Rubrics Require Explicit Instruction, Too

By on February 21, 2013

All teachers struggle with the "ticking clock." That is, we all feel the pressure of time. We don't have time to teach everything. We are expected to "cover" material as fast as we can. At least, that was before the Common Core. With the new national standards, explicit instruction will become a critical component of our pedagogy.

Over the years, I have transformed my work in the classroom. I used to focus on content (I had lists of things to read and projects to complete) and now I focus on skill-based instruction. At the beginning of each year, I work with my PLC to decide on a set of literacy skills we should teach (See our Literacy Skills Library to get started). Explicitly teaching students how to employ high-level literacy skills is a passion of mine. I have come to realize that I cannot teach everything, so I teach what students need to know to be successful in school and at work. My explicit instruction is modeled after what is known as the cognitive approach to teaching literacy skills. This strategic pedagogy teaches students how to use a literacy skill and when and why it should be used. Getting students to think about when and why a skill should be used will help them transfer literacy skills to new learning experiences.

This year, I have been experimenting with teaching my rubrics explicitly. I have always gone over the rubric, but like writing prompts, if we just "go over it," many students will be left behind. The same can be said about the rubrics we hand our students. If we don't explicitly teach our rubrics, how will our students understand how they will be assessed/evaluated? 

My hypothesis going into this year was that students would not be able to explain the criteria I was using to assess their work. To test my hypothesis, I handed out a rubric and asked students to summarize each point (or criteria) in their notes. As I walked around the room, I realized how much they didn't understand. My students didn't know the vocabulary and how to meet the expectations called out in the rubric. For example, my students could not identify or explain "sentence types." They didn't know how to support claims with strong evidence. I had given them my expectations but they didn't understand how to meet them. 

I stopped the class, cut up a rubric, and placed it under my document camera.

 

I projected the rubric strip onto the whiteboard so that I would have more space to write definitions and explanations. I slowed down and defined each challenging word that appeared in the "Proficient" column. I was shocked by how many words they did not know but pleased that I had discovered the errors in my way. I took a picture of my whiteboard to show how we actively read the rubric.

 

Although this activity took more than half of a class period (55 min. classes), it was worth every minute. I realized that I hadn't been very explicit teaching my rubrics to my students. I assumed they understood my expectations. 

I am so careful about how I teach high-level reading and writing skills. I don't know why I didn't treat my rubrics the same way. Going forward, I will make sure rubrics are added to the list of texts and documents I teach explicitly. Students are always more successful when they understand our expectations and grading criteria. It seems so simple, now.

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The Conversation

Moira Pratarelli Moira Pratarelli 3/15/2013

Thanks for this. I've many times realized (after several semesters!) that students didn't understand something that I assumed they did. This is clearly one more thing.

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Mr. LeMaster Mr. LeMaster 3/18/2013

You're welcome. Like you, I am amazed at how explicit we need to be with our instruction. I am not annoyed. I'm just shocked to know how much they don't know. Too often, I think they understand when they don't. My students are doing better on their writing tasks now that they understand how they are being evaluated. Not a surprise.

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