Rubric Reading 101

January 24, 2017

Sarah Leiker, New Tech Network Coach

While onsite at Winton Woods Intermediate School last Thursday, I was fortunate enough to be present for the warm-up in Matthew George’s 6th grade science class. I knew students were just beginning to study Newton’s Laws of Motion, and as students were getting settled, I noticed them taking a document out of their folders that had instructions at the top with pre-printed lines below them. Students had clearly spent some time writing a response on these lines since I could see half-filled pages on most student papers within eye-shot. It seems that they were responding to a prompt about “force.”

Mr. George had two sentences projected for students to see and discuss as they began class:

“Jake do need to wear his seatbelt. If he don’t the force might knock him out the car.”

He asked students to find their NTN Written Communication rubrics (of which, the last row entitled “Language and Conventions” was circled on student copies).

The class discussion that followed was designed to support student understanding of the grammar and mechanics of the two sentences projected on the board, as well as bring a focused understanding to what the language of the rubric meant. Here are some of the conversation points that occurred:

  • Teacher: Do you see any Science terms in his writing?
    • Students: FORCE!
  • Teacher: What do you notice about the way he writes about force?
    • Students: He should say “doesn’t” instead of “don’t”
  • Teacher: If you want to be in the advanced category, you can’t always write the same way that you speak. Sometimes it’s a bit different. What are some of the basic conventions of writing?
    • Student: Proper grammar, capital letters, proper punctuation
    • Student: He has the words with capital letters and periods at the end of both sentences.
    • Student: But he he should say “doesn’t” not “don’t”.
    • Student: The word “do” doesn’t sound right in the first sentence.
  • Teacher: Good catch. Those are grammar errors. (He continues to talk more about these with class.) These would move him down to Proficient from Advanced. Does he cite sources? Do you see anywhere that he got his information?
    • Student: No…so maybe not advanced. Let’s bump him back down to proficient.
  • Teacher: Maybe there are some grammar errors but I can see what he means. Bump down one…it says there’s “limited” control…”  Is that happening?
    • Students say yes and he asks them to point out what it’s limited to
  • Teacher: We already said those grammar errors don’t really distract
  • Teacher: Sounds like we’ve decided together we might be somewhere between “Developing” and “Proficient,” so not a 1, not a 2, not a 3, maybe a 2.5.
  • Teacher: This is an example of what a sort of developing response might look like.

TELL ME THAT’S NOT ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL RUBRIC CONVERSATIONS YOU’VE EVER SEEN!!!!! Students transitioned from this class warm-up by moving into a partner feedback session on their own writing. They were charged with the task of sharing their writing with a partner and determining where they felt they might currently fall on the rubric. Students were then asked to make the necessary corrections so they could achieve a Proficient or Advanced score (based on what their next level of growth was). I wanted to give Mr. George a hug for creating the space and conversation for such a thoughtful learning experience for his students, but he was busy….so I’m celebrating with all of you now instead.

I often hear from teachers during the project design phase, “My students won’t understand the language on the rubric” and/or “I’m not an english teacher, so how do I teach written communication?”  Here’s one, very simple, easy to implement example of how.  Mr. George used this time to teach/reinforce written communication skills by deconstructing text… text related to his current subject area…. and he didn’t assume students knew the rubric language. Instead, he took on the responsibility of teaching it to them by helping them make sense of the vocabulary on that document. Did you spend 60min. on the whole document? No! He focused on ONE row… one important domain which is recurring in the project work and spent his normal 10min. of warm-up time on this group conversation which flawlessly transitioned into “work time” which was structured as a partner reflection and refinement session. OH, I JUST LOVED EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS! (Including conversations I had with students as I listened in on their feedback sessions).

So, no more excuses. You obviously have a rubric that you’re using to guide students toward proficiency of skills for your current project (and if you don’t, then talk to me… we need to make sure you do)!!! What domain and/or indicators (i.e. bullet points) will you focus on supporting students with this week? How will you bring their attention to the level of proficiency they are currently operating at? And most importantly….. what will your warm-up be that is time efficient and content effective!?!

Peace, love, and student dialogue,


P.S…. I am REALLY regretting not whipping out a recording device to capture these beautiful conversations. If you’re up for the challenge (and your students have signed media release forms), would you mind audio/video recording the rubric conversations you have this week and next and send them my way??? I’d love to build a little library of simple activities such as this once that elicit such great skill building opportunities for students!

Read more from Sarah at Leik’ It or Not.

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