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Category Archives: Assessment

ruBRICKS Part II – A Follow-Up Guest Post by Julie Swinehart

Blogging, writing, talking, being part of the conversation about what it means to be an educator in 2017, it’s all easier to do than to actually live it and breathe it and teach it. We can talk about theory, we can read our guiding texts, we can attend professional development conferences around the world, participate in twitter chats, and we can all talk the talk.

Walking the talk is the hardest part.

Theory doesn’t always meet practice. But we try. I try.

I recently wrote about the idea of rubrics – that they should serve more as a foundation than a weight or a wall pinning students in. That they should allow for creativity rather than limiting imagination.

One way that I have tried to allow for student voice and creativity is with the most important thing I can help my students learn.

The topic is the habits of a healthy reading life.

If my students learn to read literary nonfiction, classic novels, and short stories, it will be fantastic. But it’s fantastic only if they actually choose to read these texts on their own. Most importantly, they need to have a habit of reading, to discover the reader within themselves.

This winter I realized that I wasn’t sure that my students knew what the endgame was. So we talked about it. We talked about what it looks like to have a healthy reading life, and we brainstormed the attributes of a healthy reading life.

I did my best to organize their ideas into categories and indicators that made sense. I used our school’s student profile to help with the organization. The six categories are Respect and Integrity, Global Awareness, Reflective Thinking, Critical Thinking, Creators and Innovators, and Communicators and Collaborators.

From that, I created a rubric.

I think the process for this rubric can be re-created with other standards and goals, and can be simplified to a simple yes/no checklist, or a one point rubric for student self-reflection.

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healthyreadinglifeprofile-page-002

I know, I know… There are still problems with the document. But I think the point is that the ideas in it originally were theirs. The ideas belonged to the grade nine students.

While it’s an intimidating double-sided checklist in its entirety, it is easy to split into the six sections, which means we can examine just one section of a student’s reading life at a time. At that point it becomes smaller and quite manageable, and it’s not a brick wall of text.

I can print just one section at a time, and use it as an exit ticket or as a prompt for a reflective quick write. It doesn’t weigh students down when they simply examine only two or three indicators about their habits of reading.

The document still needs to be refined, and maybe all of the Common Core standards I’ve attached to the indicators aren’t exactly right; it’s still a draft, a work in progress. But this rubric, one that could be revised to a simple yes/no checklist, has been the catalyst for some seriously authentic and relevant conferences with my students.

Because I used their criteria and ideas, it’s not a brick wall, and it doesn’t confine my students between narrow rails. Instead, it’s a conversation starter, a tool for goal-setting while conferring, and it’s something that shows my students what to strive for.

It shows them what this readers workshop is all about: healthy reading lives.

I think the takeaway here is that teaching is always a work in progress, as is learning. Setting goals is important for students and for teachers. Creating authentic scoring guides continues to be one of my goals. This year I created one about the topic that I think is the most important of all – the healthy habits of reading. Next year we will tackle the habits of being a writer.

I will keep talking the talk – that means I am learning and reflecting on my practice. I will also keep trying to walk the talk, which I think has to include student input, because student voice is so essential to readers workshop, and is of course essential to building the habits of healthy reading lives of students.

We can’t weigh them down with our “help” – our rubrics and scoring guides should serve as foundations for growth, which is what I think this one does.
Nothing’s perfect, and we teachers have to be okay with that. We will continue to read, learn, discuss, and to walk the talk. Walking it and living it is a work in progress, and our students are better because we keep trying.


Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for eighteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last three in Amman, Jordan. A recent convert to the workshop model, she likes to blog about and share her learning and experience with others.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Follow her blog https://adventuresinhighschoolworkshop.wordpress.com/


iconCare to join the conversation? We’d love to add your voice! Please email guest post ideas to Lisadennibaum@gmail.com.

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6 Takeaways from Student Self-Assessments

51W731EdIWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_After completing self-assessments in Tom Romano‘s classes in college, and finding them invaluable, I’ve always made them a large part of my teaching arsenal.  At the end of every year, we spend a few days on SAs, or they’re part of the final exam, or they’re what we share as a last-day-of-class celebration.

