* Rubric for school assemblies

In response to a question about how to support special needs kids in school assemblies, I have created the following rubric.  Before using it, though, you need to role-play and discuss the relevant issues.  For some kids with sensory disorders, an assembly can be a nightmare of sound, action, and bodies.  Most kids already know what aspects of an assembly are the most distressing. The assembly’s topic, length, volume, and visuals can all create problems.  Many presenters begin by greeting the audience and then ratcheting up “attentiveness” by repeating, “I can’t hear you!”  At that point, maybe 200 kids are screaming at the top of their lungs, so my student with sensory overload is already in dire straits.  Consider these issues:

  • Seating: Try to place your student near an adult who will be responsive to your student’s needs, including leaving the assembly if needed.  Seating near the end of a row is also helpful for quick exits and for reducing the number of people clustered around your kid.
  • Topic: Consider an alternative, non-punitive activity if you know the assembly topic will trigger serious distress.  I’ve had kids who were freaked out by scary puppets and “evil” characters.  With their parents’ approval, they could skip assemblies with a fairy tale focus.  You may include that modification on IEPs as necessary.
  • Volume:  A small pair of foam ear plugs may help; check with parents first.
  • Preview: Most assembly presenters provide a description of their performance, including an online site.  Students who know what’s coming are at an advantage.  In fact, it’s remarkable how little any kids can describe an assembly.  We’ve often discussed them during lunch bunches and I’ve been amazed at how little the “typical learners” retained.
  • Debriefing:  In light of the item above, follow up with your kids by eliciting details and sequence of events.  Like a good lawyer, don’t ask questions for which you don’t know the answer!  It’s best to attend the assembly yourself, if possible.

Remember that rubrics should be individualized to meet the needs of specific students; I wrote this one with a certain kid in mind.assemblies rubric

* Rubrics #3 Teaching social skills

This is my third post on the use of rubrics for instruction and assessment.  In this post I will review some effective ways to use rubrics for students who struggle with social skills.  Many of these student have been labeled as autistic (on the autism spectrum or as having a Pervasive Developmental Disorder).

Rubrics fit well into explicit and sequential instruction in social skills.  (Hey! Just as in phonics instruction!)   Using a case study approach, let me introduce you to Jonathan.  He was identified as having PDD in preschool.  He’s a bright kid who looks a lot like a miniature “professor.”  Jonathan is very rule-oriented and eager to please.  He is easily distracted by sounds and movement around him and is on medication for a diagnosed attention disorder.  He appears to be daydreaming much of the time.

When I first observed Jonathan in his classroom, he was sitting quietly but not accomplishing much.  His teacher confirmed that he did very little unless he was seated by her or the assistant.  It was fairly easy to change that behavior by setting specific goals for task completion and monitoring/rewarding his progress.

I also observed Jonathan in the cafeteria and at recess.  That particular cafeteria was in a perpetual state of bedlam, but I did notice that other kids managed to talk (or yell), whereas Jonathan seemed overwhelmed by the noise and activity levels.  At recess, Jonathan was glued to the teacher assistant, who was quite impressed by his wide range of knowledge on certain topics.  However, he would only talk about his particular interests and never responded to questions on other topics.

Jonathan began a course of social skills instruction individually because of scheduling issues.  It is possible to teach social skills to one student at a time, but it’s not ideal.  I prefer a group of 6 or 8 (even numbers, please!), but you take what you can get.  After a couple of sessions to prepare him for a small group “lunch bunch” with some typically developing peers, we were ready to launch.  His targeted skills were eye contact and willingness to respond to topics other than his primary interests.   I had permission to videotape, so Jonathan and I could review his conversational skills individually.  Jonathan used a rubric similar to the one below to evaluate his performance during lunch bunch.  I had designed the rubric so that he would not score below a two in any category.rubric conversations 2He chose not to use the rubric during the actual lunchtime.  Students vary in their desire to have visual cues as they participate with classmates.  If they choose to have cues provided (which may take the form of a rubric), I make sure that all members of the group are prepped with the same cues. I also practice nonverbal cues with students like Jonathan, so that my prompts are as subtle as possible.

After the first couple of lunch bunches, Jonathan experienced a sudden spurt of interactions with peers and was even talking in the cafeteria. Jonathan revealed that he was quite desperate for relationships with the most popular kids in the class, which resulted in his ignoring those kids who asked to join him for lunch.  The more popular kids tried one lunch bunch and decided they preferred the melee of the cafeteria.  Jonathan was then left with his “second” choice of classmates for lunch bunches; however, he continued to ignore the interested students and started begging the elite group to rejoin him (until I discovered what was happening).  By then, I had to make lunch bunches a more desirable opportunity because no one wanted to join us (we moved from a conference room to my classroom, which had games in it).  We finally had a stable lunch bunch group when we hit another bump in the road.  Jonathan became obsessed with anything that made other kids laugh.  Forget those intellectual discussions on his topics of interest.  Suddenly, all his conversational  topics were related to toilets and private parts (he had obviously been absorbing social skills on his own!).  I had to drop our videotape reviews because once he saw himself being silly, he was so thrilled that he copied himself.  His rubric changed to match this new fascination and continued to successfully shape his behavior.  Since humor was his preferred way to get attention, we began using riddles and jokes as a conversational topic.  Although Jonathan was as rigid with that subject as he had been with others, his classmates could participate more easily.  I eventually set a time limit on the joke topic in order to preserve my sanity and any order in the group.

