In Step III, I concluded that educators should shift from thinking about rubrics for Standards-based Scoring to Rubrics for Standards-based Coaching. Additionally, I suggested that these two-point rubrics helped, but didn’t get students all the way to mastery. They are still likely to get pulled back into summative assessment fixed-mindset concerns about grades rather than formative assessment growth mindset focus on improving student performance. In this final step, I’ll discus why it can be very helpful to stop thinking about rubric categories as coaching tools for the teacher alone, and start applying them as tools that can be used to scaffold a successful relationship, or partnership, between the teacher and the student.
Let’s begin with the fact that the Standards-based Coaching Rubric we developed in Step III has some holes in it, namely the blank columns that would normally be used to describe student work that was “Below Standard,” or “Exceeding Standard.” While the two coaching categories, “Approaching Standard” and “At Standard” will help most students master many of the standards in a project, they don’t allow enough differentiation for those who genuinely struggle, or those who strive to learn more from a project. In these two cases, students don’t need a coach telling them to get from A to B, so much as a partner who is willing to listen to what they have to say.
I’ve chosen the word partner to describe this relationship because I want to make a distinction based on Jim Knight’s partnership principles for effective coaching. For Knight, good coaches don’t just provide feedback, they “enroll teachers” in a dialogue that’s based on “listening to teacher goals and questions.” They listen, and then provide the feedback necessary to address these questions and goals.
A two-point Standards-based Rubric offers standardized feedback that most students will find useful (you did THIS, you just need to add THAT). That’s good coaching. If we allow or require teachers to define “Below Standard” and “Exceeding Standard,” this will likely pull assessment practice back to seeing rubrics as a scoring tool designed for summative assessment. The language most often used in these additional categories describes attributes rather than opportunities to foster growth in knowledge or skills. Subjective terms such as “lacks,” “missing” or “none” often populate the lower category, while “exceeds,” “surpasses” or “more” often populate the upper category. As I foreshadowed in Step II, there are some interesting debates about these terms because they don’t describe formative states of growth, but fixed summative states of accomplishment. As such, requiring teachers to add language for these categories puts them in a judgmental role, rather than in a position to support student learning as a partnership coach.
If, on the other hand, we use the blank spaces in these rubrics as “spaces of permission,” then students can use those spaces to tell us about their learning struggles or goals. These spaces of permission become an opportunity for the kind of partnership Knight describes. They also encourage the purposeful autonomy Daniel Pink praised when describing the firm, Atlassian, which coined the term.
With these spaces of permission, a student who is struggling to “Approach Standard” can safely use that lower category to state his or her questions in hopes that he can move forward with the right support from a teacher as partnership coach. These questions can be recorded in that space, or simply shared in a one-on-one conversation about which the teacher takes notes. Either way, the student’s need for help is heard and acknowledged.
Likewise, a student who easily masters the standards might use the upper space of permission to set goals of his or her own in pursuit of growth beyond what is expected. Perhaps this will be anof application of the standards (I want to use THIS to do THAT). Or it may be that the student seeks out a higher standard, and asks to see what students a grade or two above them are expected to do. If the student’s partnership coach agrees, this higher grade-level standard could then be written in as the developmentally appropriate learning target.
An astute partnership coach will see that the same might be true for the student struggling to approach standard. In this case, seeing the student’s questions the teacher as partnership coach might say: “I see why this is hard for you, you haven’t mastered the prior standard yet. Let’s set that as your first target.”
A rubric with spaces of permission at the extremes offers a space for students and teachers to talk about unique opportunities for growth, rather than to score a student using fixed-mindset filler words. This Standards-based Partnership Rubric allows assessment to become more than something that is done to the student as summative assessment of learning (although it can still be used for that). Assessment can become something that is done with the student as formative assessment for learning (Stiggins).
If you can live with these spaces of permission, it should be an easy step to see why I would whole heartedly support a recommendation I received from a special education teacher in one of my workshops: finish your Standards-based Partnership Rubric by adding at least one blank dimension, or row, at the bottom of every rubric you design. An engaged student looking at your challenge, project, or assignment, may see that space of permission as an opportunity to work on standards you hadn’t thought of when designing the assignment, or the rubric. One student might choose to continue to focus on her spelling even though this is an art project. Another student might want to work on her art even though your assignment is a research paper. You don’t need to know the standards, or even how to assess them in order to support students’ growth in this way. All you need is to grant them the space of permission to differentiate your assignment in a way that allows them to meet goals that are important for them. If you grant that permission, challenge those students to follow up with the teachers who can support them. This is another way of increasing the partnership between you and the students, and perhaps even between you and other teachers in the building. Standards-based Rubrics thus become vehicles for enhanced collaboration, and quite likely enhanced collaborative outcomes.
Now that we’re through all four steps, an individual student’s final Standards-based Partnership Rubric might look something like this:
I hope you’ll agree that most of the problems with rubrics we identified in Step I can be dispensed by making Standards-based Partnership Rubrics. Steps III and IV assure that your rubrics will be used—by you and your students—to support formative assessment for learning throughout the duration of your project or assignment (Problem 1). Steps II–III assure that your rubric will be grounded in standardized language rather than the vague and subjective language that emerges from most rubric writing sessions—whether individual or collaborative (Problem 2). Steps II-IV assure that your rubric will be grounded in the standards necessary for students to grow to mastery of the attributes, skills, and knowledge (or ASKs) contained in your design, and to do so in a way that can work for them (Problem 3).
Although it may have taken you a while to read through all the blogs in this series, I’m pretty sure your next rubric will take less time to make than you spent reading these blogs (Problem 4). Let all of us know how it goes! Share your sample rubrics, and I’ll be happy to offer some feedback. Just make sure you grant some spaces of permission for yourself! And, if you’d like to jump to the next level, read more about my new book project, Participation is Preparation.