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Fave Posts of 2019: Single-point rubrics and Google Keep make your life easier & your kids smarter

I know that most of you are still settled deep into holiday break mode. Getting up a little bit later than normal. Watching football. Eating too much. Catching up on your reading. Trying to decide if The Mandalorian is worth your time. Enjoying family and friends. Not really thinking about the back to school schedule that cranks up in January.

But if you need a break from all of that free time, we’ve got you covered. Between now and the second week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-live five of the most popular History Tech posts from 2019. Enjoy the reruns!


We’ve all been there. You just finished putting together a great instructional lesson or unit. Kids are gonna love it. They’ll be working together. Doing research. Creating stuff, not just consuming it. The historical thinking will be off the charts.

Then you realize . . . you haven’t created the rubric yet.

You know that clear expectations and feedback are critically important to the learning process. You know that rubrics can help you in assessing what students know and are able to do. So you sit back down and eventually decide to use four scoring columns instead of five. Six rows of criteria instead of three. Clear descriptors. Nine point font all crammed into your matrix so that it fits on one page. Definitely tons of feedback gonna happen from this beauty.

But it’s worth it, right?

Mmm . . . using a great rubric can speed up the grading and assessment process but it can also create other issues besides the amount of time it takes to develop them. A student shows creativity way beyond what the rubric asks for in a way that you hadn’t anticipated and your columns and rows aren’t able to reward that. Or a kid spells everything correctly but the grammar and punctuation is terrible. Maybe she nails the document analysis but fails to use evidence in her claims and your rubric has those two things together.

And is there any way – other than individual conferences – to really know whether students actually go deeper into your scored rubric than to look at the final grade circled in the bottom left hand corner?

Yes, analytic rubrics are useful. I’m not saying rubrics shouldn’t be part of your assessment toolkit. They can help you develop and create assignments that are aligned to your end in mind. They can provide clear expectations for students and are a solid way to share feedback. But they can also be difficult to design correctly and may seem so overwhelming to students that the expected feedback we want never really sinks in.

And, sure, holistic versions are much quicker to create and use. So that’s nice. But they fail to provide specific and targeted feedback. You get a kid who wants to know why they got a two instead of a three or worse, he won’t ask at all. Missing the whole point of providing feedback in the first place.

So . . . why not look at a third way to the rubric game? And use some tech to make it even better?

This third way, called a single-point rubric, is a lot like an analytic rubric listing the different required component parts of an assignment. Like the Kansas State Department of Education version below, you would still have Focus, Evidence, Argument, and Conventions as rows. But instead of four columns of four, three, two, and one across the top, you have just three columns.

And here’s the kicker, only the middle column actually contains descriptors. Essentially, the single-point rubric simply describes what successful work looks like using the criteria for proficiency. One of the remaining columns is used to highlight things in the student work that are amazing and go beyond proficient. The other can be used to highlight ways to improve the work.

Let’s use the KSDE historical argument rubric as an example. Nothing wrong with the rubric, especially since someone else created it for us. But it can still have some of the baggage that all analytic rubrics carry with them.

So we take the second column, the Three column, and isolate it.

Using these descriptors, we can create our single-point rubric:

This is basically copy and paste to show a quick sample. So you might want to tweak the Focus section or clarify more what grade appropriate strategies looks like in the Argument section. The idea is to make your life easier and student work better. So a single-point rubric doesn’t try to anticipate ways that a kid might exceed our expectations. It doesn’t try to describe ways that a kid failed. It just says . . . here ya go, this is what I want – leaving lots of room for student creativity and expression. It also allows you to be specific about ways student work can improve.

Quick review – why use a single-point rubric?

  • Simple to create
  • Clear, specific, higher quality, and individualized feedback
  • Focus is on feedback and improvement, not just a grade. (Great if you’re moving to standards-based assessments or away from traditional grading.)
  • Allows for flexibility in teacher feedback without losing clear expectations
  • Supports student performance and creativity beyond proficient
  • Encourages students to actually read and internalize our feedback

Need some research-based evidence? Feel free to head over to this 2010 research project by Jarene Fluckiger highlighting rationale, impact, usage, and examples. And Jennifer Gonzalez has two nice articles here and here.

But. I can hear the buts.

I like the idea but doesn’t using a single-point rubric mean I have to write more feedback? Instead of just circling cells on a rubric?

Perhaps. But . . .  it’s more specific and more impactful than circling cells on a rubric. And with the Google Interwebs, there’s a quick and relatively painless way to make providing feedback a bit easier.

One of the powerful parts of Google Docs is the ability to provide quick and easy feedback via the Comments feature. It’s a great way to provide suggestions, highlight superior work, share resources, and encourage revisions.

The problem, of course, is to actually find the time to post comments on your 125+ essays. And it seems as if you’re always leaving the same comments over and over. Typing “Avoid passive voice” 50 times can get old real quick.

Using Google Keep can help.

We know that Keep is integrated directly into Google Docs – you can find it along the right hand side of the student work you’re assessing. That means whatever you’ve generated in Keep is now accessible in the sidebar. So now you’ve got an easy way to organize the comments you use all of the time in one handy place.

(If you’re using the Comment Bank in Google Classroom, you’ve got the Comment thing already worked out. Move along, nothing to see here.)

So what can it look like to use Keep together with Docs?

Start by creating a list of comments in Keep.

  • Head to Keep and create a Note with your most commonly used comments. You can also create multiple lists of comments for different projects or for various skills you are assessing like Grammar, Use of Evidence, or Mechanics. Be sure to give your note a searchable title such as Comments or Grammar Comments. You can also add a Label to your note for easier searching later.
  • Remember that Keeps allows you to embed hyperlinks so don’t be afraid to include links to a video or site that provides additional help and resources.

Now that you have created comment lists in Keep, you can access them while in a student’s paper in Google Docs. Simply open the Doc and click on the Keep icon in the right sidebar. Search for your Comments notes by typing “Comments” into the Search bar. You should see just those notes. (Cause you titled it using Comments.) 

Now that your list is visible, it’s easy to copy and paste comments as needed. Simply copy the desired comment, highlight the kid’s text, click the + comment button, and paste the comment. Easy peasy.

Want to ramp up your comments game? Create a note using your Bitmoji, different emojis, or GIFs to create visual feedback. Love a kid’s thesis? Open Keep in Docs and drag your Bitmoji or GIF directly into the Doc’s text beside that paragraph. Notes containing emojis can be copied and pasted just like a textual comment.

No. Using Google Keep won’t work for every comment you’ll need, (one of the selling points of a single-point rubric is to deliver student specific feedback.) You’re going to have to actually type some stuff in now and again. But Keep will help with the basics, giving you more time to do that.

And isn’t that the idea? So give single-point rubrics a try. Together with Keep, your kids are gonna walk away smarter.

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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Work with Me page.

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