So my kids are working on TED talks right now.  I know, best project ever, right?  Can’t take credit for it, though.  Shout out to Miss Katy Reihsmann (@MissR146) for the innovative idea two years ago.  We’re very excitedly developing it to be even better for the second time around.

Anyway, more to come on that later.

I’ve been working on building a rubric with my students this week.  It has been shown that developing assessment criteria alongside students not only makes the learning process transparent, but it also helps them to internalize expectations.  This paves the way for student self-assessment, reflection, and a greater likelihood of them meeting the expectations, especially on assignments that lend themselves more to subjectivity, like writing assignments.

Wait… Aren’t I, the teacher, supposed to develop assessment criteria?

I know, it sounds crazy, and it kind of is, but this is where the artful part of teaching comes in.  All along, when students are developing these assessment criteria, you should have a firm understanding of exactly what you want students to know and be able to do.  While the kids are under the impression that they are actually building the assessment criteria themselves, you really are helping them realize the assessment criteria that you’ve already laid out for them.  So how might this work?

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 9.51.27 AM(1) Use mentor texts and get kids talking about “quality.”

In this case, I gave the kids many TED talks to watch, and along the way they looked at passion, structure, multimedia, evidence/reasoning, and presentation skills.  In this form, students were able to rate the speaker and provide some qualitative reasoning for this rating.  The purpose?  It got them talking about what makes a “good” TED talk, shining some more objective light into that ever-so subjective term.

(2) Give them some time.

This is not something that can be done quickly, so building assessment criteria should be embedded into your instruction while you are teaching other skills.  Only focusing on the assessment criteria gets boring.  They’re kids, and they need varying stimuli.  In my case, I also taught some lessons on the differences between evidence and reasoning, reviewed debatable claims, and had some spontaneous idea-generation sessions to keep them engaged.  This process ended up taking about two weeks.

(3) Help them organize the mess that is student assessment.

After this process, I asked them to help me come up with categories for rating TED talks. Luckily, my students are familiar with rubrics and proficiency scales, meaning we had already developed this common vision for what our assessment criteria might “look” like, in terms of format.  As I predicted, they started listing very specific things like “posture,” “claim,” “evidence,” and “grammar.”  I knew the entire time that these smaller targets would turn into larger categories, which is precisely why I let them list all of these out.  After we created this monster list of assessment criteria, I asked them to start grouping the related ones, helping us generalize and develop 5 categories: Development and Organization, Multimedia, Tone, Presentation Skills, and Use of Facts/Evidence.

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Brainstorm: Assessment Criteria before Categorization.
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Grouping Related Categories: After Categorization

One of the kids specifically mentioned assessing the “quality of the topic,” which we deemed, as a class, a very subjective category.  This led to a wonderfully critical discussion about how, if we achieve all of the criteria mentioned in the five categories, that our topic will naturally become a “quality” one, meaning we would not have to actually assess the “quality of topic.”

(4) Provide structure and routine to aid in the development of the criteria.  Don’t forget that you are the teacher!

After we created this organized list of assessment criteria, I used “circle maps” to help students generate specific statements as to what proficiency might look like within each of these categories.  I completed this using a carousel activity, where each group visited one of the aforementioned 5 categories, giving all students the ability to discuss, in groups, what this criteria might look and sound like.  From there, I was able to take their ideas and organize them to into a rubric (see #6).

(5) Let them feel like the teacher.

This time around, I let them look to see what the Common Core said about fifth-grade writing.  They were excited to see what we, the teachers, use to determine what we need to learn within a year.  They were excited to see that some of the things they identified as desirable criteria were also what the Common Core Suggested!

(6) Allow them to critique the rubric and make changes.

Once I organized the rubric, we met as a whole-group to discuss any proposed changes.  We further looked into the Common Core State Standards, and had some very critical discussions about what it meant to “exceed” expectations.  Many students wholeheartedly disagreed with the “counterclaim” in the organization column, which led to an excellent discussion! Of course, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what is at the (4) level, which is currently blank. Instead, it helped to strengthen their understanding of a quality talk.

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Note that our assessment criteria is still in progress! That’s okay, as long as they are developing an understanding of quality!

(7) Don’t forget to use the rubric in instruction!

Next week, I’m excited to begin using this rubric and adjusting it as we go.  It is going to serve as a very strong foundation for the remainder of the unit.  Remember, that when creating a rubric with your students (or even creating one by yourself), it is critical that it is used throughout the unit.  If it isn’t, you’ve wasted your time… and your students’!

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Always post assessment criteria for students to consistently view.

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