New Plan, New Rubric Style


I have been trying to participate in several twitter conversations today about grading, but can’t seem to satisfactorily get my ideas out in 140 characters.  Hence blog post.

Have you read this article by Alfie Kohn on grading?  If not, stop here and go read it.  It’s a little long, but I’ll wait.

I recently was directed to it by Mike Skocko (@themaclab) because it’s one of the recent “quests” in his gamified media arts class (I’ve been poking around his game trying to get ideas to bring back to my class).  The connection between the content of the article and the place I found it is important.  I think that my biggest challenge to gamifying will be “what to do about grades?”.  I’ll be posting a lot more about gamification in general, but for now here’s some ideas on grading:

First up, the academic side of things:  I’ve already been doing SBG, and I like my system.  The main component of my system that may be different from others is that I assess skills independently first, then together.  But I think I want to change up my progress tracking.  For each target, I want to keep the 0-4 scale, but change up the meaning of each number to represent the complexity level of the student’s mastery.  Like this:

Level 0 = No evidence

Level 1 = Practiced the skill (self reported progress)

Level 2 = Basic assessment (you aced a multiple choice quiz)

Level 3 = Constructed response (you were able to explain your solution to a problem)

Level 4 = “In the Wild” Constructed response (you were able to apply this skill to a problem in which multiple skills were required)

Important: To get to one level, you have to complete the ones that come before it.  One thing that is awesome about this is that it is one way to integrate a behavioral target with an academic one.  To even get the first level, they are required to:

a) practice the skill (responsibility, independent work) AND

b) show me the practice work  (organization, keeping track of practice work) AND

c) self assess whether they’ve made any progress (self regulation, my students are generally honest here, if they don’t get it they’ll say so).

Then, the second level is a multiple choice quiz.  I keep up with these by doing them on the computer in a system designed by my colleague Stephen Collins (@socraticbrain) called Socratic Brain.  I give a certain amount of quiz time each day and they use it to do whichever ones they are ready for (and by “ready” I mean they’ve already attained a level 1 in that target).

The third level is a constructed response, but just on that one skill.  These can be “real world”, “fake world”, abstract, concrete, whatever.  But the key is that it is one problem and just tests this one skill.  The idea is that they can be graded quickly and the feedback is hyper focused.  “Kid, don’t worry about anything else besides the fact that in your third step here you used some faulty logic”. Here is an example of one:

To handle these, I have 5 copies of each version printed and keep them in a file bin.  When a student is ready (they’ve attained level 2 credit), they request one from me, then work the problem on a separate sheet (that I also provide) and bring both papers back when they’re done.  So far, this system has worked well.  It can get a little hectic, but since they do one problem at a time, I can usually grade them and give feedback right then and there.

The fourth level is essential, but I have yet to master it.  This is where the student gets a multi-skill task (initiated by me) and shows what he or she can really do.  For instance, they may know how to graph a system, but can they do it if they have to write the inequalities first from a word problem?  What about from a raw data set?  Can they explain why a point is a solution in the context of a real world problem or only in the abstract?

The problem I’m having with this type of assessment is the “initiated by me” part.  So far this year, this “level 4” type of problem has only shown up on the quarter exam.  But once I give feedback and the kid tries again and fixes mistakes, the report cards are already out.  I still go back and change the grades, but it’s a hassle because I have to do an official grade change form in the office.  So, I’d love to make this type of assessment a weekly thing, and I think I have a plan.

I will keep a spreadsheet with a list of these types of tasks and which skills they test.  Each task will have a simple rubric, listing the skills with checkboxes next to each one.  When I grade it, I check off the skills they clearly have mastered and give feedback.  Then, when I go to enter the score in my gradebook, I just need to look at each skill and if they have level 3 and a checkmark for that target on the task, I award them level 4 status.  Any other case gets you no improvement in the gradebook, but your reward is the feedback and the experience points.

