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Use a Six-Traits rubric for efficient assessment

April 15, 2019

Providing feedback for student writers is essential for their growth. However, the feedback cycle is often dreaded by teachers because it can be time consuming.

There are several ways to streamline the assessment process, and they all revolve around utilizing rubrics. Although most teachers are familiar with rubrics, they may not be maximizing their efficiency.

Six-Traits writing rubric - Tip#1#1 Don’t score for everything

The first aha is that there is no requirement to score for everything every time. Just because there are six traits, doesn’t mean all six need to be evaluated in each writing assignment. Consider what traits or facets were the focus of instruction.

  • For example, if students are writing a first draft, maybe let go of conventions so that students focus their energy on ideas and organization.
  • Sometimes sentence fluency may go on the back burner, except in poetry where students’ attempts at fluency need to be recorded.

Be flexible in what the focus of the grading is, but always communicate these expectations to students before they start writing.

Six-Traits writing rubric - Tip#2#2 Describe three levels; then add in-betweeners

Improve scoring efficiency by minimizing the criteria written on the rubric.

All rubrics include levels (e.g., columns) and traits (e.g., rows). And rubrics must describe what each trait looks like in its high, middle, and low levels. However, a 3-point rubric is often too simplistic. Most teachers would prefer 4-6 levels in order to honor students’ attempts.

Achieve this by spreading out the three described options to represent level 1 (i.e., low), level 3 (i.e., middle), and level 5 (i.e., high). Then add levels 2 and 4 in between without written descriptions. (Often, this criteria just bogs down the reader with additional and unnecessary text to wade through.) Download an editable rubric template.

Think of it as black, white, and gray. The differences don’t actually need to be described to know that shades of gray exist. This will make evaluating writing more efficient.

Six-Traits writing rubric - Tip#3#3 Connect levels to benchmark samples

Define each level verbally and visually. The written criteria (i.e., verbal) can bog some students down–especially visual learners. Define each level visually by hanging level-specific examples from the rubric.

A few quick tips when choosing examples:

  1. Make sure examples are all on the same topic.
  2. Make sure that topic is NOT the same topic the students are currently working on.
  3. When choosing these examples, be sure they are not from current students. No one wants to be the “low example,” and students whose work is chosen as the “high example” can’t think they are already at the highest level and don’t have improvements to make.
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