How and Why Your Grade is Different in This Class

How Your Grade is Different

In this class, your ability to master learning goals dictates your letter grade.  Learning goals are provided in the form of “I can…” statements.  Mastering a learning goal means you understand and can use it to make predictions and solve problems.  A series of assessments provide multiple opportunities to demonstrate how well you understand and apply each learning goal.  Based on assessment performance, feedback is given on your learning progress:

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 8.57.19 PM

Your overall performance on an individual learning goal is determined by the performance most often demonstrated during the series of assessments over the learning goal, with special consideration provided to more recent performances.  In the following example, the student did not demonstrate mastery of the first learning goal until Assessments 3 and 4, but because those two assessments are a more accurate reflection of current understanding, the overall performance is currently “Mastery”:

Learning Progress Example 1

Your letter grade in this course is based on percent mastery, which is set by the number of learning goals mastered for every goal attempted.  The example below shows a student who mastered 11 of the 14 attempted learning goals, which is 79% mastery and translates to a “B” according to the letter grade table:

Letter Grade Example 1

That’s it.  No hoops to jump through, no rules to negotiate, just master the learning goals and you’ll love the end result.

I sent each student an email (to their school Gmail accounts) with a link to their individual Learning Progress Reports.  Letter grades are updated periodically in PowerSchool, but the detailed progress report is only available using the link.  I ask students to find the email and bookmark their progress reports.  I suggest parents ask their students to share the link so parents can bookmark progress reports as well.

As students, parents, and educators ask important questions about grading practices, I’ll add them to the Grading Practices FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page.

And for those who want to know . . .

Why Your Grade is Different

I want your grade to reflect what you understand and your ability to use these understandings to make predictions and solve problems.  I do not want your grade to reflect your compliance, completion, attendance, practice, preparation, participation, means to purchase Kleenex or dry erase markers, or in the case of awarding extra credit for unused bathroom passes – the fortitude of your bladder.  Most of these things are still recorded (even the bathroom passes) and will help inform an improvement plan if needed, but they do not affect your letter grade.  So please practice, prepare, wonder, investigate, and discuss, because these things help you understand, apply, and problem solve.

My experience, research, and colleagues tell me these grading practices help you succeed and compete more than any I’ve tried before.

Getting Started: How We’ll Learn

I don’t remember the first day of most of my high school classes.  They were forgettable.  Teachers gave rules, material lists, syllabi, and sometimes talked about themselves for a while.  And when I started teaching, so did I.  I thought I needed to tell students how they’ll learn in my class.  Now, on Day 1, I show them how we’ll learn. (Yes, that’s the titular line).

Four years ago I sat down with a guy named Levi Torrison, a professor at Estrella Mountain Community College, and asked him what he does the first day of his college chemistry course.  I didn’t expect him to say, “We build boats.”  After his explanation, my students have built boats ever since.

What does boat-building have to do with chemistry?  Nothing.  But it has everything to do with learning.  Here’s how my first 90-minute class goes:

First, I ask my students to form 3-4 person teams, they choose their groups.  Next I explain that today we’re building boats to see how many pennies we can float before the boats sink, and that there are rules to this challenge:

  1. Your boat must fit inside a 4 cm x 6 cm x 10 cm box.
  2. You have to keep a record of how much your boat “costs” based on a materials price list (example provided below).
  3. The boat with the lowest cost for every penny floated wins.
  4. You can’t test your boat before the contest.

Then I project a 20-minute “Countdown to Contest” timer on the screen and students design, discuss (and sometimes argue), and build their boats.

And then we test them.

Next, the groups create and present whiteboards about their boats, including information on cost, pennies floated, cost for every penny floated, things they’d do the same, and things they’ll change if they get to try again.  As a class we discuss each group’s whiteboard, ask questions, and sometimes offer suggestions.

Boat Whiteboards

As each group presents we add them to the leaderboard and eventually determine a “winner”.

Boat Leaderboard

Finally, I ask them to talk in their groups about why I chose to have them build boats in chemistry class, and then I have them tell me what they discussed.  So, “Why do we build boats?” . . .


My name is Ryan Bruick and I started teaching in 2003.  I teach high school kids chemistry, coach distance runners, and am an instructional coach for teachers in my district.  I’ve also taught students physics and coached them in pole vault, long jump, and triple jump.  If I could change my job title, it would be “Learning Coach”.

A few years ago I started thinking differently about my teaching, and that shift in perspective has fostered significant improvements in my students’ learning.  I began viewing teaching not as the result of practice, but as the practice itself.  This mindset moved me to consider a more holistic approach to improving student learning.  It gave me permission to try different strategies, experiment with instructional design, reconsider how and why I assess understanding and application, and work without fear of failure with the understanding that even those failures refine my practices.  For me, teaching is no longer the product of research and hard work, it is the research and hard work.  One maxim guides my decisions on what and how I’ll practice: “If it’s best for students, try it.  If not, move on.”

“Practices for Learning” is about my experiences and what I’m learning from teaching and coaching.  While nothing is off-limits and I can’t promise there won’t be an occasional off-topic rant, it’s primary focus is on my practices in teaching, coaching, and learning.