Rubrics – just a checklist or effective learning tool?

Over the past few months, I have been rediscovering the power of student rubrics in the classroom. Though not necessarily a new concept in education, I feel their utilisation in improving learning outcomes is highly underrated. As teachers, we all expect particular outcomes when students are working on a new concept or topic, but how do the students know this? What do they need to do to achieve the outcomes and become more knowledgeable and skilful? This is where student rubrics are the most powerful impact on student learning. 

Student rubrics are key outcomes of learning that show a progression of stages of learning, whether that is skill based or outcome driven. This allows students to follow and understand what they need to do to achieve and be successful for the task or unit of work. It also provides them with the opportunity to be more reflective on their own learning and set goals to further improve. 

This year my school has implemented Writers Workshop program that comes with a range of assessment opportunities and support materials such as rubrics and checklists. With such great resources to support student writing, I have seen a dramatic improvement in the personalisation of learning and the focus on students creating and setting specific goals for improvement. Students have been using ‘modified’ teacher assessment rubrics to track and inform their own learning. I say ‘modified’ because we have redesigned and re-worded specific levels to make the language more attainable for students in Gr5. 

The change has not happened overnight, by all means, there has been some very clear scaffolding of learning and how to use a rubric at an independent level. I have dedicated specific lessons to teach students how to utilise their rubric to improve their learning outcomes. It began with self-assessments using the rubric so they were able to understand and assess their current progress of learning. We then identified one specific area of improvement from the learning outcomes on the rubric to set clear goals through the use of the language from the rubric. When writing, students have their rubric in front of them and are guided by their learning goal focus. This is supported by individual conferencing, where students have to share with me key areas they have applied their goal from the rubric. We then assess and reassess their learning and focus more if needed or move forward on another key goal. 

We have been having some great discussions about how does this look and how does this work in other areas. Other colleagues are looking at ways to integrate rubrics based around Bloom’s taxonomy to focus in on the understanding and applying of new skills and knowledge.  But the key questions we come back to are;

‘are we providing too much of what we are looking for?’ 
‘are we allowing students to think creatively and out of the box?’
‘is this just a checklist in table form?’

These are all valid reasons where rubrics may not be created or implemented effectively. When designing rubrics, you need to ensure there are aspects which are broad, yet specific enough to allow students some autonomy with their learning. However, this needs to be done carefully. When completing my Masters of Education in 2016 many of the assessment rubrics I used where quite complex and arbitrary, which as a learner can be quite difficult and confusing – especially for young students. 

In conclusion, I am a strong believer in the use of rubrics but only is they are created with a mixture of skill and application based, not a checklist. It is amazing to see my students able to self-assess and create their own attainable learning goals. If students are taught from a young age how to use these type of learning tools, they will become more reflective and critical learners in the future.  

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