Encouraging Student Risk-Taking by Grading the Process Not the Product

Over the course of the past five school years, Mrs. Erika Myers has developed Lakeview Junior High School’s STEM program, which tasks students with encountering new tools and concepts, and asks them to synthesize their learning through inquiry and project-based experiences.  

Mrs. Myers has observed that students become fearful to take risks when they know there will be a grade assigned to their project.  She realized that grading the end product was inhibiting her students’ ability to take risks.  Furthermore, students were focusing on their final product – not the road they took to get there.   Mrs. Myers worked hard on developing a rubric to help students feel safe taking risks, which also rewards students for their persistence, problem-solving, collaboration, and effort.   All of her hard work resulted in this Student-Friendly Maker Rubric, which can be used for many different types of STEM projects.

Teachers often follow the mantra, “Never ask your students to do something you haven’t done/wouldn’t do yourself.”  Mrs. Myers is an excellent model of this!  She has demonstrated perseverance and created multiple iterations  of the rubric – striving to create a fair and valid measurement tool to assess student learning in the STEM lab.  Much like she has asked her students to do, Mrs. Myers pulled initial ideas for her rubric from several sources including this rubric from Edutopia and this Digital Harbor Foundation rubric.  However, she carefully considered her specific student population, the projects they encounter, and encouraging growth mindset when she refined these ideas into something better suited for her STEM Lab’s needs.

Here are a couple of features from this rubric that warrant highlighting:

  • In an earlier version of her rubric, Mrs. Myers used “Creativity” as criteria.  However, after some reflection and observation of her students, she came to the understanding that creativity isn’t something that should always be expected.  When explaining this to her students, Mrs. Myers asked, “Is the IPhone8 an example of creativity?” Their answer was, “No”.  However, students agreed that the IPhone8 has some amazing enhancements, which makes it a remarkable product.  Instead of grading students on creativity, Mrs. Myers decided to use the criteria of “Iteration”, which assesses the number of components students attempted to improve in their project.  This adaptation to the grading rubric encouraged students to take risks because it allows them to see that a product is never finished – that students should always be looking for ways to improve anything in their lives.
  • Another modification stemmed from the criteria “Positive Attitude”.  After some thought and in collaboration with our school social worker, Mrs. Myers determined that managing frustration while problem solving was the skill she wanted students to focus on.  What she came up with was the criteria of “Initiative”.  In her rubric, a student can be exemplary and encounter frustration.  What’s paramount is that students take initiative for their own learning and persevere through roadblocks and the frustration they encounter as they move forward with their learning.  As she explains, “It’s okay to feel frustration.  We just need to not let it interfere with our productivity.  I don’t want students’ setbacks to be punitive, and recognizing and asking for help should not be counted against them.  Instead, I’m trying to encourage my students to work through their struggles.  When they ask for help, I ask them, ‘How have you tried to solve the issue’?” 



    It’s exciting to see Mrs. Myers and her students take on a growth mindset.  It’s no longer all about the end product.  There is value in the learning that occurs while students  move towards that end product!