modify the system, etc.

    But at this point, you need to get yourself from being frustrated, and that means streamlining and routinizing things.

    1. Focus on the procedural (for now)
    2. Give only 3-4 skills or so on a test. You might not get to reassess every skill twice right now when you're figuring this out. Just start by reassessing the few things that will be important for them to know in your course later. Kids can reassess on their own anyway.
    3. Have the system that you're going to stick with come hell or high water clearly spelled out in kid-friendly terms, and easily visible or accessible by your kids to refer to.
    4. Once you reach a point where the expectations are clear for students, and a routine has set in, then see about slowly adding in the other pieces.

    That's my advice. But of course I say that because that's what I've decided to do. Worry about the harder questions about levels of understanding, synthesis, and problem-solving, later. Maybe later this year, but even more likely, after this year has over.

    I'll probably get a lot of flak for this advice but it's what I'd say to someone who brought this issue to me in my school.

    Rome wasn't built in a day, you know. And it wouldn't have been built if no one was doing the chiseling. (That's you.)


  2. Aw Sam thank you for letting me be frustrated and giving me practical steps. You are right. I have got to streamline this until I have a foolproof system that works.

    Part of my problem is that I have no experience to draw from. I literally don't know what works. I'm drawing on the experience of my Twitter friends so please don't tell me I have to do what's best for me. I know that but I need to see what other people are doing to figure out my own system.

    Another part of my problem is that I like fresh starts and I so want to just do it right the first time. I absolutely detest muddling through this mess and changing my mind every day. I feel like I have already messed up the year because I have told the students so many different things.

    I've been trying to write tomorrow's quiz for 3 days and I have still accomplished nothing. I'm thinking about just postponing it to give myself the weekend to figure this crap out.

  3. As my sbg set up is different than yours I'm not sure how much commentary I can do here, but I have a few observations/questions that may help with the thinking (they helped me when I was making the system the alg 1 crew at my school uses at least :)

    In regards to 'curriculum', what do your state's standards say? There are whole chapters in the books we use for alg1/Geo/Alg2 that we skip unless there is extra time (never happens). Our books are large and cover tons of stuff. Though I don't agree with 'teaching to the test', the state standards in Washington have a good flow to them and cover everything kinds would need to be successful in upper-level math or not getting taken advantage of in math by sneaky lenders. As such, I started there making my skill list (which is now up to 68 skills for the year in Alg1) and then figured out how to order them to make it work with the book's flow and went from there.

    Looking at your assessment, many of those questions seem to be covering more than one skill. In example, to answer #3 a student has to know the midpoint formula and the distance formula. I agree that students need to be able to synthesize different skills together, but I worry about the 'purity' of the score from that question. Would you put it with skill 7 or 8? Will the student understand what part they do not get?

    I use my skill quizzes purely for procedural knowledge and assess the other parts elsewhere. Projects, in class work, unit tests, etc. To me skill quizzes are the bare-bones knowledge a student needs to have to get to anything else. I'm totally with Sam's comment up above on making it simple at first and fleshing it out more as you gain greater confidence/understanding/student love of the system (because they do love it).

    And to put it out there, I have skype capability and would be more than happy to run down what I do over voice/visual as I adapted Meyer's system for Algebra 1 two years ago and then did my own version in my upper level math classes last year. Just send me a

    Good luck! Ashli

  4. The other thing is: it's early on enough in the year that maybe you should take a mulligan (my soft skill post: http://samjshah.com/2010/07/24/not-all-of-us-have-soft-skills/), be honest and frank with your students about why you're going to take a do over, and then start over with something that's streamlined, easier to manage, and that you can be initially content with. Promise them that you're going to stick with it for the first quarter before any tweaking happens.

    Remind kids that you're trying to get it right because you want to make it so that they can do amazingly!

    Though you think your kids are frustrated with you changing things on them, and maybe they are, I'd bet the bills in my wallet that they appreciate that you care about them and their learning. And in their books, that has a lot more cache than you may give credit for.


  5. This is amazing teacher writing, and what makes for amazing teaching. You're doing great modeling for your students: tackling a real problem (don't know how to do it), trying something new to solve it, evaluating how it's going while you're doing it, willing to adjust if it's not working. And I totally agree with Sam that they will appreciate a teacher who cares that much.

    I think your SBG list will pare itself down as you discover what's really important to you, and what depends on what else. (If kids can do A it means they can do B and C.)

    Could you maybe give 1 or 2 question microquizzes every other day as you're learning to adjust your questions?

  6. I know exactly how you feel!

    I'm attempting to do it all at the same time right now but I also have been tripping up in different things. When I started planning to implement this system last year I was able to hear from Dr. Heflebower direct from Marzano Labs that the state standard should be the 3.0 score in the scales. I'm hoping that your state standards are more clear than the state standards for Geometry in Texas. I'll keep that vent for my own blog.

    So I suggest doing what is best for your sanity! That's what I'm doing. I'm focusing on standards that are assessed the most and have the biggest bang for their buck. If you start researching into textbooks you will find a myriad of different levels on different topics and will never come to a conclusion about what to focus on. I would look for something that tells you exactly what is assessed in your state and then you can start to work more in depth from there. That way you aren't just teaching the test but are getting a starting point from there.

    Don't stress, that's the key. And just keep in mind that while your kids are learning algebra you're learning SBG. That's the way I'm looking at it! Good luck! I can't wait to see how everything goes.


  7. I couldn't agree more with Sam's advice!!! We all have this ideal of where we want to be...an ideal that we are constantly raising because we surround ourselves with such amazing educators constantly. But when you are totally transforming your classroom, you need to allow yourself a learning curve - back down on some of the complexity for a bit until you gain some sort of a groove.

    I have to tell you, my approach with regards to quizzes is so completely different. It eliminates your problems completely, although it creates an entirely different set of problems. We haven't given any quizzes at all. I don't really intend to. I think of quizzes as mini-versions of assessments. I really don't think I will have any with the exception of reassessments, which will be mini-focused assessments (i.e. a quiz of sorts). Our first unit covers around 10 of our target skills. They are working on them each day and we are creating a culminating project. Other than that, they will have a formal assessment when we complete (in about four weeks). That keeps me off of the perpetual quiz and requiz wheel that is giving you such fits...but it does mean that we haven't been recording grades in our online grade book at this stage, which could mean a great deal of trouble is coming at us soon from parents/admin.

    Anyway, I'm not recommending my approach...just letting you know that some of the things that you assume are a mandatory part of your approach may not be.