higher education

Speaker Spotlight: Heather Weger on “The Good, the Bad, and the Rubric”

Interviewed by Victoria Fedorets on January 8th, 2018

Listen to our interview here: https://soundcloud.com/victoria-fedorets/dr-heather-edited-021092018

Join us for our Voices from the Field speaker series on February 1, 2018 from 3:30-4:30. This will be a virtual presentation. To register, visit our webpage here: FEBRUARY 2018: The Good, the Bad, and the Rubric: Designing and Using Rubrics Effectively. 

A transcript of the talk is below:


Victoria Fedorets (VF): We would like to welcome our guest speaker, Dr. Heather Weger for our Spotlight interview prior to her talk on February 1st , 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm. If you do not mind, I would like to introduce you briefly and then you can tell us more about yourself, including how the topic of your talk is important to you.

Dr. Heather Weger (HW): OK. Great.

VF: Dr. Heather Weger has been in the English language field since 1999 when she began her English teaching career in Germany. She holds a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from Georgetown University, as well as two Master of Arts degrees (one in Teaching in TESOL & Bilingual Education from Georgetown University; one in Adult and Higher Education from University of Oklahoma). She has been teaching full-time at Georgetown since 2007, and is currently an Associate Teaching Professor in their English Language Program housed in the English Language Center. She has presented on numerous topics in invited workshops and lectures, as well as at international, national, and regional TESOL and linguistics conferences. The author of multiple articles, Dr. Weger’s research focuses on effective teaching strategies as well as the social and co-constructed nature of language learning and language teaching. Thank you very much for being here with us today and thank you for your time today.

VF: Please tell us a little bit about yourself, including how the topic of your talk is important to you.

HW: Sure. As you just mentioned, I’ve been in the English language field for approximately 17 years. I did start out teaching English overseas in Germany, then moved to DC in order to complete my doctoral work in applied linguistics at Georgetown University. Though I’ve taught some courses elsewhere, I’ve predominately been an Associate Teaching Professor in the English Language Center at Georgetown where the majority of my students are international learners of English whose goals are to prepare themselves to enter US universities for undergraduate or graduate programs.


Now, the short explanation about the importance of this topic for me is that I have a love-hate relationship to the domain of assessment, and an interest in exploring the tension between its pros and cons. Assessment, depending on how it is defined, occurs continually when engaging with learners. For the sake of the time, this episode of Voices from the Field will limit its focus to discussing the grading mechanisms of formal assessment measures such as grading essays and presentations. And while I believe that well-planned assessment facilitates learning (hence, the reason I love it), creating and enacting that well-planned assessment is really often daunting and unpleasant for both students and teachers (hence, I hate it!).


So, more specifically for this particular talk, the inspiration was borne out of a tension I began to notice early on in my teaching career. Sometimes a student could talk fluently for 15 minutes, but say nothing worth listening to. Another student might have interesting insights to share, but poor delivery skills. So I found myself struggling to decide how could I codify these realities and honor the strengths that each student had while also drawing their attention to their areas for growth. A good grading tool will differentiate high and low performing students. I needed to find or develop such tools.


VF: What is a rubric? What are some of the defining features of this sort of assessment tool?


HW: A rubric is one type of tool for grading assignments. This means a rubric is not, in and of itself, “the” assessment instrument, but rather it is one part of a larger assessment cycle that includes not only the rubric (meaning the grading mechanism), but it also the assessment task or event (such as a student essay).


In our current national and international educational landscape, rubrics have become one mechanism for making explicit what was once a seemingly arbitrary connection between student performance and the student’s grade.


In my Voices from the Field talk, I’ll outline two defining features: the categories of the rubric and the descriptors for each category. In the talk we’ll examine several examples that illustrate these two features, the categories and the descriptors.


VF: Are there certain types of assignments that tend to be better suited to the use of rubrics than others, or can you create a rubric for just about anything?


HW: You actually can create a rubric for any activity that you have the ability to divide into parts. Having said that, it is likely more trouble than it’s worth for traditional assessment formats, like multiple-choice tests. So, it is mostly used for evaluating a range of written products (like essays or discussion board posts) or speaking events (like presentations or interactive conversations) or blended formats (like poster sessions) that have both speaking and written components.


