Rubrics, Metacognition, & Writing

In this post I want to talk about how I have started to use analytic rubrics in the formative process to help students reflect more purposefully—to help them increase their metacognitive skill set.

The consultant Tom Schimmer was at my school recently…I might have mentioned him before?! He is all things assessment—he makes assessment sexy. Seriously. I could listen to him all day. It is not just the way that he explains ideas or even the metaphors that he uses (although all of that definitely helps)…it is how he frames it. He reminds you of who we are doing all of this for. (I am assuming you know I mean students here…or that would be very awkward – ha!)

Tom has been partnered with my school for four years now (gotta love cyclical consultants!) and so a lot of what I heard recently was repetition. But it never gets old: it reminds me of what I am doing and WHY I am doing it.  And so I am going to frame this post around three of his keys ideas:

#1: “Whoever is doing the assessing is doing the learning.”

Now Tom wasn’t the one who originally said this…he heard it from someone who probably heard it from someone. But the first time I heard it was from him. And it was a “whoa” moment. And it altered a lot of little things that I do every day.

Vicki Halsey’s 2011 book, “Brilliance by Design” states that:

“Active involvement with concepts—versus passive listening—enhances learning and application. The more active, rigorous practice the learner does with your content, the more automatic and natural it will be to use that content.”

She explains that there is a 70 to 30 percent relationship: where 70% is students practicing, working with, and talking about new skills 30% is teachers teaching. This means that the focus isn’t on what we are saying…but HOW we are facilitating students what the students are saying/doing.

One of the ‘little things’ that I altered was how often I bring the rubric into my mini-lessons to help ground the work. And this doesn’t mean just having it available…it means using it with intention.

Below is part of a rubric for my current unit that the students worked with over the past two classes (it is connected to the CC Standard RI.3 which asks students to analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of events and ideas etc…). We are currently reading Trevor Noah’s memoir, “Born a Crime”, and each student needed to make an observation for a pattern of Trevor’s style of writing in part one of the book.

Emerging to Extending

Near the beginning of the activity a student raised their hand and asked the question I was waiting for:

Student: “What is the difference between a sophisticated and dominant observation and a relevant one?”

Me: “That’s a good question…let’s find out!”

Which brings us to “Tom Says” #2…

#2: “Rubrics need context and substance.”

Tom places an emphasis on the need for rubrics to be “brought to life” …that we need to use them…that they are living documents. He also notes that “a rubric without exemplars is too abstract.”

Moving rubrics from abstract to concrete, in my mind, means helping students to see them as a feedback tool to track their progress (insert a sprinkle of metacognition here). And so students use them to give each other feedback. Below is an example of feedback from one set of partners to another using the rubric look for’s and the anchor chart language for what makes a strong claim.

#3: “It doesn’t matter what the feedback looks/sounds like…it matters what they do with it.”

Or really…it matters that they can do something with it. We have done a solid job of facilitating metacognition if a student can answer these three questions: (1) Where am I now? (2) Where do I have to go? (3) How can I close the gap?

In a reflection at the end of the class, students were able to reflect in their notebooks on these three questions and identify independently what they need to work on to move forward…some chose to focus on verbs and some chose to focus on rearranging their claims to see how they can make it more clear.

It is the self-reflection and self-direction that make all the difference, and I have definitely noticed a shift in the work my students produce within a unit. The confidence some of them are projecting when they turn in their work at the end of the unit is what it is what Tom was talking about all along. Because it isn’t about us…it is always about them.

How do you make rubrics more practical and student friendly? How do you intentionally use rubrics? What do you think about the 70/30 ratio? I’d love to hear your comments below or on Twitter @ReadWriteMore

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1 Comment

  1. I think these ideas are really interesting and I’ll definitely be checking out more about Tom Schimmer. I’m curious what the time investment looks like to make the rubric more concrete. I feel like that would significantly impact time allotted for each skill/unit.

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