Have you ever worked on a group project, felt you worked harder than some other group members, and then felt cheated when you all got the same grade? I can imagine everyone nodding with great enthusiasm and disgust (My husband is nodding and complaining as he sits beside me reading this too). This happens often as more and more teachers are utilizing group. I’ve been frustrated for some time now in how that group work is assessed, including (or perhaps especially) in my own classroom.

The subject matter that I teach has traditionally been taught using group work. Introductory cooking, baking, and culinary arts all require a team approach due to the short supply of money, space, and equipment. Teamwork is also a core skill for success in the culinary field. A professional kitchen relies on the “Kitchen Brigade” to work seamlessly to get meals out in a timely manner. Group work makes sense for our subject matter but the way that it is traditionally assessed poses problems.

The assessment of group work typically utilizes a “Group Work Rubric”. This rubric assesses all of the individuals in the group as a whole and can look something like this…

Group Work Rubric (sample)

In this streamlined form six cooking groups, with four students in each group, can all be assessed on a single sheet of paper. The ratings are on a scale of zero to two (0= didn’t complete, 1= somewhat achieved the goal, 2= completely achieved the goal) and the teacher can very quickly assess the whole class. The ease of use and speed with which you can assess large numbers is possibly why it is so popular.

This is the rubric that I was expected to use when I started teaching at my current district. Is it quick and easy to use? Yes. Does it make it possible to put a grade in the gradebook for each lab in the short 45 minutes I have with each group of students? Yes. However, after a few weeks of trying to make it work I found some major flaws. First of all there is absolutely no way to individualize a grade using this rubric. When a student in the group doesn’t pull their weight they still get rewarded with a higher grade than they deserve. On the contrary, when a student is pulling more than their weight in the group they sometimes get punished for the actions of the other group members using this system. Second, it doesn’t do anything except for put a number in the gradebook. The students never really get feedback using this model and it isn’t actually measuring any specific skills. How can they improve if their assessment isn’t telling them what they are doing well and what they need to improve upon?

If I compare this assessment to the checklist I wrote about last week it fails miserably. My first criteria was “Does this assessment inform learning?”. As I stated above it doesn’t tell the students anything about their learning. They usually never see the rubric unless they question their grade. The second criteria on the checklist asks “Does the assessment require students to demonstrate understanding?”. The answer is sometimes, sort of, kind of. They demonstrate understanding of classroom procedures and general topics like safety and sanitation as well as mise en place. However, the rubric never changes with the units so they aren’t being assessed on their understanding of any unit specific knowledge or skills.

I was so frustrated with this rubric that I changed it, and then the next year I changed it again. Each year that I have been there I have made improvements to the rubric and how it is used in the classroom but it still frustrates me to no end. What I would really like to see is a screen that has all of the students listed down the left side and all of the criteria listed across the top with space for me to assess each person in each area. Perhaps with room for comments down the right side of the chart as well. The feedback would not be in the form of numbers but indicators of performance. If a skill wasn’t observed for a certain student on that day then that could be indicated as well. Some of the skills and criteria across the top would change for each unit as the learning changes although others would stay the same.

In my vision of the new and improved group rubric it would all be electronic. As I walk around and observe the students I can update the chart on a laptop or tablet and at the end of the period hit a button that sends each student an individual report. The students could use the report to see which areas they are excelling in and which areas they need to work on. It’s possible that they could come up with an improvement plan based their evaluation of the report.

The joy and excitement I feel at the mere thought of such a system is incredible. I have yet to see a system that works the way I imagine though. Maybe I should approach it like the Kitchenaid mixers. I was tired of waiting for someone to fix them so I learned how to do it myself. (I’m sure my tech loving husband would help)

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