NTN’s Revised Oral Communication and Collaboration Rubrics

August 17, 2017

Drew Schrader, NTN Director of Assessment

New Tech Network Schools deliver powerful learning outcomes for the students they serve. The rubrics our network has designed to make those outcomes clear are one of our most critical supports.  We are very excited to be releasing updated versions for two of our rubrics for the 2017-18 school year! These updated oral communication and collaboration rubrics will be much easier for teachers and students to use while also more strongly reflecting current research. We’ll be blogging about the two rubrics in more detail in the coming month or two. This piece will serve as an introduction to the updated rubrics and broad thinking behind the changes.

Why Rubrics?

We should start by reconnecting to why NTN creates, maintains, and coaches schools to draw on a set of school-wide outcomes and accompanying rubrics. While NTN is most commonly associated with technology-enhanced project-based learning, student learning outcomes really drive our work. We regularly ground ourselves and our schools in the questions:

  • What is it that you want every graduate to know and be able to do?
  • What kinds of learning experiences are going to help each student develop those traits?
  • How will you know if you’ve been successful?

The strong overlap in the answers to these questions along with insights from the research lead to us identifying a set of recommended school-wide outcomes: Disciplinary Knowledge and Thinking, Oral Communication, Written Communication, Collaboration, and Agency. Our rubrics take these broad outcomes and make them something teachers can design into their projects.

We empower teachers to be student learning designers, so we know they will use the rubrics in a variety of ways in practice. For clarity, we provide a set of assumptions we make when creating the rubrics to help teachers consider their own use.

Check out the NTN Rubric Assumptions One-Pager


Collaboration Rubric Revision Highlights

Target Individual Contributions to Healthy Collaboration

As we investigated research on collaboration and effective teams, we were struck by a distinction between individual behaviors contributing to successful groups, and group behaviors contributing to successful work. Both of these are important in a PBL environment, and both represent skills or understandings students need. We felt it was important to highlight both, but limit the degree to which a student’s grade was impacted by group behavior that might lie outside their direct control.

Our approach was to aim the rubric directly at the individual behaviors that contribute to healthy groups and also provide a “team checklist” that names the key behaviors of successful teams. We intend the individual rubric to be used for student assessment. The Team Checklist can be used at various times with groups of any sort, both student and adult, as a reflection tool to identify what is working, what might not be working, and why.

Make the rubric manageable

A good rubric should make it clear what the key areas of performance are and what those areas look like.  We found that effective collaboration involved several interconnected skills and that the best way to make those skills clear was to spread them out into separate domains with simple indicator language for each domain.  The number of domains might seem like a lot, but we’d recall the assumption that a teacher would rarely use the entire rubric, but instead would pick a few domains to focus on. Assuming small number of domains, the simplicity of each set of indicators should make them more accessible to students and useful to teachers.


Oral Communication Rubric Highlights

Clarify group vs individual assessments

Similar to collaboration, oral communication assessment often presents the tricky task of separating out a collective performance from an individual’s contributions. Similar to the collaboration rubric, our goal was to try to make those different dimensions clearer. We separated our oral communication domains into those that are part of a complete presentation from those that are parts of the delivery of that presentation. The Presentation rubric is an attempt to describe a complete formal presentation and includes indicators used to assign a group score when appropriate. The Delivery section focuses on individual aspects of a presentation and the indicators help students see and improve their personal communication skills.

Our hope is that the rubrics become easier for teachers and students touse and schools can better communicate and defend grading and assessment practices.

Support Interpersonal Communication

We are particularly excited about the Collaborative Discourse portion of the oral communication rubric. A frequent comment in our rubric redesign meetings was that oral communication happens in many more cases than just formal presentations at the end of projects. While oral communication skills are a strength of schools across our network, we recognize a tendency to over emphasize formal presentation when thinking about this outcome at the expense of interpersonal communication between students working in groups, having socratic seminar, or engaging in good classroom discussion.

Not only does interpersonal communication happen on a more frequent basis, which makes it more plausible to support and assess across all courses, but engaging in effective collaborative discourse is a powerful learning tool for the PBL classroom.

A note on the elementary, middle and high school rubrics:

Rubric writing is never done; it is always a work in progress. We feel most confident in the language and score levels for our 12th grade rubrics as strong targets for college and career readiness performance. That confidence comes from our longer experience working with high schools as well as the depth of expertise in the field and in our support from experts like S.C.A.L.E. in rubric development.

Our middle school and elementary school rubrics represent our best attempt at a vertical alignment of how these skills might develop over time. But they are just our best attempt. Sometimes, we found it difficult to articulate a clear difference between levels. We hope to use the expertise our teachers develop to make these levels clearer and more useful over time. We also expect that with more students experience New Tech K-12 that their achievements will begin to exceed the expectations these rubrics lay out. We look forward to improving these rubrics with your help, but we also believe that selecting appropriate skills to inform scaffolding and assessments is a great place to start and that these rubrics serve that purpose very well.

This blog is part of our Top NTN Resources of 2017 list. You can view the entire list here.

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