Tag Archives: 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.

Leading Learners to Level Up #MICON12

On Wednesday, June 13, Bo Adams and Jill Gough are  facilitating a session at The Martin Institute’s 2012 Conference (#MICON12 on Twitter) on formative assessment entitled Leading Learners to Level Up.

Leveled formative assessment that offers learners the ability to calibrate understanding with expectations and, at the same time, shows the path to the next level will improve learning and teaching. Use assessment to inform learners where they are on the learning spectrum, where the targets are, and how to level up.

Leading Learners to Level Up (Framework plans) [50 minutes]

  1. Formative Assessment presentation [15 minutes]
  2. Examples of Leveled Formative assessments
    1. Algebra: Linear Functions, Slope [5 minutes]
    2. Synergy: Essential Learnings, Observation Journals [5 minutes]
    3. SMART Goals and other PLC examples [5 minutes]
  3. Use PollEverywhere to decide the next step:  many individual/pair workshopped rubrics or mini individual workshopped rubric to then share out to whole group (like faculty web presence; group work – engaged participation) [5 minutes]
  4. Participant workshop time to develop leveled assessment for use with learners   [10 minutes + 10 minutes to share out & wrap up]

[Cross-posted at It’s About Learning]

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.

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.

Formative Assessment: Feedback and Action

In Synergy, Bo and I have asked our learners to complete a couple of standing assignments each week in lieu of traditional homework assignments.  One of the standing assignments is to make observations, ask questions, and think about why things are they way they are.  We ask that our learners post their observations to a common place so that we can learn from each other and find common ground of interest in our community.  (You cannot see our common space because it is password protected.  I wish you could see how interesting and varied our learners observations and questions are.) The standing assignment is to post 2-3 observations per week on our common site.

Here’s the progression of assignments and formative assessment:

The first formative assessment was launched on Wednesday, August 31.  Notice that it is not graded; it is just a check-up.  Review your observations journal posts and do a quick count.

This week we issued a more formal formative assessment as shown in the class plans.

This lesson integrates observation journaling with data collection.  It is our hope – our plan – that we will use their observations to help identify the next projects/problems we want to tackle.  We have collected lots of data and now is the time to organize the data and search for trends. As shown in the class plan above, we asked our learners to review all of their posts, to count and tag them, and to self-assess their observation journals based on a rubric that we are developing.  We asked our learners to self-assess and graph their progress in 4 areas using 4-point rubrics.

Here are a couple of examples of graphs submitted by our learners:

Learner 1 Learner 2 Learner 3 This is formative assessment at its finest.  Each learner is informed in several ways.

  • Am I meeting the stated expectation for the number of posts?
  • How am I doing on each category in the Observation Journal rubric?  Is there an area where I am preforming at or above the stated expectations?  Is there an area where I can improve?
  • What action should I take now to do my part?

Bo and I are also informed. We see our Excel experts, our graphing experts, and our observation journal experts.  We have data and graphs to analyze.  We have the opportunity to differentiate – enrich and intervene – as needed by our learners.  

Our learners have taken action.  The expectations are clear.  The path to improve has been communicated.  As a team, we can take steps to improve, learn, and collaborate.  


  • How can this idea be translated into other classes?
  • Now that our learners carry MacBooks, how can we empower/challenge/charge them to take more ownership in charting their progress and growth?
  • Would this type of formative assessment experience spur learners to more/different/better action in traditional classrooms?
  • Would this type of formative assessment help the teacher to differentiate – intervene and enrich – quicker, easier, better?

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.

Rubrics, Feedback, and Learning

We have found a formative assessment plan for our Algebra I learners that is working for us.  We have always struggled with the idea of the generic 4-point rubric, because it didn’t give our learners enough feedback.  If you want to see some examples, you can search on formative assessment in the blog and find several. 

Our team has now begun to think about using the 4-point rubric to help our learners understand our expectations with regard to effort, listening, questioning, collaboration, homework completion and other non-graded skills that we want them have.  We have used the assessment below twice, once in February and then again in March.  Our learners level themselves and then write about their growth and areas where improvement can/should occur.

Only now have we started the process of using the document above to calibrate our perception with our student’s perception of these important topics.  Even without the calibration, my learners seem to use our rubric to help self-reflect and create action steps. 

The following is a reflection written by RM about her understanding in Algebra I on February 9, 2011.

“This semester I have really improved on helping others in the classroom. I feel like I now go around more to try and assist others who don’t have the right answer and don’t understand what’s going on. This makes me feel like I am really helping and participating in the classroom. I have started to ask more questions to Ms. Gough when I don’t completely understand what we are talking about and I ask my table mates first to see what they think. This is another way of better learning!! I feel like this is a great way to start off the semester.”