VF: In regard to the students, in your experience, how do students tend to react to the use of rubrics? What do they value about them, and how much of a learning curve is involved in making effective use of the feedback they provide?


HW: It’s a really good question. Frankly, depending on the details contained in the rubric, the learning curve for students can be high. And, for some students, a rubric is “too detailed.” These students prefer a simple “holistic grade,” and aren’t as concerned with the finer-grained analysis that a rubric provides. For others, the rubric is a critical step in the ongoing learning process; the rubric becomes part of their internal dialogue and planning as they plan for a new assessment moment, like writing a new essay. Certainly, either way, students benefit from multiple exposures to the same (or similar) rubrics across a semester. This principle can even be extended to the use of similar rubrics across different classes if your teaching context allows for teacher collaboration or if your teaching context is a multi-level or multi-semester program. So, repetition and reuse of the same or similar rubrics definitely is one way to mitigate the challenges associated with students learning from a rubric.


VF: The title of your talk begins “The Good, the Bad, and the Rubric…” which seems to imply that rubrics have the potential to be either good or bad, neither, both, or something in between. So, how can rubrics be good, how can rubrics be bad?


HW: This is the fun question, I think. The “simple” answer is that rubrics have advantages and disadvantages, and it is the way in which they are designed and used that we find the balance between those “good” and “bad” sides.


From the student perspective, a rubric allows one to break down complex output, such as an essay or presentation, into its subcomponents and corresponding descriptions. This breakdown allows the student to more easily understand the grade and identify in which of the subcomponents there is the greatest need for improvement. This process enhances the transparency of grading and at the same time facilitates learner progress, and this is the biggest pro, or “good side,” of the rubric.


Now, the “bad,” or negative, side for students is that a fully fleshed out rubric can be difficult to parse, especially for lower-level students who receive a rubric in a language that is not their native language. For example, let’s say you divide a presentation into 3 subcomponents, or categories: (1) organization and content, (2) fluency and pronunciation, and (3) grammar/vocabulary. For each of these three categories, there are typically 5 descriptors. So, this results in a rubric that has 15 explanations, which can be overwhelming for learners to intake.


So, the corollary negative for the educator is that quality rubrics take time to develop and, while theoretically make a subjective process objective, they are still, to some degree, subjective. In the Voices from the Field Talk, I’ll share some ways of minimizing this (and other) challenges for using rubrics.



VF: What is your top takeaway for using or designing rubrics?


HW: My top takeaway is that designing rubrics is a reiterative process; so, do expect to revise your rubric. Also, don’t think of rubrics as being objective; the choice of the categories (subcomponents) of the rubric as well as the explanations that are contained in the descriptors are part of a subjective process. Precisely because of the inherent subjectivity, it’s important to think of rubric design as reiterative; so, we’re back to my number 1 point: do expect to revise your rubric.


VF: Last bonus question, what is your source of motivation? How do you keep yourself motivated?


HW: Lots of coffee (laughing). I think, quite seriously though, the responsibility to help students achieve progress in their language skills, and I thrive on seeing students become empowered. When the student unlocks some new insight into understanding and/or using English, it is very rewarding. Occasionally, those students recognize that I’ve played a part in facilitating that awareness, that new knowledge, and they say a simple “thank you.” That “thank you” is not necessary for my dedication to my field, but it is a refreshing reminder that what we do and how we do it matters in the lives of our students and that keeps me motivated; that…and coffee.


VF: That and coffee ( laughing). That’s wonderful. Thank you again, Dr. Weger, for your vigorous brief talk prior to you talk here on February 1st, when in this practice-oriented session, Dr. Weger will draw on principles developed in her use of rubrics with English language learners, providing examples from several rubrics for productive tasks, including rubrics for written essays, a traditional oral presentation, and a group-based discussion task. Based on an analysis of these samples, she will identify advantages of rubrics and provide tips on how to avoid potential pitfalls. All the attendees receive a handout with these examples.


Thank you so much again, Dr. Weger for finding the time out of your busy schedule to share your insights with us today and we are looking forward to your talk.


