Description of the Thirteen Elements

PLATO version 5.0 includes a rubric with which to score 13 elements of ELA instruction on a scale from one to four. Each element was crafted so as to be as independent as possible from the others and to capture different and independent aspects of classroom instruction. Description of earlier versions of the PLATO rubric are available here.


The element of Purpose attempts to capture both the coherence of the lesson around a communicated objective (internal learning goal) and the position of the lesson within a larger context (situated learning goal). The internal learning goal speaks to lesson structure and the relevance of classroom activities toward meeting a learning goal identified by the teacher. Situated purpose speaks to the future relevance to motivate the students to engage with the task at hand. The element focuses on whether the purpose of the lesson is made explicit by the teacher, is tied to the goals of ELA instruction, and is reflected in the activities undertaken by the class. At the highest level an ELA related purpose is clearly articulated, the lesson activities directly address and make progress toward the stated purpose, and the teacher or students check their progress toward achieving the purpose during and at the end of the lesson. [Back To Top]


The element of Intellectual Challenge focuses on the intellectual rigor of the activities and assignments in which students engage. Activities and assignments with high intellectual challenge ask students to engage in analytic or inferential thinking. Activities and content with low challenge, in contrast, require students to engage in recall or rote thinking. Intellectual Challenge also depends on the level of analytical or inferential thinking demanded in the questions asked by the teacher within discussion or in class activities. [Back To Top]


The element of Representation of Content focuses on the teacher's ability and accuracy in representing ELA content (reading, writing, literature, grammar/mechanics, and oral communications) to students through effective and meaningful explanations, examples, and analogies, along with the conceptual richness of the teacher's instructional explanations. Only publicly visible representations of content should be factored into scoring (i.e. examples in textbooks or on worksheets that are not discussed as a class should not be factored into a segment's score). At the lowest level, the teacher may introduce ideas (i.e. close reading, editing, symbolism), but either does not provide any examples or explanations or provide incorrect examples or explanations. At the highest level, the teacher provides clear and nuanced explanations and helps students distinguish between different but related ideas, and the instruction focuses on conceptual understanding of ELA content. [Back To Top]


The element of Connections to Prior Academic Knowledge focuses on the extent to which new material is connected to students' previous academic knowledge. At the high end, new material explicitly builds on prior academic knowledge to develop skills, strategies, and conceptual understandings within a knowledge domain in order to meet the lesson's goals. At the lower end, connections may be made occasionally, but they do not advance student learning. [Back To Top]


The element of Connections to Personal and Cultural Experiences focuses on the extent to which new material is connected to students' personal and cultural experiences. At the high end, these linkages engage students in a lesson, pique their interest in a topic, and illustrate ideas and concepts within English Language Arts. At the low end, references may be made to personal and cultural experiences, but they are not strongly connected to the content of the lesson or to the goals of ELA instruction more generally and so do not seem to advance student learning. [Back To Top]


The element of Models and Use of Models focuses on the degree to which a teacher visibly enacts strategies, skills, and processes targeted in the lesson to guide students' work before or while they complete the task, the extent to which they are analyzed or not, and whether they are used to illustrate for students what constitutes good work on a given task. The teacher might model metacognitive or discussion strategies, a think aloud on how to identify theme, demonstrating how to support a statement with textual evidence, and so on. Modeling often includes think-aloud and role-plays. This element also includes the use of models to support students in completing the task at hand. At the high end, the teacher decomposes specific features of the process by using modeling or models to provide detailed instruction. At the low end, the teacher may simply refer to a model, without using it to provide instruction in the task at hand or visibly enacting the strategies, skills or processes that are targeted. [Back To Top]


The element of Strategy Use Instruction focuses on the teacher's ability to teach strategies and skills that supports students in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and engaging with literature. ELA strategies may help students complete such tasks as reading for meaning, generating ideas for writing, or figuring out the meaning of unfamiliar words. Strategy instruction does not include the teaching of rules (e.g., grammar/spelling rules, definitions of parts of a story). The teacher can use a variety of methods for teaching explicit strategies, including modeling strategies, providing opportunities for guided practice, etc. At the high end teachers provide the opportunity for students to develop a repertoire of strategies and skills that they can use flexibly and independently, depending on their purpose. At the low end, where strategy instruction is minimal or insufficient, teachers may repeat definitions and rules when students are stuck. [Back To Top]


The element of Feedback focuses on the quality of feedback provided in response to student application of ELA skills, concepts, or strategies. Feedback includes comments on the quality or nature of student work as well as suggestions for how students can improve the quality of their work. At the high end, feedback is specific and targets the skills at the heart of the activity. The feedback helps students understand the quality of their work and helps students better perform the task at hand by addressing substantive elements of the task. At the low end, feedback consists of vague comments that are not clearly anchored in student work and suggestions for improvement tend to be procedural (i.e. focused on the instructions for the activity rather than the skills or knowledge that students are applying). These comments do not help students gauge their progress and do not provide a means for students to improve. At the low end, feedback may also be confusing or misleading. [Back To Top]


The element of Classroom Discourse focuses on the opportunities students have for extended ELA-related talk with the teacher or among peers, and the extent to which the teacher and other students pick up on, build on, and clarify each other's ideas. At the low end, the teacher does the majority of the talking and, if student talk is present, the teacher and students do not build on previous responses; rather, the talk is disconnected. At the highest level, students engage in elaborated, coherent, and focused discussions, in which the teacher and other students build on each other's contributions and prompt each other to clarify and specify their ideas. [Back To Top]


The element of Text-Based Instruction assesses the degree to which students engage in activities and discourse that are grounded in authentic texts. The element captures both the degree to which students use authentic texts and engage in the production of them. At the highest level, the teacher is using the text in the service of a larger goal: the development of readers and writers. Students actively use authentic texts for a sustained period of time to deepen their understanding of the text and wider genre and/or engage in writing authentic texts for a sustained period of time with attention to specific features of style and genre. [Back To Top]


The element of Accommodations for Language Learning focuses on the range of strategies and supports that a teacher might use to make a lesson accessible to non-native English speakers or native speakers struggling to develop ELA skills. These accommodations take into account individual students' levels of language proficiency and can include a strategic use of primary language, differentiated materials (pictures, other visuals, or hands-on materials), as well as graphic organizers and visual displays to make texts and instruction accessible to all students. At the high end, teachers effectively modify assignments and assessments so that all students successfully meet the ELA goals for the lesson, despite their level of language proficiency. [Back To Top]


The element of Behavior Management focuses on the degree to which behavior management facilitates academic work and is concerned with behavioral norms and consequences. This component does not presume that an ideal classroom is a quiet and controlled one. The key question is whether student behavior is appropriate for the task at hand; an "orderly" classroom will look different during a lecture than it would during small group work. [Back To Top]


The element of Time Management focuses on the amount of time students are engaged in ELA focused activity. It looks at the teacher's efficient organization of classroom routines and materials to ensure that little class time is lost and that instructional time is maximized. Periods of downtime may occur for lack of procedures in routines such as getting into groups, passing out papers, or collecting work. [Back To Top]


Teen books
Writing rubric poster
Classroom chairs