Water Colour Artist Fails Again!

I have been teaching myself how to paint with water colours. Let me come right out and say I am no undiscovered Turner or even the more recent amazing Milford Zornes. I started with a simple set of cups, using a YouTube video for instructions. Now, I have to confess, I was a bit lazy. I didn’t want to go through the whole process of drawing the cups first, and then painting them, and then having to get rid of the lines. I love and do a lot of mixed media, and we don’t do a lot of rubbing out!

If I was going to assess my efforts, using the following rubric, created by Sue Galos, oh dear! I don’t think I would do very well. But this may well be because there would be a considerable disconnect between my efforts and the purposes of this rubric, which Sue designed to assess a detailed and well delivered series of lessons on watercolour techniques. As is evidenced in her rubric. But here is the problem. I ‘borrowed’ this rubric from a website, after Googling ‘watercolour art rubric’ How often as teachers don’t we do this. Guilty!

Feedback: C- Room for improvement!

Are YOU a borrower?

And not only have I borrowed rubrics, but I have also had rubrics ‘borrowed’ from me. Why is that? What is it about writing rubrics, which makes teachers take shortcuts that they may not do with other areas of their teaching life?

I think the problem is that many teachers think it will take too long, is too difficult, they are hard to get right, or they don’t work. To many people, your students included, they can appear complex and tedious, they can be vague and use abstract language that students don’t understand. The other problem is that teachers can slip into the practice of using them primarily and give no other feedback or feedforward to the students.

But the reality is that rubrics can help both teachers and students, coordinating between instruction in the class and the assessment tasks. In other words, a well develop rubrics can help teachers teach and students learn. They should not be considered, says Eleanor Dougherty, as ‘hard facts’, but as a means of communicating learning expectations and providing feedback on learning progress.

Rubrics do help students!

So how can a good rubric help a student? There are 4 things a rubric can contribute to the students learning progress. They certainly make expectations clearer. A well-written rubric can set clear expectations, students know what they have to do, and how they should do it, they will also know what qualities the teacher is looking for. It gives them control over their learning. Yes, I have had them too – students who aim for the mid-grade on a rubric, after all “C’s make degrees”. But that is where you come in as a teacher, how do you encourage them to work harder, and go for the next level? How do you ‘teach up’ to use a common phrase borrowed from Carol Tomlinson.

One thing I have found with using good rubrics, is that students are more satisfied with the assessment practices. They understand how the marks were arrived at, they can see where they went wrong, and they understand what they need to do to improve for next time. And finally, it improves the visibility of marking – they can see how they were marked, they know that others were marked based on the same qualities of the work. It wasn’t that one student was marked on their writing style, and another on their language use! And if well designed, there are no hidden marks, I didn’t mark one student on the ‘prettiness’ of the presentation, if that wasn’t on the rubric that is!

And rubrics help teachers too!

What about teachers, how can a well-written rubric help them? I think one thing I particularly like about rubrics is establishing a shared language. I don’t just hand them out, I go through them in detail and encourage my students to take notes. That way, they and I know what the expectations are and what all the words on the page mean – and I don’t use obtuse language, just keep it simple. I like that rubrics identify what is valued in an assessment task and let the students know that. And I make sure there is a consistency with the curriculum, the assessment task, and the rubric. Bloom called this having congruence, which usefully describes ensuring that our assessments measure what we teach!

A well written rubric can give feedback to the students, but more importantly, feed forward, that opportunity to tell students how they can improve in the next task. Very importantly they improve the validity and reliability of an assessment task and the marking associated. Validity is all about making sure that the task assesses what you intend it to assess, and reliability, because different assessors, acting independently using the same task description can come to the same judgements about a given piece of work. It is much fairer for the students a as result! And finally, a well written rubric, with clear language, well stated expectations, will decrease your workload. You know what you are assessing, as do your students. No more guess work. It is just now a matter of reading those submitted assessment tasks, common issues can be quickly remarked upon, and you can focus on showing students how they can improve.

The unexpected submission

But what about those students who don’t submit that ‘expected’ assignment? Who work out of the box? Like me the want to be watercolour artist! As teachers, we must be holistic about the standard that mostly matches what the students has done. We must remember there are the intended outcomes and descriptors. This again reinforces the ideas that we must make sure our work is congruent. So, when this happens, always go back to the criterion and the intended learning outcome and make a professional judgement. The standards descriptors should not be prescriptive, they should not be used to restrict the awarding of a grade, but as a guideline!

How do you write a Rubric?

This resource coming soon to YouTube!

Of course, this doesn’t tell you how to write a robust, coherent or consistent rubric! But I hope I have wetted your appetite. If you wish to know more, if you are like I was, the rubric borrower, and instead wish to become the rubric expert in your staff room or school. Then I have written a course for you! Linked to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, at the Proficient level at Standard 5. Though if you are a graduate teacher, you shouldn’t hesitate to complete the course – the learning for you will be invaluable. It will set you on the right track from the beginning!

Oh, and my watercolour? I am very happy with my efforts. Not yet ready for the National Gallery, and certainly room for improvement. But I like the instructions in Sue’s lesson, and I am absolutely going to try some of those techniques!

All about Assessment Rubrics