Then, a reflection written by RM about her understanding in Algebra I on March 17, 2011:

“During this semester I have learned new things and tried my best to comprehend them and apply them to everything that we do in class. During the course of this semester what has really helped me is during class after we have finished a problem we get up and help other people that don’t get it; this method has really helped me to find other peoples mistakes and repeat my knowledge of the lesson we are learning. Also during class when we finish problems we check with other people who think they are right but we did not get the same answer which helps you to either find what you have done wrong or find what the other person has done wrong and that is your chance to explain to them why they got something wrong or why that concept makes sense, both thing I have done this semester that really makes me more confident about what I know. During Office Hours when my friends and I do our homework we pull out our phones do a problem and then check it together, then we do what we do in class which is helping a friend if they didn’t get it right or they don’t understand.  The story above has really helped me when it comes to test day or as we sometimes call it in class “the championship game” which is when we show what we have learned that unit and apply it on the test. The things we do in class I feel makes me very confident and helps when we get to the test because I know that I know what was going on in class and that really helps me.”

I am thrilled to witness RM’s growth in knowledge and confidence.  The skill of comparing thinking to find a solution is incredibly powerful and important.  Wouldn’t it be nice if our country’s leaders would take the time to sit down with each other and hear what the other side thinks and learn from each other? One of RM’s greatest strengths is that she is willing to listen and consider another solution.  She is definitely a lead-learner in Algebra I, and she demonstrates this by her willingness to teach and to be taught by others. 

The following is a reflection written by SJ about his understanding in Algebra I in February.

“I think that my performance in math class since January 4, 2011 is pretty good, but could be better. I consistently focus on tasks, but I require occasional encouragement from Ms. Gough to do my work. I usually participate when working in groups. I ask questions most of the time when I need help, but I don’t really help others learn as much. I listen well in class and I think my questions keep myself and others engaged during class. I feel that most recently, I have hardly forgotten any homework and I usually complete deep practice. I believe that for formative assessments, I don’t prepare as much as I should. I am at a level 2 on every aspect except on the part that says “I do not get serious about my learning…”

And then, SJ’s reflection in March.

“I believe that I am constantly improving in math class. I have fun while getting better in your class. I struggle with doing well on the first chance tests. While I usually nail the second chance tests, I usually need the extra practice before the first chance tests to do better on those as well. For example, I got a really disappointing grade on the first chance test on factoring. I really went over that test and improved. I believe that I can be an honors level math student if I put my mind to it. I got a 92 on our last test. That is one of many examples of my mathematical abilities. I hope that I never stop learning and that from here I can only move forward.”

Isn’t it great to see how SJ has self-corrected since the middle of February?  In February, SJ wrote about how his performance could improve.  It has!  I am most impressed with SJ’s work on the polynomials test.  I loved his approach.  He worked in class to make most of his corrections.  The next morning he arrived before school with more questions.  In fact, he had highlighted notes that said ask “Ms. Gough about this.”  He was at level 2 in February and is now a solid level 3. 

The following is a reflection written by WAM about her understanding in Algebra I.

“So far in Algebra I this semester, I have learned a lot, but have also been challenged. I am almost always focused in class, and trying to finish the task at hand. Sometimes, my table team and I get distracted by each other, and get off task. Mrs. Gough encourages us to stay on topic, so we can learn more. In our class, we have many group activities, where we have to work as a team. I participate in these assignments, and help others if they do not understand. I have learned from these group activities that when my team is there to help me along the way, I learn the material better, and it is clearer. When I do not understand something, I ask my table members for help. If my team doesn’t know, I ask my other classmates, or Mrs. Gough. I know that when I ask questions, it helps me have a much better understanding. Also, to practice, and to learn, I do my homework. I do my homework every night, and come to Office Hours regularly to complete it. Sometimes, I forget to do deep practice, which is an opportunity that I should take. I know that doing deep practice helps to learn from your mistakes so you don’t make them again.  I always study and put my best effort into the first chance tests, and the formative assessments. I know that putting a lot of effort into them makes me understand what areas I need to work on. I like the fact that we can have a second chance test, because it makes you learn the concepts that you didn’t know when you took the first test. Over all, I have put in a lot of effort, and try my best to improve.”

And then her reflection in March:

“Since the last interim, I feel like I have improved a lot in Algebra.  I have started to take math more seriously, and focus on my studying. Before, I made good grades in math, but I think I was learning the material, but it wasn’t sticking with me. Now, I am trying to really understand the material, so that sticks with me.  Since then, I have tried to study my hardest to prepare for the first chance test, rather than using the second chance test as a comfort. When I go into the First Chance test with a mindset of thinking that my best and final work has to be now, I do better. If I try my best on the first chance test, then the second chance test is only used to make my understanding better, rather than a re-take of the test. In the first Interim, my first chance tests weren’t so great. The more answers I got incorrect on the first test, the more problems I had to redo on the second. The more problems I have to redo, the more likely I am to get some problems wrong. Lesson learned, put all your effort into the first time. Also, since the first interim, I have put more effort into my homework. Before, I rush through my homework, just so I could finish it.  I would sometimes do deep practice, but would frequently forget. I think that before I was being lazy with my homework. Now, I do my homework with more effort. I do each problem, then check the answers, and if I get it wrong, I keep trying it until I understand how.  Overall, I am putting more effort into the class, and more effort into my learning.”

I confirm that she is living what she has written.  While I think the algebra that we are learning is important, the lessons of effort and work ethic that WAM expresses above are much more valuable skills to learn.  I am very proud of her learning and her dedication to the learning of others. 

Once our expectations were clear, our learners begin to work to meet them. 

Isn’t it great that they talk about their 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?