Punished By Rewards & Advantages To The Single-Point Rubric

As if researching how to eliminate grading and reduce assessment couldn’t get much better, I’ve now got something else. Alfie Kohn’s 1993 masterpiece really ought to be required reading for every educator. Coming up on its 30 year anniversary, the author at the time reviewed studies dating just as far back to the 1960s. This post is gonna focus on self-assessments. When it comes to students self-assessing, evidence suggests that the more students think about HOW WELL they’re doing (vs. WHAT they’re doing), they do it poorly.

That’s crazy-unintuitive, right?!

The number of studies replicating these results is staggering, too, so this isn’t some random claim. If the findings are generalizable, which they appear to be, and this holds true in many different contexts, which is highly likely, we should take a look at our rubrics and make some updates. Specifically, we gotta get students thinking about what they’re doing (or not doing), but stop having them think about how well they’re doing it. Tall order? No fear, there’s an easy solution…for everyone:

  1. Grab the “meets” criteria you’re using for any given rubric, and remove the grade & label.
  2. Now, instead of students thinking about how well they did something afterwards, have them think about what meeting expectations would look like beforehand. That’s it.

Not so bad, right? Imagine starting class with that do now/activator/hodiē doc of yours, then giving a quick reminder of class expectations. Mine would look a bit like this: “class, our goal is to have a positive language experience by understanding ALL the Latin today, right? Well, let’s take a look at how to do that,” then I’d project my criteria as shown below:

By removing the grade and labels like “meets, somewhat meets, rarely meets, etc.,” you now have a single-point rubric, which is infinitely clearer to work with. That is, rather than working on a scale with different levels and descriptions of criteria, students are given the statement of what the standard is, and nothing more. Remember, we want students thinking about what to do, not how well they’re doing it. This single-point rubric can even be used to self-grade at the end of the quarter, too. Students spend some time looking at the criteria, and select a grade that represents how well* they’re meeting it (I recommend giving them a set of grades to choose from, such as the 6-point scale of 55, 65, 75, 85, 95, 100). If as of last August I thought I was 97% “towards equitable, time-saving grading that shifts focus to learning,” this probably brings me to 98%.

Note how more descriptive the single-point criteria is compared to the older one below. The older one is pretty bare bones as it is, but the point remains: research shows that students don’t need, and in fact do worse, when they think in terms of levels. Therefore, instead of spending time describing the degree to which a student meets the criteria (e.g., always, usually, sometimes, rarely, never), spend time describing the criteria itself, as shown above. Consider dropping in some specific non-examples in there if you think it’ll make things clearer. For second language students, I’ve found this to be incredibly helpful since class already doesn’t seem like other classes in school.

And here is my Growth rubric along with its older version below. Again, note how much more descriptive this is without students’ attention being drawn towards how well they’re meeting the criteria:

*Yep, note how even when reducing grading as much as possible, the few times students do self-grade still have the drawbacks that researchers have found. Of course, doing this four times a year vs. every week is clearly better. Still, the only way to completely eliminate these detrimental effects are to do away with grades entirely, perhaps going back to the narrative-based evaluations of the 19th century.

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