The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 175
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
GONZALEZ: I’ve always believed in the power of a good, clear rubric for helping students understand how their work will be assessed. As an English teacher, I can’t even imagine assigning a writing task without a rubric. But all rubrics are not the same: Some can be convoluted messes that overwhelm students, while others can be far too vague to really be helpful. Ideally, all teachers would use the most effective rubrics all the time, but we’re not quite there yet.
On my site, I’ve explored lots of rubric tweaks and iterations that make them more effective, and today’s episode will add more to that work: A different way of developing and using a rubric that changes it from a tool for evaluation to a tool for marking progress and pushing students to keep moving forward.
My guests—Tyler Rablin and Jeff Frieden—are two English language arts teachers who developed this idea and are calling it a HyperRubric. Today we’ll be talking about how this style of rubric came to be and how it works.
Before we start I’d like to thank Listenwise for sponsoring this episode. Listenwise is a fantastic collection of NPR podcasts, age-appropriate for grades 2-12. The podcasts come with easy-to-use lessons designed to build students’ background knowledge and vocabulary while engaging them on important current event topics. It’s great practice for meeting listening & speaking standards! With Listenwise Premium, you get built-in comprehension supports, automatically scored quizzes, interactive transcripts so students can read along as they listen, and more. Use audio stories as an equity lever to reach all your students – including those reading below grade level. Individual and school trials are available when you sign up for free at listenwise.com.
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Now here’s my interview with Jeff Frieden and Tyler Rablin about HyperRubrics.
GONZALEZ: Jeff and Tyler, welcome to the podcast.
RABLIN: Thanks for having us.
FRIEDEN: Yeah, thank you.
GONZALEZ: I have managed to pin you both down very briefly because you’ve both been traveling a lot this summer, and this is like the one day that we were all going to be available to do this. So we’re going to just stop all the traveling and talk about rubrics for half an hour, and then let you go back to traveling. So let’s start first by just having you both introduce yourselves and just tell me a little bit about what your current role is in education. So go ahead and start first, Jeff.
FRIEDEN: Okay, yeah. I’m Jeff Frieden. I have been teaching for 16 years in Southern California, teaching high school ELA. And this upcoming year I’m going to be teaching seniors and juniors.
RABLIN: And I’m Tyler Rablin. I’m also a high school ELA teacher. I’m in Sunnyside, Washington, like central in the state in Washington, and I’ve spent the last four years as an instructional coach, just teaching one class in the morning and then being a coach the rest of the day. And I made the call last year to go back to the classroom full-time, so I’m extra excited for the upcoming year, actually.
GONZALEZ: Awesome. And so you were also an ELA teacher?
GONZALEZ: Okay. So, and did you know each other before you sort of connected on this particular topic?
FRIEDEN: This was kind of our point of contact.
FRIEDEN: Because I happened to see Tyler presenting online on a Teachers on Fire Roundtable his HyperRubric, and I just had this lightning strike epiphany moment, and then I had to just take what he was doing and run with it and then connect with him about it.
GONZALEZ: So, okay. So this story starts with Tyler. You, and based on what you’ve told me, I’m saying recently because I’m not exactly sure when this started for you, but you had an epiphany about rubrics that caused you to change the way that you use them. So I’m going to just sort of hand the mic over, and you tell me your story and what that process was and what you ended up with.
RABLIN: Yeah, so I started, kind of beginning of my career and as I was getting going, it was ingrained in me that rubrics are like key, they’re important. You have to have them. You have to spend a ton of time making them. They have to be perfect. And so I did that for a really long time. And, you know, I’m going to, it’s going to sound like I’m bashing traditional rubrics, and I don’t want that to come across. So you know, I do think there is a lot of value in a rubric, but usually it’s on the teacher end, whether that’s as you’re grading, sort of keeping implicit bias in check. There’s a lot of support around that. Or even just inter-rater reliability and being able to work as a team and keep things consistent and sort of calibrated. So I think there’s value there, but the value that I was finding was on the teacher’s side, and I kept trying to give students those rubrics that I so carefully created and made. And I just wasn’t seeing them impact the students, and I wasn’t seeing them really deepen learning the way that I thought they were supposed to, or I had been told they were going to. And so I had sort of a critical moment about two years ago, probably, where I just had to stop and say, what’s wrong? Like, I know rubrics are important, I know there’s value in them, but I’m not seeing them really impact my students in a way that I would like to see. And I spent some time looking at, what am I seeing that are the weak spots in the rubrics? Where am I seeing sort of these roadblocks? And the first one that stood out to me was looking at how it impacted student motivation, and that simply was connected to the language that I was using in my rubric level. So, for example, the earlier levels of my rubric, they were often stigmatizing. It was, I can’t do this yet. These are all the things I can’t do. Or I’m weak at this. And then the later levels, and I intentionally try to use earlier and later now, because that was a shift in my language for me too as opposed to lower and higher. But the later ones were the better ones. It was good is here and bad is here, and I realized when I was giving students their, that feedback, they were getting the message of, not you’re at the beginning stage in this learning process. They were getting the message of, you’re bad. You’re not doing well at this.
