Let’s Talk About Rubrics

Last week’s #langchat was all about standards based grading and much of the discussion centered around rubrics, the idea being that if you’re going to grade based on standards (be they ACTFL’s Can Dos or state or district level standards), then your rubric should reflect that. It has gotten me thinking, to say the least. So, bear with me while I sort through all my thoughts about writing standards based rubrics, the rubrics I’ve used this year, and what (if any) changes I want to make for next year.

Let’s start with what I’ve done so far this year:
For every writing assignment in Spanish 2-4, I have assessed (not graded, because I really haven’t “graded” them) proficiency using an excellent rubric that Courtney Cochran shared during a #langchat last fall. The link that I had doesn’t seem to be working anymore, but basically it takes each proficiency level and outlines what students ARE DOING in their writing in one column, and then lists what they should TRY TO DO in another column in order to move up to the next level. It has been excellent. It has helped me better understand and internalize the levels of writing proficiency and what I should expect students to be able to do at each level. It helps me find the good in my struggling students’ writing while giving me the ability to make suggestions even on the best writing, and keeps me from focusing too much on grammatical errors. It helps the students understand exactly what they should focus on to improve, and best of all, they care what it says! No more “Oh, I got an 8/10 on this. Okay. Moving on.” They read the feedback, they pay attention, and they try to improve the next time! They ask each other what their proficiency level is. They celebrate when they step up, and they are bummed if they go down (it does happen from assignment to assignment occasionally, but for the year every student has gone up!).

I haven’t used this rubric for my 1s because at this point I just want them to focus on putting words down and being comprehensible. They’re naturally climbing in proficiency because they started from nothing and they’re learning so much in the first year. No reason to add more for them right now.

Amy Lenord has recently shared a similar rubric for interpersonal. I haven’t used it yet, but I will be breaking it out soon! Martina Bex has also shared a rubric (and a plan to go with it) that I’m interested in looking at more carefully.

Additionally, for IPAs and projects, I’ve used this rubric, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell’s version of the rubric developed by the JCPS World Language department. I like that this offers me a single place to look at everything together, but I don’t love everything about it. I like that it shows (almost) the whole proficiency scale, so that no matter what class I’m “grading” I can use the same rubric, and even the outliers who are flirting with Intermediate Mid in Spanish 2 can be placed on the same scale as the ones who are still fighting with Novice Mid. It lets the kids see where they are and where they can go if they stick with it. I like that it looks at proficiency as a whole, while also breaking it down into manageable chunks.

However, sometimes I feel as though this rubric (by no fault of its own) leads me to downplay the interpersonal portion of an assessment, at least as far as grading goes. Either I need to develop a better way of using this rubric, or I need to start moving toward something that suits me personally a little better. Which leads me to last week’s #langchat…

One of the things that was mentioned that really struck me was the idea that the task is assessed only based on the assessment and that task completion was no part of it. My first reaction to that was, “How can you possibly manage that? If they don’t complete the task, then how can they pass/prove their proficiency/etc.” The more I think about it, the more I realize this is a rubric question more than a personal preference question. The JCPS/Sara-Elizabeth rubric has a minor section for task completion, and that has sort of eased my mind this year in that regard, but my students tend to always fall in the “I completed what I needed to do” category and only occasionally go below or above. So maybe task completion isn’t that important anyway.

Or maybe those “no task completion section” rubrics address the issue in a different way. Perhaps, instead of “task completion” it’s more like, “how many of these things that you should have learned can you now prove to me?” Because that’s what we’re really after, right? Did you learn enough travel words to tell me about your dream vacation – planning, travel, destination, etc? Or, did you catch on to the structures I was aiming at well enough to tell someone what your ideal girl/boyfriend would be like? So rather than a “task completion” section on a rubric, I’m thinking that the rubric simply needs to include everything you want/expect the student to be able to do, and the task itself should naturally require all those things. That way, if the task isn’t complete (ie., one of those things you want to see is left out), the rubric will reflect that without needing that extra section.

So what do I think this means for my future? Well, as much as I liked just using generic rubrics this year, I think it means that I will be creating more next year. I still plan to use the rubrics I have, but I think they need to be augmented. Particularly for a summative unit assessment (sidenote: I hate the term “summative” for a language classroom!), I would like to have a (section of the) rubric that lends itself to having the kids show me what specifically from this unit they picked up and how well they can do it. I think it will make me plan my assessments better, and help keep me on track while teaching. Better, more specific goals & better daily instruction tailored to those goals will help keep me on track and keep me moving forward every day.

Finally, my biggest issue with so many rubrics is that I just don’t feel that the ACTFL proficiency levels let me show my students how much they’re growing. Because there is a lot of growth between Novice Mid and Novice High. Getting from there to Intermediate Low is a big deal! So often, when I “grade” I try to look at everything together. Sometimes I think kids are really on the line between two levels. Maybe that’s because I don’t have enough experience with assessing these levels yet, but sometimes I like to sort of add my own sub-sub levels.

A student who’s really on top of all the Novice High requirements, and starting to show signs of Intermediate Low might get a Novice High + on an assignment. A student who’s almost at IL, but who I just don’t think is quite there yet might get an Intermediate Low -. It allows me to show my students that they are making progress even if they haven’t made it quite to the next level yet.

As students move up the proficiency scale, there are (at least for me) more shades of uncertainty, more students who are writing at paragraph length or more, but whose sentences still don’t include many transitions or connectors, or whose subject/verb agreement is still lacking. I agonize over what levels to “assign” these students. Even with a rubric, I wonder where they go. That’s where my +/- system comes in handy. I also like it because it makes assigning letter grades easy. If the goal for the semester is Novice High (for a B) and I’m consistently giving a student Novice High -, they get a B-, if they’re hitting Intermediate Low -, it translates to an A-. It helps take some of the subjectivity out of “Well, they’re a little above this level, but not quite to that one, but I gave that student this grade and so I should be consistent, but did they really…?”

2 Comments Add yours

  1. thanks for letting me view your site. love all your information. Q1: what is the info on your proficiency line on the wall?

    1. Melanie says:

      No problem! I’m glad you find it helpful! In my most recent post (today) I included a link to the blog from which I borrowed the proficiency info I have posted in my room.

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