Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lab Reports are a Walk in the PARCC

My students write lab reports about once a month.  They do labs a lot more often than that, but we save the formal write-ups for about once in each unit.  Often these are inquiry labs where students have designed their own procedures and carried them out in order to determine something.  Since each group might have a slightly different take on the experiment, the lab report helps me get a better picture of what direction they went and where they ended up.

In the past, I have accepted handwritten and typed reports, on my template or on whatever is handy.  This does present some challenges, not the least of which is that some of them are sloppy and hard to grade.  I decided at the end of last year that I was going to use Google Docs for lab reports this year -- everyone has to type them.  Plus, I will use Doctopus and Goobric to farm out the assignment and give students feedback.  This means I need a better rubric.  My past "rubric" has been pretty pathetic:

5 = meets or exceeds the criteria for this section
4 = is missing a component, but almost meets the criteria            
And so on . . .

There are usually 4 or 5 sections in the report, so I grade each one out of 5 (the maximum score on the rubric) and then add up the scores.  I labor over the grading -- the combination of reading the reports and agonizing between a 4 and a 3.  Most students do pretty well on these, but they still grumble when it's lab report time.

I was already thinking about the rubric when I attended an Ohio Regional Network Leader Summer Leadership Academy last week in Columbus.  The ELA group had a lucky visit with a PARCC assessor who shared some strategies for helping students maximize success on the PARCC tests this year.  One of the tips was to use the PARCC rubric.  All the time.  Teachers have to know it, kids have to know it.  So, I figured, maybe I should know it.

I looked at the PARCC Extended Scoring Rubric for Narrative and Analytic Writing.  Needless to say, it was much better than "5 = meets or exceeds the criteria for this section."  I like the way it broke up the task of writing into smaller components and the descriptive language it uses to help students differentiate between levels on the rubric.  I decided to try to adapt the PARCC rubric for lab reports this year.  Here is what I have landed on so far:

I tried to choose PARCC statements about content, organization, and mechanics since those are the things I would prioritize in these written reports.  I sometimes eliminated some words from the PARCC descriptors because they did not apply here.  I tried to keep my rubric to one page.

From my side of the desk, it looks like these reports will be easier to grade because they will all be typed, the rubric focuses my grading, and Doctopus and Goobric will deliver the work and provide the feedback.  Maybe I'll even try out Kaizena for voice comments.  I may still wince at the electronic stack in my Drive and the students may grumble at the chore of the report, but I hope I have created an assignment that makes more sense and provides them with meaningful practice for the assessments next spring.

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