Using backward planning to create rubrics with students that better assess their learning needs.

by Barry Saide

Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12


I’m passionate about being intentional with teaching and I do that through assessing students with rubrics that we jointly create, modify and understand.

Instead of the traditional approach of handing out rubrics at the middle or the end of a project, I work backwards through the process:

–First I introduce model student work at the same time as the rubric. I present the indicators and explain the expectations for the project. When children understand things in concrete, logical, sequential settings, they can produce. This step is similar to having a set of group norms that present expectations for interpersonal interactions, except here I clarify the expectations for the students’ interaction with their rubrics and what they’ll need to do to be successful with the project.

–Next, I modify the rubric according to the needs of the students. Together as a class, we assess what the work should look like and why. The original rubric is in a draft form until the students have talked about it.  This way, I’m never using the same rubric twice. As a teacher, I don’t need to be the one who figures out exactly what the rubric will be, I just need to facilitate the environment to create the understanding of what the rubric will be for that exact project for the students. The students become the guide to building up the rubric.

–Then, as a class we refer to the rubrics every day. This becomes the guide for the entire unit, for the month. By the time the students hand in their projects, they know the grade they’re going to get because we’ve been working off of it every day.

With this approach you are teaching students how to think not what to think. If we look at rubrics as an opportunity for students to become invested in learning and to understand it, rubrics become another piece of material to get a really good ideas of how kids learn and who they are as people.


What I did well (in sharing this practice with other teachers)?

The most important thing in any lesson I teach is to first state the objective. When my students know what the objective and expectations are for a lesson, the students can then focus on how we’re going to get there. In this video, I like how I set the purpose and objective for our lesson. I also liked the scaffolding I modeled when teaching this lesson to colleagues. Each piece of the lesson embedded tiered questioning, higher-order thinking, cooperative learning, and reflection. At each stage, closure was conducted.

What I would do more of, better, differently (in sharing this practice again)?

In an hour it is a challenge to tackle a subject like rubrics. I wish I had more time to find out what the teachers in the room already knew so I could have modified and adjust my lesson more, had an opportunity to let them share out more (as they were very eager to share — but we were up against a running clock), and if the teachers in the room were secure in their understanding of rubrics, to create a rubric together. Maybe next time 🙂

In what ways do I still want to learn and grow in using this practice in my classroom?

Continuing to learn and grow is at the heart of good teaching. We don’t know until we try. Then, when/if we fail, or make missteps, we reflect, and think about how we can provide stronger instruction next time. I’m going to continue to ask questions about best practice when it comes to assessment. I’m going to continue to read the research. And, I’m going to continue to refine my approach to leveraging rubric creation and use as an instructional strategy to formatively assess where my students are as learners.

About Barry Saide

Barry Saide has been in education for 15 years, the past 13 in Bernards Township, New Jersey. He has taught 2nd, 3rd, and 5th grade. Barry has buil...

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