The role of rubrics in teaching is not up for debate. Complex tasks need to be analyzed by categories and clear criteria. However, I have found that they sometimes become little more than checklist of instructions on how to complete a task rather than tools for understanding, reflection, and assessment.
My solution is to use blank rubrics. You might think that a blank rubric isn’t a rubric at all, and you would be correct if the purpose of the rubric were only to evaluate a learning artifact. If the rubric itself is a learning tool, then a blank rubric is a rich opportunity for discussion and critical evaluation.
Summative assessment tasks, in particular, benefit from this type of rubric. The categories have been in focus throughout the unit, and have usually been assessed in a more prescribed manner in a previous task. As a summative assessment task should be an opportunity for students to exercise choice and creativity in how they present their understanding, it would be impractical to create specific criteria that could apply to any artifact.
Assessment as learning
Students work in groups to experience a peer’s presentation of their learning and discuss the success of the artifact according to each category. They agree on a score and write in the appropriate boxes the specific elements that support their evaluation.
The assessments are completed in groups of three or four, so every presenter receives at least six separate rubrics which have been completed in this manner. The results are always honest and accurate, especially when averaged and analyzed in detail.
When assessments seem mistaken or vary notably from the norm, a problem that often occurs when a group hasn’t focused or applied enough thought to their findings, a teachable moment to review the categories and criteria arises.
I have observed that students enhance their conceptual understandings of a unit immensely through this process of peer assessment with creative negotiated rubrics.
In our first unit of the school year in Grade 4B at KIST, the Summative Assessment Task was to prepare a proposal for an exploratory expedition.
One of my favorite informal formative assessments is to empower students to collaborate to create the success criteria for each of the rubric categories. I simply distribute blank rubrics and provide time for them to discuss and fill in the charts to continue a practice that I introduced in the post Student-created rubrics and have found to be effective in many ways.
As they deliberate, I circulate throughout the room listening for opportunities to clarify or guide discussions to higher orders of thinking. By nature, this activity practices Evaluation, but students’ discussions do not always reach that goal without help.
By engaging with the language of the unit, especially the Key Concepts, the students complete a formative self assessment of their understanding, even if they are not fully aware of what they are doing.
Finally, on a version projected at the front of the room, we negotiate and build the final draft using the work students have already completed in their groups.
An added bonus is that my evaluations according to the rubric are, and more importantly are perceived to be exceptionally fair. Because they are intimately familiar with the language in the rubric, my feedback is understandable and meaningful.