RABLIN: Like, you’re just bad at this, and you can see it. When you hand that to a student, it just, it crushes them, and there goes motivation almost right away.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. It is. It’s always deficit language in those early boxes. And it’s funny because I’ve pushed out the single-point rubric a couple of years ago, and my issue was that there’s only so much room to describe all the different ways that a student can be deficient. And so you’re kind of pointing out the same problem in that it just, it also isn’t motivating either.
RABLIN: Yeah. And then sort of the worst part for me is not only did the student get that demotivating message, but then I realized one of the next issues with my rubrics were the lack of clarity in it. If I’m saying, here’s where you’re starting, it wasn’t clear how we were getting to the next step. It was that the language was basically like, I kind of get it, I sort of get it, I mostly get it. And for the student, what does that mean? Where do I go next necessarily? And so I wanted to change that language to, what are actual concrete steps? If I’m viewing this as a progression of learning, if I’m starting here, there should be a concrete step that I can look to in that next level to say, this is where I’m going next. So that was kind of the second thing that I was criticizing or critiquing about how I was writing my rubrics is if I really wanted students to be able to take them and take ownership and say, “I’m here. I know how to move up.” They needed that clarity in what is the next thing that I’m going to be learning, or what is the next thing that I could be learning? So that was sort of the second big thing that I had to question about how I was designing my rubrics. And along that, with that, the third thing that I really looked at was, and I call it access to learning or access points to learning. I realized the way I wrote my rubrics, I’m going to try to explain this without really having something up for people to see, but essentially if we were, if there was a rubric written around theme, the access point to learning was whether or not the student could explain how a theme develops in a text. And the rubric was written completely around that. It was, I can’t do this one thing. I kind of can do this one thing. I mostly can do this one thing. Versus, I wanted to look at it in terms of if I want a student to truly understand how theme develops in a text, where are all of the access points for that, going all the way back to, does the student know the definition of theme in literature and what that means? Because If I’m not creating those different access points, a student who doesn’t know what theme is, they don’t have a way into that learning. They don’t really know where to start. And so I was looking at my rubrics. Instead of saying, you’re bad at this one thing, or you’re good at this one thing, looking at it in terms of saying, this is something that we’re going to learn. Where are you at in that process of learning it?
GONZALEZ: Okay. And so, and you were just saying it’s challenging to talk about this without having something visual in front of you, and this is what I like to try to do for my podcast listeners is help them visualize it. So what we are originally sort of pushing back against is like a four-column rubric, for example, where the far, let me make sure—I’m looking at you so I’m trying to picture this in my head—the left usually is where the negative is and we move to the right, which is it’s getting better and better. But it’s always just sort of like here’s just an evaluation of what your work is demonstrating and that’s it. So you’re taking basically those four or even more columns, and instead of turning it into like a grade of where you are that’s vague and abstract, you’re turning it into like a learning progression that is actually identifying almost like steps. Whereas instead of students saying, here’s just where I am and done, it’s here’s how far you’ve come, and this is where you can continue to move.
RABLIN: Yeah, exactly.
RABLIN: And it helped me because I created rubrics for tasks. That was how I was creating rubrics. It’s, you’re going to do this one demonstration of learning, and here is a rubric that is connected to that singular task. And it was simply a matter of saying, how well did you do on this performance? And what I was realizing is giving that to students, we were having conversations about the task itself. And not that that’s a bad thing, but that was the only conversation we were having. Here’s how well you did on your essay or on whatever it was.
