Friday, February 7, 2014

Is Your Rubric Hitting the Mark?

In recent years learning objectives have also been coined learning targets (LTs). One can easily Google image search LTs and find everything from student target evaluations to pedagogical taxonomy targets. All of these targets are unique ways in which teachers can unwrap instruction so that students can clearly see their levels of performance in relation to the LTs.

In a recent #sunchat discussion about rubrics I had an idea to turn the traditional box rubric into a circle.  After multiple attempts to create the perfect rubric I realized I was missing the mark.

Even the best of teachers can get caught up in the creative components of a project which ultimately leads students astray from the intended learning target.  In short, a rubric should not be about teachers creating the ultimate project for students to attempt. More so, a rubric should be about students creating the ultimate project to show off what they know and can do. Therefore, this post is not a "how to" for creating rubrics, but more so an evaluation process to ensure your rubrics are hitting the mark.

The draw back to traditional grading rubrics is the assumption that all students have received the same instruction. Therefore, all students should be equipped with equal understanding when beginning a project. Thanks to Rick Wormeli we know that teaching and learning in a one size fits all model results in many students missing the mark.

We must keep this in mind when creating grading rubrics in order to effectively measure what all students know and are able to do.  While the point of a project is for all students to demonstrate understanding of the same learning target(s); we must take care in how we ask students to perform.

Here is a performance learning target I made (you can use mine or make your own) using action verbs from both the Depth of Knowledge and Taxonomy charts. Notice that all verbs represented are focused on what students can do not what they are not capable of doing.

Traditional rubrics are designed in boxes and are typically made for students ready to perform at higher levels of understanding.  I simply placed a box over the learning target above to capture the higher level performance zones.  Let's take a closer look at the levels of readiness we capture when using traditional rubrics.

The key complaint I have with traditional rubrics is that they are set up to show you (the teacher) what you already know....students capable of higher level activities will perform within the box and students that are still on the outer edges of the performance learning target will rarely hit the mark.

Traditional rubrics actually include a category emphasizing what students do not know and cannot do.  There are even learning targets out there that include space for students that "lack understanding". Why do we do this? Why do we include space on any rubric or any learning target emphasizing what students don't know?

If I have my fingers on the pulse of student learning, I can tell you before even beginning the project which students will hit the mark in the box and which students will not.  Letting the out of the box students proceed with any project without adequate support sets them up for failure.

Saul Mcleod (2010) wrote the following in his article Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD):

"Vgostsky believed that when a student is at the ZPD for a particular task, providing the appropriate assistance will give the student enough of a 'boost' to achieve the task."

In order to change the face of traditional rubrics, teachers must assess the purpose of the project.  I believe all projects should be two-fold:  1) for students to successfully reach beyond what they thought themselves capable and 2) for students to show off what they know and are able to do.

This means, gone are the days of assigning a student project so that you can get caught up on grading, organizing or whatever other task that takes you away from supporting student learning.  During any project it is your job to give students a "boost."  It is imperative to take into account student levels of readiness and provide the tools and appropriate support for students to hit the mark.  There is no down time for teachers that are dedicated to student growth.

Clearly you are a teacher dedicated to student growth or you would not be reading an educational blog post!  Therefore, I'm certain you already have fabulous projects in place for your learning targets. All I want to do is offer you suggestions as to how and bring the learning target within reach of all students. Here are a few ideas for defining learning targets and fine tuning your current grading rubrics:
  • Select verbs from the Depth of Knowledge and/or Taxonomy Wheel to clearly define (in student friendly language) what students should be able to know and do for each level within the box.
  • Use performance learning targets (such as figure 1) for students to place marks as to where they think they are in terms of hitting the mark.  Student self-evaluation, student voice and student teacher conversations are essential for student growth.
  • Students that are out of the box (on the outer edges of the learning target) will benefit from scaffolded practice and support such as:
    • learning workshops while other students proceed with the project
    • one on one support
    • flipped videos emphasizing rules, procedures and/or skill sets with in class practice and teacher support
  • Once students are on the edge of or within the boxed target zones students should mark the place on the target they are aiming for
    • they should challenge themselves to aim closer to center than where they currently are, but not so far out that it becomes impossible to hit the mark
  • Students within or on the edge of the boxed target zones can now proceed with the project in mixed ability groups in order to provide peer support
When we disregard levels of readiness, we are asking all students to aim at the learning target from the same distance. Rick Wormeli emphasizes that fair is not always equal. This means we must meet each student at his/her level of readiness by moving the learning target within reach of each student. Moving the target will allow students to either reach proficiency and/or aim for the bullseye by pushing themselves above and beyond.

So go ahead and keep creating rubrics within a box....just make certain all students have the appropriate tools, aiming distance and support in order to hit the mark.

McLeod, Saul (2010) Zone of Proximal Development. Simply Psychology. 
           Retrieved from