33% -- factual recall & understanding
There are some things I need to ensure that students know, or else I will feel like a failed history teacher. Where is Virginia? What happened at Yorktown? Who is Samuel Adams? Why did Sherman march through Georgia? These questions have a narrow range of accurate response: you know it, you mostly know it, or you don't really know it.
These points should come from quizzes, which might have formatted questions like fill-the-blank or label-the-map; or they might require several sentences. I am still struggling with the dilemma of at-home online quizzes vs. in-class assessments. Maybe I will get back to that topic later. I don't expect to assign more than 1 quiz per week. Scoring must be simple, to allow quick feedback to students. I haven't quite solved that yet....
The factual information will mostly derive from the flipped videos, which students watch at their own pace. Flipping saves me from spending class time on information delivery, which is good but I still must spend time to create or curate the videos. Flipping also prevents me from over-utilizing the textbook, and opens a broader world of potential information sources. Last year, I always assigned quizzes on the day the video-watching was due; this year I think I should allow some in-class inquiry and discussion first, but I need a way to verify who did and did not prepare for class....
33% -- applying social studies skills
It would be much easier to fill children's heads with facts, but that's not my entire job. There is a set of skills that historians use which I believe middle schoolers can apply and generalize: making effective claims, evaluating primary and secondary sources, analyzing cause-effect relationships, understanding two perspectives on an issue, engaging in meaningful discussions, etc. You can see Common Core elements getting embedded here as well.
I plan to assess students' performance on 1 or 2 skills at a time with a project or in-class test. Unlike factual recall, these skills have a wide spectrum of success from mastering to decent to novice. So I am developing a rubric with 4 or 5 columns of quality. The highest level must allow for continued room to grow, because even professional historians are working to improve. That's why I am using the word 'mastering' instead of 'excellent' or 'mastered,' and I may use letter grades to score students' performance because you can't be 100% correct with analyzing a cause-effect relationship.
This is the way I can access some deeper understandings like historical controversies and similarities between past and present US government crises. Did Sherman have a good reason to march through Georgia? How would the Founding Fathers feel about the Tea Party of the 2000s? Those questions do not have a 'right' answer for me to verify, but there are verifiable levels of appropriateness in students' responses and use of supporting information. And these are important questions to explore in my class.
33% -- student effort (better name?)
Here is the catch-all category that I imagine acting like glue to stick together activities and ideas. Rather than give a general participation grade, or a separate 'effort' criteria for any collaborative project, I'm trying to create an atmosphere of focusing on improvement and growth in all things we do. An online discussion post does not have to 'count' officially or be judged objectively; however, it and other engagements still have value.
I want students to reflect on their learning. For instance, at the end of a unit I can ask them to review their memories, notes, earlier discussion posts, etc. to write about "How was your understanding of US government changed since this unit began last month?" or "How are class discussions different now than they were at the beginning of the school year?" The key will be for students to a) pay attention all the way along through a unit, b) seek evidence of change or growth, c) be specific. This will be valuable for students who struggled at any point in the school year; it's also a fair challenge for the high-flying students who started strong, because we're not looking for perfection here! I made a 10-point scoring rubric for reflections, and I expect to assign up to 4 of these per grading term.
The rest of 'student effort' involves work habits like utilizing me appropriately (not too much, not too little) and preparing for class (like proof of watching an online video). I need to finalize that rubric, but I'm aiming for something that can be quickly scored during a student conference.
We could quibble about the relative weight of these 3 categories, but I think it's best to equalize them. Mathematically it tends to make very little difference whether the ratio is 40-40-20 or 40-30-30 or 33-33-33.
Next steps include:
- finishing the 'work habits' rubric
- choosing the first historian skills to pre-assess, then teach, and eventually test
- decide about quizzes: at-home and online vs. in-class
- starting to set up my webpage