I touched on this briefly yesterday but let’s spend some real time delving into why rubrics are so helpful when it comes to more complex and multi-faceted academic tasks (like writing a paragraph). First off, let’s be good little behaviorists and determine what writing a paragraph means. No room for subjectivity here. Let’s get on the same page. Let’s say a paragraph needs to include 5-8 on topic sentences, use correct grammar and spelling, and include a topic sentence and concluding sentence. We could get more detailed but for now let’s keep it basic. So let’s say you have these two students:

 

How do you score these students? Per the definition, both students didn’t achieve the goal. Would you mark both incorrect? Would you conduct the same follow up lesson with both students? Should the be in the same group for individualized writing instruction?

Based on the students’ writing, their needs are very different and their instruction should be very different. But a simple incorrect for both of them isn’t going to tell you what they need additional support in. It also isn’t going to account for any growth besides the cut and dry correct or incorrect. When Student B starts writing sentences that are on-topic or include a period, you won’t see that growth. Rubrics to the rescue! Rubrics include several skills as well as rankings. You still land up with a numerical value so you can compare data over time, but you will also get those more in-depth details that you need to plan follow up instruction.

You can include these rubrics right in your IEP goals. Instead of a goal that says “will write a paragraph with 80% accuracy” {which what the heck does that actually mean} you can have a goal that says, “will write a paragraph with a score of 7 out of 8 per attached rubric on 5 consecutive opportunities.” That goal is objective, data can be consistently collected, and you can track progress towards this goal.

Now let’s chat about using visuals when targeting paragraph writing skills. Visuals aren’t only boardmaker conehead man, visuals mean color coding, graphic organizers, and any other visual cue that helps a student engage in a behavior. I love using visuals when teaching paragraph writing skills. In the anchor charts for the Leveled Language Arts Curriculum, I color coded an example for topic sentence, supporting detail, and concluding sentence. This allows students to reference the model for a prompt at what type of sentence to write for each component of a paragraph.

Remember how important structure is to some of our kids, it’s not only for the physical environment of the classroom. Structure is helpful for learning new academic tasks and increasing independence in emerging skills. So use that structure. Give some guidelines when writing a paragraph. Graphic organizers, visually dividing up the page, and other visual displays are really helpful for this!