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129. PRACTICE: Rubrics as Learning Sequences vs. Levels of Mastery

by Lindsay Lyons
August 22nd 2023
In today's solo episode, Lindsay is sharing a practice with rubrics as both learning sequences and levels of mastery i... More
I'm educational justice coach Lindsay Lyons. And here on the time for Teacher podcast, we learn how to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice design curricula grounded in student voice and build capacity for shared leadership. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach. I'm striving to live a life full of learning, running, baking, traveling and parenting because we can be rockstar educators and be full human beings. If you're a principal, assistant superintendent, curriculum director, instructional coach or teacher who enjoys nerdy out about co creating curriculum with students. I made this show for you. Here we go. Hello and welcome to another episode of the Time for Teacher Ship podcast. Today's episode is based on a spark from a podcast episode I was listening to and it made me really think about what was possible. So I have to copy out this by saying that the person seeking has their own kind of process and organization and things around this concept of learning sequences as part of assessment. I kind of took it in my own direction and kind of linked it to things I've said before but wanted to make it really concrete.

So that it is something you could put into practice right away. Let's get to the episode. So as I said, this episode is sparked by listening to an episode of Future Learning Design podcast. And this is actually my first time listening to this podcast. It was really great. And the episode I listened to, I'll link to it in the blog post as well. That's Lindsey baths dot com slash blog slash 129. Because if you're anything like me, you're gonna want to go ahead and listen to the episode as well after this one. But or even before, but doctor Stein, um so this, this episode was called the philosopher and the neuroscientist, a conversation with Zack Stein and Mary Helen and Morio Yang and Doctor Stein was talking about assessment and measurement and he said that this is a quote here. The goal of the assessments are not to sorry are to not obfuscate what's going on to precisely say like you understand these things and there's a set of things you can come to learn that are slightly more abstract, that integrate these lower level things. He goes on to say the introduction of what we call learning sequences as opposed to levels or stages and he continues on.

But, but this is kind of the core of what I took and kind of ran with this idea of learning sequences as opposed to levels or stages. I've always been a fan of mastery based learning. And I have used a mastery based rubric when I often talk about having one department wide course long rubric that you use for all summit of projects assessments. It was always mastery based, it was always levels and I would talk before and I have share shared before the rubric templates that I use that you could use a single point rubric. So you have kind of like the core, this is what mastery looks like. And then there's kind of like an approaching space where you could write commentary in there as a teacher who's grading the assessment of like why it's not quite there yet or in the right hand column, kind of why it is exceeding or above the standard definition of mastery, you could also have 345 levels of mastery. So I typically use a four point mastery scale for each standard in my class when I was teaching. And that's typically what I will recommend to others. We have seen the research on uh mastery based grading being really favorable, right?

So we know that research shares it is better than traditional grading. So it's not that mastery based grading is terrible. And if you're using that, you should stop doing it. I don't think that that's the takeaway for me. Mastery based grading is better than traditional grading. We know that there is a research study from, he said Marzano in 2009, which noted a 34% gain in student achievement in mastery based classes. Research has found that students increased their learning in master based classrooms versus traditional classrooms. Other impacts were that classroom environments were less stressful and the teachers had better relationships with students and vice versa and the achievement gaps quote unquote were decreased again, mastery based versus traditional grading. So we know that mastery based grading is better than traditional greeting this episode or this kind of small quote of the episode. The whole episode is fantastic. You should totally listen to it. But this piece really made me think about interesting. What does a learning sequence look like if it were to be mapped onto a rubric? And again, they have their own process of lea I think is the organization he was talking about very really in depth rundown on their website, which I will link to again in the blog notes that talks about the system that they have for coming up with kind of assessment practices and, and all of this, it's based in the research.

They also give some practical examples for me. I think I have an even more simplified understanding that actually makes it I think easier and quicker to put into practice versus trying to understand all of the in depth concepts and applications. And so what I'm thinking here is that we take the things that have been working, we take the concept of a standards based or skill based rubric we take the concept of kind of this multi column piece of paper that becomes that rubric. We take the concept that we've always talked about of sharing the rubric with students ideally co creating the rubric with students. And we just think about the categories or, or the columns, maybe not even categories, the columns that are present in that rubric and we rethink them from levels of mastery to a learning sequence. Now how this connects to things that I've already said. And and what I do when I'm coaching departments on selecting priority standards is that I say anything that is the not priority standard, right? You usually have like a ton of standards, the ones that don't get selected as priority, they don't go away, they become supporting standards.

