Co-Creating Criteria with Students

Ever handed out a rubric for a task, only to watch students absentmindedly stuff them in binders never to be looked at again? I have. Many times. And it has always bothered me, as I know that if students truly understood what I was looking for when I am marking, they would be far better able to reach the learning targets. 

I tried everything: we read through the rubrics in class; I had students mark themselves on the rubrics after a first draft; I made them write a reflection on an area of the rubric which they feel is a weakness… and while I had marginal success with each of these, nothing was as meaningful and engaging as when I started co-creating criteria with students. 

Quite simply, it is allowing students to have a say in what they will be graded on, a voice in what success will look like for a particular assignment. It is a process of working together to generate the rubric for a task: the different areas which you will assess students’ skills or content knowledge, and the different levels of achievement. Practically, it is the collaborative creation of a complete rubric - columns and rows - to be used to assess student work. 

Here are a couple of reasons why I have, from actual experience in my own classroom, found this process to be highly valuable and effective (although I think that there are many more): 

  • It gives students agency: voice and choice in the process of their own learning.
  • They understand more fully what they are going to be graded on; their efforts are more directed.
  • It helps students to identify areas which may be more challenging for them, and they can focus more on growth.
  • They work collaboratively to discuss and debate, practicing skills of communication and developing critical thinking.
  • Students take ownership of their learning in a far more authentic, meaningful way. 
  • Students don’t stand in opposition to me, the teacher, as the guardian of the rubric; they see it more like a contract we all agreed upon. 
  • Their language is often clearer, and more simple than many of the convoluted rubrics out there. 

Any time you do any assessment in class: whether that is a literary essay, a narrative short story, or a creative project. But let’ be honest: it takes time. Sometimes a whole lesson or two - especially the first time. But if we shift our thinking to see this as highly valuable instructional time, it is worth it. Plus, I don’t do it every time we do an assignment in class: the first time students write a literary essay in the school year, we co-create the criteria and then I might use this rubric for the rest of the school year.

Here is a sample lesson plan for creating the criteria as a class, which can be adapted for any task: 

BEFORE CLASS: Gather 20 pieces of paper (5 sets of 4 pages): and on each set of 4, write the following at the top of each page “Area of Assessment,” “Meets Expectations,” Almost meets,” “Does not meet” - or more simply, PRINT OUT THESE RUBRIC TEMPLATE PAGES (one set works for the whole class); get tape for sticking the rubric together, and post-it notes ready. 
1. Discuss the general purpose of the assignment:
  • Hold a class discussion about the assigned task, asking students about the purpose behind it: what skills/abilities/knowledge do they think should be displayed?
2. Decide on the overall areas for assessment (the left column):
  • Instruct students to get into 4 or 5 groups (depending on your class size). 
  • Instruct the groups to spend time coming up with 6 possible areas for assessment (e.g. the usual left column of a rubric; this could be ‘content’ ‘grammar’ ‘structure’ etc.) Instruct groups to come up and write their 6 areas on the white-board. 
  • Hold a brief class discussion about the areas suggested, circling the most common 4 or 5 (depending on how many groups you have), and deciding that these will be the areas for grading on the rubric. 

3. Groups write out the levels for achievement:
  • Give each group a set of the Rubric Templates pages (each group gets a different color set: the main “Area” page and the three levels of proficiency). 
  • Assign a different ‘area of assessment’ (decided in step 2) to each group. 
  • Explain to students that they must now work in their groups to write out the criteria for each of the three levels of the rubric, for their assigned area. *TIP: It is often easiest to start with the “Meets Expectations” and then differentiate for the others. 
[Walk around & help students; prompt them to be detailed, use simple language, aim for clarity etc.]

4. Review and edit the criteria:
  • Have students come up to the board and tape their pages on the white-board, to create one large rubric. 
  • Have students spend time reading what the other groups came up with; give them post-it notes to write on to add their comments and critique onto the rubric. Discuss, make changes, etc.
5. Decide on weighting:
  • Now ask students how each area should be weighted. E.g. How many points should each one be worth in relation to the others. Add these with post-it notes. 

AFTER CLASS: Take a picture of the rubric, and then transcribe - you may need to tweak phrasing, but the content should be as the class decided. 

If you are looking for more detailed lesson plans, I have over 60 step-by-step plans for teaching writing, poetry, reading, and more! Check them out HERE

Here are some more resources for grading and assessment

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