Using Observation Rubrics

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Anyone who has experienced John Van de Walle has probably read about observations rubrics. In his Elementary and Middle School Mathematics Teaching Developmentally book, he discussed various ways to collect formative data on students.  The observation rubric happens to be my favorite.


I’ve used this idea in my classes for about three years now. This school year I’ve been using it more consistently to truly inform my instruction on a day to day basis. What has helped with this consistency is use of standards based grading (SBG) as each rubric is developed based on the concept we are focusing on.

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For example, we are currently focusing on linear vs non linear. So I reviewed the Achievements Level Descriptors developed by the Georgia Department of Education to define the levels of understanding. So when students engage in an activity, whether whole group, small group or independently I’m able to use the rubric to assess where they are.

Whole Group

Have you ever done a whiteboard activity with students? You may pose a question to the class, each student records their responses on their own whiteboard and holds it up for you to see their answers.  With the rubric on a clipboard, you can quickly record students level of understanding of the concept and make adjustments to the collaborative or independent portion of the day’s (or week’s) lesson.  As students are taking turns to go to the board to record their answers to problems, you could mark where they fall based on the expectations on the rubric.

Collaborative/Group/Partner Work

While students work on tasks from Illustrative Mathematics, Georgia Frameworks, Open Middle, etc.  I circulate with the rubric on the clipboard and ask questions or listen in on the conversations students are having and rate them on the rubric.

Formative Assessments

Often times I will use Exit Tickets or Plickers or post-it notes as formative assessments.  After reviewing the responses, I’ll record how the data reflects the expectations on the rubric.

The Evolution of a Butterfly

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It’s hard to find a place to begin with this post. So let me set the context with this video. Austin’s Butterfly

My Butterfly Experience

So I developed a rubric using the language of the SMPs my students determined. I had to get grades in the grade book which prompted me to use the rubric before receiving any feedback on it. Let me tell you people, receiving feedback when your back is against the wall doesn’t feel good AT ALL. Feedback which would normally empower you now makes you feel inadequate. I’m currently on the fourth draft of my butterfly Task Rubric.

A Classroom Full of Butterflies

After showing my students the video above, we discussed what they noticed within the video.
“He never gave up.”
“His friends have him feedback and were nice about it.”
“It takes a while to get it right.”
Are all comments that came up in all four classes.

This was followed by discussing our classroom expectation which is our task rubric. Students scored sample student work and provided feedback telling the student what they needed to do in order better meet the expectation.

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To summarize this activity, students compared their own task to the rubric. They were able to ask their shoulder partners for feedback on ways to improve. I provided them with the option to add more to their task or leave it as is.

The evolution of a butterfly

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Being a Free Spirit

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It’s funny how God gives your children the very character you desire to have. My oldest daughter is such a free spirit. She wears what feels right to her no matter the color scheme or weather. She moves to the music whether others hear it or not. I watch her and wish I could throw my controlling ways to the wind.

Now let me connect this idea of being a free spirit to my journey into middle school. Most teachers are hindered in best practices due to our own struggle with control. Unfortunately, students cannot accept responsibility for their learning if we do not give them some control. This is one way I plan to be a free spirit, my plan is layered like an onion.

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Students will be graded based on demonstration of the standards. This will be done through portfolio based grading. Being a free spirit part 1, students will create a menu of ways to show understanding. Included in this menu will be two teacher selected pieces and 7 other options for students to decide. In order to grade the portfolio, a rubric will be created during a students and teacher collaboration, being a free spirit part 2. The rubric will be based on the SMPs and evidence of them within each unit of study. Well, students will need to understand the SMPs.

This is where being a free spirit part 3 comes into play. The activity plays out in my mind like this. Instead of posting kid friendly SMPs posters in the room, I plan to have students explore two standards a day. Students will look at the standard and discuss their interpretation of each. Students will be given the standard descriptors and will match the correct descriptor to the standards. This will be followed by an activity in which students will engage where the standards will be exhibited. After looking at all 8 standards, students can create posters of the SMPs.

Back to the rubric, with a better understanding of what they are expected to do, students can set the expectations of the 4 point scale rubric. My role will be to facilitate discussions and add specifics regarding the content standards. Free spirit squared 😁.