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Evolution of  a rubric - Part II

Page history last edited by LCI, Ltd. 10 years ago

It's been my experience that one of rubrics' challenges comes in the gap between what the authors (usually adults) intend to say and what gets put down on paper. At times, in our quest for clean, precise language, rubric authors sacrifice authenticity or connections to life outside of school. This disconnect often manifests in phrases such never, always, or in a blending of product and process and results in a document that feels like a series of confining boxes. Sometimes it results in a rubric that is so far removed from the act the rubric seeks to describe that it almost makes a mockery of that product or process.

 

Before reviewing the rubric below, consider the last time you read to entertain or inform yourself. (In other words, not a time you read aloud to amuse a child at bedtime or to a group of students). How did you behave? Did you pick one spot or did you move around? If you grew bored or tired with one text, did you switch to another? Did you perhaps stop and share a funny passage with a friend or family member? I'd like to ask you to pull up that memory of being an independent reader and then review the rubric below.  Available here if you'd like to read a larger version. 

 



(Imagine from Fran Simó's Flikr stream - shared under a Creative Commons License)

A few caveats: I don't know the authors and have no context for their design or intentions. Perhaps this rubrics was written with students and shared as a way to get students talking about what it means to be an independent reader. There are a 100 possible reasons for how this rubric is used and many positive ways it can be used with students so it's unfair to say it's a bad rubric. Rather, it's a beginning rubric that raises a number of questions. Questions about how we take authentic tasks and corrupt them when they occur within a school setting. About our desire to turn everything related to assessment into numbers. About that gap between an author's intentions and the final product. About the line between "misbehavior" and being a novice. Really what I want to do is sit down with a teacher who uses this rubric and have a conversation.  I'd love to ask a whole bunch of questions about how the rubric is used, how it supports conversations about reading with her students, and if she sees that students have become stronger or better independent readers as result of using the rubric. Then, I'd love to sit side by side with a scholar and wander through the rubric with them and see how they view it, use it, and apply it. Since that's not an option, I elected to look at the document using the checklist for quality rubrics, Two main issues emerge when looking at the rubric when it comes to the quality. The first is around language and the second, the levels. For each issue below, I used statements from the checklist as an entry point, explained my thinking, drafted a question to ask the teachers if we had a chance to revise the rubric, and tried to address the challenge in my revision at the bottom of the page.

 

The rubric uses language that students will understand. The title and the word "I" suggest that this is a rubric that should be used by students to asses their independent reading during the 20-minute period. If I were able to sit with a child, I might ask them to explain to me what it looks like to respect other readers "some" of the time. Do they understand that they are showing respect by staying in one location (given that disruption appears in both "respect" and "location")? Could they act out for me what it looks like to be "mostly" careful with a book? My hunch would be they would struggle - or if they had an easy answer, it would differ from student to student. A revision question I might ask the authors would be: When you were designing this rubric, how did you envision the students using it? Is it starting point for conversation or a self-reflection tool? 

 

The rubric is descriptive and specific, rather than evaluative. Although the rubric does provide definitions for each category, it is not very descriptive. In fact, not only would students struggle to understand what the rubric means, I suspect teachers would as well. A teacher who encourages students to share insights with her would have to penalize students for stopping and sharing. There's no really explanation of what it means to be rough. Is that folding down the corners? Gnawing off the edges? A quality rubric doesn't lay out explicitly what a student is doing at each level, rather it provides an explanation that enables the learner to find their performance and then reflect upon what they need to do to improve the quality of their performance. The issue of evaluation comes in at the lower level (see below). A revision question I might ask the authors: If this is a rubric to increase students' skills in independent reading, I'm wondering what message is being communicated to students by having the lower levels relying on such negative words and phrases.  

 

When quantitative terms are used, they are supported with quality attributes. "Some" is a quantitative term in the English language. We all agree it's less than a dozen, more than one. For some people it means 3-4, others it is 2-3. Regardless of the count, when we say "some", we have a number in mind. If we have a 20-minute reading period, am I being So-So respectful if I bothered other students for two minutes? How about three? Perhaps it's four. Am I being OK respectful if I didn't bother other students for 18 minutes? How about 17? Or is it 16? See the conundrum? "Mostly" and "Some" are two sides of the same coin in this scenario, which means a student could end up putting themselves at different levels based on factors that may not be connected to the descriptor. (My hunch is that the student will go with OK. It's better than So-So in this rubric as when asked to self-asses, students tend to inflate their performance). We don't have to avoid these words, rather we need to explain their connection to quality and help the student understand what we mean by "some", "most", "always". A revision question I might ask the authors: I'm wondering about the difference between a reader who is respectful most of the time and some of the time? What would that look like to you? 