RABLIN: And that was the conversation we had, versus I realized part of the reason the rubrics weren’t working for what I was hoping they were going to work for in the classroom, is we weren’t talking about learning. We were so focused on the task, that rubric was designed to focus them back on the task, but I wanted to look for a way to be able to step back and have that progression of learning that was really yes, the tasks were evidence of where they were at in that, but the goal was really for a student to be able to say, outside of the assignments I’m doing, this is what I’m supposed to be learning, and here’s where I’m at in that. And so that’s where that, sort of that progression piece comes in.
GONZALEZ: So could we, because I think most people can picture a standard rubric in their head. Could we, you’ve linked me to a couple of examples, and we can put one or more of these up on the blog post that I write about this where it’s all summarized. But could we walk through one of these examples so that people can picture what actually appears in these columns in your type of a rubric?
RABLIN: Yeah, absolutely.
RABLIN: I did pull one up, the one I have in front of me is just for using commas with coordinating conjunctions.
RABLIN: And the typical rubric that I feel like I would use if I was focusing on that, that specific really targeted skill, the traditional rubric that I was using before was really, you know, for this assignment it’s, I make many mistakes with commas using coordinating conjunctions. I make a few mistakes. I make, I show good understanding. And so that’s what my rubrics looked like, versus kind of changing that to more of the progression or getting towards that HyperRubric. The beginning column, that first column, would say, I can explain what an independent clause, compound subject, and compound verb are. Meaning for me, the first step in that journey is does the student even understand these pieces that we’re going to be working with? And the next one over might be, I can explain how to use commas with coordinating conjunctions and compound sentences. Does the student, next step up, does the student really understand what is this? What are we even talking about? I’m not concerned can you do it yet, can you revise, can you fix these yet. I just want to make sure there’s a spot to stop to say, do you know what these are? And again, kind of talking about those access points. I think I was not always the best at using and going, what am I just assuming you know? And now what I’ve done is those first one, two levels in that rubric are really making sure that those pieces are taken care of, and if a student doesn’t have that or has a gap there, that they know this is something that I need to sort of fill in the gap and now they can actually access those next levels where it might be, okay, now I can identify examples of compound subjects and verbs versus compound sentences. And now we’re really getting into that content that I want them to be, the goal, I guess, that we were getting towards.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. I mean it really, I’m looking at this now, and I’m just thinking this is so great because it takes the mystery out of it. For a kid who is low in skills in this area, they’re not going to know the first thing about what to do if they, you know, make a lot of mistakes with commas. I don’t know what to do about that. And you’ve said here, do this, start here. Let’s first start by making sure you know this. And so yeah, I think calling them access points is perfect because it’s giving them something that they can actually work on to get there. And so the later, you know, levels describe more advanced uses of these commas so students can sort of work through those. How, how do you use this? So when would this document show up, like in a typical week in your classroom, for example? And how would you be using it?
RABLIN: Yeah. So this is, obviously last year is sort of the exception of all years. It was a little trickier, but it’s still actually, I’m going to really miss individual breakout rooms in Zoom. Those were great for this, but this shows up a lot in my conversations with students or in our reflections. So if a student gets feedback on a specific task or assignment they were doing, the piece I like about this is they take that feedback, and then we have a reflective space where they sort of step away from the assignment. They read the feedback. They process it. They step away from the assignment, and they use that to go back to this learning progression, this HyperRubric, and really say, okay, based on what I’ve done, based on the feedback, where am I really at? And then that leads to, which is important, but it leads to, what’s the next step? Like, where am I going? If I know that this is some feedback I got, saying you’re still struggling with this area, it’s clearly there for them. And kind of the nice piece with this, and this is what I feel like Jeff has done an incredible job with, is because they’re broken into isolated concepts. I shouldn’t say isolated, but individual concepts that are clear this is something for you to learn at this step, not only can I have them reflect and say, where are you at? But then this is normally a digital document my students have with each unit. There’s links and resources at each step along the way, so that if they say, this is where I’m at, and they know the next concept they really want to focus on, there’s actually a link or a resource for them there to be able to say, I’m here. Here’s where I go. Here’s a resource to start learning now instead of waiting for the teacher.
GONZALEZ: So this feels like a natural place for us to shift over to Jeff. You saw, now Tyler, when Jeff saw you talking about this, did you call it a learning progression rubric or just a learning progression? You didn’t call it a HyperRubric yet, did you?