HW: Thank you also, Victoria, and thank you for having me on a program today. I look forward to discussing these issues more in February.


Join us for our Voices from the Field speaker series on February 1, 2018 from 3:30-4:30. This will be a virtual presentation. To register, visit our webpage here: FEBRUARY 2018: The Good, the Bad, and the Rubric: Designing and Using Rubrics Effectively. 


Proposal Submissions being accepted for 2018 CLLC

The organizers of CLLC 2018 are now accepting submissions for the 2018 Conference on Language, Learning, and Culture!


Making Research Matter: Motivated Inquiry for Actionable Insights

Proposal Submission Deadline: December 4, 2017

Conference Dates: April 6-7, 2018

Location: Virginia International University, 4401 Village Drive, Fairfax, VA, 22030

Call for Proposals and Guidelines: http://conference.viu.edu/cllc/content/call-for-proposals

Registration: http://conference.viu.edu/cllc/content/registration


In focusing on “Making Research Matter,” CLLC 2018 seeks to stimulate conversations on how research and its uses in society might be transformed if more of us were to make a point of asking “for what, for whom, and by whom?”* at the outset of every research endeavor.

Our aim is to involve a diverse group of practitioners, researchers, policy-makers, community members, and other stakeholders in a multidirectional sharing of interests, values, and expertise. We especially welcome proposals involving projects in which the investigators considered the users and uses of their research from the very beginning and made decisions accordingly—from action-research projects conducted by individual teachers in their classrooms to larger-scale funded endeavors where collaborative teams had an eye toward wider public engagement and policy impacts, and everything in between.

Proposals for paper and poster presentations, workshops, colloquia, and panel discussions are invited until December 4, 2017.

We hope to see you for our 5th annual CLLC!


*Ortega, L. (2005). For what and for whom is our research? The ethical as transformative lens in instructed SLA. Modern Language Journal, 89, 427–43.

Engaged Learning: Are We All on the Same Page?

A spotlight  interview with Victoria Fedorets (VF) and Marietta Bradinova (MB)

Listen to the full interview here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/sedatviu/2017/08/22/dr-marietta-bradinova-for-the-spotlight-interview-for-voices-from-the-field


Below is a transcript of the interview:

Victoria Fedorets (VF): We would like to welcome our guest speaker, Dr. Marietta Bradinova for our Spotlight interview prior to her talk on October 5th, 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm.  Could you give us a brief preview of your talk?

Marietta Bradinova (MB): The title of my talk is going to be Engaged Learning: Are We All on the Same Page? To do that, I pulled from the literature on good teaching as well as the expertise of teachers in colleges and universities around the country. For my presentation, I had to create a compendium of useful, practical ideas that participants will find enhances the classroom experience for teachers and students alike. My goal is to pull it together into a single resource and present it in a format accessible to busy, discipline-oriented faculty. I hope it will also be useful to faculty developers, department chairs, and other academic administrators interested in promoting teaching and improving learning.

VF: Thank you so much, Dr. Bradinova. We all are very much looking forward to your talk. Could you please tell us a little about yourself, including how the topic of your talk is important to you.

MB: My name is Dr. Marietta Bradinova and I teach various courses in the MA in TESOL and Gen. Education Programs at VIU. I chose my field of scholarly endeavor because somewhere along the line I developed a passion for it. Part of the attraction of a career in academia is the opportunity to share our enthusiasm with others and possibly recruit new disciples to the discipline.  In my early years as a college teacher, “engaging students” wasn’t even on my radar screen. I lectured, they listened; they studied, I tested – and that was that.  However, it was very disheartening to look into a classroom and see disengaged students who make little effort to hide their apathy. So, keeping students involved, motivated, and actively learning is challenging for many of us as educators. Yet, there is no single piece of advice [to do this]. The primary purpose of my presentation is to offer my teaching colleagues, current and aspiring, a wide variety of tips, strategies, and techniques that can help them transform what could be a daunting task into one that is stimulating and rewarding.

VF: Wonderful. Thank you again for devotion to your field and I am more than sure you went through so many experiences and have gained so much knowledge and expertise to reach this far.

VF: Are there any tangible misconceptions out there about the topic of your talk?

