When I was a principal, I regularly participated in collaborative reviews of student work meetings. These meetings had three specific purposes: (1) reflection on instructional root causes of student performance, (2) identification of student performance trends and themes, and (3) consensus building for developing or “norming” shared expectations of student work based on the rubric.
I quickly learned that teachers felt that it was “easy to identify” which students’ work “missed the rubric mark” as well as which papers appeared to “have exceeded” the assignment’s performance criteria. With these observations in mind, as well as the reality of the limited time within a school day (and graduate classroom) for such analysis, I have created a modified, expedited process for my graduate classes that asks teachers to do three specific things PRIOR to coming to collaborative meetings:
Step 1: Use the rubric to independently assess student work against the criteria and bring ONLY THREE student work samples that the teacher feels “met the rubric criteria” and leave the other student work in the classroom (including others that may have met the rubric).
Step 2: Remove any student-identifying information on the three papers.
Step 3: Bring the three papers WITHOUT any written scores or feedback on them.
My goal for this modified process is to deliberatively streamline the process to center the conversation “at first” on what the team “may or may not agree on” when looking at the preponderance of evidence that students indeed have or have not met the rubric’s criteria. The conversation is centered on evidence and does not shift to conversations about grades, percentages, or students themselves. Potential biases are removed by redacting students’ names and any recorded assessments on the student work. My goals for this process are threefold: (1) the development of shared norms or expectations for student work, (2) some discussions of the rubrics themselves, and whether student performance expectations are clearly communicated, and (3) the fostering of courageous conversations about the instructional practices that yielded such results.
I wondered whether this modified, three-step process would work for higher education classrooms. So, I tried it in some of my educational leadership graduate classes in which my students are K–12 teachers. In one course, I asked students to look at data and to identify and analyze instructional, structural, and cultural root causes. Student work was one of the data sources used for this assignment.
In the graduate classroom, I created in-class “collaborative teams” and asked students to pretend they were on the same grade level or content team as the peer presenting the student work. Although the student work differed (in content and grade level) from teacher to teacher within the “collaborative” team, the central idea was this: Could a “school team” comprised of teachers from various levels and content use the assignment rubric, analyze student work, and provide feedback to the presenter using the evidence from the work?
Indeed, they could! The graduate students followed the three-step process outlined above and brought three work samples to class. Examples included students’ musical recordings, writing samples, and secondary mathematics word problems. In this case, one teacher at a time volunteered to share the three samples and led the collaborative team’s conversation. In subsequent classes, I revised the three-step process by having students self-assign to rotated roles with the collaborative group: presenter, participants, and process observer.
My students shared that they learned a lot about the power of such a strategy as well as gleaned ideas on how to replicate the process with their “real” school teams. Students anecdotally shared insights about how sharing student work takes trust, as it is not always easy to share student work and talk about the instruction that occurred prior to the students completing an assignment.
I followed up these class-based activities with sharing research findings about collaboration, sharing student work, and provided samples of protocols to use to “open the door” to courageous conversations.
My thought? Yes, this K–12 strategy absolutely works in higher education settings! You may consider working with colleagues who teach the same course as you to norm expectations for student work. The three-step process also is a great tool to examine student work against organizational standards, assessments, and more.
Dr. Katherine Orlando is a lecturer and the graduate program director for the Department of Instructional Leadership and Professional Development at Towson University.