Tag Archives: 4-point rubric

Listen to Learn: Practicing & learning with @HollyChesser

More and more, I’m motivated and convicted about leveled assessment.  I’ve been reading and blending ideas from our #TrinityLearns summer reading list along with several other books.  The Foundational Ideas of the post #MICON13: Leading Learners to Level Up – or Ask; Don’t Tell motivated a morning coffee and think do tank learning episode with Holly Chesser (@HollyChesser).

Holly is an “English teacher” while I am a “math” teacher.  This, in fact, narrowly defines each of us. We are each actually much more diverse in skill, leadership, and learning.  After a quick Ignite talk (poor Holly) to provide an overview, we attempted to design a leveled assessment rubric to coach 9th grader learners.

We discussed how much easier leveled assessment was in math.  It is the common conversation that has to be processed before rolling-up-sleeves work begins.  Many never get past the math-is-so-much-easier phase.  I think math seems easier, because the assumption is that math is skill based.  Humanities seem to have more grey areas.  However, the “I’ll know it when I see it” comment does not help illuminate a path to success.  If we are content experts, shouldn’t we be able to articulate one or more ways to show, demonstrate, and accomplish success?

We discussed how important it is to communicate expectations and a path (or two) to success.  We talked about how to convey the levels to learners.

Level 1:  I’m getting my feet wet.
Level 2:  I’m comfortable with support.
Level 3:  I’m confident with the process. (The target for everyone!)
Level 4:  I’m ready for the deep end.

And then, the magic happened…Holly began to tell me a story of teaching 9th graders to construct an argument.  I did not understand.  So, she backed up.  She said in order to help the students understand process, she eliminated the difficulty of content by employing children’s picture books.  She discussed using the board book The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss.  (If you’ve not read the story – I had not – it is read to you in this YouTube video.)

Holly told me the story of The Carrot Seed and why it was an effective teaching tool.  As she talked, I wrote.  I listened to her tell a story and tried to gleaned what was important to be learned.  I scribbled a leveled assessment as she talked.

Imagine having this learning target:

I can find the learning lesson that rises from conflict and describe the hero’s journey.

What if I, as a learner, know that I am not there yet? Would I know how to proceed? Would I know what questions to ask? What if a path (and there are many correct paths) was clearly communicated in our learning community?

Level 1: I can read and summarize the story from the book I’ve read.

Level 2: I can recognize/articulate/identify the conflict in the story.

Level 3: I can find the learning lesson that rises from conflict and describe the hero’s journey.

Level 4: I can apply the hero’s journey to the human condition.

As a student-learner, this can help me talk with my teacher about what I can do and what I want to be able to do.  As a teacher-learner, this can help me convey expectations and a path to success.

Holly and I ran out of time just as we began to dive deeper into the learning progression outlined above.  What if I am at Level 1? What actions do I take to level up?  Level 1 might have targets too.  For example, I can read and summarize the story from the book I’ve read might have a supporting statement such as I can circle words I don’t know, define them, and understand them in the context of the story which might coach the learner to action.

What if we used this type of rubric with learners? Will learners be able to say what they can do and what they want to do? Will learners be able to self-diagnose and self-advocate? Will we improve communication and collaboration around learning?

By learning to insert feedback loops into our thought, questioning, and decision-making process, we increase the chance of staying on our desired path. Or, if the path needs to be modified, our midcourse corrections become less dramatic and disruptive. (Lichtman, 49 pag.)

Great teachers lead us just far enough down a path so we can challenge for ourselves. They provide us just enough insight so we can work toward a solution that makes us, makes me want to jump up and shout out the solution to the world, makes me want to step to the next higher level. Great teachers somehow make us want to ask the questions that they want us to answer, overcome the challenge that they, because they are our teacher, believe we need to overcome. (Lichtman, 20 pag.)

What if we try? What might we learn?


Lichtman, Grant, and Sunzi. The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School. New York: IUniverse, 2008. Print.