RABLIN: No. I called it a learning progression, and then Jeff made it cool.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So okay. So let’s see what happened to it next. After Jeff saw you talking about these learning progressions as a replacement for a traditional rubric, what happened then?
FRIEDEN: Okay, yeah. So when I saw it, to give you some context because this was, it was solving for me a problem that I was having largely brought about by stay-at-home and learning-at-home and teaching-from-home. So I kind of have to give a little bit of context about how my writing instruction had shifted. And this is a goal that I had been developing or aiming towards in the last few years of my teaching as a writing teacher, it’s seeking to assess process over product. For 13 years, I had been assessing the final product.
FRIEDEN: And when I had a rubric, the traditional rubric that Tyler was describing, it had the most impact on my students and it tended to come at the end. So it was really just an impact on the grade.
FRIEDEN: And full confession, when I’m using that rubric, I was using it to justify the scores I was putting on the papers. So it wasn’t so much like, I mean the hope was that it would transfer to their next piece of writing.
FRIEDEN: But that’s not really what happened. Maybe occasionally it would, a few students, a handful. They might pick something up and move it into their next draft on the next assignment, but for the most part it was just me sort of covering myself just to make sure that everybody could understand why points were missing from the document. So that’s.
GONZALEZ: People can’t hear this, but Tyler and I are vigorously nodding the whole time you’re talking because this sounds very familiar, I think, to both of us. Absolutely.
GONZALEZ: And it’s also so time-consuming to do this at the end. I’m picturing myself with 120 finished pieces, and then the clean rubrics and going, “I’m going to do two, and then I’m going to stop and have a treat, and then I’m going to do.”
GONZALEZ: And you take, and then you hand it back, and they don’t read it, and nothing changes, and everybody has wasted their time.
FRIEDEN: Right, yeah, and I could go into why I, because at 10 years in, you’re like, why am I doing this? And then the best answer I can come up with is, I’m covering myself in case somebody comes knocking. So in recent years the big shift has been away from, I guess the model that I would say is I would front load teach every little piece of the writing process. Then they’d draft, and then I’d evaluate to kind of simplify it. My recent shift though has been, get them drafting as fast as possible, before I’ve even really taught them anything, and then I teach through revision. Then I evaluate. And that’s where the rubric comes in because it’ll help them figure out, helps my students to figure out where they are. Like the draft that they turned in, they can kind of evaluate for themselves where they are and what their next learning is. And so then everything that Tyler was just saying was like instantly like, oh, this is perfect for this part of the process. You have to forgive the gardeners who are here right now. So they’ll be walking through. So basically before the rubric, like I said, impacted the final assessment. Now it directly impacts the flow of instruction for me. And Tyler’s rubric helped me see how I could view that even better. So pre-pandemic, my instruction through revision happened using various blended learning models like station rotation. You’ve probably heard of all the small group targeted mini lessons, which became a real problem when we’re all separated in our respective homes and trying to learn from home. And so I, just sort of floating in the back of my mind was, how can I solve this problem where I can still deliver this kind of instruction for students even though we’re in our separate locations? And that’s when the HyperRubric, I guess that’s what I’m calling it, right, I saw that and I went, they can click on links. Wow. And it was a real big epiphany. So what I saw was how you could bring self-reflection, targeted mini lessons and metacognition into one aspect of the writing. This is where I wanted my writing instruction to be delivered. And when I say metacognition, I mean like how new learning impacts and changes their writing process. That’s what I mean by that.
FRIEDEN: So the students write a draft. So they would write a draft for me, and then I would assess some trends. You know, I’d look at all the drafts and go, okay, here’s the trends I’m seeing here. Then I would build a HyperRubric from that, and then the students would go about self-assessing, clicking the hyperlink, and then reflecting, which would just push them right into revision right away so that they were actually, right as they’re learning the lesson, it’s impacting their draft as soon as they get it.
GONZALEZ: Okay. And they, I’m going to just recap to make sure that I’m understanding this. So you wouldn’t even start with a rubric. You’d start with some sort of a prompt for a writing assignment. Is that basically, something to get them going?
GONZALEZ: And then after you saw what was sort of trending basically in the types of errors they were making or whatever, that’s when you would come up with a HyperRubric, which is the learning progressions that Tyler described except that with each one, there are links to targeted mini lessons that can help students actually either reach that next level or you know, figure out how to, yeah, basically reach the next level.
