Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
After reading SIP 3.9 on differentiated assignments, you have decided to let your students design their own final products for your class. But now you are wondering: how in the world are you going to fairly and efficiently grade final products that are all different? How will you ensure that the learning outcomes for the assignment and for the class are being met when everyone appears to be on a different path?
Take a SIP of this: Universally Designed “Value Rubric”
Try creating a universally designed “value rubric.” In order to understand this concept, think about project design as a means to an end—that “end” being the demonstration of content knowledge or control. The path that students take to reach the final destination does not need to be the same for everyone. For example, say you are teaching the history of the Civil War, and you have a list of five ideas that you want your students to demonstrate an understanding of. A student could certainly write a term paper to cover those ideas. But he or she could also make a movie that covers the concepts, design an interactive website or interpret the concepts through the plastic arts, or even use a technological platform such as Google Earth to represent the concepts in an innovative way. When you let the students choose, you allow them to maximize their own best skills and bring their abilities to your content. Then, by focusing your assessment on the coverage of the concepts, rather than on normative restrictions (i.e. 20 page length, a requisite number or type of source documentation, etc.) you are valuing content over form and permitting a deeper, more creative interaction with your course material.
Take the following points into consideration when designing a value rubric and grading your students’ individually designed final products:
- Remember the basic ideals of Universal Design for Learning—there can be multiple means of demonstrating mastery of content. Take a deep breath and realize that it is ok to let students show you how they understand what you have taught them on an individual level! You might be surprised to see how effective your teaching has actually been when you let the student tell you how he or she understands it.
- Set your students up for success. Especially if this is the first time you are doing this, encourage students to meet with you or to discuss their final product ideas via email. Most students “get it” right away, but sometimes a gentle nudge in a more challenging direction can easily bring a differentiated product up to a higher level and more successfully meet your Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs).
- Don’t ditch your tried-and-true final product options, such as term papers or final exams. Remember, the idea is to let students choose what might work best for them, and these options are indeed effective for many students. Just apply the value rubric to the traditional format. You might like the new perspective it gives you on an old assignment!
Connect your assessment rubric to broad outcomes. Here are some examples:
By completing this assignment, the student will demonstrate:
- Ethical citation of sources
- Foundational writing skills
- Connection of course content to contemporary society
- A critical approach to the course topic
- Etc. By making the outcomes more general, you empower the students with choice while still ensuring that your course SLOs are being met.
If possible, connect the final product SLOs to SLOs for the class. Specify which are being met (if it is a final project, it might meet ALL of them). Make the connection overt so that students understand the “why” of their work—this will help them to be as creative as possible while stretching the limits of their abilities (as opposed to “checking off boxes” just to finish a final requirement).
Always think quality over quantity. Those of us who have ever written a thesis or a dissertation might be holding on to an antiquated notion of “more is more,” but ask yourself if this is truly the case!
In that same vein, ask real questions about the demonstration of mastery in your class: does a student HAVE to write a 20-page paper to prove a certain level of writing, or can that same level of writing be demonstrated in less or different ways? As instructors, we might have ingrained ideas about what constitutes “real” scholarly work. Try to embrace the new, and let our 21st-century students guide the way!
To create the value rubric:
Remember the Universal Design for Learning principle of “multiple means of action and expression” (see: http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/whatisudl/3principles ), and create assessment points that value this multiplicity.
Bloom’s Taxonomy can be of help to you AND to your students as you think of ways to assess content mastery in differentiated final products. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom%27s_taxonomy ).
If possible, have the students share their final products in a class presentation or a gallery walk (see SIP 3.3 on gallery walks). When students see their classmates’ creativity and understand that risk-taking is valued, they will incorporate it into their future and lifelong learning. As instructors, this might be the most valuable thing we can ever teach them.
Still thirsty? Take another SIP of Universally Designed “Value Rubric”
Check out the MDL website at: https://www.msudenver.edu/mdl/about/ (scroll down, under “Standards”). The Modern Languages Department has an excellent example of differentiated work products available here—this department allows students from multiple language programs to create a final work product that is used to fulfill one portion of the Senior Experience requirement. The value rubric used to assess this assignment is on the website as well. Additionally, check out portfolio learning—while focused on assessment, many websites will give insight into student choice as a valuable learning tool. Finally, don’t forget to check out The Well (http://sites.msudenver.edu/sips/ ) where you can find other examples of differentiated final assignments.