I work as a social studies specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas. Before coming to ESSDACK, I taught middle school US History and higher ed social science classes.
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Happy Monday! Anyone have a countdown to the end of school? As we near the final stretch of another crazy school year we once again face the challenge of keeping kids excited and engaged. I thought I would share something that I discussed at the end of last school year to give you a couple of ideas to keep those creative juices flowing.
So, it’s April . . . track meets, warm weather, field trips, crazy schedules, finals, and we’re supposed to keep kids engaged? Maybe one of the greatest challenges in education is the end of the year. How do we find creative ways to keep kids interested in learning?
One popular survival mechanism is plugging in a movie that is connected to your curriculum. Do you really think the kids will find it much fun to watch Gettysburg and complete a worksheet connected to the movie? Sometimes we are required to give a semester final but to ask the kids to take a long drawn out test that you may not be interested in grading when the school year is done lacks a lot of appeal. Frankly, the last month of a school year can be a real struggle and make you feel like our friend pictured above, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You just need to inject a little creativity into your year-end routine.
We’ve all been there. You just finished putting together a great instructional lesson or unit. Kids are gonna love it. They’re working together. Doing research. Creating stuff, not just consuming it. The historical thinking will be off the charts.
Then you realize . . . you haven’t created the rubric yet.
You know that clear expectations and feedback are critically important to the learning process. You know that rubrics can help you in assessing what students know and are able to do. So you sit back down and eventually decide to use four scoring columns instead of five. Six rows of criteria instead of three. Clear descriptors. Nine point font all crammed into your matrix so that it fits on one page. Definitely tons of feedback gonna happen from this beauty.
But it’s worth it, right?
Mmm . . . using a great rubric can speed up the grading and assessment process but they can also create other issues besides the amount of time it takes to create them. A student shows creativity way beyond what the rubric asks for in a way that you hadn’t anticipated and your columns and rows aren’t able to reward that. Or a kid spells everything correctly but the grammar and punctuation is terrible. Maybe she nails the document analysis but fails to use evidence in her claims and your rubric has those two things together.
And is there any way – other than individual conferences – to really know whether students actually go deeper into your scored rubric than to look at the final grade circled in the bottom left hand corner?
Yes, analytic rubrics are useful. I’m not saying rubrics shouldn’t be part of your assessment toolkit. They can help you develop and create assignments that are aligned to your end in mind. They can provide clear expectations for students and a way to share feedback. But they can also be difficult to design correctly and may seem so overwhelming to students that the expected feedback we want never really sinks in.
And, sure, holistic versions are much quicker to create and use. So that’s nice. But they fail to provide specific and targeted feedback. You get a kid who wants to know why they got a two instead of a three or worse, he won’t ask at all. Missing the whole point of providing feedback in the first place.
If you didn’t know already, the state of Kansas is an unbelievably interesting place. And way more than just a flyover.
She was once called the Great American Desert, a title mistakenly given her by temporary passers-through. She’s always been home to huge herds of North American bison, vast expanses of seven foot tall Big Bluestem prairie grass, forested hills, hawks, bobcats, coyotes, the Arkansas and Big Blue rivers, Cottonwood trees, a ton of deer and antelope a-playing, and not just a few amazing people.
Indians. Cowboys. Explorers and Pony Express riders. Politicians. Artists. Aviators, scientists and writers. Reformers. Populists. Pizza makers. Farmers. Lots and lots of people who grow the food we eat every day.
Kansas turns 158 today. And it’s her people that make her who she is.
Jill Weber is a middle school teacher in Cheney, Kansas and former Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year.
Today? She talks rubrics.
One thing I love about the teaching profession is that we are always constantly learning, growing, trying new things . . . all in the process of becoming better. This is true whether it’s your first year and you’re improving from the first month of school to the second. And it’s true if you’re a veteran teacher who decides to try something different to “shake things up.” There is always an opportunity to learn and improve.
One thing I am learning more and more as I keep going is how important it is to have clear expectations. Now, it’s not that I didn’t know that I needed that when I started but I keep learning that what I think is “clear” doesn’t necessarily translate that way to my 7th and 8th grade students. I find that they ALWAYS do better when I am as simplyspecific as possible with my expectations.
Don’t let that fool you. I didn’t say I lower my expectations.
I simplify my explanation of the expectations so that it is as clear as possible.
I am constantly getting better at this.
And one of my favorite examples is with my rubrics.
I am a FIRM believer in having rubrics to score students on. Nothing is more frustrating for a student to receive a score on a project or assignment and not have a clear picture as to why they were given that score. So when I’m making and using rubrics in my classroom, I’m always keeping in mind this #1 major rule . . .