Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gate Keeping

Arter and McTighe in their book Scoring Rubrics in the Classroom, place great emphasis on empowering students with the ability to self asses. They seem to be suggesting that through a posting of clear expectations, the secret to writing or any skills based task, can be deconstructed into simple parts and tackled piece by piece. Students using rubrics can asses their level of attainment. Teachers are able to objectively look at student work through a specific stated critical lens. For a classroom of similar learners with similar tasks this appears to be a valid way to look at student work.

Kozol on the other hand in his Shame of the Nation seems to be a little gun shy to admit the ability to define or deconstruct “good writing” into six or seven simple facets on a rubric. He feels rubrics are only meant to check for specific aspects of an assignment. Knowledge and human understanding will never be broken down into seven simple principles. Being very mindful of falling into an oversimplification of cognition, Kozol warns us basically against missing the holistic value of student work.

As I was looking for an example of exemplary work that might not be valued through a Arter and McTighe rubric I immediately thought of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” poem. Even the title is grammatically incorrect. Using a well developed rubric Ms. Truth’s commentary on social injustice might receive a failing grade from Arter and McTighe, but Kozol would argue that the value of the piece goes way beyond the minimal expectations of a well defined rubric.

We can’t be too full of ourselves when we grade papers. We are no authority on what is good and poor writing. We must be mindful of becoming the gate keepers preventing the Truths of today from having a voice. Sometimes teachers ( myself included) seem to be too full of themselves as keepers of the knowledge and use rubrics as their swords in their crusade justify their hold on knowledge. Ultimately I think after reading both books I will find myself writing, “This isn’t what I was looking for ….,” instead of, “confusing, awkward sentence” more on the top of student work.

P.S. Lori Mayo shared an article around this very topic this summer if anyone has a copy I would love to re-read it.


Ms. Mayo said...


I think you told me you read the article (was it in "Rethinking Schools?") about how an electronic scoring system failed as nexcerpt from _House on Mango Street_. Same type of thing. I believe that article was written by a friend of mine from the NCTE listserv, Maja Wilson of Michigan. She just published a book with Heinemann called _Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment_ that you might want to check out.

O'Neill said...

Oh wow I can really relate to this particular entry. I think of rubrics as a way to organize the parts of a paper or project that one should be looking at but not necesarily the way to give the ultimate grade the student will earn. A rubric is definitely missing something when looking at the assignment as a whole. Instead of comments about how a piece was written,I usually ask questions instead, such as "what are you trying to tell me here" or I might write "I am confused by what you wrote here...please see me" I use "See me" alot because then I can speak to the student about what was done, clarify what was expected and have the student redo the assignment. I have thought for sometime that perhaps my evaluation of student work was inadequate since students need structure when their work is assessed and a rubric provides structure and clear expectations. And yet I have a hard time with them and using them to evaluate how much my students internalized the information presented. Maybe the answer lies in both the rubric and then an evaluation as a whole by the teacher. This, of course, relates back to our grading system and I think we need to deeply think about what grades actually mean.