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How to Grade Student-Centered Assignments while Maintaining High Standards

by Kathie F. Nunley

One of the big concerns with teachers beginning this type of teaching is how to use this method without lowering their standards of learning. The secret is of course, rubrics. (see also Starting Layered Curriculum)

A rubric is simply an outline of the criteria you look for in grading an assignment. It is best to give the rubrics to the students before they do the assignment so that everyone knows what is expected on an assignment and how it will be graded.

If you break your assignments down into basic "types", you can write a criteria for each type. For instance, I use about 12- 15 assignment types all year: posters, book work, reports, videos, labs, etc. I set a certain number of points possible for each assignment. A poster is worth up to 20 points. All posters are worth this and the grading criteria remains the same, only the topic of the poster changes.

After I write the criteria I give it to the students. They now know what is expected on each assignment, what I value and look for and grading no longer is a surprise. Here are some of the rubrics my students receive:

Grading Criteria for General Biology

Science through Art (Poster: 20 points)

20: poster is on sturdy poster board. The illustration is an original work showing a creative blend of several sources (listed on back). Good use of white space, border and key ideas. Demonstrates an understanding of the subject (can explain 5 things learned). Creative, colorful, and well polished.

15: Poster is on sturdy poster board. Illustration is somewhat original and based on one or more sources (list on back). Ideas may not be as clear. Demonstrates partial understanding of the subject (less than 5 things learned). May need some polish to be complete.

10: Poster reflects learning but is not an original work. Colorful but may not be on sturdy poster board. Ideas clear.

5: Poster hastily done. Few ideas expressed. Not original work. One color. Not suitable for display or does not indicate learning.

 Science through Textbook Readings (Book work: 15 points)

15: Answers are clear and written in writer's own words. The question may not be written, but is understood in the answer. Student is comfortable explaining any question and can elaborate on questions as needed.

10: Answers are written in writer's own words. Student can answer at least half but not all questions in oral quiz. Not completely confident in understanding of material.

5: Answers may not be in writer's own words. Student can answer some (less than half) of the questions in oral quiz.

 Science through Writing (Short answer assignments 10 points)

10: Writing is original and neat with few grammatical and spelling errors. Ideas are clear and the writer is comfortable explaining 3 or 4 of the ideas written. If writing is not in English, the writer has gotten written feedback on grammar and spelling from someone fluent in that language.

5: Writing is somewhat original but contains grammatical and spelling errors. Writer is comfortable explaining only 1 or 2 of the ideas written. If writing is not in English, the writer is able to translate any portion of the writing, verbally.

 Science through Video (Video/Laser disk-watching assignments 15 points)

15: Students watched entire video, uninterrupted by other activities. Notes were taken representing entire video. Students is able to explain 5-7 ideas learned from the video and can answer 2/3 of the questions regarding it.

10: Student watched entire video, uninterrupted by other activities. Notes may be sketchy. Student can explain 3 or 4 ideas learned and can answer some (less than 2/3) questions regarding movie.

5: Student watched at least 75% of the video. Can explain 3 or 4 ideas learned but cannot answer more than one question regarding movie.

 Science through Technology (computer work 10 points)

10: Student has spent at least 30 minutes working through the program. Student is able to explain 5 concepts learned and can answer 2/3 questions regarding program.

5. Student has spent at least 20 minutes working through the program and can explain at least 3 concepts learned. Students answers 1/3 questions regarding program.

Doing Science (lab work 15 points)

15: Question, Hypothesis, Procedure, Data, and Conclusion are clear, and identified. Lab report is neat and well written. Procedure is written with sufficient detail that lab could easily be replicated by someone else. The lab is an original investigation, showing creativity. Student is able to confidently describe what they were looking for and what happened.

10. Question, Hypothesis, Procedure, Data, and Conclusion are all in the lab report but may not be clear or identified. Procedure is insufficient for replication (I wouldn't be able to repeat you lab based on your procedure). Lab may not be original (your idea came from a textbook or classmate) Student cannot answer more than 2 questions about the lab.

5: Lab report missing sections. Poorly written. Lab not original and student cannot answer more than one question about the lab.

Thinking about Science ("A" level assignments 20 points)

20: At least 3 recent (less than 5 years old) scientific-based journal articles are attached to assignment. A thorough 3 sentence summary of each article is included written in writer's own words. Video presentation is 2 to 5 minutes. Presenter is comfortable with the material, makes good eye contact with the camera. Opinions are based on the research -- either the research is mentioned in the report or ideas are clearly connected with the research.

15: At least 3 recent scientific-based journal articles are attached to assignment. A thorough 3 sentence summary of each article is included, written in writer's own words. Video presentation is 2 to 5 minutes. Presenter does not seem comfortable with the material, eye contact is lacking. Not all opinions are clearly linked to the research.

10: At least 2 recent scientific-based journal articles are attached to assignment. Sketchy summaries are included. Video may not be 2-5 long (at least 1 minute). Presenter reads material. Not all opinions are clearly linked to the research.

5: At least 2 recent scientific-based journal articles are attached to assignment. Summaries included. No video presentation of opinion

Kathie F. Nunley is an educational psychologist, author, researcher and speaker living in southern New Hampshire. Developer of the Layered Curriculum® method of instruction, Dr. Nunley has authored several books and articles on teaching in mixed-ability classrooms and other problems facing today's teachers. Full references and additional teaching and parental tips are available at: http://Help4Teachers.com Email her:
Kathie (at) brains.org

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