GONZALEZ: Okay. That’s pretty awesome.
FRIEDEN: Yeah, it’s been working really well, and I’ve only really prototyped it a couple of times.
FRIEDEN: But I’m really pleased with the results.
GONZALEZ: So that’s what I wanted to talk about next because we’re talking about this in terms of a writing piece.
GONZALEZ: And what I’m hoping is that people listening can also imagine it for other kinds of long-term assignments in other classes. But yeah, I wanted to know, since you both started doing this, how is it going? How are students responding? And when I say how are they responding, I mean like sort of emotionally how are they responding to it, and then also how’s the work, how’s their work turning out as a result of this? So I guess we’ll stick with you now, Jeff, and then we’ll go back to Tyler.
FRIEDEN: Okay. Yeah. For me, as far as their response to it, I make it very clear too that hey, we’re just going to dive in. A lot of the writing instruction that has been happening in my classroom has just been, you know, we’re going to dive in. We’re going to see what’s there. We’ve been working a lot in some low stakes ways how to do revision, so at the point of the year when I introduced this, my students had already, they’re at a spot where they understand when Mr. Frieden gives an assignment, a writing assignment, it’s going to be a process. It’s going to be something that’s complicated. And so they’re willing to jump in because usually the attitude, if I could go back to earlier on in my career, is presenting a piece of writing is like how can I do this as fast as possible and just move on with my life? And they know with me after about three or four months, all right, there’s no real moving on. This is something that’s going to take some time. But also too that like they’re going to learn and grow, and it’s okay to make a ton of mistakes. In fact, when you make all the mistakes in the class, that’s when I get to learn about what you need. And so they knew that going in. So what I saw, what was already happening in my room but I just saw it just crystallized a little bit more clearly through the HyperRubric experience, was they got greater clarity on how to approach their revision. So it wasn’t just like, okay, something’s wrong here. Oh, I’ve identified the thing that’s wrong. Now they have like here’s how to fix it, and I can go work on it as quickly as I can. I can work on it right now, in fact, the turnaround time got shorter because it wasn’t something like I had to put together all these materials physically. It was a link that they clicked. And there’s some work on the frontend of that.
FRIEDEN: But it’s just ready to go for them, and then also if they missed, say, like attending class that day, they could still click the link later, and it wouldn’t be.
FRIEDEN: So that’s really helpful right there. And then for them they’re asking more targeted questions when they are experiencing confusion. Like, okay, I know I have to do this, but I’m not really sure how, and then they would just kind of ask for clarity real quick. And I could clear that up a lot faster.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. Okay.
FRIEDEN: And then for me, like the big winner was the process. They just had a better grasp of how to evaluate their own writing and process. Like, okay, I’ve finished my draft. And I even had a student say this a couple years ago before this whole process began. They said, I realized that the piece of writing has to exist before I can fix it. And what she was saying was that she would actually do three or four edits mentally before her pen even hit the page, and it was exhausting for her. And she was one of my really high-achieving students. She really wanted to do a good job, but for her, she took the pressure off of herself. Just let the thing exist on paper because she knew she could go to work on it afterwards and that that would be part of the process.
FRIEDEN: So that, all of this stuff is happening more regularly in my class, and students are just understanding that this is the way writing happens.
GONZALEZ: That’s great. So, is their actual writing getting better too?
GONZALEZ: You’re getting better writing from them?
FRIEDEN: Yeah, because I’m making them write a ton because we need a ton to work with here and then as they just, just going through the motions of processing their own writing and turning it into a second draft multiple times, just makes them more confident about putting what they can on paper with what they have, and then fixing it later, and it just builds their confidence over time. So I know that’s a big word with Tyler too is building the confidence too.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. So Tyler, let me hear about your experiences. Have you started making your learning progressions now HyperRubrics? Are you using it in a HyperRubric form?
