Monday, July 19, 2010

Chappuis, Chapter 2: Where Are We Going?

In Chapter 1 of Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning, Chappuis presents readers with her seven strategies:
  1. Provide students with a clear and understandable vision of the learning target.
  2. Use examples and models of strong and weak work.
  3. Offer regular, descriptive feedback.
  4. Teach students to self-assess and set goals.
  5. Design lessons to focus on one learning target or aspect of quality at a time.
  6. Teach students focused revision.
  7. Engage students in self-reflection, and let them keep track of and share their learning. (Chappuis, 2009, p. 12)
In Chapter 2, Chappuis begins moving students to meaningful self assessment by establishing clear learning goals for them to pursue. She points out that strategies three through seven rely heavily on the first two - without successful implementation of the first two strategies, the rest will not be successful either.

Provide students with a clear vision of the learning target

For the first strategy, Chappuis (2009) gives three steps (p. 22).

1. Share the learning target with students

Many teachers I know, including myself, post learning targets for their students on a whiteboard/blackboard or towards the beginning of class with a digital projector. Yet often we make the mistake (myself included) of using eduspeak:
Today's Learning Goals:
  • EL.08.RE.05 Match reading to purpose--location of information, full comprehension, and personal enjoyment.
As soon as the student hits EL.08.RE.05, their attention turns elsewhere. Not to mention the whole "match reading to purpose" bit; I didn't learn what that meant until college, despite the fact I'd been doing it since I started reading.

2. Use language students understand

Instead, it would be much better to say:
Today we will learn:
  • How to determine a goal or purpose for reading a text: looking for information, understanding a point of view, or for entertainment.
Chappuis has some pointers when rephrasing a learning target. She suggests stating the goal within the sentence structure "I am learning to _____________" or "we are learning to ___________." She also states that teachers should identify words or phrases that need clarification for their age group and use a dictionary definition to help decide the best way to simplify them.

3. Introduce students to the language and concepts of the rubrics you use

Chappuis encourages the use of rubrics for all the learning goals. Taken at face value, this could seem painstaking at best and insurmountable at worst. However, Chappuis stresses that the rubric should be both general and descriptive; they should be applicable to different assignments and use "language that explains characteristics of . . . performance at increasing levels of quality" (p. 40).

In the past few years in the blogosphere, at least, rubics have gotten a bad rap. I have at least a couple unpublished drafts that defend the rubic, but I'm forced to make their case here. Good.

The firestorm started shortly after Alfie Kohn published "The Trouble with Rubrics" in the March 2006 edition of English Journal. Kohn correctly admonishes teachers who use rubrics solely because they "make assessing student work quick and efficient, and they help teachers to justify to parents and others the grades that they assign to students" (Andrade 2000 as cited in Kohn 2006). There's plenty wrong with that statement that one can read about in Kohn's article.

He continues by stating that rubrics should only make up one piece of assessment because they too exactly spell out just what students need to do in order to squeak by, stifling the pursuit of learning. This, Kohn (2006) argues, is why "all bets are off if students are given the rubrics and asked to navigate by them" (p. 13), author's italics. I agree that this is a common symptom of students in our schools, but I doubt rubrics are the sole culprit. Any form of grading system that tells students they need to receive so many points in order to receive n grade is asking for trouble. "Smart" students care about grades. The "dumb" ones are smart enough to know that grades don't really matter - it's whether what they're learning is relevant enough and they are proficient enough to survive in society.

Rubrics break down complex processes that take years to master into bite size chunks that help students understand how they can improve. Grading writing (or anything) holistically is acceptable only summatively, and for me that means at the end of the year.

The best, most understandable means of formative assessment for students is that presented in rubric form. As Kohn (2006) says, "it matters whether the objective is to (1) rank kids against one another, (2) provide an extrinsic inducement for them to try harder, or (3) offer feedback that will help them become more adept at, and excited about, what they’re doing" (p. 14).

It would be interesting to get Kohn and Chappuis in a room together; Kohn (2006) writes "any form of assessment that encourages students to keep asking, 'How am I doing?' is likely to change how they look at themselves and at what they’re learning, usually for the worse" (p. 14), my italics. I'll reserve final judgment until I finish Seven Strategies, but in my mind Chappuis is winning.

Her rubrics seem to deal with many of the causes of Kohn's concern. The rubric should avoid evaluative ("excellent organization of thoughts") or quantitative ("thoughts are organized into three paragraphs") language and focus on descriptive ("the writing is organized using any of the various conventions of language [punctuation, sentence fluency, paragraph breaks, headings] to make thoughts easily understandable to the reader") and diagnostic language. Evaluative and quantitative language focus on the work, while descriptive language focuses on the learning.

Use examples of strong and weak work

The creation of rubrics moves fluidly into Chappuis' second strategy.

Showing students examples of strong and weak work allow them to compare their own work to a final product. In addition, Chappuis suggests having students choose weak and strong examples from a number of examples and state why one is strong or weak, either with a set rubric or as a precursor to creating a rubric together as a class.

Chappuis also emphasizes how important it is that the work shown to students is not from their class. In the past I have shown work from students in the classroom, thinking they would not reveal their identity. Unfortunately, this was not always the case. More than once, a student's first response to seeing their work on the screen is “hey, that's mine!” Whatever lengths the teacher may go towards making the work anonymous can be unknowingly sabotaged by the very student the teacher is trying to protect.

Instead, Chappuis suggests choosing or creating at least three samples for each trait on a rubric from other classes or previous years – a strong, mid-range, and weak example. Give these samples to the students one at a time either on the overhead or, better yet, as individual copies. Have them Think-Pair-Share. First, students individually decide how they would score the product on the rubric; students decide if the work is predominately strong or predominately weak. If strong, students start on the high end of the rubric moving down, if weak, the opposite, before settling on a score that meets most of the criteria. They then discuss with a partner, using the language in the rubric. The class then votes and gives reasons why they chose the scores they did before the teacher reveals the score they gave the example. The process is then repeated for each remaining example or until students understand the language and concepts in the rubric, whichever comes last.

This would be an excellent way to teach 6-trait writing. I attempted it last year, but stopped when I ran out of examples but before students fully understood the concept. Hopefully this year I have more samples to draw upon.

Works Cited

Chappuis, J. (2009). Seven strategies of assessment for learning. Portland, OR: Educational Testing Service.

Kohn, A. (2006). Speaking my mind: The trouble with rubrics. English Journal, 95(4), 12-15.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this- I appreciate reading your perspective on both works. The Chappuis is now on my must-read list.