This semester, my students wrote three self-assessments, with the last one counting as the final exam.  In this particular SA, I asked students to do five things:

  • Evaluate our course materials and routines
  • Discuss your growth as a teacher, thinker, writer, reader
  • Write your teaching credo
  • Give me some advice about what to keep/change next year
  • Make a list of strategies, frames of mind, and ideas you’ll use in teaching

As finals week drew to a close and I was crushed by grading, I looked forward to reading these self-assessments.  Students didn’t hold back on the advice or evaluation portions, used their signature writing voices with abandon as they discussed their growth and beliefs, and made me fill my notebook with pages of ideas and strategies as I read their lists.

In addition to just being fun to read, I also learned a great deal from their honest words.  While I took a whole book full of ideas away from these amazing and inspiring future teachers, I’ll spare you and just share six lessons I learned from reading their self-assessments for this semester.

What we read matters.

Without exception, every student extolled the virtues of our central text, Paul Gorski’s Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap.  I highly recommend this excellent text as reading for any teacher, especially Gorski’s vehement statement that all students, no matter their background, need appropriate challenges when learning.

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Lily cements my belief that a strong central text really helped anchor our course.

By studying a text I was so passionate about, my students could feel my enthusiasm, and I believe it was contagious.  A strong central text anchored our lively class discussions and students’ weekly one-pagers.

Trust your pedagogical instincts.

Our students are champions when it comes to complaining–their stamina is literally unending.  “But I don’t want to write this.”  “ANOTHER paper?!”  “MORE writing?”  “Why are we doing this again?”

All of these gripes can really wear a teacher down.  But, teachers usually know what is best for our students–we know that a high volume of writing will help our students become better writers.  We know that writing about our reading will help our students become better readers.  We know that constant practice with critical thinking will help our students become more literate and conscientious citizens (and teachers, in my case).

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Aaron grudgingly admits that despite the onslaught of papers and projects, he grew in his thinking and learning.

So, despite the eye-rolls or sighs, I kept at it with what my gut was telling me.  I knew that, no matter how much of all of our time it took, students needed to do a lot of reading, writing, and talking about their thinking, with a lot of feedback from their peers and from me, all while remaining appropriately challenged and engaged in learning.  I kept at it and resisted the frequent temptation to revise my syllabus, and students appreciated it–and grew.

Frequent, low-stakes writing often provides the most space for growth.

While the big assignments of the semester may be what most teachers consider the bread and butter of teaching writing, I believe the opposite.  Those long essays or projects, in my experience, are more likely to stress out all parties involved.  For me, the short stuff is where the growth happens, and exponential growth is what leads to student success in writing long and complex pieces.

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Anetta extols the value of informal weekly writings.

My students wrote six major papers this semester–none of which were shorter than six pages, and some that were up to twenty–but where they really displayed the biggest leaps in learning were in their one-pagers, submitted weekly.  Every single student except for one told me that I should keep one-pagers and that, despite how much they sucked/were annoying/ruined their Sunday nights, they were the most valuable part of the class for their growth.

All students crave challenge.

As Gorski reinforced for my students this semester, all learners crave a challenge.  Nobody wants to be bored, and by engaging students in complex tasks of reading and writing, nobody in my classes will be.  With small- and large-scale assignments scattered throughout the course, frequent opportunities for revision, and detailed feedback, all students felt that they could succeed, and had ample opportunities to practice and prove that they could.

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Ryan vows to replicate the challenge of high expectations in his own classroom.

Feedback is invaluable.

It is a lot of work.  A LOT.  I know.  But every student valued, appreciated, and grew because of thorough feedback protocols on any formal paper.

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Erin was appreciative of the attention her writing received.

Students did a lot of writing I never graded–in notebooks, in drafts, in groups.  But what they turned in, I spent a great deal of time commenting on, and while it was definitely arduous, I know I’ll keep it a condition of my classes in the future…fueled by lots of coffee.

Creating conditions for safe student growth is paramount.