RABLIN: Yeah, I am. And the big thing for me, like Jeff is mentioning confidence. That’s a huge thing for me with my students, and we talk about scaffolding content so much, and for me I think a lot about how am I also scaffolding confidence for students along the way, and so this really comes out for me when I think about the feedback I was getting students just because feedback is really dependent on the students seeing the possibility for success. If the student doesn’t see possibility for success or in the area we’re giving feedback, they’re going to, it’s demotivating. It’s going to kind of break them down and make them think, well, I’m done. They just told me I can’t do it and I know it. I don’t know where to go. I’m done. And so for me it’s made, having these HyperRubrics there has really made my feedback a lot more effective because I can say, hey, we’re struggling with, going back to the example, commas with coordinating conjunctions, and the student can go back to that and that reflection time, go to that HyperRubric and look and say, where’s my access point? Right? It’s not, I can’t do this one thing, but this is something I’m learning. I need to figure out where I’m at and what the next thing for me to learn is. And it really actually saves me a lot of time on the feedback side. I used to spend, I still do probably, but so much time giving feedback because I wanted to be really precise, and I wanted to use that as sort of that instructional moment. And it’s really nice now to say, hey, here’s this skill we’re working on. Here’s an area I want you to focus on. Let’s take some reflective time after you get this feedback and I want you to use these resources that are scaffolded for you so that even a student that might be at one of those earlier stages knows A) and this is why I phrase it as I can, and every level it starts with I can do this. You know, if you’re at that first stage in learning, you can still say, I can do this, right? I did something well, and I also get to know, here’s where I’m going next, open a video, watch it, okay, I have a direction. And because it’s sort of scaffolded and tiered that way, I don’t have to make this huge jump all the way up to proficiency right now. I don’t have to get all the way to that end goal now. Here’s my next step along the way. And so the benefit, and I think this ties into academic performance in general, but I see a lot more of my students who are engaged and motivated cognitively and willing to engage in what is hard work of thinking and learning because they see a path to success. And that’s been the huge difference that I’ve noticed in my classroom with students. I used to almost fear giving certain students feedback because I knew that they already saw themselves as “I’m struggling with this.” And so I didn’t want to tell it to them again, but it’s really nice to be able to say, you’re not at the goal yet. You’re successful here, and here’s your next step. And so it’s made a huge difference in terms of how students receive feedback and just sort of that relational dynamic in the feedback process.
GONZALEZ: It sounds like what it’s doing is de-personalizing the feedback. It’s not you in general are crappy in general at writing, but like, here’s this one specific skill. Let’s just work on this. Let’s get this piece of it. Okay, now you’re a little bit better. And the more you’re going around and around and having the students just write the thing and work on it, it just takes a lot of the emotion out of the process, and that’s such a huge piece of writing is that all the different emotions in terms of lacking confined or just not wanting anybody to see your garbage-y drafts and all that other stuff, and just like making it just a normal part of the class.
RABLIN: Yeah, and it lets them step away from, I know. I’ve written things where I write it, and then like, that wasn’t very good. And if I’m stuck with a rubric that’s solely focused on the task and being asked to reflect on the task, I’m just sitting there going like, I know. Like I know this wasn’t great versus being able to step back and say, here’s my feedback on that specific piece.
RABLIN: And then I get to sort of remove myself and go, how does this fit in the scope of my learning?
RABLIN: And in a sense, de-personalizing that a little bit again of saying, this wasn’t my best effort, but let’s step back and talk about my learning as a whole or my progress as a whole.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. I have a logistical question for both of you, and let’s, I guess for the sake of moving forward in the world, let’s think of this in terms of post-pandemic. Logistically, where, all right, I’ve got a couple questions. First of all, so I saw the learning progression about, say, the comma use. Thinking about all of the ELA standards, how many of these do you have, and are they like ongoing? If I am working on a piece of persuasive writing with my students, am I just pulling a whole bunch of these strips into one rubric, we’re saying here is the seven things we’re going to focus on in this particular assignment? When do you, when do these, in the old days, we had this piece of writing, I get the rubric, I highlight stuff, I make notes, I hand it to the student, we’re done. So what does that actually look like now in terms of the back and forth? When are you putting your own marks on these things and giving feedback to students? Like, how does all that work? That was 20 questions for you. Answer them all now.
FRIEDEN: I think, so here’s how I would answer it. This is Jeff coming in here. I would start, that’s why I start with having them do the draft because this is always going to be a part of a process for me.
FRIEDEN: A piece within the process. And so I would look at the trends, and I would be, I think, maximum I would do three of these.