Note: It is important to respect personal preferences, even as you teach kids to navigate social settings which are out of their comfort zone.  Once he started interacting with others, it became obvious that Jonathan was a funny kid who loved to be the center of attention.  Despite his zoned out appearance, he was definitely absorbing social information.  Had we not curtailed the toilet talk, he might have gotten into trouble simply because he was operating from a different perspective and set of rules.

To summarize, rubrics provide clear expectations for social behavior, such as conversations, playground interactions, and interactions with teachers.  As evident in the example above, your rubrics will change as kids both develop skills and help set their own preferred course for making friends.

* Rubrics #2

This post is a follow-up to yesterday’s overview of rubrics.  Remember that the categories in rubrics relate to student outcomes and the rating scale is used to determine how well a student has mastered those skills.  Rubrics can be used across all subject areas.

Now let’s look at what goes inside a rubric. Adding the content can be the most labor-intensive part of rubric development because it requires you to carefully describe the process towards proficiency.  These descriptions must be specific and measurable, such that another teacher or parent could understand your results.  Here’s an example of one category for a math rubric used for solving word problems:   math rubric word problems 4 Since I have always used rubrics with students, I make the content as encouraging as possible. Obviously, you will avoid descriptors such as “I failed” or “I have no idea what I’m doing.”  If the rubric is for your eyes only, however, there is no need to use student-friendly language.

There is no one right way to create a rubric; each one will reflect the teacher’s goals and measures of proficiency. The example below uses Rubistar‘s suggested content for math manipulatives, where the focus is on appropriate behavior instead of reasoning: Rubistar math rubric In addition to providing access to a wide range of preexisting categories and content, Rubistar rubrics are easily modified.  I prefer to have my rating scale read from left to right in ascending order, so I changed the above online version a little.  Another cool feature of Rubistar’s rubric creators is adding classroom (or student) performance by percentage into each box of the rubric.  That allows you to see strengths and weaknesses at glance, which can enhance future instruction.  Rubrics can also be paired nicely with checklists.  Examples of such categories include “I used my writing checklist” or “I followed my morning check-in list.”

My next post on rubrics will focus on their use for teaching social skills.  Any questions or comments?  Please feel free to note them below.

* Rubrics #1

If you are not routinely using rubrics across subject areas, you are missing an invaluable teaching tool.  If you have never created your own rubric, you are missing even more!  Rubrics are an effective tool for understanding what you want students to learn as well as how you will know if they have learned it.  Rubrics can serve as a graphic overview for students during the learning process and support increased student analysis of their own learning.  I will provide an outline of rubrics in this post, then detail their use in social skills development in another post.

Let’s assume you have used commercially prepared rubrics so you understand that a rubric is a matrix of features (categories), measured by a sequential rating scale of performance.  I enjoy using Rubistar for rubric creation (check here for their definition of rubrics) but rubrics can easily be made offline as well.  If you are a novice, Rubistar will guide you through the creation process through both “tours” and prompts.

A rubric for assessing students’ written assignments is a good place to start if you have not ever created your own.  The age and developmental level of your students will guide the wording of the features or categories you are assessing as well as the measure of their success.   For younger students, you could even pair simple pictures with the wording.   Here’s a sample I just created to illustrate some key points:

beginning writing rubric 2

This rubric focuses on four features or categories of the student’s writing: number of sentences, clarity of sentences, and two areas of writing conventions.  A sample picture has been added for non-readers.  The rating scale is indicated by stars at the top.  For the category “I wrote 3 sentences,” you could indicate that “I wrote 1 sentence” is equivalent to one star,” “I wrote 2 sentences” equals two stars, and so on.  Stars are a simple performance indicator for younger kids.  Older students could use a numbered performance evaluation, with more performance indicators (such as 1 through 4) or words (Beginning/Proficient. etc.)  as well as more (and increasingly complex) categories.

You can see the link to what you want students to learn right there in the rubric.  If your goal is three understandable sentences using basic writing conventions, this is your rubric.  If your goal is three sentences with transition words, your rubric would look quite different.

You will need to teach students how to use a rubric effectively.  If the rubric is used solely for assessment, demonstrate its use with various writing samples.  If you are using the rubric to guide student instruction, you could model its function as a measure of ongoing progress.  Students could check or highlight boxes to track their progress and as they edit their work.  During a writer’s conference with the teacher, even young students can share their personal evaluation of their writing to date.

Once students become proficient in using rubrics, they can become involved in the creation of rubrics individually or as a class.  You could elicit more personalized and student-driven writing analysis by adding an empty category box at the bottom of a rubric;  each writer could indicate what other category they want to include and evaluate (such as illustrations or questions).

Stay tuned for the invaluable use of rubrics to support the development of social skills.