Phase one complete… (XP points in the classroom)

On Tuesday, I plan to implement phase two of my goal for my AP Biology students this year, which is for them to take a pile of my resources and learn about a unit almost on their own (constructivist theory, for you psych folks). Granted, there will be checkpoints and various discussions throughout this unit, but I want them to eventually be in charge of their daily tasks, both in and out of the classroom.

Phase one involved incorporating an experience point (XP) system in my grading plan. Students gain experience through various instructional activities, and the sum of these experiences at the end of each unit correlates to a rather hefty (30%) portion of their overall grade. This is the first time I have tried anything like this, but I think it is going well. I have been at a loss the past few years as to getting more of my students personally engaged in the process of learning this extremely cumbersome curriculum. Thus far, I think this is the hardest that I’ve had an AP class work overall. I’m not sure if it’s the students themselves or the XP system. Perhaps, both.

I do ask for my students’ opinions, and it seems that most of them like the idea of this grading practice. I had one student express his concerns that these were all effort based grades, and to be honest, I had this concern as well (because I am vehemently opposed to grades based on behavior). However, after thinking about it more, I stand by my choice. I believe that the more a student is exposed to the material they are expected to learn, the more they will learn. Period. Also, while I dole out XPs with far less scrutiny than I would a test or lab report grade, there is some accountability within them. I explained to my concerned student that one does not necessarily earn the maximum amount of XPs for a given assignment, but rather, I’m grading them on a much smaller scale for that assignment (like between 1 and 5 points). Additionally, there are a variety of ways that students can earn these points to meet the 25 point cap that I’ve established. This allows them to choose the assignments that will (hopefully) benefit them the most based on their own learning styles.

Due to re-assessment requirements beyond my control, I am concerned that my class grades will not be as reflective, or, I should say, predictive, of my students’ performances on the AP Bio exam. However, I am hoping that my XP system will still allow me to make accurate predictions. I have a spreadsheet set up with a sheet for each unit, but the first sheet is for the overall class. It is my hope that the students who pull away from the group will represent my high 4’s and 5’s. Those in a larger pack towards the top of the spectrum should earn 3’s and 4’s, etc. It has graphs… I am such a nerd. This whole system is shared with the students as well, each of them having their own secret code number. They can see their performance as compared to their classmates, with the hopes that they’ll be motivated to keep up with the Joneses with the higher scores. (For the record, I have no students named “Jones.”)

The best thing about all of this is that it is minimally helping maintain my sanity. This year has been rather… difficult, what with many changes being implemented in my school, district, AND state. I have always struggled mightily with the task of grading AP Biology assignments. Sadly, I still can’t return lab reports in a timely fashion. However, many of the assignments that I now offer as part of the unit XP category used to be things that I would take up and meticulously grade. Now, I can give them a more cursory glance and move on. Many of their XPs are earned by showing me photos of them doing something. That’s all I want them to do… something (that helps them learn)!


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