Feedback please – a focus on progress – an update

One additional revision of Julia’s rubric has been made based on feedback from our friend and colleague, Angél W. Kytle (@akytle).  In her comment, she asks

“… A couple of questions– first, do you need the number? Why have the kids rank themselves, especially if they are reflecting and also describing evidence of their assessment of themselves? …” (read all of the comments)

The numbers are actually quite important to me. They are not for quantitative purposes. They are communicating levels to move through. Our target is level 3, always. The numbers indicate what level you are on and offer one way (or two) to level up. Of course, once you’ve reached the target, we want you to stretch and level up if possible. I use the following visual when presenting and teaching about leveled assessments.

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While I must be frustrating her, Julia continues to think, learn, and prototype assessments.

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I love how Julia continues to act on and ask for feedback. Angél’s question help us move another step in the right direction.  We value and appreciate any feedback, warm or cool, that you might also offer.

Feedback please – a focus on progress

Building trust and relationship is critically important in growing and completing feedback loops.  I’ve been co-teaching World Language with Julia Kuipers as often as my schedule allows.  If you’ve read the posts, you know she is an excellent teacher.

Earlier this week, I read You’ve Been Doing a Fantastic Job. Just One Thing … from The New York Times. (HT @boadams1) The following passage stuck with me.

 “Those who had just started learning the language wanted the positive feedback, while those who had been taking the French classes longer were more interested in hearing about what they did wrong and how to correct it.

Why is that? One reason is that as people gain expertise, feedback serves a different purpose. When people are just beginning a venture, they may not have much confidence, and they need encouragement. But experts’ commitment ‘is more secure than novices and their focus is on their progress,’ the paper’s authors said.”

I loved receiving the following email from Julia.

Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 8.20.39 PMJulia writes “I turned the student’s ideas into a self assessment for the 6th Grade ELD langauge project.” Awesome! Building a rubric from student ideas.  Here’s her draft:

I was off campus at a conference.  Here is my quick reply.

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I wondered what might come next.  How would Julia react to my feedback? What changes, if any, would she make?

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I really appreciate that she planned time in her schedule to review the feedback and work on another iteration.

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What a transformation! I bet that we are not finished with this rubric, but I think the next step is to use it with students.  They will have valuable feedback, and we want to continue to refine our assessments with their input.

To show Julia’s engagement in the process (and complete the communication trail), here is the rest of our exchange.

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To reiterate:

“… as people gain expertise, feedback serves a different purpose.”

Julia and I invite you to offer your ideas, opinions, and expertise to help us improve so that we may better serve our learners.  Any and all feedback is welcome.


Tugend, Alina. “SHORTCUTS; How to Give Effective Feedback, Both Positive and Negative.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Apr. 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2013.

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen: inspiring non-graded formative assessment

On Monday, December 5, Jeff McCalla (St. Mary’s Episcopal School, Memphis, TN) and I co-facilitated a 2-hour session at Learning Forward.  The conference description said:

Learn to model practical classroom formative assessments. Hear stories and gain artifacts from National T3 instructors as they share their struggles and successes as well as the struggles and successes of their students in middle school and high school math. Develop processes and tools for creating formative assessments that integrate technology to motivate student collaboration.

While we planned our lesson, we also committed to modeling the techniques that we were promoting.  Our handout shows a linear path that we intended to take.

We started with a basic review of the traditional 4-point rubric.

Level 1 – Beginning
Level 2 – Progressing
Level 3 – Proficient
Level 4 – Exceptional

What do these descriptors “tell” a learner about their understanding?  Do these descriptors help a learner know where they are and how to get to the target level? So we reframed these ideas in different terms.

Level 1:  I’m getting my feet wet.
Level 2:  I’m comfortable with support.
Level 3:  I’m confident with the process.
Level 4:  I’m ready for the deep end.

Using the TI-Nspire Navigator system, we polled our participants to assess their disposition on formative assessment which caused us to change our plan on the fly.

We dropped all planned discussion of the theory of formative assessment and began to model and discuss how to create opportunities for collaboration.

