Formative Rubrics – a great approach to developing skills

Rubric (noun): “perscribed guide for conduct or action”

One of the most significant challenges that teachers are experiencing at the moment in the Australian education system is shifting the paradigm of how they approach delivering education. Most schools suffer the schizophrenia of knowing that the development of essential skills and capacities is as critical as content knowledge but being driven by the need to deliver content knowledge via NAPLAN testing at Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 and the exams for year 11 and 12. A number of schools are now teaching to the tests with the aim of raising their test scores and thus being seen as schools that are performing.

The problem with this is that it is a destructive approach to developing young people being prepared for the 21st century. Students do not predictably come out of such a system as active learners with a curiosity and drive to want to continually learn. In fact what we are witnessing is students becoming more and more passive and failing to adapt to a world that is changing very quickly (and will continue to do so for generations to come).

One approach that I have started to use with teachers as a way of systemising the progression of skill development throughout the years of schooling is to design formative rubrics appropriate to the cohort of students. These rubrics would be student centred and in the language of the age group.

Most rubrics that I have seen in schools have been assessment rubrics (see example). These rubrics are designed so that the students are clear about the level and quality of work required to achieve particular marks.

Whilst this rubric is important for the students to deliver material that the teacher can assess it is a poor vehicle for developing the skills of the students.

Much like the assessment (or summative) rubric gives a guide to the student as to what to provide to achieve
the best marks, the formative rubric is an explicit guide to how a student can adapt or modify their behaviour or skills to perform and act at a higher level.

In the workshops I run with schools I have the teachers articulate not only the skills they would love their students to have but also to explore and articulate what would demonstrate a student having those skills at differing levels. Part of this process is moving the teachers from “teacher speak” to age appropriate language. What teachers discover is that it requires a very thoughtful process to “unpack’ the skill and to then design practices, templates, modelling and short classroom activities to develop the skills.

What many teachers and schools become aware of in this process is the necessity to develop a bank of formative rubrics for each year level within the school. Another way of saying this is … if you aren’t explicitly defining the skill development progression then you are living in hope (and the skill development is all teacher dependent … not systemised).

One of the side benefits of having formative rubrics such as these is that teachers now have a tool with which they can discuss with both students and parents that will allow for REAL partnership in developing student capacities.

I’d really love to hear back from you about this process and what you see is possible?

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