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Using Rubrics to Assist With Differentiation

Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on Thu, Apr 26, 2018
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Using Rubrics to Assist with Differentiation

If you are a teacher who struggles with giving quality feedback to students in an efficient manner, using a rubric may help. A well-written rubric can be an amazing classroom tool for both the teacher and the student. Even if you already use rubrics on a regular basis, some of these strategies may help to assist students in reaching higher levels of understanding.

Before I go through the steps of the differentiated rubric, I want to share a few things to not do when trying to challenge students. First, more work isn’t better work. I will sometimes read teacher rubrics that give a “superior” score for five examples and an “average” score for three examples. While at times this can make some sense (like using supporting evidence from the text), doing more of something doesn’t always make it better or deeper—it is just quantity and not quality. Second, don’t put too much in the rubric. We tend to overdo it sometimes for students in order to get “points” that we can put in the grade book. Don’t make the learning revolve around the grade, make the grade revolve around the learning. Finally, write the rubric so that it is as clear as possible. When students know what is expected, learning becomes visible and the mystery is taken away.

Creating a Rubric That Works for Your Classroom

For our purposes, we are using rubrics for more than just giving a grade or for providing feedback—we are actually using the rubric to help differentiate the learning going on in the classroom. Here is an example of how it could work:

  1. Determine the Learning Goals: These must be crystal clear in the mind of the teacher. They should align with standards, but standards should not be the goals themselves. A teacher might have to develop smaller goals along the way to achieve the bigger goal that is demonstrated in the standard. The learning goal typically starts with “The student will be able to…” What comes next is the cognitive verb or the level to which the student is expected to understand the content. Will the student “understand” the content, “analyze” the content, “demonstrate” the content, or “evaluate” the content? The verb that is used will determine the cognitive level that the student should get to while learning.

  2. Determine What the Learning Goal Looks Like at a Deeper Level: If the rubric being used follows a 1, 2, 3 format, the original learning goal would be a 2. The higher-level learning goal would be a 3 and the lower goal could be a 1. For the level 3, the teacher can simply increase the rigor of the original goal. If all students are expected to “compare governmental structures in three countries in South America,” then students who have already mastered that goal could have the learning goal of “evaluate governmental structures in three countries in South America.” Students would then have to provide supporting arguments as to why one structure is better than another, which is a deeper and more challenging task.

  3. Determine What the Learning Goal Looks Like at a Lower Level: And finally, for students who may struggle with these concepts, the lowest level of 1 could be to “identify/name governmental structures in three countries in South America.” Another option for this could be to do the higher learning goal, but with support from an adult in the classroom.

As students move through the progressions of learning, they build on the skills that they have already learned. All types of students can have their needs met by giving more rigor to the tasks. Notice that another option for the South America example could be to compare two, three, or even five countries. This type of differentiation works to broaden the exposure of the student without requiring them to think any deeper.

Getting Your Students Involved

One of the best ideas to create clear learning goals is to involve the students in the rubric creation. Students who can help to generate the rubrics understand what is being asked and should be able to name the criteria for success.

It can be hard to write a rubric well, but when we do, it can allow for amazing learning conversations and a deeper level of learning than ever before. These rubrics don’t equate to grades very easily, and that is by design. It isn’t about earning a “grade,” it is about deepening the learning.

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