We moved quickly to discuss how to develop formative assessments that offer opportunities to lead learners by following their progress and to help learners level up.

We feel that formative assessment should give all involved a different level of awareness.  How many times have we said “how can they not know this” when we are grading papers?  How many times have we heard our students proclaim “I thought I knew this, but what I studied was not on the test?”

“It is easy to miss something you’re not looking for.”

It is easy for a learner to feel and believe that they understand what is being learned.  But, do we offer them opportunities to calibrate their understanding with ours?  Leveled, non-graded formative assessment that offers learners the ability to calibrate their understanding with the teacher’s expectation and, at the same time, shows the path to the next level will improve learning and teaching.

Working from an identified area of strength and success offers learners the opportunity to stretch and grow.  Have students stop, collaborate, and listen to assess and report progress, to diagnose strengths and needs, and to communicate and collaborate with each other.

Stop, collaborate, and listen to your team.  Design leveled assessments to lead learners to the target level.  Intervene and enrich in one swoop with opportunities for all learners to self-assess, learn and grow.

Learners need tangible evidence of success

The quotation “Students need tangible evidence of success.” from Dr. Tom Guskey during his Learning Forward pre-conference session on December 3, 2011 has me considering

What tangible evidence of success do we offer our learners?

Please don’t say grades or graded papers!  Far too often learners focus on where they have “failed”, not on what they’ve done well.  Think about your own professional review.  Do you focus on all of the things that your evaluation tells you that you are doing well, or do you zoom in on the “needs improvement” section?  How do we help learners find their bright spots?

I appreciate when others acknowledge and appreciate my bright spots.  Bright spot feedback motivates me to continue to work and strive to learn and grow.  Is that true for others?

How often do we focus our work and efforts on the weaknesses and errors rather than what is working well?  What if we flipped this around?  Could we accept the challenge?  What can we do so illuminate our learners’ bright spots?  How can we offer our learners tangible evidence of success? … every learner!

One of my students, MR, says

“I think that the formative assessments are great!!  They really help me to study and they help me to know what will be on the tests and what I need to further study! Knowing that level three is the target level, always giving us a goal to strive for and to study for is great!”

CH writes

“I truly believe the formative assessments are helpful for using as study guides for tests. I use them as study guides and I learn from my mistakes through them. I do like the fact that they are not graded because it takes the pressure off of taking them and makes me believe it is okay if you do not know the material at first. They are really helpful for going back and looking at what I missed, and then ask you for help on those questions. Having the four levels really helps because I know what levels I need to work on so that I can keep moving up to a higher level.”

Worth repeating:

makes me believe it is okay if you do not know the material at first.”

Bright spot!

Non-graded assessment opportunities, yes, but what else can we do to offer our learners tangible evidence of success?  Can we build a list?  Can you brainstorm with me?

Here’s our list, so far…

  • Promote listening and communicating with all by offering learners the opportunity to backchannel. (Be brave! What will they discuss?) – Help learners have a voice in a community.  Facilitate guided opportunities for all to have a voice and to have the opportunity to reflect and review the thinking of the team.  When others repeat, respond, and add to your idea, you have tangible evidence of success.
  • Encourage publishing thoughts and ideas for feedback and review from others by offering learners the opportunity to blog.  Model taking risks.  Help your learners publish.  Model sharing and collaborative learning.  When others repeat, respond, and add to your idea, you have tangible evidence of success.

Also worth repeating:

Model taking risks.  Model sharing and collaborative learning.

What have you found that offers learners tangible evidence of success?

And…don’t forget…you are a learner, too.

PBL Field Guide: Where are you starting?

I’m reading Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).  This field guide encourages the user to focus on and record details that matter.  Blogging these reflections is strongly encouraged.

The first reflection asks “Where are you starting?” [p. 10]

  • Where are you starting your journey?  Why?
  • If you have already used the project approach with students, what did you like or dislike?
  • What would you like to learn to do better in the future?
  • Do you have regular opportunities to collaborate with colleagues?
  • Where do you turn first to sound out new ideas for your classroom?

