Using Criteria Lists as a Marking Tool

I was asked for my preferred strategy when it comes to “marking” (although I prefer the term assessing) and I started talking about criteria lists.  This is mostly due to the fact that I’ve really moved my teaching into the dimension of Critical Thinking and Criteria checklists are a natural part of that.

I used to be a huge rubric person but I struggled with rubrics for a couple of reasons:

1.  I hated coming up with the terminology that went into them.  I found it all to be very subjective.  How exactly does one tell the difference between a thoughtful, a creative, and a precise response (terminology I found in a creative writing rubric once)?  Writing rubrics was always a source of contention for me and I found that ones I found on line didn’t necessarily capture what I wanted.  I’ve heard it said that a well crafted rubric can take hours to create.  Yikes!

2.  I had kids that were aiming for bare minimum.  Rubrics are very good at telling kids what baseline expectations are.  So I was told…..then just show them the top half of the rubric and not the bottom half.  This lead to problem number 3….

3.  I have kids who would look at the top half of the rubric and feel it was so completely out of reach that it was disheartening.  In short, they would give up.

Now just to be clear, I am NOT anti-rubric.  I still use them every once in awhile and I think that they can be used very effectively.  They just don’t work for me personally.  So if you are a rubric lover, awesome!  Keep using them!  As a teacher you need to do what works for you.

I have moved to criteria lists because it doesn’t really talk about an evaluation aspect per say, but rather a list of expectations.

For example, the current project my kids are working on is a response to the question, Between Florence, Genoa, and Venice, which city is the most powerful?

And the checklist they are following goes something like this.

1.  Contains a clear answer to the question.

2.  Argues the strengths of the chosen city.

3.  Compares to the weaknesses of the other two cities.

4.  Contains information from each of the four main categories (Government, Economy, Society, Culture).

Seems too easy doesn’t it?  And how to you get an assessment out of this?  Well that’s the “after part” and this gets a bit messy because it often involves a conversation with the student or (if you are short on time) some highlighting.

I will give the list to my students and ask them to go through it and makes sure they have each item on the list.  Then, with a different coloured highlighter they will go through and show me where in their paragraph they met the criteria element.

So let’s say they use pink for the strengths of their city.  And they go through and they highlight tons of stuff in pink, awesome!  And they use yellow to highlight where they spoke about weaknesses of other cities….and they’ve highlighted one sentence.  It’s an indication to them that they need to touch up that area and we have a conversation around “Quality” arguments vs the “quantity” of arguments.

And when they are finally satisfied with their work we look back at the original question and ask, “How well did you answer this question?”  Do you have a strong answer?

It’s a long and drawn out process but I get a quality assessment out of it.  And it works better for me then:

Included 5 insightful argument, Included 4 precise argument, Included 3 accurate arguments…..etc (the rubric I used to use for this assignment….)

I found a rubric a bit confining sometimes.  And it had the possibility of limiting kids in their creativity.  So I only need 5 arguments to get the best mark?  Great…..that’s all I’m doing then.

Now the conversation I have with kids revolves around what makes a “quality” argument.  Some students have answered the question in one extended paragraph and others have taken two pages.  And some have said more in ten sentences then the kid who took two pages.

So how do you come up with a criteria list?  Well, it starts with a really good critical thinking question.  See this blog post on critical thinking questioning.

Then you decide, what is it I really want to see in a quality response.  There is your criteria.  I have another blog post dedicated to criteria.

I want kids to make a firm judgement, nothing wishy washy.  None of this….well in some cases it’s Florence and in others it’s Genoa.  Nu uh, no fence sitters.  Make a stand!

And I want a well constructed argument that is convincing.  Don’t just tell me what makes your city great, I want to know why you eliminated the other two as an option!

I was once told that Criteria Lists are just another form of using a rubric.  I suppose that could be said.  Potato, potato….ok, that doesn’t work so well in type but you know what I mean.

If Critical Thinking and Criteria Lists are an area of interest you would like to explore, I highly suggest you check out (The Critical Thinking Consortium).  I’ve worked with these people many many times and they know their stuff.  Or drop me a line!  I’d be happy to help you flush out an idea!


About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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