By John Lambert
I went to a liberal arts school and really fell in love with writing and the process of writing. It allowed me to examine the complexities of society as I worked toward my degree in history. While still in school, I realized that when I began teaching I wanted my students to learn how to write as well. I wanted them to write not only because I really enjoy writing, but because it is the best practice of demonstrating your knowledge within the social sciences.
One thing I pride myself upon is incorporating writing to better teach and assess the content. It is an effective demonstration of critical thinking and promotes the development of content through the lens of society. Throughout my schooling experience, I would consistently question why it was so important to know how many people died at the Battle of Gettysburg rather than understanding why it is important that we spent three days watching Ken Burns tell us the story in class. Numbers of casualties and dates make social studies trivial. Writing emphasizes the why; why does this event matter? Why are people behaving as they are? Unfortunately, this effective practice creates a large amount of work for the instructor by creating the need to read, assess, and provide feedback to one hundred eighty essays.
Giving Effective Feedback
The greatest adjustment I’ve made in my practice in providing feedback for written work is the adaption of a PARCC-aligned rubric for all expansive written efforts. I have found the use of a rubric provides three fantastic benefits for students:
Students have a tangible sense of their achievement when viewing a rubric. Because students are capable of viewing their strengths and weaknesses, the grade they earn is no longer in question and reflection of their effort is at the forefront. Self-reflection shifts the student effort from getting a high score to crafting a strong response.
Strong rubrics are flexible because their use is adaptable. The best of rubrics can be cross-curricular, accessible for all grade levels, and even utilized to emphasize specific standards. Strong rubrics reflect and promote equity because you are truly looking at the work in front of you and assessing whether the response met the standards presented. Subjective is not flexible, but objective is and a strong rubric provides objectivity in a subjective practice.
If the standards change for each written assignment, students cannot develop. A strong rubric can promote rigor within your classroom because students have a set expectation of what is necessary to reach success–no matter the stakes of the writing assignment. Additionally, when adapted in a cross-curricular manner, students receive consistent feedback in order to reflect upon the efforts that facilitate–or hinder–success. Consistency enables objectivity in a subjective practice.
Providing feedback on written assignments can be arduous due to its subjective nature. Creating objectivity for the subjective is extremely helpful in practice, assessment, and feedback. A strong rubric allows for strong student reflection in consistent and flexible uses. Tangible benefits are easily identifiable when tracking a student’s progress over any interval. Even better–your use of a strong rubric ensures rigor and promotes equity in the classroom. Everyone will love you for using a rubric. So, c’mon; what are you waiting for? All the cool kids are doing it!
About the Author
John Lambert is a high school social studies teacher at Pikesville High School in Baltimore, Maryland. He currently teaches AP U.S. Government as well as Honors American Government. He enjoys teaching social studies because it helps create socially conscious and reflective individuals capable of analyzing a dynamic world.