MB: Well, for me and I strongly believe that teaching can be tough, and probably one of the toughest professions on earth, but by sharing, we help each other in the problem analysis and solution construction we struggle with, consciously or unconsciously, each time we enter the classroom and attempt to engage students in learning.

VF: What is your source of motivation? How do you keep yourself motivated?

MB: Well, for me, motivation is the portal to engagement. An unmotivated student has checked out emotionally and mentally from the learning process. Students who are motivated to learn, however, will actively seek the information and understandings that constitute engaged learning. Just as a classroom filled with students who are genuinely motivated to learn can be a teaching-nirvana, it can be teaching-hell trying to work with students who are apathetic, bored, or even hostile. Understanding the complexities that underline motivation can guide us in our efforts to set up conditions that enhance students’ eagerness to learn. This is a first and critical step toward increasing student engagement.

VF: If you had to give some advice to pre-service or in-service teachers about the topic of your talk, what would it be?

MB:  As I said earlier, I am trying to provide some practical ideas through various strategists [that] I’m going to model for them throughout my presentation. I strongly believe as an instructor we not only have to explain something about theory, but to show it in action. I would encourage the pre-service teachers to join us on October 5th to get more ideas about how we can engage students in our classrooms.

VF: In general, how do you design instructions so your classroom reflects success? What is success to you?

MB:  You know, from day one, when I go into the classroom, I provide lots of examples from my own personal experience and I have been teaching and in this field for 25 plus years. So, I always try to bring real-life examples into my lectures because when you provide examples, the students can relate to them through their personal experience. We always have great conversations because, as you know, VIU hosts students from around the globe. We are fortunate to share ideas with them and they share ideas with us and I’m growing myself professionally through this contacts with my students.

VF: Where do your students come from?

MB: In general, I would say probably between 15 and 20 different countries. You know, I work with students from Asia, from Latin America, from the Europe, from Eastern Europe, from former USSR, and they all amazing.

VF: In general, are there any principles that guide your own teaching philosophy? If so, what are they and do you have a groundstone for your own teaching philosophy?

MB: Well you know, as an instructor, I always try to share whatever I learned through all these years with my students, and as I said, I share my experience.  Whatever they read for my classes, we would have great discussions. I try to have classrooms in which the students work cooperatively using both small group discussions and whole group discussions. In a three hour long class, I have to break the time and have at least 10 to 12 activities for the students, and I try to engage them from the moment they enter the class until the moment they have to leave the class.

VF: Wonderful, so your classes are very dynamic and engaging.

MB: (And) they are student centered. I always try to be at the background, of course I’m the one who teaches them, will provide solid information to them either through my mini lectures and through the readings…but those discussions are to be led by the students. [The students] have to be the center of them actually.

VF: Are there any projects that you are currently working on?

MB: Actually, I’m working with Claire Gimble from ESL program on another presentation which is going to be at the WATESOL convention in October in Washington, DC. Our talk is going to be about using TED Talks in the ESL classrooms. We are working with Claire and different setups available on website to design different activities that ESL teachers can use with their students in the classrooms. So, that’s my next big project.

MB: And, of course, you know classes- I will be teaching for both on ground and online, so I will be very busy.

VF: Thank you very much for your time out of your busy schedule to share your experience and more than sure there is so much more to talk and I would spend hours and hours talking (with you) and learning from you. Unfortunately, our time is short thank you again for stopping by tonight by our podcast channel.

Please join us again October 10 at our location 4401 drive Fairfax, VA  22030 and the talk by Dr. Bradinova will be held from 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm and the topic is, “Are We All on the Same Page? The presentation will offer college teachers a dynamic model for engaging students and will provide them with tips and strategies that have been proven to help teachers from a wide variety of disciplines motivate and connect with their students. Selected strategies will be modeled, in a ready-to-use format, through purpose, presentation, procedures, examples, online implementation, variations and extensions, and key resources. Faculty looking for ideas to heighten their student engagement in their courses will find useful techniques that can be adopted, adapted, extended, or modified.

Join us by going to our Facebook, like us; also, we are on twitter, word press, and we’re looking forward to our next spotlight interview by our next speaker sometime in September. Stay tuned and thank you again for your time today, Dr. Bradinova

MB: Thank you.