Kevin became something of a celebrity in our class with his frequent questions, hilarious asides, and opinionated comments.  He never held back, and because he was welcomed into dialogue with open arms by myself and other students, he really flourished as a learner for one of the first times in his academic career.

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Kevin, with his signature writing voice, reminds me that a safe learning environment is the most important thing we can give students.

By creating a community of trust and engagement and low-stakes learning, Kevin felt safe to take risks and grow.  It’s what I want all students to be able to achieve, and is one of the most powerful reminders about teaching and learning I can think of.

What have your students taught you about your teaching?  Will you utilize self-assessments this year?  Please share in the comments!

Shana Karnes lives in West Virginia and teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

When rubrics are unintentional ruBRICKS – Guest Post by Julie Swinehart

My fourteen-year-old son surprises me with some of the things that come out of his mouth. I won’t repeat them all here (you’re welcome), because sometimes I’m astounded in a way that makes me laugh, but doesn’t necessarily make me think.

But the other day, he did make me think.

We were at the kitchen table. I was reading my students’ online readers notebooks while he was working on homework. Responsibly, he checked the rubric that accompanied the assignment he was working on, but by doing so, he seemed to get more frustrated instead of finding clarity.

I looked over at him, eyebrows raised in silent question. His response was, “This rubric is more of a brick than a help!” and he went on to explain that it felt like he was weighed down by the rubric rather than feeling like it provided guidance.

I immediately understood his comparison. Rubrics as bricks, hobbling students,

brick

“This rubric is more of a brick than a help!”

confining them to strict definitions and requirements, weighing them down instead of allowing them to soar.

Rubrics as brick walls on paper, wordy, unclear, sometimes too demanding, confining creativity instead of providing a place from which to let creativity flow.

I then turned my thoughts to my own teaching and to my own students. Have I unintentionally weighed down my students with a brick of a rubric?

Have the rubrics I’ve attached to my class assignments served as brick walls, stifling creativity, rather than as foundations that my students could use as guides for demonstrating what they know and what they can do?

Have the rubrics I’ve provided my students allowed them to show that they can exceed and see things in a way that I, as the teacher, never imagined?

During this school year my thinking and teaching style has evolved dramatically. I’ve moved away from a more traditional method, in which my students read the same texts, responded to the same writing prompts, learned the same skills, and turned in the same assignments, all at the same time. I used rubrics for most of their assessments, and while my students demonstrated their learning, I inadvertently didn’t really allow for a ton of creativity.

This year, my students are reading different texts, sometimes have individualize due dates that they have chosen, and are turning in very different assignments from each other.

This year, I’ve also still used some rubrics, and I think there are some good ones out there. But in response to the advice of one my colleagues, I started the slow move to a more holistic approach to scoring guides.

I still include the standards and learning targets for students on the task sheet, and I describe what an exemplary, middle, and poor quality product will look like, include, or omit. But I find that the more holistic scoring guide approach allows for the student choice and creativity that is essential in the workshop model.

It’s not as prescriptive as a rubric can be, and instead of being a document made of bricks that build walls around and confine creativity, it serves more as foundation of sorts, something students can build from, and also demonstrate their learning through their own creative ideas.

A holistic scoring guide does not provide all of the answers that a rubric holds. There aren’t as many words on the paper, which means that students have to think about what they are going to do, rather than simply tick some boxes of requirements in order to get the grade.

I’m enjoying the holistic scoring guide approach, and my students are still doing well with the change. They demonstrate creativity, they show their learning, and they allow their personalities to shine through in their work.

Workshop is about student choice, and I think some rubrics unintentionally stifle the choice that we are so eager and willing to provide.

I’m going to be careful from now one, doing my best to ensure that the assignments I give allow for student agency, and doing my best to ensure that my students aren’t weighed down or walled in by unnecessary bricks.


Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for eighteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last three in Amman, Jordan. A recent convert to the workshop model, she likes to blog about and share her learning and experience with others.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Follow her blog https://adventuresinhighschoolworkshop.wordpress.com/


iconCare to join the conversation? We’d love to add your voice! Please email guest post ideas to Lisadennibaum@gmail.com.

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