Summer PD Series: Collaborative Assessments and Better Rubric Making

My Post

My second round of leading professional development this summer centered on improving career and technical education (CTE) teachers’ approach to rubric creation for various projects and assignments in their classrooms. Today’s post maps out the lesson I used and much like the last post on building relationships with students, explains some of the ‘why’ behind my pedagogical moves.

This post will be of particular interest to anyone interested in accessing a plug-and-play rubric tool and gaining insight into improve a rubrics relevance and specificity to their classroom.

Designing good rubrics is a daunting task for all educators both new and veteran. Many teachers develop a go-to strategy for developing a rubric that suits their needs, but even then that strategy can be rife with misinformation or poor design. Likely even more common is what I used to do in my early years of teaching–type a search into Google and pray a link popped up to serve my needs or at least make creating a rubric easier. Honestly, I relate it almost to living paycheck to paycheck. I really undeserved my students doing things this way for many years. That’s not to say all my rubrics were bad or that I did not learn from my mistakes, but I have discovered there are more purposeful ways to develop rubrics that take care of the teacher and the learner.

While there is no panacea of making great rubrics consistently, there are a few tried and true tactics and considerations all teachers should adhere to when designing rubrics. Below is a full map of the lesson I presented in a 90 minute time frame (to mimic block teaching).

Building Better Rubrics through Collaboration and a Focus on Standards

Resources: Creating and Recognizing Quality Rubrics, Edutopia, How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading 

Objective: Provide teachers with rubric making strategies and tools and to reinforce the importance of using standards to drive rubrics and assessment.

Essential Question: What is the value and purpose of rubric making in my classroom as it pertains to standards and assessment?


Opening (5 Min)–As participants enter the classroom, each grabs a piece of card stock, folds it “hotdog style,” then writes their name and what they teach underneath their name.

The Why: This allows me to call my participants by their names immediately as well as easily group them for an activity where they need to work with teachers of a similar subject.

Do Now (15 Min)

Participants read assigned article (“What Makes a Good Rubric”) and select one quote from the article that resonates with them. On a sheet of paper, they write down WHY the quote resonates with them.

Save the Last Word Protocol: Participants get into groups of four. One group member chooses a quotation from the text. The group takes turns responding to the quote and the person who choose the quote closes with a final reflection followed by a quick report out to the class.

The Why: I am starting the ‘class’ with a focus on literacy and priming the lesson with information to consider as participants work through the rest of the lesson. The article provides useful considerations of what makes for a good rubric. Save the Last Word provides a way for participants to workshop the reading and their thoughts collaboratively. I make this clear to teachers after completing the task, so they too might consider using a similar protocol and approach.

Special Note: Before continuing I make sure that during the report out I ‘cold call’ (pick a random participant) a person to share his or her group’s insights; then I ask for a volunteer to share his or her group’s insights; and finally, I open it up to any individuals who want to contribute their thoughts. This typical makes for better formative assessment, and I can redirect as needed.

Steps & Model (20 min)

Now it is time to model and provide the steps necessary to move forward. Here are the steps I walked through with the participants:

  1. Teachers group into similar courses, using their name tents to reassign themselves.
  2. Explore commonly shared standards. In this case, my career and technical education teachers focused on looking at employability skills which have shared standards for almost all CTE courses.
    • Participants are asked, without looking them up, to name their shared standards.
    • After given time to think and write down their answers, they share what they believe to be their shared standards as they written on the board.
    • The written standards are then revealed on tool I developed for the teachers to help them build their own rubrics.
    • Note: This is not meant to be a n “I got you,” but rather a way to affirm that either we need to be more aware of our standards, or we are more aware than we give ourselves credit for. As the reading points out, a good, quality rubric must clearly connect to standards.
  3. Collaboratively critique and adjust sample rubric covering ‘employability skills’
    • Hopefully, participants recognize my model for leveling performance on a standard (seen below) is too generic and not nearly specific enough to be clear and understandable to a student. The model is really meant to demonstrate parallel structure when writing up a rubric.

rubric14. Use refined rubric components to develop personal rubrics founded in standards w/ small group; practice creating learning targets (“I can” statements) and creating descriptive language for each level for one employability standard.

  • The emphasis here is on the “I can” statements as learning goals where a standard become far more focused, relevant, and clear to a student about what he or she should learn and accomplish in order to achieve proficiency or higher on a standard.

