Show Up and Dig In

Last summer while my literacy team was planning for the school year, our administrator liaison suggested we get the school normed on a common rubric. She had been doing some reading about successful schools and the conversations that happen at schools with common language and common grading practices has proved to be successful in making improvement. I had never worked super closely with this administrator before, so stupidly I sort of chortled and made some snide comment like, “Yah, right.” Thinking to myself, “That is never gonna happen.”

The way I remember it, is that once I chortled and got it out of my system, she turned to me and said something like, “No seriously. This is how we will start conversations that are real about student writing. This is how other schools have become excellent, and I think we can do it too.”

Well…we did it. We normed our entire staff of just under 260 people on a common rubric. We began last August when we developed common language across discipline areas. We use the language claim, evidence, and reasoning to talk to our students about writing anything that can be considered argumentative: lab reports, math problems, data based questions, you name it.

This really magical thing happened when we did this. I can walk into any classroom and students know what I mean when I say, “Write a CER about X topic.” They get to work, and their questions are not so much about the writing, but about the content they are grappling with.

How powerful is that?

So on Friday when we normed our entire staff on the same rubric, I was excited and nervous and anxious all rolled into one little ball of emotion. I knew people would grumble, I knew people would get caught up in the rubric language, I knew that some disciplines lend themselves more readily to rubrics than others. But I also know in my heart of hearts that until every teacher in our building talks about student thinking, we will not improve our test scores.

It is the student thinking that is most important. They can math solve problems, but unless we can see the breakdown in their thinking, we can’t help them. We can see their processes best, most clearly, when they write about their process, when they argue a point about a concept.

Friday was eye opening to me. The staff I work with dug in. They had conversations about student writing. They engaged in cross curricular conversations about writing expectations. They talked about how the views of the rubric and the ways they will use it are different across content areas. Even when the conversations were not completely positive, they were powerful. They were still about student writing and student thinking

I am really proud of the people I work with. They show up and dig in.

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