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  • Diana Rey

Rubrics Guide Student Learning!

Updated: Dec 9, 2018

When I was in school and received a new assignment, I appreciated knowing from the very beginning exactly what tasks I needed to complete. I liked hearing upfront what the expectations were for that particular project, how to master the material while securing a good grade, and even how I could go above and beyond expectations if I was really passionate about the subject matter. In the field of education today, we as teachers serve our students well to present information regarding how to master subject matter early on in the learning process. There ought to be no mysterious formula for success with each teacher that students have to figure out, in addition to their school work and standards/objective aligned learning. The easiest way to clearly communicate the bar for student success before they've even begun work on a project is to present them with the rubric that will be used to assess their finished product. This will also cut down on unproductive tangents during the project such as: 1. the amount of wasted work hours for students and possibly having to redo the work at the end; 2. Student anxiety during the project which takes energy and brainpower away from learning; 3. Teacher office hours with students who don't know where to begin; and 4. Parent complaints. Here is a sample project based learning (PBL) assignment for a 5th grade music class during one to two 50 minute class periods:

National Standards Addressed: MU:Pr4.2.5a Demonstrate understanding of the structure and the elements of music (such as rhythm, pitch, form, and harmony) in music selected for performance

MU:Pr6.1.5a Perform music, alone or with others, with expression, technical accuracy, and appropriate interpretation

MU:Cr1.1.5a Improvise rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic ideas, and explain connection to specific purpose and context (such as social, cultural, and historical)

CA State Standards Addressed:

2.1 Sing a varied repertoire of music, including rounds, descants, and songs with ostinatos and songs in two-part harmony, by oneself and with others.

Driving Question: What kind of ostinato can my group and I put together creatively using what we've learned so far about music? (Think about your music vocabulary: Steady Beat, Rhythm, Volume Dynamics, Tempo, Artistic Expression, Syncopation, and Performance vs. Audience Skills.

Ostinato definition: An ostinato is a musical pattern that repeats. I presented this by saying the definition over and over about 5 times while adding a steady beat, snaps and some movement for each time I recited it to demonstrate the concept. Then I showed two silly but educational videos to further demonstrate and define the term.

Video of definition (showed to class to introduce concept)

Video of example (showed to class to introduce concept but stopped before the mysterious ticking sound is discovered as something not-school appropriate)

What will you do? Step 1: Pick a category with your table group. (Examples on the board are: favorite candy bar, superheroes, mythical creatures, silly sounds, etc.)

Step 2: Each person in the group will choose a word or sound that fits with that category.

Step 3: As a group, decided how to layer and repeat the sounds creatively and musically over a steady beat.

Step 4: Practice practice practice!

Step 5: Perform for class and be a good audience member for your classmate performances.

Rubric: Student can earn a total of 16 points for their work and attention for this PBL.


1- Pattern does not repeat consistently. Not all students are participating.

2- Pattern repeats consistently but sounds are overlapping and can't be distinguished from one another. Not all students are participating.

3- Pattern repeats consistently but sounds are overlapping and can't be distinguished from one another. All students are participating.

4- Pattern repeats consistently and sounds from each group member can clearly be heard

Musicality, Expression, Creativity, and Performance

1- Steady beat has not been used to anchor the musical pattern.

2- Steady beat has been used to anchor the musical pattern.

3- Steady beat can be clearly heard and students chose creative ways to vocalize their chosen sound or word.

4- Steady beat can be clearly heard and students use creative pitch and volume while vocalizing their chosen sound or word. Movements have been incorporated with the students' chosen sounds. Performance is captivating to watch.


1- Only one group member reports poor teamwork or musicianship.

2- Two group members report poor teamwork or musicianship.

3- More than two group members report poor teamwork and musicianship.

4- All group members report equal work and good musicianship.

Audience Skills

0- Student is not watching classmates perform, talks during performances, says something negative about other performances.

1- Student talks in between performances but is otherwise listening, watching, and being respectful.

3- Student does not talk in between or during performances and is listening, watching, and being respectful.

4- Student does not talk in between or during performances and is listening, watching, and being respectful. Student gives positive and/or encouraging feedback to groups before or after performances.

During the group time allotted in class, I walked around and checked in with students to see if they were on task, had any questions, or needed help with their group dynamic. I made note of any students having difficulty with group collaboration skills in order to give my own feedback to individual students when presented with their grade at the end of the project. Their learning process involves practicing collaborative social skills as well as taking in and demonstrating an understanding of the musical material within the curriculum. I did not have to formally assess the students because that is not part of my duties as a transient music teacher. However, if I did need to assign and pass out grades, I would put together a sheet to circle where the student collected points and write notes where needed to explain why I docked points or what I really liked about the student's work and effort.

My students loved my Ostinato lesson and PBL...we had so much fun with it! It was amazing to see what the 5th graders came up with and I watched a lot of them grow their confidence while performing in front of their classmates. They all definitely remember what an ostinato is and often beg to watch the videos again in class. A lot of the told me who they shared the videos with at home because they wanted to see them again. One student showed her friends the videos at a sleepover. One 4th/5th grade combo class at a charter school I teach at turned the word Ostinato and its definition into a quiet call. Success!!! I can't say enough glowing comments about rubrics! They definitely guide students through projects so that for most if not all students, success can be achieved and mastery of the material occurs.

Stay tuned for the second part of this post, which will address a plan for remediation. Another term for this is extension. This is for those students who did not score well, master the material, or didn't participate. We also must provide activities for students who are able and wish to go above and beyond the requirements in order to feel challenged just like their peers in the classroom.

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