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by Erica Fischer on May 3, 2016

Making Rubrics Work FOR (Not AGAINST) You in the World Language Classroom

Making Rubrics Work FOR (Not AGAINST) You in the World Language Classroom

Last week, langchatters put their thinking caps on to discuss the key elements of effective rubric design in the World Language classroom. Participants talked through the finer points of the challenges in finding and making an effective rubric, and how to make a rubric communicate proficiency development. Contributors discussed ways to make a world language rubric student-friendly, as well as how to come up with simple rubrics for everyday tasks. Finally, chatters talked about how you can make a rubric translate into the required grade-book grade that’s necessary in the majority of classrooms.

A big thanks to Laura (@SraSpanglish) and Wendy (@MmeFarab) for co-moderating the Thursday night chat, and round of applause for Colleen (@CoLeeSensei) who led the #SaturdaySequel. And thank you to all our weekly #langchat participants, it wouldn’t be the same without you!

Question 1: What are your biggest challenges in finding/making an effective rubric?

Langchatters had a lot of input on the challenges they face when it comes time to finding and making effective rubrics for their classrooms. Some issues that participants noted were simply knowing what to include in the rubric, making a rubric that can assess all student levels of proficiency, knowing whether or not to change a rubric for the task, keeping rubrics focused, finding a rubric that finds a balance between desire to provide feedback and the real need to give grades, making rubrics that take into consideration all of the students as well as differentiation strategies employed in each project/assignment, making a rubric give enough guidance for a good product without having to outline every single possible nuance, and many more.

Participants seemed to universally agree that rubrics are a tough nut to crack, especially when it comes to accounting for all the things that come up in a world language classroom format. To make it work, you have to be willing to adapt and not stress over all the details. Like @WHS_French said, sometimes it’s most important to think about, “What’s my focus? How [do you] provide an outline not just ‘do x,y,z and you’ll get this grade’?” Similarly, @tmsaue1 said “#nosecret: I’m a big fan of giving kids the big picture. Show all (most) levels. Make proficiency continuum transparent.”

Question 2: How does a rubric best communicate proficiency development?

When it comes to communicating proficiency development through a rubric, sometimes you have to be more hands off in your design so that the real intention of the task/assignment can shine through on it’s own. As @ProfeCochran pointed out, “Just like the ACTFL [proficiency levels] focus on the functions of the language; [focus your rubric] on the “trunk of the tree.” Similarly,

Suggestions for making rubrics communicate the need for proficiency development included making rubrics show a continuum from just getting started, to needing help, to being on target/to going above, or by making sure to provide room for feedback (aka – “good, better, if” design). Other ideas included consistent continuum rubrics, making sure to point out that not everything is done for a “grade”, ensuring that it gives students specific expectations and has them aim for high levels of proficiency, make each rubric focus on clear communication/function, and aiming to find performance assessment rubrics that look at the big picture.

Question 3: How do we make a world language rubric student-friendly?

Making a rubric “student-friendly” is essential to making sure that students feel invested in the tasks and assignments that are presented to them. If they don’t understand a rubric or can’t see the obvious purpose behind something on it, they’re going to be less likely to want to participate to their full extent. Some simple ideas for helping students engage with a rubric included make the language student-friendly, using lots of “can-dos” and keep it focused, not using too many big words or superfluous boxes, utilize examples and descriptors, and keep the criteria short, sweet, and chuck all of those complicated grammar-y words that aren’t necessary.

A popular suggestion came from @Lwbespanol when she said it’s a good idea to “…give [students] credit for taking risks with the language, and focusing on task completion.” Another suggestion was @SraWeinhold’s, when she said “…having [a] life size proficiency rubric on the wall has been huge w/ understanding for all.”

To really make a rubric student friendly, you have to adjust it per class level and for each individual group of students since not all of the students at the same grade level are going to need the same things. Like @windycitysenora said, “Know your crowd and write [rubrics] accordingly.”

Question 4: How do you design a simple rubric for everyday tasks?

Langchatters seemed to be of two minds when it came to answering this question – on one side there’s those who feel that rubrics are unnecessary when it comes to everyday tasks, and on the other there’s those who feel that rubrics are necessary but take on a less formal shape on a daily basis. @kltharri represented the first group when she said, “Easy – I don’t. Everyday tasks are for practice, so they get my feedback in passing.” And @MlleSuweski characterized the feeling of the second when she said, “I do 10 pt scale for everyday things. 10=omg awesome, 9=very good 8=meets expectations etc.”

Other hands on suggestions for simplifying rubrics for everyday tasks included using the TALK score rubric for early language levels, having checklists with expectations and guidelines for daily work, or even just once in a while deciding to give students a score out of 10 on one aspect of the rubric such as comprehensibility or functional language so that it doesn’t get overwhelming on a daily basis.

Question 5: How does your rubric translate to the required grade-book grade?

This seemed to be a big sticking point for a majority of langchatters since figuring out how to make a “student-friendly” or “simple” rubric translate into a grade-book grade is usually very difficult to do.

There were so many suggestions for ways to approach making rubrics and grade-books line up that the ones that were proposed most are listed below:

  • Exceeds=A, Meets=B, Approaches = C, etc. Have to tweak category point values to get the right numbers.
  • Keep it to a 4-point scale. Students have to re-assess if they make less than a B.
  • “Meets expectations” is generally an 85, above and beyond gets to that 90-95 level
  • Keep all rubrics are on a 4 pt scale just like the report card, easy to look across grades for trimester & see grade for report cards
  • Exceeds= 96+ Meets = 90-95, Approaching = 80-89, so on.
  • Convert ACTFL-style rubrics to out of /10 scores, AAPPL levels aligned with /10 scores
  • If grading 3 things, 5 is highest possibly score, possible total 15/15. Have to explain grading system to students
  • 10=exceed level, 9/8=meet level, etc.
  • Each box has point range that is weighted by importance. Message communicated gets big chunk of importance.

On the other hand, there were quite a few participants who felt that trying to force the rubric to meet a grade-book grade is not entirely necessary. @senornoble said, “It’s the other way around for me. My gradebook requirement is translated to the rubric.” And similarly, @tmsaue1 stated, “If you’ve been to my workshop you’ve heard this line: ‘proficiency and grading have nothing to do with each other’.”


Last week, langchatters had a lot to say about rubrics and ways to make them effective in the world language classroom. Takeaways included the thought that while rubrics are elusive, they can slowly and steadily be improved, it’s important to make sure that rubrics are simple and student friendly, the idea that HOW a rubric is used is more important than actual rubric itself, the realization that rubrics are FOR the learners NOT to make grading easier for teachers, and the thought that it’s important to remember and be aware that your grading habits can impact/handicap rubric design. And @LaurenErinParker really summed up the overall takeaway from this chat when she said that it’s important to, “Be more intentional about educating students on rubrics and developing/revising more proficiency based rubrics.”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined in #langchat and shared their thoughts on making rubrics work for you. We hope that you continue to join #langchat whenever you are able – if the regular chat time on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET doesn’t work for you, try joining the #SaturdaySequel, every Saturday at 10 a.m. ET instead!

Our weekly #langchats are getting busier and busier, so due to space limitations, the summaries always focus on the main themes and takeaways from each week’s conversation. Many tweets have to be omitted but to read the entire conversation from this week, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have a topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

One comment

  • Janet Pickles

    I would love to see some samples… even if people only wanted to share one component…sometimes it is the semantics that make them unusable or difficult for the students to understand… Let’s tweak the good ones instead of re-inventing the wheel!

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