Working with your students to develop rubrics is a very powerful way to help students build understanding of what good work looks like. This does not mean each student creates his or her own rubric. Teachers have a strong role to play in guiding students to identify the understandings they must develop.
Students have a role to play in discussing and selecting the features of understanding on which their work will be assessed. However, this takes a lot of time, debate, discussion and examination of appropriate examples from expert performances. When teachers do not have the time to devote to a careful development of features of understanding, it is better for teachers to identify them, and then make sure students understand what is meant.
A second way to involve students in a very meaningful way in the construction of rubrics is to work with them as a class to identify what different levels of understanding actually look like. What do they think about the difference between powerful and weak work? What performance or product criteria do students think are important, and is the teacher sure that everyone understands what each of these levels of understanding mean? Again, this takes time—and teachers must be prepared to devote enough of it to ensure that their contributions are really strong. If teachers feel they do not have a lot of time, it is better to populate the cells of the rubric themselves, than discuss them with students.
It can be very helpful to pre-populate some of the cells in the levels of mastery columns of the rubric before taking the rubric-in-progress to students. Specify what does an exemplary performance look like, or what does it looks like if students missed something crucial. Leave lots of empty cells in between and work with your class to tease out important differences.
As you guide students through the work of populating all the cells, both you and they will achieve clearer understanding of understanding.
The structure of observed learning outcomes (SOLO) created by John Biggs and Kevin Collis in 1982 provides a means for classifying learning outcomes in terms of their complexity that are particularly effective in and relevant to discipline-based inquiry. SOLO provides a robust model for identifying three levels of understanding.
According to Biggs and Collis (1982), there are five stages of “ascending structural complexity.” Those five stages are:
- Prestructural – incompetence (they miss the point).
- Unistructural – one relevant aspect
- Multistructural – several relevant and independent aspects
- Relational – integrated into a structure
- Extended Abstract – generalized to new domain