Teacher Geekery and Rubrics
Note: Normally, I try to make my posts appeal to a wide audience that includes students in my classes. This post is different. While students and anyone else are welcome to read along, this post is especially for teachers.
We all know how hard it is to create a successful assignment. Sadly, a good idea doesn’t always work with the students. That’s why I’m feeling so giddy with excitement right now. In class today, I introduced a rubric that I revised from last quarter with the help of my fabulous Social Studies team. I can tell already that it’s going to be amazing. After one day of work, every student had already contributed and the flow of creative thinking was moving faster than I could keep up with!
Allow me to geek out for a minute on our new project: the newly revised Democracy in Action Rubric.*
Point of Awesomeness #1: Students will be collaborating on a real-world project.
Each class will work as a team to design a change initiative for something they want the government to improve in America. They’ll be reaching out to real government officials to fight for what they believe in. Successful collaboration will be vital in delivering an effective message. They’ll get to practice team work skills and also show what they know about the functions of the three branches of the U.S. government. Students who are capable of going beyond basic requirements will get a chance to take a leadership role in the action plan, thanks to my co-worker, Katy Lianos, and her ideas for the distinguished work. (How this is revised: The old rubric also had students addressing real-world issues. However, since they were each writing about a different issue, they didn’t have enough support or time to actually get any messages sent.)
Point of Awesomeness #2: Students will use an online platform, Edmodo, to share developing ideas.
The class will have a lot of work to do: decide what issue to focus on, research what’s already been done on this issue, figure out who to contact and what to say to them, and then strategize how to deliver the message. For each step, each student will be required to create a post on Edmodo. Use of an online discussion board will give voice to some quieter students who are afraid to speak up in class, and students will be able to get deeper into the discussion. Instead of the good old “one person speaks at a time” rule, many students will be actively engaged in dialogue at the same time. One student took a very long time today to get his post finished, and he was frustrated. However, as he walked out, he told me gleefully that in just a few minutes after posting, 5 people had already commented. He left class thrilled. (How this is revised: The old rubric also used Edmodo, but students only wrote one big post. It was sort of like posting an essay online. By the time their peers were commenting, it was too late to make any changes.)
Point of Awesomeness #3: Students will get frequent feedback and be evaluated on their contributions to the class project.
By posting multiple times on Edmodo, students will be able to learn as they go and get support along the way. One of the most important supports will be comments from their peers. There’s no way that one or two teachers can keep up with the pace of everything that is happening in the classroom in order to give steady feedback. When students are responding to their classmates’ posts, they become teachers as well. In addition, each posting day will be followed by teacher-led discussions in which I can provide suggestions that will assist with future steps. (How this is revised: As I mentioned, the last time we did this assignment, we grouped everything together into one writing piece. In addition, each student wrote about a different issue. Because they were all studying different things, I wasn’t able to provide that much support to help them dig deeply into the topics. As a result, many students found the assignment very challenging. A few students did complete the extra credit to try to implement their ideas, but most ideas lost steam before the implementation phase.)
Point of Awesomeness #4: I’ll use a digital rubric to provide fast, efficient feedback… and save a copy for myself.
I’ve always dreamed of doing this and I finally figured it out. I will be writing my feedback into a spreadsheet and then using mail merge to print out rubrics to give to students. I have a google doc spreadsheet set up so that I can grade from home or school. Whenever I’m ready (either midway through the project and/or at the end), I can use the magic of technology to mail merge the data from the spreadsheet into my rubric, which is saved on Microsoft Word. In this way, students will get their grades and comments all typed up on their rubric, and I’ll still have my spreadsheet with all my notes. No need for copying, busy work, or fishing for papers. (How this is revised: I’ve always used rubrics in the past, but they’ve been on paper. Because I need to give them back to the students, I’ve always had to take separate notes for myself. Last year, I piloted use of a digital rubric on google docs, but it was a pain to manage 50 different documents.)
Point of Awesomeness #5: Students will learn about good citizenship ~ in our classroom, in our country, and online.
Students could have a real impact on policy that our government officials make, but it’s hard to predict how their message will be received. That doesn’t feel like the most important thing. What matters is that they’ll get to see how regular citizens can fight for change in our democratic system. They’ll get to practice how to use social media in a safe setting. They’ll analyze sources they find online for reliability. And perhaps most importantly, they’ll get to learn how to work with a team to accomplish something that matters.
I’ve been teaching long enough to know that there will be bumps in the road, and this project might not go as well as expected. Last quarter’s assignment wasn’t all bad, and perhaps some of my changes will actually be worse. Nothing is gained without taking risks, right? I’m still keeping hope that greatness is around the corner. Stay tuned.
*Final Note: If you are not familiar with my school, Innovation Academy Charter School (IACS), some of the systems that I take for granted might be unfamiliar to you. Here are some basics:
- Social Studies at IACS is a two hour project-based class which meets every other quarter (alternating with Science).
- Students work in mixed age groups, and over two years, they experience four unique units of study.
- From a teacher perspective, this means that I loop with my 5th and 6th graders, and I get to repeat curriculum from one quarter to the next, but then not again for two years.
- Even though Social Studies and Science are called “Project” classes, students complete projects with rubrics in every class in our school.
- In every class in the middle school, students get graded on two academic outcomes (comprehension and application) and four social outcomes (self direction, problem solving, effective communication, and community membership).
- We don’t use the traditional A, B, C, D, F system. We use proficient as our standard, and then apprentice and novice are approaching expectations. A Distinguished grade means that the student went above and beyond expectations.
- We stress to students that revisions are an important part of the process, and students consistently revise work to present in their portfolio, at a Quality Night, or at their end-of-year jury.
- Each student has most of their classes with one mixed-age group of peers called their homebase. Each homebase at IACS is named after an innovator, like Mahatmas Gandhi and Marian Wright Edelman.