So this is common language that I've used. We're just gonna think about how that connects to this new product. We're creating this new rubric that is learning sequence based. So the supporting standards typically, I will have teachers use those as the definition of lower mastery levels because an ideal rubric in each column will say what a student can do. So they can do this kind of lower level or supporting skill that is a prerequisite to doing this really intense complex, usually high challenge, priority skill. So when we're selecting the priority standards, really important that they are very challenging, otherwise this kind of falls apart. So if we're already doing that, if we're already defining lower levels of mastery of a priority skill as a supporting standard. I think it's a very easy transition to consider them learning sequences, maybe just a little bit more refinement and intentionality behind the language and choosing each piece. Um And I actually think we'll just kind of like I I it's just clearer to me as calling a learning sequence and not only for the design of the rubric but also with students, I think the impact here could be really huge is that it's not like, oh you're below the standard or even if we kind of, you know, sugar coat it a little bit and change the language to not below standard, but approaching the standard, you still know as the student that you are not at the standard, you are below the level of expectation, right?

Versus everyone is on their own learning path, we learn things in sequences, we move from one step to the other almost like I'm almost thinking of like a a you know, video game or kind of like moving to the next level, like everyone goes through all the levels. You're just at kind of this phase of the video game and you're going to move to the next one. I think this also this idea of a a learning sequence or a journey, it helps students or at least it helps me as an adult and a learner who's constantly learning new things that like we're we're where we need to be and there is um kind of a forward progress or momentum that's always possible. So I sometimes think, and this is coming from a, a student who uh you know, always got a s in school and like was really intense about getting A's. Sometimes you get that a and you think that you have nothing left to learn, you, you kind of have no path forward, right? And in terms of what that looks like. So if we continue to think of learning sequences and they might not all fit on the page, right? We have to end the the columns somewhere where like kind of the goal of this is where we want all students to be by the end of the year kind of thing.

But I think that idea of like above standards or exceeding standards, whatever that like above column was that were category that we called it in a typical mastery based rubric, like maybe that's pulling in standards from a higher grade band or college level or doctoral level or you know, however far you want to reach to get a higher level of complexity challenge abstraction, whatever so that it is present um in, in that language and that all students constantly have kind of a next step. The other thing I think it in using the language sequence terminology with students and also just mentally for the teacher is to say this evaluation is not of a student's w like, not even worth but like, it's not kind of like this is the label that goes on the student and it's permanent, right? It's just like where you are at a given point in time. And I think that's really freeing and it also just helps us be more responsive and personalized and equitable and supportive and whatever it is that we need to be as educators when supporting students Because I think that's really important too.

So always into the concept of the language and what kind of implications that has. But as we think about what we're gonna do here, like how do we actually do this? How do we design a rubric that has a learning sequence across the row of a particular chosen priority standard or scale versus the columns of mastery? I think it's again, a very small change. So this is actually probably going to be the shortest part of the episode here is the house, but let's keep it simple because that's great. So here's how to design a learning sequencer brick, I think. And I'm open to feedback here because this is just what I'm thinking in the this moment. Step one, you still determine your priority standards that doesn't change from how you would do a master basic. R again, aim for 5 to 7 total. I think that's the sweet spot, 5 to 7 total skill based standards. And again, it's important that we select the most challenging or complex skills because we need those supporting standards to be able to go in there. We don't want to come in at like a kind of medium challenge skill and then we don't have anything that goes um in the sequence, right, leading up to it, step two for each priority standard, that's for each row of your rubric.

You're going to map out the supporting standards that students need to have before getting to the priority standard. So I think as a support, if you're coaching teachers to do this, you literally wanna ask like, OK, well, what do students need to do before they get here? Like what like literally have, this is actually my favorite idea here. Literally have teachers go through the process of doing whatever high level skill that is and narrate or write down or map out or record somehow document what is the play by play. So I'm thinking of, you know, those um like essays, procedural essays that we have to write. I, I had to write one, I think in like a, a creative writing course or something. And it was like, or even like, you can sometimes do it verbally describe how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And you have to like literally say each particular part and then it's like, oh you never said till like, you know, use a knife. And so then you just like got peanut butter everywhere and like or it just couldn't even work because you skip that step and you didn't articulate that. So if you're giving directions to someone and they skip it, like the whole thing falls apart, that kind of a level of detail is what I'm talking about.

