Significance: a new axis in our critical thinking space

My students use the same assessment rubric for practically every new source of information we encounter, whether it’s something they read in a book, data they collected, or information I present directly.  It asks them to summarize, relate to their experience, ask questions, explain what the author claims is the cause, and give support using existing ideas from the model.  The current version looks like this (click through to zoom or download):

Assessment for Learning

There are two goals:

  • to assess the author’s reasoning, and help us decide whether to accept their proposal
  • to assess one’s own understanding

If you can’t fill it in, you probably didn’t understand it.  Maybe you weren’t reading carefully, maybe it’s so poorly reasoned or written that it’s not actually understandable, or maybe you don’t have the background knowledge to digest it.  All of these conditions are important to flag, and this tool helps us do that.

The title says “Rubric for Assessing Reasoning,” but we just call them “feedbacks.”

Recently, there have been a spate of feedbacks turned in with the cause and/or the “support from the model” section left blank or filled with vague truisms (“this is supported by lots of ideas about atoms,” or “I’m looking forward to learning more about what causes this.”)

I knew the students could do better — all of them have written strong statements about cause in the past (in chains of cause and effect 2-5 steps long).  I also allow students to write a question about cause, instead of a statement, if they can’t tell what the cause is, or if they think the author hasn’t included it.

So today, after I presented my second draft of some information about RMS measurements, I showed some typical examples of causal statements and supporting ideas.  I asked students to rate them according to their significance to the question at hand, then had some small group discussions.  I was interested (and occasionally surprised) by their criteria for what makes a good statement of cause, and what makes a good supporting idea.  Here’s the handout I used to scaffold the discussions.

The students’ results:

A statement of cause should …

  • Be relevant to the question
  • Help us understand the question or the answer
  • Not leave questions unanswered
  • Give lots of info
  • Relate to the model
  • Explain what physically makes something happen or asks a question that would help you understand the physical cause
  • Help you distinguish between similar things (like the difference between Vpk, Vpp, Vrms)
  • Not beg the question (not state the same thing twice using different words)
  • Be concrete
  • Make the new ideas easier to accept
  • Use definitions

Well, I was looking for an excuse to talk about definitions — I think this is it!

Supporting ideas from the model should…

  • Help clarify how the electrons work
  • Help answer or clarify the question
  • Directly involve information to help relate ideas
  • Help us see what is going on
  • Give us reasoning so we can in turn have an explanation
  • Clarify misunderstandings
  • Allow you to generalize
  • Support the cause, specifically.
  • Be specific to the topic, not broad (like, “atoms are made of protons, electrons, and neutrons.”)
  • Not use a formula
  • It helps if you understand what’s going on, it makes it easier to find connections

The Last World

Which ones would you emphasize? What would you add?

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