I picture the gradebook looking like this:


This is basically how my gradebook looks now, but instead of a score out of 100 points (that gets averaged with all the others to form an overall grade), each learning target has a level shown in a progress bar.  Notice the behavior target “Maintain an orderly binder” in there.  It would of course need a separate rubric.  Perhaps like this:

0 = you do not have a binder

1 = you’ve kept your binder neatly organized (handouts, notes, practice work)

2 = your binder has been consistently orderly (through at least one random check)

3 = your binder has been consistently orderly (through multiple random checks)

4 = your binder was orderly for every single random check this quarter (they’d have to earn this one back each quarter)

I think it should be fine to include this right alongside the academic targets.  The only reason you might want it separate is to compute a final grade.  But I don’t see any reason at this point to try to combine these scores into one letter at all.  Instead, I’d much rather see a distinction made between “Ready to move on” and “Not yet” and that’s it.  (thanks @JustinAion for the tip on the wording of those, sounds much better than pass/fail).

But in the event I have to stick a letter on it, I’ll need to ask what the purpose of the letter is.  If it’s academic only, I’ll only consider academic targets (but really, the students will still get some effort credit as that’s what level one is all about).  If it can include effort/behavioral skills, then I’ll consider all the targets when making my decision.

Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated!

10 thoughts on “New Plan, New Rubric Style

  1. Love the concept, Matt, and we may be able to help by extending Game On (our WordPress plugin) to accommodate some of the strategies you’ve described. Meanwhile…

    The Alfie Kohn article came to me via Matthew Miller in Egypt (@matthewm1970) (I love our hyper-connected world!)

    I’m wondering how you’ll accommodate late bloomers—those who catch on and demonstrate mastery of the material despite seeming to be continually disorganized or otherwise failing to meet your established norms along the way. (Maybe you’re yet to articulate that as the idea is still evolving.)

    Can’t wait to read more. If your readers are interested in gamifying their curriculum, they may want to check for more details about our free gamified curriculum delivery system.

    • Thanks for the comment! I’m waiting to hear about hosting from my school, but then I plan to try out the GameOn plugin myself.

      As for the late bloomers and disorganized students, I am still working on plans to make sure nether is left out or left behind. But it hasn’t been a problem so far this year, I make it clear to students and parents that there is no deadline for learning. If you learn the material and prove it, I change the grade on the report card.

  2. Mr. Lerner

    I could see this system working.

    There’s no reason level 3 and level 4 questions couldn’t end up on the same assessment, especially as the year goes on. You could announce to your class: OK, we’ve been studying how to graph linear inequalities this week, so expect that. But I will also be seeing how you can use all the math we’ve learned up to now in the wild.

    Then add a longer problem on simultaneous linear equations or writing a linear equation about a real-life situation.

    Level 4 is so important; you can’t just wait until the last week of the quarter. Although any time I’ve ever started teaching a new class, I always end up postponing those types of questions until the end of the year. It’s easy to tell someone to do it, but it’s hard to do unless your class feels like it’s running well.

    Good luck. I’m thinking about using SGB next year in an AP Physics C course. I’m going to ask my current juniors who would take that class which type of SBG they want to try. This type of grading, which I’m calling the “ladder of understanding,” is going into my presentation.

    • I totally agree on both points! While I love the non-linear, student-directedness of my quiz system, it won’t be obvious to them when they’re ready for a mixed skill (level 4) quiz. So, I definitely have to start working on making these and fitting them in the schedule (instead of waiting till the exam).

      I also like “ladder of understanding”! Good luck with SBG.

  3. matthewm1970

    I see a potential level 5 there, along the lines of “OK, you’ve shown that you know this really well. Can you develop a problem for me that would demonstrate level 4 understanding in another student?” Might be one way to develop more problems for use at level 4…

    If this were me, I’d want to recruit a group of other teachers at the same (or similar) level, in the same subject(s) to collaborate on the problem sets. Building all this by yourself is an EPIC level task (highly admirable, but so huge!). Are there others with whom you could work to share the resources, and the load? There are HS math teachers at my school that might be interested – let me know if you’d like to get connected.

    • YES! Great idea on the “level 5” task. Another extension could be “Can you create a task that combines this skill with two other skills?” I love the thought of using student created tasks too!

      I hadn’t thought much about the epic task of creating the initial level 4 tasks. Collaboration probably will be necessary, like you said, but I’m struggling with how to get it started. Some sort of “Twitter Challenge” maybe? Like I could send out my learning targets and proclaim: “Anyone who takes 3-5 of these learning targets and creates a task gets an instant 2000 XP!”

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