Creating Concept Checklists

Standards-Based Grading

Video Transcript:

In the previous 2 videos, we saw an introduction to Standards Based grading, and we looked at a full year in review to see what the day to day structure looks like.

Now, we’re going to shift our focus to the how-tos of implementing this system. What are the specific details? That’s what the next 5 videos are about.

So, to begin, we will start with the foundation of the grading system, the concept checklist. What is a concept checklist and how do we create it? Let’s check it out.

Before figuring out when and where to assess students, or even how much time we need to devote to units, we first need to outline what concepts we will actually focus on during the school year.

Enter the concept checklist. It is designed for students to keep track of their growth, but it also represents the framework for how teachers will structure their school year.

And before we analyze how to set one up, let’s remember a crucial point we saw in part 1. I made the point that many curriculums often take a mile-wide inch-deep approach to learning. In turn, we teach a whole bunch of concepts each year, but because of this, we don’t have enough time to go deeply with very many of them.

However, standards based grading helps to counter this if we design our concept checklist well. We can choose the most important concepts for the year and trim some of the excess, smaller concepts that may not be worth spending much time on. This allows us to dive deeply into the major concepts without devoting unnecessary time to less important concepts.

With this in mind, what are some rules of thumb for how many and which concepts to include in our checklist?

First, I’ve found that 20-22 concepts tend to be ideal. This allows us to devote plenty of time to each concept, and it usually breaks down nicely to fit within our 6 or 9 week grading periods.

How do we choose which concepts are the ones to include on the list? More on that in a minute, but Dan Meyer has a helpful quote.

“This skill shouldn’t be so small that you’ll be tracking ten such concepts in a week but not so big that you can’t tell how to remediate a low grade.”

To illustrate this quote, here is an example from a course I taught.

In Algebra 1, instead of putting “Linear Equations” as one of the concepts, I broke it into 3 smaller, but meaningful categories: calculating slope, writing equations in slope-intercept form, and graphing slope-intercept form. Notice how I broke a major topic into 3 smaller ones, but I didn’t go too small to where we need to assess students all the time. For example, it would have been too small if I instead broke Linear Equations into slope given a table, slope given a line, slope given 2 points, and writing slope intercept form for each of those representations as well. All of those small pieces are combined into the original 3 I had so we don’t have to quiz over every little thing.

Alright, I said that we’d talk more about how to actually choose concepts for a checklist, so let’s get to that.

Here’s how the process went for me when I first taught Geometry. I began by looking at my state’s standards for the course. In Texas, the standards are broken down into 2 categories called “Readiness” and “Supporting” standards.

The readiness standards are considered the most important, and if there is a state test for a content area, the readiness standards will be the most heavily tested. So, when beginning to create a checklist, I tried to analyze all the readiness standards first because those concepts are likely agreed upon to be the most important for the course.

Then, after analyzing the readiness standards and adding those concepts to the checklist, I only added a supporting standard to the list if it really seemed important. But, in general, the great majority of the concepts on the checklist will come from the readiness standards.

The next step in the process was actually looking through the textbook my district was using. Textbooks probably aren’t ideal for designing a whole curriculum, but they can provide accountability to make sure we’re heading in the right direction with our checklist. So, I looked through every chapter of the book to see how it outlined the course and also to get a feel for what the students would be experiencing. I wanted to see just how much was recommended to be taught and how connected or disconnected it felt. In addition, I tried to determine which concepts seemed to be most heavily emphasized, and I added or subtracted concepts to the checklist based on this.

Another very important part of the process was talking to teachers in content areas that came after Geometry. I didn’t have experience with teaching subjects beyond Geometry, so I needed help and wisdom from teachers who did. In particular, I wanted to know which concepts in Geometry were foundational for understanding concepts in later grades, and this allowed me to solidify the checklist and consider adding concepts I wasn’t originally going to include.

Let’s look at the final list I ended up with for Geometry.

It’s important to note that you’ll most likely refine your checklist over time, and that’s completely okay. I made several updates to this list after spending more time teaching the course, and I don’t think I felt like it was solidified until year 3 of teaching Geometry.
This is natural because we often need to teach a course for multiple years before we figure out which concepts are truly the most important to focus on. Therefore, give it your best shot as you begin teaching a course for the first time, and allow yourself to make changes as you go.

That’s the process I used to create a checklist, and as you can see, it takes some time and tweaking. However, I believe this investment is worth it because it sets the foundation for the rest of the school year.

Before we go, I do want to address a question you may have. What do we do about the concepts in a course that don’t make it onto our list? Do we just forget about them?

To answer that question, I think it’s important to make a distinction. A checklist represents all the standards that will be formally assessed. It does not represent every concept that will be taught. It’s perfectly fine to teach many more concepts than what’s on your list. In fact, I often included smaller concepts within each of the units on my checklist.

However, I believe we should only formally assess the big idea concepts on our list and make sure to dive deep into those concepts. The other standards can be focused on with less depth and sometimes be left out if there isn’t enough time.

In the next video, we’ll dive into the process of creating quizzes. But first, you have an assignment. While concept checklists are fresh on your mind, go ahead and make a quick first draft of a checklist for a course you’re teaching. You can simply start by listing any important concept you can think of for the course, and you can later refine your list as you go through the process we saw in this video.

I’ll see you when you’re ready!

8 thoughts on “Creating Concept Checklists

    1. On the actual checklist (like this one for Geometry), the students monitor their progress by shading in the scores for each concept. As they re-assess concepts, they’re able to see their growth. It also shows them specific areas they are strong or need improvement in. This helps them focus their study efforts.

      For the teacher, the checklist helps focus the curriculum into big idea chunks. The listed concepts are the ones that the most time should be devoted to throughout the year.

  1. Students are given a completed concept checklist for the year? Or are they given the concepts in 9 week or semester chunks?

  2. I teach my entire geometry curriculum on a spiral (no units), cumulative testing every 10 lessons, no review days. I don’t have to skip any topics, we have a lot of time in the spring for pulling everything together for multistep/skill problems and Regents prep. Most years, no students fail the state assessment and, more importantly, the rate of students scoring 85+ is high (30-40%).

    1. This is really cool, Laura! Thanks for sharing! I’m curious what your day to day lessons look like in this format. Do you happen to have them available online?

      1. Sorry, my lessons aren’t online. I could email you a topical index I created for my students recently. It would give you the general idea.

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