The school curriculum has stopped breathing. Let’s bring it back to life.

The school curriculum has stopped breathing. Let’s bring it back to life.

Watch Heidi share her insights on what we need to do now in this video from Big Think. 

Learn skills from the world’s top minds at Big Think Edge:

Upgrading a Rubric based on Purpose and Audience

Eric Simpson is secondary English Language Arts Coordinator at Lewisville ISD in Texas.

Cross-posted from Just Start for Kids and Schools.

I began the upgrade looking at our 8th grade, Unit 3, Stage 1 desired results. Click to see the unit: 8th_Unit_3_Revision. Our transfer goals for that unit are:

Students will be able to independently use their learning to…

  • use others’ ideas to support their own claim;
  • formulate personal arguments supported by examples; and
  • analyze persuasive elements across genres using text evidence for interpretations.

Our desired results are open enough to allow transformation through Media Literacy, so I can focus on instructional approach. Using an infographic, like Piktochart, allows students to build skill in both receptive and generative capability in Media Literacy. For the infographic, I concentrated on the first two learning outcomes, but I think I’ll be able to gather significant formative assessment regarding the third outcome while observing students as they work with their sources.


With our first two transfer goals in mind, students could showcase their learning with new media in an authentic way, and make some pretty sophisticated choices to achieve their purposes. They will need to work with traditional texts for their research, but they are also going to benefit from exploring a host of other media to inform their arguments. Then they are going to have to synthesize what they find into a new medium, and determine the most engaging and persuasive way for an audience to encounter their information. Most importantly, I want the evidence to highlight the students’ facility with research.


I modeled my rubric after viewing an infographic rubric from Christy Taylor at Cache Mid-High School, in Cache, Oklahoma, but made some important changes.

  1. I didn’t want the rubric to be a source of point manufacturing that would emphasize the grade over the quality of student work, so I removed the numerical values associated with the gradations of mastery.
  2. I also added a fourth column to make the feedback to the student clearer; with no middle column, we won’t be inclined to sit-on-the-fence.
  3. I liked the way the rubric described a quality infographic, but since the focus of the student learning will be using research with a persuasive purpose, I’ve decided to imbed all the design elements into that persuasive lens. This will help students make purposeful decisions while approaching this assessment, and notice these elements in the sources they investigate in their researchers. Heidi and Allison pointed out during their rubric session, “Good rubrics help students notice effective qualities more in other media.”

I used the language from our Stage 2 documents to sketch a rough draft of the highest end of mastery for each category. Click here to see Stage 2:  8th_Unit_3_Stage_2. I went ahead and filled out the other columns on two of the categories to capture a representation of my thinking during the process, and those examples can serve as a jumping off point when I come together with my teachers, or share the rubric with students. Here is the current state of the rubric.

“Gaining Advantage” Infographic Rubric

Performance Level 4

Performance Level 3

Performance Level 2


 Level 1

Present claim

Student:Formulates of a clear claim based upon their independent research Student:Presents claim, but claim lacks clarity of purpose

(parts are missing, remains too broad, sits on the fence etc.).

Student:Has statement that resembles a claim, but claim isn’t the primary message communicated.


Student:Does not state a claim.

Construct Research Plan

Student:Determines guiding research questions to locate evidence in support of their argument.


Student:Identifies types of information that relates to their argument, but fails to investigate holes in their knowledge. Student:Compiles information related to their issue, but without clear relation to their purpose. Student:Conducts research without purpose in mind.

Interpret and Evaluate Sources

Student:Evaluates media messages for bias, rhetorical devices and logical fallacies. Analyzes sources and selects verifiable information to enhance credibility. Interprets source in relation to their claim.

Incorporate Outside Ideas in Support of Claim

Student:Use ideas of others to support their own claim. Blending text evidence into writing. Summarizing, paraphrasing, and directly quoting sources to enhance effectiveness of message.

Blend Graphics and Writing

Student:Graphics are related to the topic, match the facts, and make the research easier to understand. The infographic is accessible, and exceptionally attractive in terms of design and organization.