Our Learning for Life vision statement calls for six essential actions in our community to embrace the challenges and opportunities for 21st century teaching and learning.

  • Integrated Studies – Studies that integrate rather than separate
  • PBL – Problems that require critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration
  • 21st Century Learning Environments – Schedules and Spaces that fit learning
  • PLC/Critical Friends – Teachers in teams supporting learning and innovation
  • Balanced Assessment – Assessments and Feedback that promote learning and growth
  • Global Citizenship – Content and Relationships that connect us to the larger world and the world to us

I have been using pbl in the math since 1996.  In 1996, I was appointed as the laptop program coordinator at The Kiski School.  I embarked on a journey to develop real-world data collection lessons for our learners to search for data online to mathematically model data, real data.  See Phases of the Moon…Middle School Connections with Trigonometry and Science, Stopping Distances, and Turnpikes, Toll Roads, Express Lanes as three examples.

Since 2010, Bo Adams and I have been facilitating a PBL course called Synergy for our 8th grader learners.  Synergy is an interdisciplinary, non-departmentalized, non-graded, community-issues, problem-solving course.  See Synergy 8 Update – Week 3, Synergy 8 Update – Week 3, Part II…Game Plans from Bo’s blog It’s About Learning, Synergy: a course I’d love to take, then teach from J. Burk’s blog Quantum Progress, and Synergy: Complexity~Simplicity, Collaboration & Brainstorming from my blog.

I like teaching with inquiry and data collection through projects because of the engagement, interest, and questions from my learners.  They are in control of the curriculum.  A book does not bind their learning.  Their questions lead to new questions and new learning.  They find application of what is to be learned.  I like that my classroom is student-centered, conversational, loud and active.  Learners feel empowered to ask and answer questions.  Watch our learners in actions (Synergy 8 Update – Week 3, Part II…Game Plans and Synergy: Complexity~Simplicity, Collaboration & Brainstorming) to have a glimpse of how in charge of their learning they have become now that they are in a PBL course.

Bo and I continue to work on assessment and feedback for our learners.  The same is true for our Algebra I team.  We are working on a formative assessment plan for our learners to help them level up in the skills and competencies of our essential learnings.  For examples of our rubrics see:

We have a good start, but assessment and feedback is an important area of learning for my teams and me.

Bo and I serve as the co-directors of our Professional Learning Communities (PLC), which provides us daily and weekly opportunities to collaborate with colleagues.  I meet daily with the math and science teachers in the Junior High.  Bo and I meet weekly with the JH English, JH History, and JH Language teachers.  We also co-facilitate the PLC Facilitators PLC.  We regularly sound out ideas for essential learnings, projects, lessons, pedagogy, and assessment in these team meetings.

The Algebra I team practices pbl as a team and conducts peer observations as a form of lesson study.  See Beginnings of Lesson Study ~ We rather than me and Lesson Study, Observation 2.0, Algebra I, Jet Plane for examples.  Bo and I plan, implement, and debrief regularly to improve and hone our skills.  Our most important team of collaborators is comprised of our Synergy learners.  As a 26-member team, we learn together.  We brainstorm ideas and strategies together.  We give each other feedback.

So, that’s where I am… Where are you on your PBL journey?   How have you constructed your support and learning team?  Who and/or where do you turn for motivation?  Who serves as your sounding board?  How are you using current pedagogy and technology tools to learn by doing?


Boss, Suzie, and Jane Krauss. Reinventing Project-based Learning:  Your Field Guide to Real-world Projects in the Digital Age. Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education, 2007. Print.

Translating Rubric Scores When You Have To…

I work and learn with several teams using rubrics to promote learning and growth.  We have been working to translate our 4-point rubric scores to the 100-point scale required by our school.

It is that time of year.  We want to report our learners’ progress to their parents, Grade Chairs, and other important members of their learning teams.  While we understand the 4-point rubric score and what it means in terms of a child’s learning and growth, we feel that it is necessary to report their progress in more traditional terms.

