Author Q&A: Todd Stanley Talks Using Rubrics for Authentic Learning
Author Q&A: Todd Stanley Talks Using Rubrics for Authentic Learning
PUBLISHED: Thursday, June 20, 2019 by Andilynn Feddeler

Writing a rubric that can accurately evaluate student work can be tricky. Rather than a single right or wrong answer, rubrics leave room for interpretation and thus subjectivity. Todd Stanley’s recent release, Using Rubrics for Performance-Based Assessment: A Practical Guide to Evaluating Student Work, will show classroom teachers not only how to create their own objective rubrics, which can be used to evaluate performance assessments, but also how to develop rubrics that measure hard-to-assess skills, such as leadership and grit, and how to empower their own students to create rubrics that are tailored to their work. Learn more about the book and how it can be used to assess student performance in this Q&A with the author:

Q: What’s the most important factor to take into consideration when developing a rubric? Why?

A: I would say the most important factor is actually twofold. First, make sure the rubric is measuring what you intend it to measure. Sometimes teachers attempt to evaluate things that have little to do with the overall mastery of the skill they want students to learn, or too much value is placed on something that is not as important. Striking this balance can be tough, but by breaking the skill down into a couple of categories, you can ensure you have the complete picture of student mastery of that skill.

The second thing would be user-friendliness. This is especially true if you are assessing performance where you have to have quick access to the rubric in order to properly evaluate students. It also applies if you have others using the rubric to help evaluate students. Is the rubric easy for them to understand and use? If not, you need to revise the rubric so that it makes sense to anyone, not just to you. This also helps when students are trying to use the graded rubric to figure out what they can improve upon.

Q: How can rubrics be used to measure hard-to-assess softer skills, such as leadership and grit?

A: Rubrics capture performance. Think of a rubric like a snapshot of student progress. If you write a descriptive and clear picture of what these skills look like, actually showing and not telling, then when students are able to demonstrate these skills, you can assess them properly. It can be very difficult to assess some of these skills by using a test. Students can certainly tell you what good leadership might look like, but can they actually show you? Just because students can identify what grit is does not mean they can use it in their own practice. Because a lot of these soft skills are performance-based, you need a means to capture that performance, and rubrics that are written well can do that. You just have to be sure the language you use describes what this looks like.

Q: Why is authentic learning important for today’s students?

A: Studies have shown that the level of student engagement wanes by the time students reach middle school, dropping even further when they go to high school. I have often wondered why this is. Why do elementary students just love to learn, and then by the time they are high schoolers it becomes more of a chore or a job? I think a lot of it has to do with the authenticity of the lessons. If you walk into most elementary classrooms, students are going to be out of their seats, experiencing things. The learning for them is meaningful because it is something they will be able to see in the real world. When you walk into high school classrooms, there is a lot of passive learning. Students are seated in rows and being talked at or reading information from a book. They do not see where the learning they are doing fits into the context of their real lives. If we could show them this through the use of authentic learning strategies, such as projects, problem-based learning, or case-based learning, they would actually begin to care more, which would raise the level of engagement.

Q: What is your top advice for a teacher using performance-based assessment for the first time?

A: Don't give up when things don't go perfectly. Performance-based assessment can be messy. This mess is a good thing. This is where students are learning. As teachers we are taught to maintain order in the classroom and to manage factors such as behavior and effort. The easy way to do this is by putting students in neat rows and giving them work that keeps them on task, but this is not the best way for children to learn. Think about your own learning experiences. What were the most meaningful ones for you? I can guarantee it did not involve you taking a test or reading about something. It was about you doing something. There is such an upside to performance-based assessment because students have the space to take risks, and this is where the greatest learning takes place. Sometimes these risks don't pay off, however. Don't be discouraged. Give your students the opportunity to take chances. This will better prepare them for life than any content standard.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your work?

A: The most important thing for someone reading one of my books or attending a presentation/workshop I am giving, is that they find something that is useful to them. Just like with my students, I try to give readers choices so that they can make the one that best applies to their situation. Every teacher is different, and not everyone teaches in the same style. You have to find the style that works best for your personality and your students. I try to provide strategies to people that they can adapt and make their own to fit their specific needs. If someone reads one of my books or leaves a presentation I have given and cannot immediately take it back to the classroom and use it, then I have wasted that person’s time, and if there is anything that is of most value to a teacher, it is the gift of time. I want to make sure teachers feel as though their time was well spent.

Todd Stanley is the author of more than 12 teacher education books, including Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st-Century Classroom, Performance-Based Assessment for 21st-Century Skills, and Authentic Learning: Real-World Experiences That Build 21st-Century Skills. He is currently gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local School District, OH, where he lives with his wife, Nicki, and two daughters, Anna and Abby.

Be on the lookout for Stanley’s upcoming releases, available Fall 2019.