 

The levels are appropriately named, given the audience and nature of the rubric’s use. This is the most challenging feature of this rubric for me. The levels of Magnificent! Ok, So-So, and Oops! cause a pain in my bibliophile heart, especially given the fact this is a rubric for young readers. It's not that the goal is to ignore weaknesses, rather to identify what students are doing and what they need to do in order to improve the quality of their work. Notice how different the language in that last column is: wasteddisrupted, rough. If someone described a reader in such a fashion, it would almost sound like they were writing up a discipline report, rather then describing a novice indepedent reader. The fact it reads high to low interferes with what makes quality rubrics so powerful, but that is negotiable. However, what is not negotiable for a Quality Rubric is the absence of a top level that is above the expected standard – it would be a stretch for the highest achieving students. This top level allows us to have a conversation about what it means to go beyond, to break the rules, to do more, to be more than is expected for an independent reader. As it's written, a Magnificent! reader isn't really Magnificent!, they're doing exactly what is expected, or meeting the standard, what we typically see in the third level or the level below the top one in a quality rubric. A revision question I might ask the authors: What unintended messages might you be sending to new readers by calling them "oops!" readers? What message are you communicating by calling readers doing what is expected "Magnificent"? 

 

Out of curiosity, I did a quick Google search for other independent reading or reader rubrics and found consistent patterns among them including: reads for 20% of the time (who runs the stop watch? The reader or the teacher?), pretends to read (while I know some teachers can "tell" when a child is pretending to read, many don't have that skill and it always strikes me as a little condescending to claim we can read a child's mind), or moves around once or twice (Who counts? Am I moving if I change position? Get up and walk around? Move from my desk to the floor without bothering anyone? Shift my position because the sun is in my eyes?).

 

Rethinking Independent Reading 

If I had the opportunity to develop this rubric with teachers, I might start by giving them a homework assignment. When they went home that night, I'd ask them to take note of their behaviors when they read independently - to be aware of their bodies, the book they read, their actions before, during, and after. The next day, I'd ask them to tell the story of who they are as an independent reader to a colleague who would scribe their story. As a group, we would cluster the descriptions and look for patterns. From that, we could construct a rubric. While there might be a concern about the difference between adult and young readers, it would enable a conversation about what we hope to see young readers do. As shared in the attributes of quality rubrics, the document is the outcome of discussions about quality. The product is the outcome of process - the work gets done as we're designing. In the best case scenario, students are a part of the design process but as that's not always possible, teachers can design the rubric and then test it out with a small group of students or revise with the whole class. 

 

As an avid reader, I was intrigued by the concept of developing a rubric on this topic that more closely aligns to the attributes of quality rubrics. Below is my first draft of the assessment tool I might use to help students think about what it looks like to be an independent reader. Please note that I have divided the assessment tool into two parts, using the criteria presented by the authors of the above rubric. My goal in doing this was to separate out the qualitative features of independent reading from the quantitative features - both are important and both need to be addressed, albeit with different tools. Caveat about my rubric: It's only a draft as it hasn't been shared with students, and is based only my experiences as a reader and a teacher. My word choice might be too high for elementary-level readers and would need feedback from them. 

 

My Independent Reading Checklist 

I know I am ready to read independently because...

  My book is Just Right. I read the second page and held up a finger for each word I was not sure of, or did not know. There were fewer than five words I didn't know. 
  I have picked out my reading spot. The lighting is good, I can sit comfortably, and I am aware of where I am in relation to the other members of my reading community.

 

My Independent Reading Rubric

 

Rough Reading Day

So-So Reading Day 

Good Reading Day 

Great Reading Day

Stamina and Focus: How involved in reading was I during the 20 minute period? I was a thinker, a talker, a fidgeter... and a reader. I wasn't in a place to read today. I spent more time doing things that had nothing to do with reading than I did reading. I was a reader ... and a thinker, or a talker, or a fidgeter. I wanted to be a reader the entire time but I spent time doing things that weren't related to my book. I was a reader for 20 minutes. I read the words on the pages, looked at the pictures, thought about what the author said or meant and made connections to my own experiences or other books. When my thoughts wandered to other things, I pulled them back. I was a reader for 20 minutes and wanted more time. The book was all I thought, wrote, or drew about during our independent reading time. My thoughts didn't dare wander away from the book. 
Member of a reading community: How well did I support my reading community? I was a community of one. During the reading time, I was focused on my own comfort level and my own needs so much that I ignored the other members of my community. I may have even done things that made other students feel uncomfortable or unable to read quietly.   My community could tell I wasn't ready to read by my body language and actions. When I had a question, I focused on getting an answer to my question rather than on how it affected those around me. When I moved around, I made sure I was comfortable, even if I interrupted someone else or made them uncomfortable. I let the other members of the community know that I was reading by keeping my body and words to myself. When I had a question, I wrote it in my reading log or raised my hand to get my teacher's attention. When I moved around, I was aware of the other students around me and made sure I didn't bother them. If I did, I apologized and went back to my reading. I was aware of other readers around me and did my best to support their independent reading.  When other members of the community weren't sure what a reader looks like, they could look at me. I kept my body and words to myself and when someone made noises around me, I ignored them. If I moved around, no one in my community was bothered. I sought to make others in my community comfortable, even if it meant I might be uncomfortable. 
Book Care: How well did I treat the book?  I treated the book like it was my personal property. It will be difficult for one of my classmates to read the book after me.  I treated the book like it was my personal property. Although a classmate will be able to read it after me, they may get annoyed by the damage I caused.  I treated the book like it was a part of the class library. A classmate will be able to read the book after me with no problem.   I treated the book like it was a first edition. Someone who picks the book up after me won't be able to tell I read it.  

 

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Feel free to send me a tweet (@datadiva) or drop me an email (Jenniferb@lciltd.org) 

 

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