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The importance of the lower levels

Page history last edited by LCI, Ltd. 8 years, 5 months ago

Matt Arnold shared a rubric he created for Cooperative Learning Projects on Twitter and was kind enough to allow me to share it here. He has created a rubric that meets many of the attributes of quality rubrics and appears as if it will be a powerful tool for communicating around STEM projects. Additionally he has highlighted how there is a different rubric for process and product. He describes the rubric as: The Design Process Rubric was developed as a formative assessment to use during cooperative learning projects in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) class. As students work through the attached phases of the design process, the teacher will conference with each group of students, recording their progress throughout the process using the rubric. It should be noted that a separate, summative assessment rubric for online publishing and presentations of project results will be utilized. The ‘Results’ category within this rubric only measures student contributions to that phase of the process, not the end result (presentation or published work).

I looked at the rubric through the lens of a parent or a special education teacher who might be supporting the student during the writing process. One of the challenges of looking at rubrics second-hand include the fact that I don't know the history of the rubric: did students help write it? Has Matt been supporting this for years and has a really good sense of how students develop? That background knowledge, which Matt would likely share with students as he presents the rubric, can help current students better understand the degrees of quality captured in the rubric. When I looked at the rubric for the first time, I thought of learners who were new to projects and all of the components that are required to do it well. One of the attributes of quality rubrics is: The low levels of the rubric describe what is present as well as what isn't present. Attending to the language in the lower levels is one way we can address two quality rubrics most important principles.

#4: Rubrics are way for students to reflect on and then improve their work.

#5: The goal of a rubric is NOT to stifle students' creativity or to embarrass a student who hasn't yet obtained mastery.


With those in mind, I invite you to read across Ask Questions (the first step in the project cycle) with the following question in mind: "Will a student be able to find themselves on this rubric?"

  Introductory  Developing 

Ask Questions (Identify Problem)

Learner does not ask questions or identify a problem.

Learner asks and/or identifies surface-level questions.

Learner asks and/or identifies basic questions and expands on them.

Learner asks and/or identifies higher-level questions and expands on them with additional questions.








A challenge to finding "yourself" in this rubric is that we need to begin with what's in front of us - our process or product. Immediately, any student with a question will see themselves as developing, regardless of the quality of their question. Given that a rubric is a tool for improvement and reflection and we can't start doing that without something to reflect on, if an attribute is missing (i.e. no question, no identified problem), the student isn't ready for the rubric. Nice and simple. This is where checklists and rubrics can play together nicely. Additionally, in many cases, the student can go no further than that first cell. If you don't have a question, you won't have a design or solution. Finally, being a novice or a beginner (that is, being to the left in a rubric) during the creation process shouldn't be a bad thing. (Wonder why I go low to high? Here's my entirely too detailed reasoning.) 


 A low level that focuses on the lack of work or behavior is a common feature of rubrics on-line. Two examples from two similar project rubrics. 






Source: TALONS Socials Ed-Tech Rubric



Source: West Virginia Department of Education


The easiest, and perhaps most powerful way of capturing what a learner does when they are first introduced to a concept (the text in the cells in the first column) is to ask students: What does a learner do when they are first learning how to ask questions? Not having a handful of students available at the moment, I generated some possible revisions. As with all revisions, I've no idea if it'll work until it's been tested with students or anchored with student work samples. 


  Introductory  First revision 2nd Revision

Ask Questions (Identify Problem)

Learner does not ask questions or identify a problem.

Learner ask questions that are copies of examples or show little or no connection to the learner's expressed area of interest or topic at hand.  The learner's questions appear to be a copy of sample or model questions. It is difficult to see the learner's interest, passions, or concern in the questions he or she shares.

Think (Brainstorming)

Learner does not participate in brainstorming a solution and does not contribute ideas.

The learner appears to be an observer during brainstorming sessions. Any notes or ideas remain in their heads.   

Design (Develop Plan)

Learner does not develop a sound design related to the problem and solution.

The learner's design matches a problem that is different than the one in front of them or key details of the design remain in their heads.


Rubrics do not stand alone. They are one means of communicating expectations to students and supporting them as they improve the quality of their work. Knowing I was going to get better didn't mean my trainer didn't have to correct my form or tell me that if I could do 200 reps, I probably wasn't lifting very heavy. I needed feedback in other forms. The presence of a rubric does not negate the need for personalized, quality feedback. Describing new learners by what they do, not what they don't do does not mean we ignore their errors. As you develop rubrics (with or without your students) consider the language you use to reflect the new learners. Is the language supporting student self-assessment or discouraging it? If you use rubrics from online sites, even so-called "scoring rubrics", be aware they often have a pattern of "bad stuff, bad stuff, good stuff, good stuff." Consider revising the language before you share it with your students. Even better, revisit the rubric with your students with the guiding question: what does it look like when someone is new to this process or creating this product? 

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