Saturday, February 19, 2011

Using Rubrics for Tesol learner autonomy

I have a practice that I often use in class. I start by teaching my students to create rubrics (assessment tools that are easily understandable) so that they know what will be expected of them on an assignment. When a teacher does this, students have already begun the process by which they are beginning to think about how they can have a better impact on both their educational activity and their grades.

If it is a progressive assignment such as drafts of an essay, for example, they get to try their hands on improving their grades by making specific decisions about what they must teach themselves to do to get a better grade. The information should be right there on the rubric so they can decide exactly what their writing should look like and do in order for them to get the kind of grade they want.

My experience with the use of rubrics is that it makes the students more comfortable with the assignment if they have been part of the process of setting the ground rules on how their work will be evaluated. They start work on the task with more assurance because they know what will be expected of them and why it has to be that way. When they finally get down to work, they actually have come to have a better understanding of the task by figuring out how to grade it. This obviously starts them on a path to more productive self-evaluation.

The next step is to give the students an opportunity to assess each other (peer evaluation). Most of us are doing these activities in the classroom already but maybe not with such a coherent plan or process. You can immediately see, however that it would be much more effective to have the students use the same criterion to evaluate each other as the activity will be more focused. I remember seeing these peer evaluation forms for assignments but they often do not use exactly the same evaluation criterion that will be applied when the teacher makes the summative assessment in the end. These peer evaluation forms are often simplified so the student, who isn’t of course the teacher, can use them.

This is a mistake, in my opinion. The students should understand the assignment starting from the way they will eventually be assessed and should know it so well that the part of the authority which they are capable to take in the educational process should be transferred from the teacher to them as early on in their studies as is possible. This is an end forward process and seems to me to be the best way to establish learner autonomy. That is why I maintain that they should start the process by creating the rubric they will be graded on at the end of their task, thereby understanding the assignment from the perspective of the teacher. This better enables them to study productively by themselves. Grounding them well in the process of rubric creation, additionally can make them better students in all areas of their future education