Recently I got caught up in a Twitter debate involving eminent education vets Ken O’Connor (@kenoc7), Chad Lang (@Chad_mLang), and Livia Chan (@LiviaChanL) about rubrics. The discussion centered around the advantages and disadvantages of single-point rubrics and four-point rubrics. Some of us felt that four-point rubrics are confusing, deluging students with too much information to absorb. Others argued that single-point rubrics don’t provide students with enough information, especially an understanding of (as Ken O’Connor pointed out) what “4 looks like, sounds like, etc.”.
The debate never ended up with any kind of a consensus on the matter, but it did get me thinking about what information I provide to my students and how I provide it.
Clearly, clarity is a good thing. John Hattie’s Visible Learning study revealed that teacher clarity was one of the leading influences on student success, leading to what the National Association of Elementary School Principals described as “significant increases in student learning”. But, does teacher clarity refer to what we show students or how we show it?
In the above discussion about rubrics, all the participants agreed that students need to see what a level four piece of work looks like in order to better understand expectations. Will students understand level four work through examining a rubric? Rubrics can be a little…busy.
Rubrics can spark valuable conversations about expectations and what different levels of proficiency look like. But, they are not that engaging. When I walk students through a rubric I will be using, student attention wanes. Eyes glass over. Heads are scratched.
To better develop student understanding, I add other tools to the explanation mix. For instance, I show exemplars. I also model the creation of a piece of work. What I like about modelling is that students end up with an example to study, but they also witness the steps that I go through in the creation process – the decisions I make, how I handle frustrations, and how problems are solved. And, as I move through the modelling process, I boost engagement by getting students more and more involved, asking for advice and opinions. By the end of the process, I am silently typing in student ideas that are being shared around the room.
There’s more to teacher clarity than just exposing students to a rubric or a standard. If we really want students to get the why behind our lessons, we need to go the extra mile and actively demonstrate complex pedagogical concepts in a manner that is both engaging and appropriately understandable.