Late in the Spring I stumbled upon templates and ideas about Visual Rubrics from Greg Kulowiec. If you want to stop reading now and go directly to read more about his work, click here. The idea of visual rubrics immediately inspired me and I began to use them in my final 8 weeks of class just to see if I could use them systematically as the backbone of my growth focused, proficiency based approach in Spanish 3 and Spanish 4 classrooms. Immediate love. And this will certainly be something I build my 2022-2023 school year on.
Last year I made an approach switch to ungrading in Spanish 4—which doesn’t actually mean removing grades but rather unpacking the meaning of grades and focusing more on individual student growth and achievement. If you want to stop and read more about this topic, please read the amazing book Ungrading by Susan Blum or any insights from Alfie Kohn. Within this approach, I wanted the students to focus on their individual growth and development and to focus on the angles or different points of their proficiency. The conversations moved well throughout the year but I wished I had more structure or support in those reflective conversations—or a better direction in helping each individual student set goals.
Enter Visual Rubrics. It was a small change I made as a teacher that yielded dramatic results. I used the same grading information as I had in the past with the same rubric/level markings. But instead of getting back a paper copy or a Google Classroom rubric, students got a Google Sheet.
Here’s a quick summarization of why these were amazing and will become a foundational piece of my school year next year:
- Instead of just seeing a whole score of “16”–students were FORCED to notice the components of the rubric instead of the whole. Try as I did to discuss the individual components of their skill, Gen Z students want info fast and efficient. “A 16? Got it. Moving on.” “A hexagon image? Oooh, what is this?” The extra 15 seconds that my students had to spend studying their score feedback was an impactful win.
- When the geometrical shape of their score was a little wonky (with sunken corners), a weakness and area to improve upon was instantly recognizable. Somehow the feedback students received from the shape was more effective than me writing “you can work on your pronunciation”. And even when things were great, I tried to always make sure there was a higher, outer layer that could be reached so everyone had a stretch goal.
- The visual rubric is most effective when there are multiple attempts layered overtop of each other so that you can see growth and improvement. This means that I had to structure opportunities to layer and improve throughout the Unit. Sometimes this looked like pre-assessment, mid-Unit performance, end of the unit assessment. The important piece for me was to get a baseline and have the students focus on improving their corners (aka proficiency).
- Because the students became focused on improving their wonky corners and leveling up, the rubric stopped becoming a judicial tool but a scaffolded guide on HOW TO level up. Students had to use the rubric and examine their skills to see how they could attain a higher number to stretch out that corner.
- I had to do some revision to rubrics to make them more instructional than punitive because they all of a sudden had more meaning. And I had to provide specific tools and practice that addressed the criteria in my rubric. Suddenly I had a framework and a guide to help me deliver targeted feedback! “You want to get a 4 in clarity—here’s what that looks like and how you can do it:”
I very much enjoyed my quick 8 week trial with thinking about how these could be used. I promise you that I witnessed quick success. Interesting note: I loved Greg’s “Glow and Grow” type rubric and used that for some writing assessments in Spanish 4. I felt that it gave me the opportunity to provide very specific feedback about the different skills. It took a long time to fill that in for each student—-but I felt that it was super valuable feedback. I was pressed for time with Spanish 3 and instead of doing the individual feedback rubric for each student I just input their rubric scores (5-4-3-2-1). And you know what? Spanish 3 absorbed just as much feedback if not more than the students that got the (possibly) overwhelming specific feedback rubric. One Spanish 4 student loving told me TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) because “it’s just a lot of words. I don’t have time to read that”. Another Spanish 4 student that DID read it got SO caught up on the minutiae of my feedback and only focused on a few explicit things I mentioned. In contrast, the majority of the Spanish 3 students looked at their numbers, the rubric, made connections and asked questions and honestly learned so much more from the feedback than Spanish 4. So I recommend the time-saving visual rubrics!