What Does Level 4 Mean? Making better rubrics.

A couple of years ago I was teaching Géographie to the French Immersion students at my school. I had just recently attended a workshop by Garfield Gini-Newman on Critical Thinking skills and was trying to approach my Geography curriculum through questions that would require my students to think critically.

My tests changed to open-ended essay questions in order to allow students to show me their own learning based on the investigations they undertook in class (which may have been different from the student sitting next to them). But I discovered that they were not very good at answering open-ended questions. They kept giving me short answers, with no real explanation or justification and often repeated the same idea multiple times using different words. In my search for a remedy, I discovered the 11-sentence paragraph which looks like this:

Opening sentence
Paragraph 1 (3 sentences):
1st point
Explanation w/ more detail
Paragraph 2:
2nd point
Explanation w/ more detail
Paragraph 3:
3rd point
Explanation w/ more detail
Concluding sentence

After working on this answer structure, my students’ marks increased significantly because it prompted them to really explain their thinking and justify it with specific examples from what we’d been learning.

I’ve also used a similar type of idea when prepping my students for the grade 10 Ontario Literacy Test (a graduation requirement; and not just the English teacher’s job to get our students ready!). For the short paragraph answers, I encourage them to write their answer in this format:

Full sentence answer that contains the question within it. Because . . . . For example . . . .

In reading through the summative projects for one of my non-Math classes this past week, I realize that I did not spend enough time teaching them HOW to express their knowledge in order to get a level 4 (highest level of achievement). For example, in their exit interview, my students were asked the following question:

How have you used teamwork to become a better leader this year?

Many gave vague, broad-sweeping statements such as “teamwork is really important because, without each of us helping, we couldn’t run the events that we do”. While true, this sort of answer doesn’t tell me much about their personal teamwork experience, nor does it explain how teamwork made them a better leader than if they had done it alone.

I should have taught them the 11-sentence paragraph. Or spent more time on the “answer … because … for example …” format (because we actually did cover this one in class).  And also my rubric should have reflected this. Here is the rubric (well, a checkbric really) that I used: Capture

The descriptors are those given in the curriculum documents themselves. But I’m not sure it really tells the students what a level 4 answer entails. Not that you have to give away the answer to the question, but they should know what a “considerable” response entails in order to get a level 3. In math class I teach my students through exemplars; we assess solutions together (moderated marking) as a class so that we all have a clear understanding of what each level of achievement looks like.

Here is what I will use as a rubric next time:Capture

So now there will be no question about what I am looking for in their answers.

I know it’s a busy time of year with exams and summatives to mark as well as prepping our new classes for Monday, but I think it’s so important for us to take time also to reflect on what worked and what didn’t this past semester. So as I complete my marking, I also write “next time …” notes to myself to remind me of how I can improve based on what I’m observing now.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Idea Boards & “Reworking the Piece”

My student-teacher is finishing up her month of practicum in my classroom. On the one hand, having a student-teacher adds to my workload in that I spend a lot of time coaching them through their lesson planning, observing their teaching, and then giving them feedback. On the other hand, while I’m in the classroom quietly observing I can sometimes work on other little projects that I don’t usually have the time for.

This time around, my project was to create an “idea board” for activity types to be implemented in my classroom. It’s nothing fancy (I am a math teacher after all, not art!). Here’s a look at the idea board I’ve created on the inside of a cupboard door in my classroom:


On the left is a column of ideas for my bellwork activities. On the right are 3 columns of main lesson/activity types. I have somewhat organized those into; sharing of ideas or products (left), consolidation of learning/concepts (middle), and learning, investigating, exploring & working (right).

My hope is that I’ll refer to this in order to avoid the old chalkNtalk type lessons.

For example, I was creating a lesson last night about the ways in which graphs can be misleading for MAP4C (gr.12 college math). After an hour of work looking for good examples and explanations accessible to my grade 12 college students, I came up with a 2 page information handout that looks like this:


The plan was to have them read the information and then summarize in their own words. But as I drove home I thought “what a bad activity”; read & summarize. They won’t understand or remember any of the material. As the saying goes, “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand”. So with that thought in mind, and wanting to engage my students in activities that require them to think critically, I thought about the activity types on my idea board.

I chose to try a “Rework the Piece” activity. “Rework the Piece” is something I had done in the past, but was formally explained to me as a prompt for critical thinking by Garfield Gini-Newman. The idea is to have students transform a product in light of new information or a new perspective. So in addition to the 2 page handout with the information I will give my students, I created a task asking them to take an existing bar graph & transform it using any 2 of the methods outlined in the information document in order to have the graph deliver a different or misleading message. It looks like this:


Hopefully by requiring them to use the information in order to perform a task, they will better understand the concepts and how to apply them. I am always open to suggestions of ways to make my activities even better – hit me up in the comment section below with your ideas!

How could you use an idea board to help inspire your lesson planning?

I have since found this thread of blog posts by MathCurmodgeon showing graphs that distort the data that I plan to use for this topic of MAP4C the next time I teach the course:

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)