Monday, June 29, 2015

No more CheckBrics

During my first year of teaching high school, a colleague shared with me her practice of completing every one of the assignments she gave to her social studies students before she actually assigned it to her class. By completing the assignment herself, not only could she better anticipate where students might need extra support, but she also had a better grasp on what exactly she was asking her students to know, understand, and do. This was perhaps the best advice I got my first year, that and to make sure that I ate lunch with colleagues instead of working through lunch each day. For the past thirteen years of teaching high school, I have made every effort to keep this practice. In doing so, I come into a unit or a lesson with a better understanding of what I am asking of my students and why. This same framework, suggested by Wiggins and McTighe in Understanding by Design, has greatly influenced how I think about the work that is done by students in my classroom. Busy-work has no place in my classroom.

Instead, much of the “work” of my tenth grade English classes falls into two categories - practice and performance. Students begin a unit with the summative rubrics already in hand. We need to know what we are working toward. The work of the unit is to figure out why these goals are important. We practice strategies and skills in order to work toward that summative performance. But here’s where we run into some problems. A performance assessment, especially when it is used as a summative assessment tool, is only as good as its assessment criteria. Bad rubric = worthless assessment tool and useless feedback.

What type of feedback does a student get from this?
As Peter Afflerbach points out in Understanding and Using Reading Assessment K-12, “...performance assessments provide illustrative and educative details that complement the general statements made up such single, summative assessment markers” (97). However, this is only true when those performance assessments are carefully crafted to provide relevant feedback on the skills that students are working toward. Too often I have been guilty of taking the easy way out. Instead of creating a true rubric which outlines what an exemplary versus a below basic performance of a task looks like, I have created a checkbric, a list of things the must be included in the summative task.

A checkbric is not an assessment tool. It does not provide students with a model or anchor of what the successful completion of the assignment looks like. It does not focus on skills, but rather focuses on discrete facts or items. A checkbric does not help a student self-assess their work in any sort of reflective way. Instead, a checkbric functions as a to-do list.

So, I am banning checkbrics from my classroom.

Well-developed rubrics are the backbone of performance assessments. Afflerbach writes, “Over time, our use of rubrics and work samples in the classroom contributes to students developing specific schemata for what good work looks like, strategies for progress, and a schema for the ongoing self-assessment of their progress toward performance goals” (103). It is for this reason that I firmly believe that students should have such well-developed performance rubrics at the onset of the unit. In order to understand what we are working toward, students must have a clear understanding of the end goals.
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