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The Problem with Rubrics in Project Based Learning

I am a big fan of rubrics. However, rubrics well crafted and “rubrics” for the sake of rubrics are two totally different categories. In fact, I’ve come to believe that some teachers simply pass out a rubric because they have been compelled that this is simply protocol. The picture included with this post is a case in point.

My daughter’s “Physical Property Poster” is an assignment that I won’t even begin to break down the total shortcomings. On the one hand, a low-level Bloom’s busy work assignment it is. You can tell from the categories. Simply listing the physical properties and the definitions don’t do anything to inspire going deep into the inquiry process. Colorful illustrations don’t qualify for the level of creativity that the new Bloom’s chart requires. However, I want to focus on the rubric aspect of the assignment. This “rubric” that is merely a checklist.

I’m trying desperately to figure out how the things listed on this rubric qualify for the criteria of a well executed project. There is no statement of purpose or function. There are no quality standard descriptors. If my daughter had not received full points in each of the categories, I would not, nor would she, have had any idea as to why. How could her 6th grade science teacher have made it a more useful document? (All flaws in the overall assignment, aside.)

A step above this would have to been to actually define the criteria. She could have easily listed a four point scale that provided detailed descriptions of each level. That would have been better. However, it would not have been enough. She could have also gone the route of having the students help her to craft the rubric and the descriptors for each criterion. This would have at least provided the students with a voice in the process and would have promoted ownership in the completion of the project.

I would, however, like to advocate for a step further in the creation of rubrics. Single point rubrics, if you haven’t heard of them, are an excellent way to provide feedback and allow for student growth. Here’s a detailed post from the Cult of Pedagogy that explains the use of the single point rubric.  The single point rubrics are actually easy to develop. You simply need to list the specific criterion for each category that sets the standard. However, in using a single point rubric, teachers are now required to complete a detailed response to how the project falls short of or exceeds the standard. The data is much more useful for grading purposes (standards based or otherwise) and, more importantly, is much more useful for the learner. In fact, using the single point rubric at various stages in the project provides multiple opportunities to elicit feedback and engage in reflection and revision of the work. The single point rubric could also be used for feedback from multiple perspectives. Think about the use of peers, teachers, and experts, in this case. Thus, the goal would be to have all learners exceeding the standards at the conclusion of every project. It also creates a space to use the data to inform instruction throughout the project. What learners are falling short and how can you specifically meet their needs?

The next time you develop a project, or better yet, co-construct an authentic and relevant project with your learners, try the single point rubric method and let me know the results.

Posted in Assessment.

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