Practice 2: Show criteria and models in advance.A high school language arts teacher distributes a summary of the summative performance task that students will complete during the unit on research, including the rubric for judging the performance's quality. In addition, she shows examples of student work products collected from previous years (with student names removed) to illustrate criteria and performance levels. Throughout the unit, the teacher uses the student examples and the criteria in the rubric to help students better understand the nature of high-quality work and to support her teaching of research skills and report writing.
Practice 3: Assess before teaching.Before beginning instruction on the five senses, a kindergarten teacher asks each student to draw a picture of the body parts related to the various senses and show what each part does. She models the process by drawing an eye on the chalkboard. “The eye helps us see things around us,” she points out. As students draw, the teacher circulates around the room, stopping to ask clarifying questions (“I see you've drawn a nose. What does the nose help us do?”). On the basis of what she learns about her students from this diagnostic pre-test, she divides the class into two groups for differentiated instruction. At the conclusion of the unit, the teacher asks students to do another drawing, which she collects and compares with their original pre-test as evidence of their learning.
Practice 4: Offer appropriate choices.As part of a culminating assessment for a major unit on their state's history and geography, a class of 4th graders must contribute to a classroom museum display. The displays are designed to provide answers to the unit's essential question: How do geography, climate, and natural resources influence lifestyle, economy, and culture? Parents and students from other classrooms will view the display. Students have some choice about the specific products they will develop, which enables them to work to their strengths. Regardless of students' chosen products, the teacher uses a common rubric to evaluate every project. The resulting class museum contains a wide variety of unique and informative products that demonstrate learning.
Practice 5: Provide feedback early and often.Middle school students are learning watercolor painting techniques. The art teacher models proper technique for mixing and applying the colors, and the students begin working. As they paint, the teacher provides feedback both to individual students and to the class as a whole. She targets common mistakes, such as using too much paint and not enough water, a practice that reduces the desired transparency effect. Benefiting from continual feedback from the teacher, students experiment with the medium on small sheets of paper. The next class provides additional opportunities to apply various watercolor techniques to achieve such effects as color blending and soft edges. The class culminates in an informal peer feedback session. Skill development and refinement result from the combined effects of direct instruction, modeling, and opportunities to practice guided by ongoing feedback.
Practice 6: Encourage self-assessment and goal setting.Before turning in their science lab reports, students review their work against a list of explicit criteria. On the basis of their self-assessments, a number of students make revisions to improve their reports before handing them in. Their teacher observes that the overall quality of the lab reports has improved.
The most effective learners set personal learning goals, employ proven strategies, and self-assess their work. Teachers help cultivate such habits of mind by modeling self-assessment and goal setting and by expecting students to apply these habits regularly.
Rubrics can help students become more effective at honest self-appraisal and productive self-improvement. In the rubric in Figure 1 (p. 13), students verify that they have met a specific criterion—for a title, for example—by placing a check in the lower left-hand square of the applicable box. The teacher then uses the square on the right side for his or her evaluation. Ideally, the two judgments should match. If not, the discrepancy raises an opportunity to discuss the criteria, expectations, and performance standards. Over time, teacher and student judgments tend to align. In fact, it is not unusual for students to be harder on themselves than the teacher is.
The rubric also includes space for feedback comments and student goals and action steps. Consequently, the rubric moves from being simply an evaluation tool for “pinning a number” on students to a practical and robust vehicle for feedback, self-assessment, and goal setting.
Initially, the teacher models how to self-assess, set goals, and plan improvements by asking such prompting questions as,
- What aspect of your work was most effective?
- What aspect of your work was least effective?
- What specific action or actions will improve your performance?
- What will you do differently next time?
Questions like these help focus student reflection and planning. Over time, students assume greater responsibility for enacting these processes independently.
Educators who provide regular opportunities for learners to self-assess and set goals often report a change in the classroom culture. As one teacher put it,
My students have shifted from asking, “What did I get?” or “What are you going to give me?” to becoming increasingly capable of knowing how they are doing and what they need to do to improve.
Practice 7: Allow new evidence of achievement to replace old evidence.A driver education student fails his driving test the first time, but he immediately books an appointment to retake the test one week later. He passes on his second attempt because he successfully demonstrates the requisite knowledge and skills. The driving examiner does not average the first performance with the second, nor does the new license indicate that the driver “passed on the second attempt.”