Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Potato Chip Rubric: Teaching Students How to Understand Rubrics


     Well, I've started my 20th year of teaching! I'm eleven days into the school year, and I just love my class. Because I moved from fourth grade to sixth grade I've had these students before, and it's just wonderful to see how they have grown and matured. Plus they are SO MUCH FUN.

    Another side effect of my move to sixth grade is that I've been looking back at my files and resources, rediscovering lessons that I taught before. One of my old favorites is The Reviser's Toolbox by Barry Lane. In this book, Barry Lane suggests talking with students about "the horserace of criteria" and working with students to create their own rubrics for something real and tangible.

    This sounded like the perfect plan for this week! I've started the year with Flood Warning (free) from my Summary and Analysis series. These include short articles with summary prompts and analysis responses.



    As students prepared to discuss and turn in their first response, I wanted them to really understand the rubric that my co-teacher and I would be using. For many students, rubrics are rather opaque tools that just don't make much sense.

    Enter the Potato Chip rubric! On Day 1, we talked about how we could create a rubric for potato chips. Here were some highlights from our discussion:

-What would we include on a rubric for potato chips?
-What makes the ideal potato chip? How do you know that you are tasting a really excellent chip?
-What score points would we like to have? (This led to a conversation of 3-point versus 4-point rubrics.)
-What criteria do we use to score potato chips? (Interested discussions at tables resulted from this--students debated whether "flavor" and "taste" meant the same thing, whether a potato chip's size should be evaluated, and whether we should just look at plain potato chips or included flavored chips.)

   Then, I connected the potato chip rubrics to our summary rubric. What criteria do we use to score a summary? Why? Students scored their own summaries using the rubric. "I never knew what a rubric really meant before," one student confided. "This is so hard," another student said.


    Could we rate apple cider using the potato chip rubric? I asked, and of course the students laughed at the idea of crunchy apple cider. Just as you can't rate apple cider with a potato chip rubric, you can't rate an analysis with a summary rubric. We discussed the differences between the two rubrics and students scored themselves on this one as well.


    Okay, so I could have stopped there. But what would be the fun in that? The next day, my co-teacher and I both brought in some potato chips for students to taste. We had blind taste tests and students used their own rubrics to rate the chips! Kids had so much fun, and of course the teachers did too. Students noticed how a chip could get an excellent rating for texture but not for taste, and vice versa. We also learned that a blind taste test can lead to surprising results--all of us expected to dislike the Lay's Classic chips, but those turned out to be a favorite of many! This led to conversations about how teachers often score work without looking at which student wrote the paper.

    Teaching students for a second time means that I've been able to dive into curriculum more quickly this year than in other years. But lessons like The Potato Chip Rubric are still important for the start of the year. These kinds of activities give our class a shared foundation and help to demystify some of the tasks of teaching and learning.

 



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