We know that a single number can never represent the unique progress and learning of a child.  We include a written comment with this number to provide additional information and evidence of learning.  See the following blog posts for more information about these comments.

But, for now…We must have that single number.

We have worked together to develop a plan.  We started by studying Classroom Assessment & Grading that Work and Transforming Classroom Grading by Robert J. Marzano.  As a team, we have analyzed student work to calibrate our understanding of the rubric and how we score student work.

In Transforming Classroom Grading we read and studied Chapter 5. Assigning Final Topic Scores and Computing Grades and Appendix D: The Power Law Formula.

We investigated the following conversions by scoring student work and then analyzing the following scales to determine which scale most closely aligns with the team’s thinking about a score out of 100 points.

We looked at this data graphically.  We wanted to see how a power function looked on the data.

Looking at Scale 1…
4 translates to 100, 3 translates to 90, 2 translates to 75, and 1 translates to 60.

It appears that a power function would fit the data.

It appears that this power function would over estimate the team’s rubric score of 2 when converted to the 100-point scale.  Would there be another function that might fit better?  Should we adjust the translations?  We tried another type of function.

This is the same data – no adjustment in the translation – but we used a logistic model rather than a power function.  Interesting, huh?

Looking at Scale 2…
4 translates to 100, 3 translates to 90, 2 translates to 75, and 1 translates to 65.

Power Function:
 Logistic Function:

Looking at Scale 3…
4 translates to 100, 3 translates to 88, 2 translates to 73, and 1 translates to 65.

Power Function:

Logistic Function:

Numerically, the logistic function more closely converts our 4-point rubric scores to our agreed upon 100-point scale translation than the power function.

You are welcome to make a copy of our 4-Point Conversion E-PLC  or 4-Point Conversion S-PLT Google spreadsheet and investigate for yourself.

This is where we are today.  We have decided which of these scales works for our teams.  We have calibrated our understanding and use of our rubrics.  We have investigated these conversion tables numerically, graphically, and analytically.  We have agreed to use the same conversion table to represent our learners’ work and progress.

This is a work in progress.  We would love to know how you translate your rubric scores to the 100-point scale.

Completing the Square / Leading by Following

On Saturday, September 17, Bo Adams and I were privileged to provide the keynote address for the 2011 Regional T³/MCTM Annual Conference.  Conference Director Jennifer Wilson facilitated a wonderfully effective learning opportunity for teachers, administrators, pre-service teachers, college professors, and others.

From the beginning, the program cover-art fascinated Bo and me. The conference theme was “Completing the Square,” and the image pictured a puzzle with a missing piece in the center. To build our keynote address, Bo and I imagined what that missing puzzle piece might be that would truly complete the square. Additionally, we threaded our talk with the idea of Leading by Following.

Believing in the powerful nature of stories, Bo and I told four stories to illuminate some puzzling issues facing educators today:

Puzzle 1: Why do we talk so much of teaching when it’s about LEARNING? Or… “How could they not know this?” [Assessment for Learning]

Puzzle 2: How can we make learning experiences more meaningful? Or… “When are we gonna use this?” [Contextual Learning]

Puzzle 3: Why are teachers and admin “US and THEM” when we all want our students to learn? Or… “You are a fool!” [Learning Partners]

Puzzle 4: Why is teaching an “egg crate culture” when we know learning is social? Or… “WE are smarter than ME.” [Learning Communities]

What do you think the missing piece might be? What completes the square? The following slide deck will lead you on the path that we explored during the keynote. We loved being in this community of learners at Brandon Middle School. It is always a privilege and pleasure to spend time learning with committed and curious educators.

Cross-posted with Bo Adams on his blog, It’s About Learning.

Enrichment…Intervention…Benefits of the 4-Point Rubric

Our team has been immersed in creating formative assessments, assessments for learning.  We have been developing these assessments based on the work of Tom Guskey, Rick Stiggins, Jan Chappius, Doug Reeves, Bob Marzano and many more.

