Chapter 4: Effective Feedback and Rubrics

This post is part of the online study group and discusses Chapter 4 of David Niguidula’s book Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, published by ASCD.

Essential Question:

  • How do we decide what’s “good” or, at least, “good enough”?

Over the years that I’ve worked with digital portfolios, there’s one key element that separates successful implementation from those that go through the motions: feedback.

If students are going to put in the effort to assemble a portfolio, they want to know that someone is going to pay attention to it. If at the end, all that happens is the student gets a “check-plus” or some such grade, students are much less likely to do a good job.

Badges themselves provide one level of feedback; when a teacher marks that a student has completed one of the requirements, and the student sees that they have filled in part of the digital badge, that visual cue is useful.

But perhaps more importantly, digital badges and portfolios offer an opportunity for schools to think about their assessment practices in new ways. In particular, the essential question asks, “How do we decide what’s good?” For many schools, the key word in that question is “we.” Schoolwide badges offer an opportunity for faculty to talk about what they collectively agree is “good enough.”

Chapter 4 of the book provides a few strategies for schools to think about the assessment work:

  • Common Rubrics. When students submit work for a badge, you can have that work assessed with the same rubric. For example, if part of a science badge is to submit a lab report, your school could use (or create) a common rubric. This way, if a student submits a sample from biology or chemistry or earth science, the teachers can use the same lab report rubric and focus on the same qualities. (A quick note – this is NOT implying that all tasks have to be assessed with common rubrics; teachers can certainly personalize their assignments by adding task-specific rows to the common rubric.)
  • Calibration. In a calibration exercise, teachers get together and score a few pieces of student work with the same rubric. The idea is to see where teachers agree and disagree on the scores, and to come to a consensus about what qualifies as “meeting” expectations. By doing this on a few student entries (particularly those near the “meeting” / “not meeting” line), schools can gain more consistency in the scoring.
  • Focusing on common skills, such as “problem solving.” It can help to go beyond the specific content-area skills, and to look at the “soft skills” that come up in all classes. Creating or using a rubric for items such as “problem solving,” “working collaboratively” or “demonstrating citizenship” can help define what we really mean by those terms.

It’s easy, when thinking about digital badges and portfolios, to focus on the process of assembling the student work. Deciding what goes in, what tasks are badge-worthy, and figuring out the logistics of uploading are all, of course, legitimate items for a school to work on. Still, if you want to make the portfolios “stick,” and have a lifetime that extends beyond a pilot stage, schools need to pay attention to how the work will be assessed – and take the time to have the conversations among faculty and students about what it really means for work to be worthy of a badge.

What changes in your assessment practices have worked for you?

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