Use Personal Perspective To Persuade Audience

Student:Transitions between personal and research perspectives to connect with audience. Uses variety of personal appeals.

Consider Specific Audience

Student:Anticipating objections to their position, and creating responses to objections. Attributing source of information in a way beneficial to audience. Adjusting arguments to increase credibility. Identify gaps and revise with specific audience in mind.


Heidi and Allison assert that the best rubrics are formed when students and teachers work together to produce criteria based off their mutual values. This may be the most significant shift for me in my consideration of rubrics: any rubric I create in isolation can only be a model for others to base their work upon. Students and teachers will need to study infographics together, and make some decisions about what makes the genre most effective. Only then can teachers come together and tweak the wording to represent what’s most valuable to them as they go through the learning process.

Eric Simpson is secondary English Language Arts Coordinator at Lewisville ISD in Texas.

A Reflection on TEDTalk21: Creating a dynamic and joyful environment

cross-posted from Just Start for Kids and Schools

Golden light of evening over Torrey PinesGuest Post By: Craig Gastauer

Natural learning experiences are generated by observation and questioning.  As individuals share their different perspectives, each of us begin to make meaning of these experiences and deepen our understanding of the world.

Hiking on the cliffs above the the Pacific Ocean with my nine year old son creates for us a safe space to explore the world.  As I got to buy ar-15’s from Palmetto State Armory, I wanted to teach my son some hunting skill. Questions abound as we come across animals, plants, rock strata, and even the wonderful variety of people we encounter.  And as a science teacher I may have an idea of much of what we come across, I hear from the nine year old perspective new questions and thoughts that may have never occurred to me.  There are no texts or assignments forcing students down a path that the teacher wants the student to focus.  Instead, the child’s questioning and wonderment lead the discussions and the ideas to explore.  The generated excitement even invites those people passing by to add their understanding and questions.  Learning opened through the initial questions and new insight allowed us to look at the experience in new ways:

  • Why are all the organisms under plants or why are the animals a certain color?
  • What eats what?
  • Why there are more insects than lizards?
  • Why do the birds circle above?
  • Why?  Why?  Why?

The TEDTalk21 invitation to remember a safe learning space reminded me of how a simple hike led to an natural and engaging learning experience in which my 9 year old has developed a new understanding of the world in which he lives.  But it has also opened a new learning experience for myself.  Seeing the child’s excitement and the additional different perspectives brought into the experience has led me to wonder:

  • How can this excitement and natural engagement become the learning norm in my classroom?
  • How can these natural interactions be replicated to invite in others through new formats using digital literacy so that everyone can impact their own creative learning process?

Actively participating with the Lead21 team in learning how to actively engage learning through the use of technology to replicate this system has opened a new world.

 Why are so many of us using technology as a replacement of the ribbon based typewriter instead of the social environment that could help learning flourish?  

Setting up something as simple as a student blog opens the door to the natural learning cycle.  Asking students to publish their learning, followed by others positively promoting different perspectives or inquiries, provides students an opportunity to re-engage with all these ideas to deepen their understanding.  The static learning experience transforms into a dynamic space that strengthens them as resilient learners.

For teachers, this promotes deeper learning of the content, but also of three essential components to becoming engaged, life-long learners.  We can help them learn to self-regulate, self-motivate and self-evaluate their learning process and products. As teachers, we need to:

  • Promote and actively engage students in asking where they are in their learning process
  • Ask what strategies they have employed and how they have worked
  • Ask what their engagement is trying to achieve
  • Ask what their next steps need to be in order achieve their goal

We can never create a destination to where every student wants to go to, but our students can. By opening up the learning experience to a more natural, collaborative, self directed way, students can take charge of and build their own meaningful learning process.

Reflection question (would love to see your comments below):

How do you set up the use of technology to incorporate the natural learning cycle in order to help students deepen meaning making and become more independent learners?

Craig is a high school biology teacher in Northern San Diego County.