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Designing Better Rubrics

Rubrics are useful for giving students straight feedback that reflects their performance and for showing them where they need to stretch their skills. They can be task specific or general. It is necessary to share general rubrics with students before they engage in the hard fun of your class (example: practice reaching learning targets measured via writing). We do not need to share task specific rubrics with student prior to their work time. If you need the answers from students, then you want to use a task specific rubric; if you don’t need absolute right or wrong answers, you want to use a general rubric (example: bank of performance tasks, self-assessment tools).

We can further divide rubrics into two kinds: holistic and analytic. A holistic rubric is an overall judgement of student learning. Holistic rubrics use blended descriptions of traits at each performance band. These are best used to make an overall judgment about a simple learning expectation; they are not designed for formative use and can be challenging for students to interpret and some research suggests they can be unreliable to use.

An analytic rubric is an independent judgment of individual learning expectations. Analytic rubrics are designed for identifying specific strengths or gaps in learning; they break down each element of learning into separate rows and provide a focused description of each aspect of learning at performance levels. Analytic rubrics are required when our edu-purpose is to: judge more than one aspect, communicate specific strengths/opportunities for growth, and when we need to weigh certain criteria. Analytic rubrics are invaluable to evaluate and advance student learning.

The Elements of a Rubric Include:
1) Learning Expectations — standards/learning targets/what you want to see demonstrated
2) Performance Levels — progression from novice to mastery (some research suggests three performance levels are easier and more reliable than other options)
3) Scores — these are optional
4) Descriptors — criteria for what each learning expectation looks like (including both what is seen and what is missing)

MASTERY INTERMEDIATE NOVICE
5 3 1

This three level rubric actually supports six levels of feedback; a four, for example, suggests the student met all the criteria for level 3 plus at least one characteristic of level 5. Why should we use this style rubric? It’s easier to write, easier to apply, faster to use, and more reliable and learner friendly.

Steps to Create a Rubric:
1) Choose and deconstruct CCSS, school, and/or state standards.
–clarify learning expectations by breaking down standards into clear learning targets
–separate each expectations into its own row on the rubric
2) Build from a model (if possible). Good models are tough to find in my experience. (A recent one tweeted from Edutopia I found to have mistakes in grammar, tone, and usage.)
–Use your PLN and department colleagues for models.
3) Gather student samples of work that show what you’re looking for.
–separate into three piles of weak, medium, and strong work
4) Draft descriptors.
–keep the focus on the learning, not the leaning activity itself
5) Review for quality (hopefully getting feedback from a department colleague or awesome administrator).
6) Implement, reflect on the success or limitations of the rubric, and then revise as necessary for next time.

Mastery isn’t my favorite word choice, I must admit. It suggests perfection, that the student is a master of the content. I’m university educated and I’ve been teaching for years and I do not think of myself as a master. Mastery implies you’re done, when the growth mindset tells us we’re never done growing, improving, and evolving. However, if we suggest to students mastery does not mean perfection, but rather evidence that the student has crossed the threshold into mastery by meeting the criteria. (As an example, one could hit a 400′ home run in baseball, or a 350′ one; regardless, both are considered home runs.)

Some Random Thoughts:
–Use specific objective language: “I can…but I don’t do X, I forgot to include Y, etc;
–The novice level does not suggest incompetence, but rather describes the readiness to confront a learning target, or purpose (which is the word I use).
–Avoid vague language qualifiers like “some, partial, sometimes, clear, strong.”
–Maybe use a green highlighter for strengths and a yellow one for student areas of opportunity.
–Can students apply the rubric to their own work? to see what’s well done? needs revision? Students should self-assess every time before you supply your feedback so we know whether or not students are seeing the same successes and challenges in their performance that we as educators are.

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