When rubrics are unintentional ruBRICKS
My fourteen-year-old son surprises me with some of the things that come out of his mouth. I won’t repeat them all here (you’re welcome), because sometimes I’m astounded in a way that makes me laugh, but doesn’t necessarily make me think.
But the other day, he did make me think.
We were at the kitchen table. I was reading my students’ online readers notebooks while he was working on homework. Responsibly, he checked the rubric that accompanied the assignment he was working on, but by doing so, he seemed to get more frustrated instead of finding clarity.
I looked over at him, eyebrows raised in silent question. His response was, “This rubric is more of a brick than a help!” and he went on to explain that it felt like he was weighed down by the rubric rather than feeling like it provided guidance.
I immediately understood his comparison. Rubrics as bricks, hobbling students, confining them to strict definitions and requirements, weighing them down instead of allowing them to soar.
Rubrics as brick walls on paper, wordy, unclear, sometimes too demanding, confining creativity instead of providing a place from which to let creativity flow.
I then turned my thoughts to my own teaching and to my own students. Have I unintentionally weighed down my students with a brick of a rubric?
Have the rubrics I’ve attached to my class assignments served as brick walls, stifling creativity, rather than as foundations that my students could use as guides for demonstrating what they know and what they can do?
Have the rubrics I’ve provided my students allowed them to show that they can exceed and see things in a way that I, as the teacher, never imagined?
During this school year my thinking and teaching style has evolved dramatically. I’ve moved away from a more traditional method, in which my students read the same texts, responded to the same writing prompts, learned the same skills, and turned in the same assignments, all at the same time. I used rubrics for most of their assessments, and while my students demonstrated their learning, I inadvertently didn’t really allow for a ton of creativity.
This year, my students are reading different texts, sometimes have individualized due dates that they have chosen, and are turning in very different assignments from each other.
This year, I’ve also still used some rubrics, and I think there are some good ones out there. But in response to the advice of one my colleagues, I started the slow move to a more holistic approach to scoring guides.
I still include the standards and learning targets for students on the task sheet, and I describe what an exemplary, middle, and poor quality product will look like, include, or omit. But I find that the more holistic scoring guide approach allows for the student choice and creativity that is essential in the workshop model.
It’s not as prescriptive as a rubric can be, and instead of being a document made of bricks that build walls around and confine creativity, it serves more as foundation of sorts, something students can build from, and also demonstrate their learning through their own creative ideas.
A holistic scoring guide does not provide all of the answers that a rubric holds. There aren’t as many words on the paper, which means that students have to think about what they are going to do, rather than simply tick some boxes of requirements in order to get the grade.
I’m enjoying the holistic scoring guide approach, and my students are still doing well with the change. They demonstrate creativity, they show their learning, and they allow their personalities to shine through in their work.
Workshop is about student choice, and I think some rubrics unintentionally stifle the choice that we are so eager and willing to provide.
I’m going to be careful from now one, doing my best to ensure that the assignments I give allow for student agency, and doing my best to ensure that my students aren’t weighed down or walled in by unnecessary bricks.