The Why: Here I want to emphasize the importance of knowing your standards and how teachers can make those standards accessible to students in a rubric. The “I can” statements show a direct correlation to a standard and aids a teacher in developing their levels of student performance for that standard. For example, if a standard reads that a students should be able to effectively communicate through writing and speaking, the “I can” statement should be tailored to what the teacher is focusing on for that particular project, task, or assignment. If it’s a career research assignment, the “I can” statement might become “I can effectively write a researched career report and deliver an effective summer of what I researched in a class presentation.” Now the learning target is connected to the standard, is succinct, and says in rather plan language what is expected.

Practice and Transfer Ownership (40 min)

Nearly the entire last half of the lesson/session is dedicated to developing a useful tool for my participants’ classroom in the fall, using the spreadsheet I developed as a model, teachers could make their own copy to manipulate and use to plug in their own standards. (Note: to use the tool, you need to be signed into Google and then make your own copy of it.) To guide the effort, I asked participants to do the following:

  1. Select a ‘tried and true’ project to be used in the upcoming school year OR choose a new project possibility to drive the selection of standards and the learning targets associated to be associated with the rubric.
  2. Either independently or collaboratively develop an standards driven rubric  based on the selected project or assignment. 
  3. Briefly share creations as a gallery walk, inviting both critique and celebration for rubrics (whatever stage they are in).

The Why: I need participants to get at least some application to feel comfortable when approaching making rubrics a bit more strategically with standards and learning targets at the forefront. By selecting a familiar project or assignment, connecting standards and creating learning targets should be much more accessible for a teacher. Teachers who teach the same or similar subjects have a chance to genuinely collaborate and share ideas. The gallery walk is a cherry on top, so teachers can feel supported and have feedback from multiple sources.

Closing & Summary (10 min)

The debrief includes asking the question of the group, “What must be done in order for the creation of successful rubrics to be done?” Participants can answer this question on a Padlet or sticky notes, or if short on time, a quick share out is okay too.

The Why: The question brings the point of the lesson into focus and asks participants to connect their experience to the reading from earlier and beyond. It’s a nice formative assessment as well where I can see where participants are getting or not getting the major concepts.

Final Reflection:

Honestly, both sessions I led did not quite turn out as a planned, but I have no issue with that. I changed the pacing from the first session to the second session, and I rearranged some of my talking points for clarity sake, which is really no different than what we all do from class period to class period with students.

There were some thought provoking questions–one of which I really enjoyed getting pushback on. A few teachers voiced that sometimes, a standard they are measuring really can only be in two categories–a student did it or a student didn’t. I had argued that much like coaching an athlete, there is always a scale that can measure progress as we ‘coach’ kids up. The pushback came from one of the teachers voicing that there is simply no way we can scale or measure ethics beyond either a kid did act ethically or they didn’t. (For context, there is a shared standard for CTE teachers that focuses on integrity and ethical behavior in the workplace.) This teacher was right (mostly) that we do not want to go down a slippery slope of parsing out ethics (i.e. “Well, you only plagiarized a part of your paper, so you can still have that proficient grade for that standard.”) In my response I acknowledged his statement and agreed. I instead questioned if ethical behavior should be “assessed” in our classroom and school rules rather than in a rubric (i.e. plagiarism, when committed, results in an immediate consequence such as a zero for the work and forgoes being addressed in a rubric all together.)

The other reality is I did not get to the gallery walk nor the planned closing in either session. To my teachers’ credit, they were wrestling with and working on their new rubric tools to the very end. I can at least say the “bell to bell” instruction was there with participants working past the end time in both sessions.

What I really want to do is poll those teachers to see how many of them end up using the tool this fall, and/or how they purposefully connect standards and learning targets to their rubrics. I won’t have a formal way of doing this, but I will encounter these teachers throughout the year, so I can at least ask informally. An adjustment for next time might be to collect names digitally, so I can follow up through email with participants.

Overall, I still have to think about how to make the session more effective, but I can at least say that it could easily be a 120 minute session for teachers to walk out with a usable product.

Want more resources to think about your own rubric making?

Tame the Beast: Tips for Designing and Using Rubrics

Jon Mueller’s Authentic Assessment Toolbox

Creating and Recognizing Quality Rubrics (Book)

How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading (Book)

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