We have tried to convert

Level 1: beginning,
Level 2: progressing,
Level 3: proficient or
Level 4: exceptional

to kid-friendly, kid-understandable language.  We have been saying…Level 3 is the target; it is where we want you to be as Algebra I learners.  Think of Level 1 as what should have learned as 6th graders and Level 2 as what was learned as 7th graders.  Level 4 is a blend of Algebra II and Algebra I Honors.  Level 4 is the stuff that you will see later in your math career; it is the challenge for those ready for more.  While not totally accurate, it has helped our young learner understand and gauge how much work needs to be done.

These descriptions worked well as long as we were learning about linear functions.  These descriptions failed me this week.  My descriptions failed us this week.  Modeling learning, we try again.  Here’s the new attempt.

Level 1:  I’m getting my feet wet.
Level 2:  I’m comfortable with support.
Level 3:  I’m confident with the process.
Level 4:  I’m ready for the deep end.

The progression of the images and ideas speak to me and to the 2 teachers and 4 students that worked with me on this after school.  We start off seeing the ocean, but we are only willing to get our feet wet.  We are getting our feet wet.  In the kiddie pool we can experiment with getting soaked.  We are comfortable in the water but need and want lots of support.  In the deep end of the big pool we can swim confidently.  Back in the ocean we can maneuver without as much support.  Lifelong learning and teamwork tell us that there will always be more to explore, and we will always need to be careful in the deep end.  We won’t abandon all of our support and safety.

There are multiple ideas and benefits to these formative assessments.

  • Our learners have a much clearer way to gauge their success on meeting the standard for each essential learning.  They self-assess their level with these formative assessments; they have immediate feedback on what they should know and where they are in the process.
  • Questions are much clearer; we now communicate using a common language.  No longer to we field “I don’t get it.”  I cannot say this with enough emphasis.  We NEVER hear “I don’t get it.  I ‘m lost.”  We are asked “I am at level 2, will you help me get to level 3?”  “I have learned that I’m at level 3; how do I get to level 4?”  Even better, QB dropped by after school and said “Ms. Gough, I understand the distributive property, but I’m still having trouble when I multiply two binomials, can you help me?”  And the follow-up question was “Okay, now tell me does this show good work?  Am I communicating my ideas?  And are my conventions good too?  How is my organization?”  WOW!
  • Learners are motivated to level up.  Differentiation is not only possible it is motivating.   MR – very quiet, hardly every speaks unless called on – started talking to me in the hall when she was 2 classrooms away from me.  “Ms. Gough, I got the level 4 problems last night!  I had to use your work on the webpage, but I now understand and can do it myself!”  ER said “Me too.  I’m now at level 3 because I could work with your work.”  Both learners feel success even though they are not working at the same level.
  • Homework is differentiated based on level.  Students now have some choice in their homework.  We post our homework in levels; you can see it on the table of specifications in the document below or on our webpage.  One of my teammates, @bcgymdad, says it best.  He asks his learner – we all do now – to try the first three problems from the next level.  “Say you are at level 2; start with the level 3 homework.  If you struggle too much with the first three problems, then drop back to level 2 and do that homework.  But try, try to level up.  Challenge yourself; you can do it.  We will help you.”
  • Intervention and enrichment are now easier and often self-directed.  Our learners how have choice in their learning and direction for how to improve.  We are very clear.  Everyone must get to level 3 in order to be proficient in our course.  We are offering enrichment and intervention at the same time.  When we individualize face-to-face one-on-one instruction, we answer the learner’s questions.  They tell us where they are and where they want to go.  With intervention, we sometimes have to direct their questions, but at least we are doing that on an individual basis rather than in whole group discussion.

Here’s the specific formative assessment my learners are discussing.

The benefits to the teacher, the lead facilitator of learning, seem huge.  The benefits to the learners seem huge too.  I’d love to know what you think.  We, my team, would love to know what you think.

As @thadpersons asks:  What speaks to you about this?  What do you want to know more about?