quality work

Are rubrics the best technique for obtaining quality?

I sure didn’t have rubrics as a student.  I don’t recall exemplars either.  How did we know what to do?

Things have changed.  Most of my colleagues are intent upon delivering clear expectations to the students.  It seems obvious, right?  In order to produce quality work, students need to know what is expected.  The main technique now seems to be the rubric.  Rubrics are important to me and I provide one with each assignment.  I try to be as clear as possible so students know what they need to do to master the task at hand.  I do joint constructions.  I provide exemplars.  But, maybe this is all wrong.

Dylan Wiliam (in the workshop I attended last weekend) shared the idea that we, as teachers, need to teach students to have a “nose for quality”.  Our goal is to have students actually think like artists, mathematicians, historians, and scientists. Dylan referenced a quotation by Michael Polanyi, “The aim of skillful performance is achieved by the observance of a set of rules which are not known as such to the person following them”(1) Dylan further went on to describe a study done on goal keepers in the game of football (soccer), a study which I have not yet found myself to read.  If the study did take place, the eyes of the keepers were tracked to see where the focus was.  Apparently, every goalie focused not on the ball but on the hips of the player kicking the ball.  It was actually the position of the opposing player's hips that would determine where the ball would go.  The goalies didn’t even know they were doing this.  This practice (or rule) resulted from their experience, not from anyone telling them what to do and certainly not from a rubric. It makes me rethink my purpose in handing out a rubric. 

I need to find time to make sure that my students truly understand the criteria for success. Then, I need to help my students actually internalize the material.  Ultimately, I might reach a point where quality doesn’t have to be defined because it is known.  For now, however, my starting point is the rubric.  As I become a better teacher, I look forward to when I can report on how my students have evolved into learners who have, indeed, developed a "nose for quality".

1) Polanyi, M. (1958). Personal knowledge; towards a post-critical philosophy.. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (31).