Wednesday, August 12, 2009


English Rubric Blog adapted from Michelle Mullen

This is a controversial topic. In my classroom I like students to be able to do things. My assessments are skill based and ongoing. I assess kids during class discussions, essays, projects and presentations because I want to see what students can do, not remember.

I think many teachers get too wrapped up in grading and grades. We think of grades traditionally, as a way to give students a final evaluation and everything they do is just a piece of that. This shouldn’t be the model at all, each assessment should be formative, not something used simply as a part of a grade. We should use the assessment to help that student learn. Too often teachers, parents and students think of it all as a part of a final grade. Most parents will ask their children, "How are your grades?" fifty to one over "What did you learn how to do today?"

My grading is also not point-based. I use holistic rubrics for major projects and the overall grade. This sometimes gives me a lot of headaches, not because it is a difficult system, but because students and parents are trained to see everything through the lens of points rather than what their work shows about their learning. The rubrics attempt to put the focus on learning. Click here for the English Rubric I use (created by Michelle Mullen slightly adapted by me). Click here for the AVID Rubric I use (created with Blaze Newman).

The effect of a point-based system is that it teaches students and parents to simply play the game of gathering points rather than focus on their learning. With the holistic rubric, students have to fit a profile rather than gather points. Students then have to make an argument for their final grade. There are some things that are recorded as point values, but these do not make up the complete grade.

I do feel like I’m swimming against the current in this because most teachers are still using the traditional systems and I have to educate students and parents about my system, which does take time. However, I have seen many teachers spend so much of their time on accounting in their point systems, getting so bogged down that they don’t even have time to think about their teaching. Many teachers do the same thing year after year simply because they are spending all the time when they’re not teaching a class on grading. Don’t fall into this trap. You must have some reflective and creative time dedicated to improving your practice.

Part of being a healthy professional is giving yourself time to reflect. Many teachers will say they don’t have time or their classes are too big. I can’t reflect. I just have to tread water. If this is the case you are doing a disservice to yourself, your students and your profession.

Find ways to cut back on your grading. Don’t grade everything. Do peer grading. If you don’t have time to really assess students and you feel like you are just accounting, accounting and accounting, there is something wrong with your grading system. Step back from what you’re doing and ask yourself: Do I really need to count every piece of work? What can I let go of? Can you know through less time consuming means what students have and haven’t learned? Don’t let the accounting suck away at your time for actually helping your students.

1 comment:

  1. Rob! This is such an important post. Michelle Mullen was my methods teacher, and is a good friend. I adapted her rubric (with her permission) in a similar fashion. I have used her rubric as a course grade AND for individual project grades. I've also used it to spark student reflection. For awhile, I was having my English 11 students determine their own grade by looking at the rubric and comparing it to their performance and growth on assignments and tests. This worked really well, though it was more "work" on the teacher end, and I did have to find ways to make it really clear to kids and parents. With my AP students, and with my current English 11 students, I am still tweeking with this model. The grade in each class is based on a "points" system, but nearly everything students do is graded on some kind of rubric or detailed scoring guide. I've figured out how to balance it so that what kids earn points-wise usually corresponds to the rubric. I also still do lots of student reflection--this helps kids take ownership over their grades and their learning, and it actually shifs the language of our discussions away from grades, per se, and toward mastery of skills.

    I would love to chat about how you do this. It's such an important topic to address, and it can be touchy, especially for English teachers who sometimes have a tough time quantifying student performance (as do I). Thanks for getting this going! :-) Suzi