It’s important for students to have rubrics when completing a project. We have known this for a long time -- I’m sure all of us can think of countless rubrics that we received when completing a book report or a science project in school. The teacher hands you the rubric describing what excellent work means in this context and you try to match it. This process has become so automatic that it’s shocking when someone suggests, what if students created the rubric? What if allowing students to develop their own definitions of excellence and high quality in writing, social studies, science, and math were an essential part of the learning process?
As an EL Education school, we believe that high quality work protocols can powerfully impact a student’s competency on a given topic and help them develop academic mindsets that push them towards a disposition of continual growth and revision. Here’s how it works. At the beginning of one of our units of study, students analyze a student-made example of a product they will create by the end of the unit. For example, for our last unit, students made a scientific drawing of a bird and a riddle describing some of its adaptations and attributes as their cumulative task. As our first lesson in the unit, students observed one of these drawings and riddle cards and made a list of it’s high quality attributes. “I noticed that they used adjectives to talk about the bird,” one student said. “They had neat handwriting,” said another. As a crew, we used these student observations to create a “High Quality Work Checklist” that students would use to analyze and revise their own writing throughout the course of the unit. When it came time to create our own bird riddle cards, students were well versed in the criteria list they had created for themselves at the beginning of the unit. They were already fluently using the criteria that would make up the rubric for the final product. So, the rubric was not handed to them as the teacher’s expert, adult definition of excellence, but created by created for students, by students, about work done by other first graders. By creating rubrics of excellence themselves, students develop a sense of ownership over their work and the quality of it. They begin to see themselves, and not just their teachers, as the holders of knowledge, and when students feel this level of competence, their investment in high quality work skyrockets.