An interview with Dr. Angie Parker

The following is interview with Dr. Angie Parker about her experiences teaching online and as a Fulbright Senior Research Scholarship Awardee.

Dr. Parker currently teaches online  for the School of Education at Virginia International University. She has experience planning and implementing professional development with educational technology integration and innovation and is a devoted instructor for innovative online courses.

Dr. Parker has also been an adjunct faculty member for Ottawa University and Jones International, working closely with their departments and other teachers on courses in Education. She is passionate about teaching online in its best quality, providing teacher voice and leadership, collaboration, innovative instruction, social learning, and redefining professional development.

Dr. Parker is a Fulbright Senior Research Scholarship Awardee, a scholarship initiative that cultivates and supports the capacity of all educators to use their unique voices and to elevate the craft of teaching and learning all over the world.

VF: Dr. Parker, please tell us a little bit about your experience, the position you have hold with VIU, and how they have helped to shape your vision of education.

AP: I have participated in instrumental design and administrating teaching the online courses for VIU.  I started a year and a half ago and enjoy working with Kevin, the Associate Dean of the School of Education.  He is such a great support and so easy to work with. (more…)

Congratulations to Dr. Perini on his new book!

The SED would like to congratulate Dr. Michael Perini on his book coming out later this month!  His book is titled The Academic Librarian as Blended Professional and offers a compelling look at the role of the librarian in higher education institutions.

What a great achievement!

You can obtain a copy of the book through Amazon: http://amzn.com/0081009275.

VFF: Taking Advantage of Service-Learning Opportunities for Teachers

The School of Education at VIU is proud to announce the inauguration of the “Voices from the Field” speaker series. Join us on September 19th, 2013 from 2:00pm to 3:00pm where we will host a discussion on “Taking Advantage of Service-Learning Opportunities for Teachers” with our guest speaker Mika Hama, Director of Program Evaluation at The Global Language Network (GLN).

GLN’s mission is to provide opportunities to learn any language at a minimal cost. With quality faculty, curriculum, and exposure to languages and cultures, GLN empowers individuals and communities in the Washington, DC area through the gift of language. Participants will learn about what makes GLN effective as a non-profit organization and insights into managing an organization.

This event is open to all VIU students as well as community members who might be interested in learning more about VIU and GLN.

To learn more about participating in the Voices from the Field Series, please contact Mr. Kevin Martin at kevin@viu.edu and follow us on social media @SEDatVIU.

Upcoming Education Summit On The Common Core

Upcoming Education Summit On The Common Core

Virginia International University (VIU)’s Schools of Education and Public & International Affairs are proud to announce The National Summit on the Common Core: Demystifying and Finding Common Ground on 1 November 2014 from 9:00am to 1:30pm. The event will take place at the Fairfax Government Center at 12000 Government Center Pkwy, Fairfax, VA 22035.

The summit seeks to explore and accurately represent the realities of the Common Core, from its intended goals to its development and implementation across the United States. With a multiplicity of competing voices in the public discourse surrounding several states’ decisions to repeal or not adopt the Common Core, it can be difficult for community stakeholders at all levels to evaluate the realities of the standards. From the creation of the goals and policy development to the eventual implementation of the Common Core, what has emerged is a set of standards that has far more questions than answers. The goal of this summit is to work toward demystifying the Common Core State Standards and to come to a common understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of this initiative and how to move forward.

Panels will provide balanced perspectives on the following:

Policy Makers: Distinguished panelists will speak about the development of the policy and ramifications for the implementation.

Administrators: Amid the implementation process, the administrative concerns of a school need to be considered. Panelists will speak on issues regarding implementation of the Common Core and provide unique perspectives on best practices and areas for improvement.

Teachers: Exploring the perspective of teachers is a must for successful implementation of any initiative. Panelists will provide their perspectives on implementation of the Common Core at the level of the K-12 classroom including concerns, areas for improvement, and suggestions for meeting the requirements.

Please visit summit.viu.edu for more information.

Questions about the Education Summit can be directed to Kevin J. Martin, Director of the School of Education, at kevin@viu.edu