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).

Adaptations: Failed It!

We completed a joint construction.

They had a rubric.

They had an exemplar.

They referred to the rubric during the entire process.

So what went wrong?

Today my 6th graders proudly hung their posters for assessment and viewing.  The assignment was to research a particular arctic animal and report on the adaptations that animal has to its habitat. 

I hear my colleague's voice loud in clear in my head, “Now remember, your adaptations have to link directly to the habitat you have described—how does that specific adaptation help your animal to survive in its habitat?”

We have done this project together before. 

We’ve refined it.

It seemed perfect.

So what went wrong?

I saw students checking off the items from the rubric.

I consulted with them.

The co-teacher and I both viewed their words before the printer was engaged.

So what went wrong?

The posters are a disaster.

Not one student fully grasped the concept of connecting the adaptations to the habitat and that was the main point of this project!

So now the conundrum: Do I have them redo it?

I should.

Mastery ought to be the expectation.

But the time it will take.

It’s like pulling teeth.

It’s probably worth it. 

So back to the drawing board.

Revisit the standards.  Rework the rubric.

It’s worth it.  I think.  I hope.