So an example I usually use is analyze, it's always like a really good high level complex skill that has so many components that are part of it along that learning sequence. So I'm sharing here a very simplistic example, but it might look like students need to be able to code to decode the words of the text first. If they can't literally decode and be able to like say what each word is, then they're not getting anywhere, right? So they need to to be able to code the decode the words, then they need to comprehend the text. Again, I might be skipping some things in between here. But for a simplistic example, decode the words, comprehend the text and the meaning. Then they need to be able to summarize, to repeat it back to you key points, highlight the key main idea details, then they can analyze and say kind of like so what or this matters because or whatever and then again, you can escalate that even beyond like so then they could like bring in a like develop a claim and and counterclaim or something or or analyze for perspective or for some other kind of like lens or something, but decode comprehend, summarize, analyze, these are kind of like a four part learning sequence.

So typically we'll say for Master Race rubric, we're just focusing on analyze. Now, we're saying like, OK, well, before analyze, we need to be able to at least identify the key details and repeat those back, right? And the main idea before that, we need to just understand what the text was saying in the first place, right? And to be able to understand it, what do we need to, well, we need to be able to like literally read the words. So have each teacher or the group of teachers like complete a task or narrate, what are those steps do that for each standard and write those down math amount in order? Then you're going to describe each one of those subs skills or the skills in the learning sequence as a separate column on the rubric again, just like you would for levels of mastery. But this time, it's just like its own separate skill with its own separate name. I would even use the same column headers if they're visuals. So I usually use and you can see this on the blog post again, Lindsay, beth lions dot com slash blog slash 129 that is going to give you the template for typically the rubric template that I use and recommend that teachers and departments use, which has the stages of riding a bike as the visual. So like the first level is like, you have to build the bike or get it out of the garage or whatever it is.

And then, you know, you ride the bike now you're doing tricks in the bike or whatever the sequence is, you can use any sort of analogy. I like the idea of visuals because you're not attaching a like category label to it, like a, a verbal, like below standards or whatever, because each one is gonna be different now because it's a sequence and you might even say like putting all the standards on one page is, is like too confusing or something. Um And they like there might be one scale sequence that has five parts to it and the other one has two parts to it or something, right? Like so it might not actually work to all do the same grid. What I would recommend there cut out strips if, especially if you put it on the wall. Like I always put mine on the wall, cut out strips and have each row of the grid just kind of like be separate. And then you could choose whether you want a visual at the top or not in that visual category. So that is kind of the gist. I think you're doing mostly the same thing you're doing what I've said to do before determine your priority standards, then map out the supporting standards. What's the sequence? Then describe them the final tip.

I think this is like a really good practice. After you complete the new rubric, I would look at your instructional activities. This includes things like your scaffolds. Right? When you are having someone analyze, like, what does that look like? Do you have a scaffold that helps them summarize because sometimes they just jump right to analyze. So if you have a scaffold for analysis, maybe it's asking some guiding questions. Great. But do you have one, if a student can't even get to that point yet? They are, they're still working on their summarizing skill, right? And being able to just maybe label or build out if you don't have them, the scaffolds for activities or specific priority, standard skills um for the full learning sequence. And then I would also just think through the language that you're using, it's gonna be a little bit of a shift if you're used to mastery based language and how you talk to students about like where you are in the learning sequence versus where you are in your level of mastery or your proficiency level for that specific skill. It's just something really quick to think about and uh kind of do and, and practice as you just continue to develop lessons units, um classroom posters, language that you, you know orient students to like a new project or something, all that kind of thing, just give it a little bit of thought here.

All right. So again, to help you design your own learning sequence. I'm gonna share my skill based rubric templates. They're the sequences I've used before, but just kind of think about them from the perspective of a learning sequence. Again, take out maybe those category headers. Um I might even do that myself and then use the visuals if you want or replace them with a different visual analogy of kind of like progress or sequence, maybe even something with like journeying, right? And I keep thinking of this as like a learning journey. OK. That's it. For this episode. I will see you next week. If you're leaving this episode wanting more, you're going to love my life coaching intensive curriculum, boot camp. I help one department or grade team create feminist anti racist curricula that challenges affirms and inspires all students. We weave current events into course content and amplify student voices which skyrockets engagement and academic achievement. It energizes educators feeling burns out and it's just two days. Plus you can reuse the same process any time you create a new unit which saves time and money. If you can't wait to bring this to your staff, I'm inviting you to sign up for a 20 minute call with me.

Grab a spot on my calendar at www dot Lindsay beth lions dot com slash contact. Until next time leaders continue to think. Big act brave and be your best self. This podcast is a proud member of the teach better podcast network. Better today, better tomorrow and the podcast to get you there, explore more podcasts at teach better dot com slash podcasts and we'll see you at the next episode.

129. PRACTICE: Rubrics as Learning Sequences vs. Levels of Mastery
129. PRACTICE: Rubrics as Learning Sequences vs. Levels of Mastery
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