ZIS COETAIL Course 4 Project – Vertical Collaboration on Media Rubrics…And Beyond!

Crossposted from ZIS COETAIL cohort blog.

Shea and I worked on revising media rubrics for our Course 4 project. In my two years at ZIS, we haven’t done much cross-divisional work between English curriculum areas (CA), probably because we are busy, busy, busy people. As such, this has been a very illuminating peek inside the villa, checking out how the English CA is using rubrics to assess and instruct student writing and media creation.

My original media rubrics assessed the media product. For performance assessments, the performance itself often makes up the assessable product, so this made sense. These rubrics were based on the Upper School English CA’s Writing Rubric, which they developed themselves before my arrival. However, later media rubrics focused more on the genre of writing or media that students were asked to create. Interestingly, feedback on the earlier rubrics from students was that they weren’t terribly helpful for reflection or identifying areas for improvement. Because we were learning media creation from consuming and analyzing media models, such as Radiolab for podcasts, I asked students to write our News Writing rubric based on the models they listened to and read, but in a different form than earlier. My Masters action research was on student created rubrics from models and I am a big fan because students determine, and therefore internalize, the expectations for outcomes.

I chose to use a blank 6 Traits rubric because I have used the 6 Traits for years and find the breakdown apt for decoding and planning good writing. Students filled in the blanks based on what they saw as good, bad or mediocre. When we reached the conventions band, we realized together than, as some groups were writing and others were podcasting, we needed dual conventions bands for each media type. This really proved powerful. Recently, I have begun working on a video rubric, as the kids are doing investigative reporting and creating a video report. Through revising my existing rubrics to jive with Shea’s, I had an epiphany that drew also on the earlier experience of student created rubrics: Media is determined by conventions. I never needed that podcast rubric, but rather needed kids to know the conventions of the form. In addition to adherence to conventions, content, style, creativity, and format determine quality. Rubrics should reflect degrees of quality.

As I began to work with Shea, sharing feedback and making revisions, what became obvious is that our 5 column rubrics clashed with the middle school’s four column rubrics. A four column rubric is best because it eliminates the lure of the middle ground and forces a decision on the part of the assessor. I often borrow bits from grade bands as I assess a piece, which is as much a part of how I write rubrics as how I see student work. However,the new four column rubrics wound up stronger, I believe, than their predecessors. You may also note the blank band for video conventions. My students are viewing more media examples this weekend in order to fill in the blanks on Monday. Next, they will create a rubric for investigation and we will simply copy and paste the genre conventions below, merging the elements of quality into one rubric.

As I review these rubrics today, I see room for further improvement: “Sentence Fluency” could be better described (students wrote that, though, so it is meaningful to them). Also, what Sentence Fluency means for video may be so abstract as to demand a new band title. We’ll see. However, this process has led me to understand instruction and assessment of media creation in a new, more purposeful way. We can’t divorce content from form, period, and so our assessment tools should reflect that.

Further, by collaborating with Shea, I have seen in her revision an excellent clarification of media conventions wedded to content – media literacy demands are now embedded directly into her “Sell It” rubric. Also, I really appreciated her addition of an “Overall/Voice” band, which ties together the norms of an advertisement with the voice behind it. I’m not sure how to incorporate this into my current rubrics, but I will be considering a way to do so because it succinctly and explicitly illustrates the purpose for and function of the project’s outcome. Cool!

Working with Shea was great because it made creating better rubrics easier. Working together made my process much quicker and my final products stronger, less cluttered, and based on increased expectations for success. I look forward to more vertical teaming with Shea and my middle school colleagues in the future, not only because it is an enjoyable learning experience, but because it improves my teaching practice and, by extension, student learning.

On Modeling & Teacher Assessment

I often monitor the daily Twitter #Edchat conversation for nuggets of goodness, but have never jumped in until this week. Yesterday, a conversation was flowing around the concept of teacher portfolios for teacher assessment. I have some experience with this, as my first year at Tohatchi High School featured a mentoring program and a portfolio to judge my highly qualified-ness. While I worked to complete this portfolio in earnest, many of my peers openly joked about it as a hoop to be jumped through, ticked off the boxes, and scored exactly the same as me: Passed.

When a principal is asked to assess 35 or more professional portfolios, I question the depth of assessment that will result. On a more basic level, I question the need for standardized assessment of teachers as much as I question the need for standardized assessment of children. Most likely, teacher portfolios will take time and attention away from planning, delivering (or organizing), and assessing student learning. Granted, this is a skeptical view of the portfolio in operation because the term assessment in the United States is forever wedded, at least on the macro level, to the term high stakes. If teacher assessment is used to determine levels of compensation, terms of employment, or competency for publication (as in New York), teachers will rationally place their energy in satisfying those demands, which would be in creating beautiful portfolios rather than reflecting actual practices – dog-and-pony-show production. As long as education “reform” in the US is centered on the fetishization of data, these processes will fail, portfolios more than most because portfolio data is qualitative, not quantitative, and so not easily aggregated and communicated for (spurious) purposes.

An argument that was presented in the Twitter conversation was that teacher portfolios would serve as models for student portfolios, and that teachers would be role models by producing their portfolios, learning how best to instruct portfolio creation through action. Modeling is clearly an essential practice for teaching skills. If students are building art, writing, physical education,  or media portfolios, for example, their respective teachers should model the creation of quality products and the organization of these products into portfolios. If teachers cannot produce such quality content, they should reach out to those who can. But modeling the authentic creation of a body of work – videos of discus throws showing improvement over time, for another example – is much different than teachers using portfolios of their teaching practices as exemplars for students. I regularly notice unwarranted enthusiasm for treating students like wee teachers, engaging them in information about instructional practices and training them to deliver content, especially among progressive educational circles (whatever that means). I wonder if anyone is asking students about their genuine level of interest in these materials and skills, or if they’d rather have an opportunity to develop a portfolio of apps or websites they designed themselves? A model portfolio of a teacher-as-learner would be of limited value to a student seeking to create a portfolio of herself as a learner, because the material and skills involved are bound to differ wildly.

I love teaching; I am endlessly fascinated by education. I don’t imagine others to share my passion. Some do – fantastic! Others don’t, and when those others are our charges, we should engage them in the creation of work products related to their own passions. Portfolio creation is a great idea, but the reasons behind requiring people to do so and the goals for the process and product should be more universal and flexible, requiring teachers who can model skills other than teaching. Otherwise, those involved may not see far enough past their own noses to truly engage students in authentic, meaningful learning activities.