Upgrading a Rubric based on Purpose and Audience

Guest Post By: Eric Simpson
Eric Simpson is secondary English Language Arts Coordinator at Lewisville ISD in Texas.

Two words permeated our three days with Lead21: purpose and audience.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs opened the pre-conference with a 21st century definition of literacy:

“A literate person knows the genre to choose to convey their purpose.”

We want to expand the way kids share ideas, and get their message in front of authentic audiences. Every session emphasized that 21st Century is not about the tools, but rather about upgrading the student learning.

Allison Zmuda reminded us, “this is not instead of curriculum — it is your curriculum.” Janet Hale and Michael Fisher framed their charge to upgrade one unit of curriculum around authentic communication. Without authentic purpose and authentic audience, there cannot be meaningful transformation in student learning.

These three days really culminated for me in revisiting the rubric. When thinking about a curriculum upgrade for 8th grade ELA, research units immediately spring to mind. We struggle as a discipline to get past the monolith that is the middle grade research paper. Perhaps the research paper is a poor artifact of learning for our students if we are really trying to assess a students ability to use sources of information outside themselves to grow in thinking and communicate a message they value. For middle schoolers, the research paper represents an archaically narrow view of literacy, which makes this unit ripe for upgrade.

I began the upgrade looking at our 8th grade, Unit 3, Stage 1 desired results.

Our transfer goals for that unit are that students will be able to independently use their learning to:

  • use others’ ideas to support their own claim;
  • formulate personal arguments supported by examples; and
  • analyze persuasive elements across genres using text evidence for interpretations.

Our desired results are open enough to allow transformation through Media Literacy, so I can focus on instructional approach. Using an infographic, like Piktochart, allows students to build skill in both receptive and generative capability in Media Literacy. For the infographic, I concentrated on the first two learning outcomes, but I think I’ll be able to gather significant formative assessment regarding the third outcome while observing students as they work with their sources.

With our first two transfer goals in mind, students could showcase their learning with new media in an authentic way, and make some pretty sophisticated choices to achieve their purposes. They will need to work with traditional texts for their research, but they are also going to benefit from exploring a host of other media to inform their arguments. Then they are going to have to synthesize what they find into a new medium, and determine the most engaging and persuasive way for an audience to encounter their information. Most importantly, I want the evidence to highlight the students’ facility with research.

I modeled my rubric after viewing an infographic rubric from Christy Taylor at Cache Mid-High School, in Cache, Oklahoma, but made some important changes:

  1. I didn’t want the rubric to be a source of point manufacturing that would emphasize the grade over the quality of student work, so I removed the numerical values associated with the gradations of mastery.
  2. I also added a fourth column to make the feedback to the student clearer; with no middle column, we won’t be inclined to sit-on-the-fence.
  3. I liked the way the rubric described a quality infographic, but since the focus of the student learning will be using research with a persuasive purpose, I’ve decided to imbed all the design elements into that persuasive lens. This will help students make purposeful decisions while approaching this assessment, and notice these elements in the sources they investigate in their researchers. Heidi and Allison pointed out during their rubric session, “Good rubrics help students notice effective qualities more in other media.”

I used the language from our Stage 2 documents to sketch a rough draft of the highest end of mastery for each category. I went ahead and filled out the other columns on two of the categories to capture a representation of my thinking during the process, and those examples can serve as a jumping off point when I come together with my teachers, or share the rubric with students. Here is the current state of the rubric.

“Gaining Advantage” Infographic Rubric Performance Level 4 Performance Level 3 Performance Level 2 Performance Level 1
Present claim Student: Formulates of a clear claim based upon their independent research Student: Presents claim, but claim lacks clarity of purpose (parts are missing, remains too broad, sits on the fence etc.). Student: Has statement that resembles a claim, but claim isn’t the primary message communicated. Student: Does not state a claim.
Construct Research Plan Student: Determines guiding research questions to locate evidence in support of their argument. Student: Identifies types of information that relates to their argument, but fails to investigate holes in their knowledge. Student: Compiles information related to their issue, but without clear relation to their purpose. Student: Conducts research without purpose in mind.
Interpret and Evaluate Sources Student: Evaluates media messages for bias, rhetorical devices and logical fallacies. Analyzes sources and selects verifiable information to enhance credibility. Interprets source in relation to their claim.
Incorporate Outside Ideas in Support of Claim Student: Use ideas of others to support their own claim. Blending text evidence into writing. Summarizing, paraphrasing, and directly quoting sources to enhance effectiveness of message.
Blend Graphics and Writing Student: Graphics are related to the topic, match the facts, and make the research easier to understand. The infographic is accessible, and exceptionally attractive in terms of design and organization.
Use Personal Perspective To Persuade Audience Student: Transitions between personal and research perspectives to connect with audience. Uses variety of personal appeals.
Consider Specific Audience Student: Anticipating objections to their position, and creating responses to objections. Attributing source of information in a way beneficial to audience. Adjusting arguments to increase credibility. Identify gaps and revise with specific audience in mind.

Heidi and Allison assert that the best rubrics are formed when students and teachers work together to produce criteria based off their mutual values. This may be the most significant shift for me in my consideration of rubrics: any rubric I create in isolation can only be a model for others to base their work upon. Students and teachers will need to study infographics together, and make some decisions about what makes the genre most effective. Only then can teachers come together and tweak the wording to represent what’s most valuable to them as they go through the learning process.

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