FRIEDEN: Probably more like two. It might be one if it’s like a really high need, and I need to make sure that everyone gets it so just so that we can drill down on it. Plus we could do a third draft, and I could do two more later or something. But I would keep it very simple because this is something I want to turn over to them. The more complexity I put into this process, the more — you called them on ramps — I could see that being an off ramp if we just have more items for them to juggle and I don’t want to make it too complex. So if I really want this learning to stick, if I really want them to see it’s valuable, then I will reduce it to the really high leverage items that it’s going to make them better for their next piece of writing or at least the latter draft that’s coming. That’s my response.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So with that example of like a persuasive piece of writing, it might, the thing you focus on might be simply about backing up everything you’re seeing with some sort of evidence.
GONZALEZ: And this is, we’re not going to look at your spelling or your commas or anything right now. We’re not going to talk about your hook or your ending or organization, just do you have some stuff here that’s backed up with evidence, and that’s all we’re going to focus on right now.
FRIEDEN: Yeah. And well, that’d be the focus for this HyperRubric and then there might be some more, maybe a smaller type of self-assessment or even just me making some comments about some of those other times just for generally improving. Mhmm.
GONZALEZ: Okay. I like this idea too of developing it after you’ve seen the drafts. I think that, that’s a really, I’ve never heard of anyone doing that, and it makes so much sense because it’s a pre-assessment, basically.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. And that’s what we’re supposed to do with our assessments is change our instruction in response to our assessments. So bravo, sir. What about, Tyler, is your process kind of similar in terms of working with these?
RABLIN: Yeah, it is. And to kind of put a number on the scope of it, like last, we operate in trimesters, and so our spring trimester of last year, I had eight of these progressions that we worked with, and it was kind of a shift for me. Because at first, that didn’t sound like a lot, just because you know I’m used to if it’s just I can analyze theme in a text, that feels like one thing that we’re learning. But when I broaden it out and thought about it in terms of learning progressions, I had to recognize that every single thing I was doing, I was asking, some students were learning five separate skills. Or because each step is a different piece of content along the way, I had to slow down a lot. Not only because of the nature of how last year went but just also because I was realizing, and I think it was always there, but as a teacher, I was explicitly putting in front of myself and the students, here’s everything I’m really asking you to learn. It’s not just analyzing theme. It’s do you know what conflict is in a text? Because that’s a huge piece of it. So does that mean that this is all we’re learning? Absolutely not, but in terms of the progressions that I’m being really intentional with, I had to learn to limit it to a lot more than I was used to.
GONZALEZ: Okay, so eight things in a trimester. So the next question I know people are thinking of is how does that actually translate to grades? Or are you in a standards-based school, which this seems like would fit very nicely in?
RABLIN: I’m not in a standards-based school necessarily.
RABLIN: And I think, actually, in talking to a lot, I feel like a lot of us are in this position of our classroom might be standards based, but our school isn’t necessarily.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yep.
RABLIN: And so what I’ve found is the way that a grade is calculated in my class is it’s through conferences with students is a lot of this, but our conversations are centered around these learning progressions. And what I always try to make sure I’m being clear is I do, there is an average of scores that results in their final grade. But I’m not averaging those scores over time. It’s not necessarily I’m counting your earliest attempts and your latest attempts. It’s we had eight skills. Overall, what was your final performance or what was your most consistent performance with those eight skills? And so that’s really, you know, that’s a conversation that I never put a grade in without having that conversation with a student because there are times where we’ll look at a learning progression, and I’ll say, this is where it seems like you are. What do you think? And a student will sit down and talk me through why they’re two levels above that or two levels later than that.
RABLIN: So you know, that’s kind of my, how I’ve approached it is we have these learning progressions. Your most consistent or more recent scores are what are going to determine your grade, your final grade for the course.
GONZALEZ: So for your trimester, here recently anyway, they get eight, eight scores that make their grade and so are they basically all equal to each other?
GONZALEZ: Or are some weighted more heavily than others?
RABLIN: For the most part, if I’ve written a learning progression and developed a HyperRubric, and I consider that something that is of the most important value. There’s other stuff that’s had to have been cut, so anything that’s left, those eight things to me are essential for the students for that term, so they’re all equally valued.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So I’m looking at the comma one right now. That would, those would actually translate to point values in your school’s grading system ultimately.
RABLIN: Yeah. Yep, at the end of the term.
GONZALEZ: Okay, okay. And so throughout the term, students sort of know where they are and what they need to do to move up, and then it’s kind of up to them to keep at it if they want those higher scores, basically?
