In Defense of Rubrics

Learning doesn't happen just in schools.
Just because you're in school, doesn't mean you're learning.
A keystone of learning is self-reflection.
Learning is a fantastically messy business.

I think everyone who is engaged in discussions about teaching and learning would agree with the previous statements. At the end of the day, if you're engaged in the discussion, you've already committed to changing the stricture in whatever way works for you. As rubrics come up in discussion again, I am thrilled to engage in discussion with other educators who are committed to change.

As I've shared on my blog, I'm all about addressing my ignorance. I have no problems being corrected when I'm wrong, because the alternative just doesn't make any sense. However, when it comes to rubrics, I'm standing fast. Plus, I've got some pretty compelling strong support on my side.
* rubrics define the features of work that describe quality. (Arter & Chappuis, 2006)
* used to evaluate the quality of students' work. (Popham, 2006)
* a rubric identifies all the needed attributes of quality or development in a process (Martin-Kniep, 2001)

This is not a rubric.


1 pt.
2 pt.
3 pt.
4 pt.
Student uses 1 source.
Student uses 2 sources.
Student uses 3 sources.
Student uses 4 or more sources.

This is not a rubric.


1 pt.
2 pt.
3 pt.
4 pt.
Writing has lots of mistakes.
Writing has a few mistakes.
Writing has some mistakes.
Writing has no mistakes.

How do we know? Rubrics are about quality... and you can't count quality.

A movie doesn't win the Academy Award because it had 4 crying scenes and the others only had 3.
Your favorite book didn't make you feel something 17 times while you're least favorite book only made you feel something 2 times.Your partner didn't suddenly become perfect for you the 9th time they did something for you.

In life, we don't count quality. I write that as if it's a truth and it can be argued. However, generally speaking when we talk about quality, we talk about attributes and definitions. We don't stop and count and determine what is good. "Sorry, Barb, can't recommend this as a good restaurant. The waiter took 17 minutes to refill my water. I recommend the one next door. They only took 12 minutes." We know, though, the traits of a good restaurant and if a friend of ours opened a new restaurant and asked for feedback, we wouldn't sit there and count.

In school, it is not physically possible to provide all students with feedback all of the time. There will come a moment when a child has to self-assess their work. Without understanding what quality looks like, their efforts are likely to result in guessing. Yes, we tell them. Yes, we give them verbal feedback. But we know students don't remember everything we tell them. A well-developed, thoughtful rubric can help students understand the attributes of quality. Consider this rubric that @russgoerend and I co-constructed. The rubric describes the quality of the presentation - note the top level is all about "breaking the rules" and the bottom of the document contains a checklist.

I think "rubric-esque tables" are developed way too frequently because we think rubrics are better than checklists.But, if you want specific things in order for a student's work to be considered acceptable, tell them what you want in a checklist. Checklists aren't bad or less then. They each serve a purpose in communicating expectations. Personally, I'd like to take a red pen to a certain website and rename 90% of their "rubrics" as "scoring guides". Many oft-shared critiques of rubrics are actually discussing "scoring guides" - and identify major problems with that tool. It seems were in a cycle of critiquing a tool while we're still negotiating a common understanding. My hunch is if we polled 100 lawyers and asked them to define "contract", there would be near unanimous agreement. I wonder what results we'd get if we polled 100 educators about "rubrics"?

If you'd like to read more about what makes quality rubrics, I invite you to check out the rubric wiki. I am always open to discussions of challenges and flaws in rubrics and how we can create better rubrics with and forth students and I would like to extended the invitation to readers who have identified those flaws to ask themselves if their concerns are with rubrics or impostors.

1 comment:

Mrs. Tenkely said...

I love that link "Learning is fantastically messy business." It is so true, it is messy. It doesn't fit into nice neat boxes and numbers and letters. This is precisely why rubrics are such a nice way to describe and look at the learning that happened. I'll stand fast for rubrics with you (true rubrics that is, scoring guides don't count!).