Picture this… It’s Christmas morning. You wake up super early, filled with excitement and glee. What did Santa bring you this year, you wonder as you leap from your bed. You run downstairs to check out all of the awesome gifts the jolly man in red left waiting for you under the tree. It’s that remote-control car you asked for. Yes! You tear into the box and attempt to extract it. Unfortunately, it is screwed down. So, you ask your parents for help. After hours of trying to find the only screwdriver in the house, they finally manage to pull the car and remote from the box for you. Your eyes sparkle like waves in the blue ocean. You can’t wait to play with your fancy new car. You try to turn it on when realize that it requires batteries. You scream to your parents that you need 16 AA batteries for the car and remote. Sadly, they respond, “We only have four AA batteries. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow.” Tomorrow?! You can’t wait until tomorrow to take your new car out for a test ride. You need to do it today. So, you scavenge the house for batteries. You take two from the television remote, two from the VCR remote, and two from each of the four smoke detectors in your place. You now have enough batteries. Let’s just hope that nothing catches on fire in the next few days.
Ahh, the good ol’ days of needing an excessive amount of batteries for everything. While you always seemed to have batteries when you didn’t need them, you never had them when you did need them. Although times have changed, many other things haven’t. We still need batteries for almost everything, you still shouldn’t walk home alone, and remote-control cars are still super fun to play with, no matter how old you are.
Like remote control-cars need batteries, teachers have always thought that every graded assignment or project should include a grading rubric to guide students through the task. “How will the students know what to do unless we tell them exactly what is expected of them? We need to force feed them everything. Students can’t think for themselves. We need to take thinking out of the equation.” And this line of thinking is exactly what has led to such a decline in American students going onto become engineers, mathematicians, or scientists. If we want students to think critically, creatively, and learn to become problem solvers, we need to empower them to do the thinking. Rather than explain in great detail what they need to do to meet an objective, we should provide the students with a very brief outline of a task or project and allow them to figure out the specifics on their own. This way, they will learn to ask questions and think outside the box when working toward mastery in a particular area. Unlike how the world still needs batteries, schools and learning don’t still need grading rubrics.
In my Humanities class today, I introduced the final project for our foray into poetry. I made no rubric for this project, but instead created a simple outline of the requirements.
I introduced the project to the students by going over this outline. I then fielded the numerous questions the students had, which I had hoped they would. By not providing them exact parameters on how to meet or exceed the three graded objectives, they have to think about what they will need to do to solve the problem. This contemplation leads to questions, which I love because then I know they are the ones doing the learning. They asked lots of clarifying questions, which I joyfully answered. They even asked questions that I didn’t even think they would ask. I love how my students continue to surprise me daily.
By not having a detailed rubric for this project, I’ve put the ownership and learning on the students. Am I worried about the outcome? No, because I’ve created an atmosphere of compassion, learning, and challenge in my classroom. My students put great effort into meeting and exceeding every objective because they know it’s the right thing to do. They work hard because they want to and see the benefit in doing so. They are motivated because of the family spirit I’ve worked very hard to create in the classroom. They don’t need me to explain and spell out every aspect of how to meet or exceed each of the three graded objectives, because they want to do well to exceed them, and will, therefore, do whatever it takes to solve problems encountered or address questions that arise, on their own. Students who want to do well, will do well with or without a grading rubric. Why waste my precious time as a teacher and steal their creativity and thinking by crafting a rubric for every project? That just doesn’t make sense to me.
After this short preview of the project, I let them get to work on editing and revising their Haiku and Sonnet poems. This is the point when I saw, firsthand, how unnecessary grading rubrics are when you foster a sense of challenge and can-do-ness in the classroom. Some of the students revised their poems on their own, while others worked with a table partner to edit and revise their work. They coexisted in such meaningful ways, helping to make their partner an even stronger and better poet. It was amazing. Those students who worked independently, took the time to carefully comb through every word and line of their poems to make sure that they included figurative language and really painted the perfect image in the mind of their readers. I was so impressed. One student who had quickly thrown together the sloppy copy of his Haikus a few weeks ago, took the time to make them meaningful, relevant, and brilliant. He changed words and added new meaning and dimension. Wow! Other students wanted to challenge themselves one step further by crafting all new poems. They wanted to be sure that they displayed their growth as a poet over the course of this unit, and utilized all of the tricks, tips, and strategies learned to craft new, better poems. It was so much fun to watch and observe the students working. The positive energy in the room was palpable. The boys were having fun revising their work and growing, right in front of my eyes, as writers and poets. And, they didn’t need a grading rubric to tell them to do this. They just did so because that’s what we do in my classroom. The bar of excellence is set high so that they are constantly able to grow and challenge themselves as learners.
I’ve realized, throughout my research into grading rubrics this year, that they are an old technology. Teachers no longer need to provide their students with grading rubrics. Instead, great teachers inspire their students to ask questions, think creatively, and solve their own problems so that they learn to become critical thinkers who can tackle any problem encountered. So, my advice to you all is to ditch the grading rubrics and turn the learning over to your students.