Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Breathing Fresh AIR into Lab Reports

One of the first posts I ever wrote for this blog was about using the PARCC rubric for Narrative and Analytic Writing to create a rubric that I could use for lab reports. My reasoning was that some of my students would experience PARCC tests and using this rubric would help cement it in their minds. Also, that rubric was developed by a team of people and I believed it to be stronger than what I had been using. 

I used my adapted rubric for one year, and Ohio gave the PARCC tests one time, but then our state legislature voted to abandon PARCC and write our own state tests. This happened during the summer and when it was time to start school, a new rubric for writing had not emerged, so I stuck with the adapted PARCC rubric last year. Now Ohio has developed rubrics to use with its newly designed assessments, so a friend and I adapted the Ohio AIR rubric for Explanatory Writing for this year's lab reports. Here is what we came up with:

In past years I provide students with a set of guidelines for writing lab reports and we take a quick look at the rubric. Still, when I grade the first set of papers, some students have really missed the mark. This year I tried a different approach.

I provided my students with two sample reports from previous years. I chose one report that was a very strong example and one report that was a very weak example. I asked the students to read the reports, referring to the rubrics, and then, as a group, determine a grade for each report out of 20 points. I asked each group to report their scores and we listed their results on the whiteboard. 

Sample 1, the strong report, was scored as an 18, 19, or 20 out of 20 by every lab group. The students agreed that it was well-written, contained all pertinent details, and could be regarded as an exemplar. Sample 2, the weak report, received a much wider range of scores, from 4 to 12 out of 20, so we looked at this one in greater detail. We talked through what the author did well and where she faltered. The students were much more critical than I was. I think I recorded this report as a 13 or 14 out of 20 when I graded it a few years ago.

Overall, this was a better approach to introducing lab reports than just reading the guidelines and glancing at the rubric. At least I hope it was. First lab reports from my classes are coming in today and tomorrow. I am hoping for much better first reads!

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