RABLIN: Yeah. And the nice thing that I’ve really liked is when I started shifting to standards based, the hardest part I had to wrap my head around is if a student was at Level 2 out of 5, trying to figure out how to put that in the grade book in a way that was fair to that student, in a way that wasn’t saying, well, you’re failing. No, you’re just early on in the learning process.
RABLIN: That is not a failure. That is your learning. And so throughout the term, we do have those grade conferences, and we’ll sit down and I’ll say, here’s where you started. Here’s where you’re at. In terms of your progress, what grade do you deserve right now?
RABLIN: And that’s, that may be really uncomfortable for a while, but it’s, we talk a lot about the power dynamic in that classroom and really being able to tell a student, I care less about where you started, because I think that’s what grades most often do. If you start lowest, you’re going to end lowest just because we average scores over time. It’s really nice to be able to tell a student, hey, for you personally, how much growth have you shown, where are you at, and how can we reflect that accurately in your grade throughout the term?
GONZALEZ: Got it, got it. Jeff, does that sound kind of similar to how you do things also? Or what’s your [crosstalk].
FRIEDEN: Yeah, that’s a lot of, a lot of points of contact between how I do things and Tyler does things. When it comes to the HyperRubric though, like you’re a teacher listening to this and you’re thinking, oh, that sounds like I have to set up an entire trimester geared towards that and I’m not ready for that. I’m actually using the HyperRubric as one point in a particular type of assignment. So yes, I do have standards based, but you could use a HyperRubric the way I’m doing it, and I’m focusing more on the student reflection on their learning than I am on the actual, I mean the standard is the focus, you know, and it’s trying to move them along on this progression. But I’m very, very much going to be asking students when it comes to their letter grade, how did this impact or change your first, your second draft? And that becomes the point where we, of high value.
FRIEDEN: If you want to put points on the assignment, or if it’s going to end up as a letter grade, it’s can you articulate to me how this learning that you had in the middle of this assignment impacted the second draft? And then that’s where I’m going to focus all of our energy and importance and I guess the worth of the grade in the class is going to be, this is what I learned, this is how it changed, and this is what I’ll do in the future when it comes to future drafts. And so that’s where I’m putting all the value. And I had a colleague, as I’ve been talking to a colleague about this, is they said, oh, okay. So it’s not so much on the product itself, like did you get this, write this A paper or this B paper? It’s the value of the reflection time, that’s kind of where you’re going to put all of the value for the letter grade in the class. It’s like, yeah. So I just kind of reframed a little bit how I do that. So if you’re looking at essay writing as one of your standards, if you’re doing standards-based grading, I mean that’s a huge one, but persuasive writing, we said earlier. So you’re looking at that. You’re looking at persuasive writing. I’m going to be focusing in on how have you grown, like Tyler said, and then what are you going to be doing in the future?
GONZALEZ: Yeah. So I’m going to be compiling this information into a blog post that sort of explains this stuff. We’re going to have a transcript of this. We’re going to have images for people to look at. You guys even have links to stuff that people can copy into their Google Drives for their own use. If people want to learn more from you, where can they find you online?
FRIEDEN: I’m mostly on Twitter. This is Jeff speaking at @SurthrivEDU, so S-U-R-T-H-R-I-V-E-D-U. And I’m also at SurthrivEDU.com. I have like two posts there, so we’re building.
GONZALEZ: Okay, all right. And what about you, Tyler?
RABLIN: So, I am also, Twitter is probably the best place to get in touch and ask questions and interact. So I’m @Mr_Rablin. I realize that’s been around since forever ago when I first started using it as like a teacher with my students, and now it’s just stuck. So I’m still @Mr_Rablin on Twitter. And then a lot of my thinking and processing is, I process through blogging and writing.
RABLIN: So that’s at Teacher Totter is where I do most of that thinking.
GONZALEZ: Teacher Totter, okay. I’ll provide links to those also in the post. I’ve really enjoyed talking to both of you. Thank you so much.
RABLIN: Oh yeah, we enjoyed it too.
FRIEDEN: Yeah, thank you.
To read the blog post that summarizes the ideas from this episode, including visuals of the rubrics, visit cultofpedagogy.com, click Podcast, and choose episode 175. To get a weekly email from me about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, courses and products, sign up for my mailing list at cultofpedagogy.com/subscribe. Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.