SBG and The BFG

Revolutionary changes sweep through educational theory and practice these days; the status-quo of “shut my door and teach,” “I can just tell that paper is a B paper,” “my students don’t need to be able to tell you what they’re learning,” “learning goals are just one more thing administration has added to our plates,” and ” I just know she’s a D student” are beginning to fade. Thank goodness.

This is, perhaps, the witching hour for education. The time of magic, the time of change. The time when we have the power to turn school from children’s worst nightmare into something better than a good dream.


I love Roahl Dahl’s book, The BFG…..

Photo borrowed from the wikipedia page linked above

and I think that the lessons of The BFG compare with the shift towards SBG (Standards Based Grading).

The Big Friendly Giant (BFG) is unique among his species. Most other giants are so cruel that they eat human children. Their excuse is that there is nothing else to eat where they live. How many times in education have we said, “well, this is the way it’s always been done,” “this is how I was taught, and I turned out fine”? Just because grading has always been separated into the categories of Tests (30%), Quizzes(20%), Homework(15%), Participation (15%), Final Exam (20%), doesn’t mean it is the best way of communicating mastery to our students.

The BFG is also unique because he is a tremendous listener. His huge giant ears listen to the dreams of children, and he catches the good dreams and shares them, but he also captures the nightmares and he blows them up.  More teachers should be like the BFG. We need to listen to our students and find out where they are and work with them from there. We need to blow up the negative conceptions that they often hold about themselves. SBG helps us do this, and here’s how:

SBG helps to shift the mindset of students. Instead of thinking “I’m not smart,” and “I’m not a good test taker”, students actually know what parts our courses they are excelling in and the parts in which they need help. Just like the BFG is about sharing good dreams, SBG is about fostering good communication and valuing strengths.

The BFG also learns from Sophie, the little girl; she teaches him how to speak properly. What a perfect metaphor. We have to learn from and about our students in order to be able to communicate their progress.

I have to be able to figure out that Johnny’s writing skills are behind his reading and discussion skills so that I can communicate that to him. He is not a C student. He is strong in reading and discussion and needs to improve his writing. As such, I have to know more about him than just a hunch. I have to be able to communicate clearly.

When my average is broken down into Tests, Quizzes, Homework, Participation, and Final Exam and then each of those categories is averaged, what I understand is that I’m either a good/bad/average test taker, quiz taker, homework doer, participator, and final exam taker, or a good/bad student. I don’t know anything about the material I have mastered.

SBG shifts the communication focus. This year, I switched over completely to Standards Based Grading (except for the Final Exam which I have no control over, yet). Instead of the traditional grading system, I broke down my grades into categories of learning. My gradebook looked like this:

Final Exam 20% (can’t change that yet)

Discussion 10%

Reading (analysis, comprehension, annotation) 10%

Writing (based on the 6 plus 1 Writing Rubric) 10%

Metacognitive (Reflection) 10%

Literary Terms 10%

Research 10%

Process 10% (After trying this one semester, I’m taking this one out)

Behavior (punctuality) 10%

This was an experimental first semester, and I learned much from this prototype. There are certainly things I will change now (I will take out the process category–formative assessments should NOT go into the gradebook– and I will also take out Metacognitive Reflection as a grade because I haven’t figured out a consistent way to assess it yet). Nevertheless, I am forever keeping SBG.

My goal for my students is that they be able to self-evaluate their progress and the steps they need to take to improve and master the material. The SBG helped me to help them self-assess accurately.

So many students today drop out of school, hate school, or dread school. We, the giants of education, should make sure that we are BFG’s, helping to turn our students’ nightmares into pleasant dreams, and the first step towards that is using SBG. We can no longer be arbitrary in the way we dole out grades or be satisfied with the status-quo because the status-quo is eating our students up.

If you have questions about my SBG, please feel free to comment below, and I’ll get back to you.

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7 Responses to SBG and The BFG

  1. Bo Adams says:

    Now, the %s have greater meaning – not a measure of how I did on tests, quizzes, HW, etc., but a developing measure of how I am performing on the standards or learning targets of the course. Well done. Do you continue to use mean averaging to calculate the %s? Just curious. What if a student grows in a standard area during semester? Does later performance weigh more heavily than earlier performance!

  2. David says:

    I like the analogy to the BFG but I am not a fan of including a student’s behaviour in their grade.

    We have a separate grade for behaviour which we will call “Approaches to Learning.” This way we can separate out the qualities which will help someone be a good learner from their actual performance on assessments.

    • dobbsep says:

      I’m totally with you on the behavior thing in one way and disagree in another. I don’t think that behavior feedback should be tied to intellectual feedback; giving a 75 because a perfectly intellectually good assignment that would have been a 95 if turned in on time but was two days late does not make sense to me. However, I do think that school is also a place to learn about character.

      One day, I hope we move away from the one number average as the measure of what has been learned in a class. As such, I try to use the categories as the main communicators of achievement. I’m lucky enough to teach in a private school, so when my grades go home, I can send them via category as well as the one average number. I think it says a lot to the student and parents to see Writing 95, Reading 95, Behavior 75. Just because that student is excelling in my class in the English side, doesn’t mean that the behavioral elements that can be measured (punctuality, timeliness of assignments) etc, should be ignored.

      • dobbsep says:

        Sorry! I read your comment wrong!
        We are in total accord.

        I wish our school had a grade called “Approaches to Learning!” Right now I’m going to have to stick with my categories…. but I might rename them!

  3. Sydney Bullock says:

    This is a great idea! I love how it’s centered around the student and gives them a more transparent view of how they are doing. I’m interested to see how it evolves!

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