Caught in the Middle: Reading and Writing in the Transition Years (#2)

“I, for one, loved the idea that rubrics were transparent: students would not have to operate vacuums; instead, the expectations, made explicit, would guide their actions and achievements. Rubrics could be that ‘missing link.’ On the other hand, students were clearly not embracing them. So, I asked them why and how we could make these assessment tools better….As teachers, we ask our students to make improvements every day, so we need to step up, too. When I asked students for ways to improve conventional rubrics, they helped me find a way to make them more meaningful, fair, and ‘on point’”
— Booth, 2011, p. 103-105

My student teaching experience was held in a school that used standard-based grading. Rubrics were on every piece of work the learners were given. The expectations were laid out clearly and concisely. I had mixed emotions about this. I was always taught to trust my gut, and for some reason this didn’t sit well with me. But why? I felt the luster for learning being sucked dry from the assignments. Instead of inspiring and motivating learners, I was told to dictate. Giving learners these rubrics of standards not only told them what they had to learn, but made them so compliant there was no more room for creativity. Once I was hired by the school I am at now, I was given freedom and a chance to find out what felt right in my stomach regarding grades, standards, and rubrics. I went as far as asking my principal if I could do away with grades and do progress reports instead. Though this wasn't the right time to implement this practice, I was determined to find some way to inspire my learners to want to understand more about life, and not just to comply by memorizing content. Through the last few years, I have tried kid-friendly rubrics that don’t use standard-based vocabulary. I have tried self-assessments. I have tried simple checklists and peer editing checklists. This year, I have been combining all of these, along with questions to make learners think for themselves, and not think for the grade. This can take the form of an Essential Question I created, or asking them to create an Essential Question for me to ponder. In the end, I truly want them to try and understand the purpose behind their new knowledge, explore it, and discover a new world within themselves. Booth has given me a new insight into allowing myself to ask my students what they want and what they need, rather than me dictating everything for them.

Booth, D. (2011). Caught in the middle: Reading and writing in the transition years. Markham, Ontario, Canada: Pembroke Publishers.