My Students’ Thoughts on a Year Without Rubrics

This picture has nothing to do with my blog post. It’s just an excuse to show off a student’s adorable therapy-dog-in-training, part of their ongoing capstone project.

Last month, I shared some thoughts about my experiences with the Greater Madison Writing Project’s Teacher Inquiry and Writing Institute during the 2018–19 school year. In the piece, I included plenty of quotes from my students’ reflections at the end of the school year, but something big was missing. In all the tumult of May, I completely neglected to ask my students what they actually thought about a year without rubrics. This feels like an especially egregious oversight for someone who values student voice in all things school-related.

Lucky for me, High Marq always schedules two summer work days where students can check in with staff, get help, and work on whatever needs doing in the summer (e.g., garden maintenance or classroom reorganization). So, before leaving town on vacation, I took advantage of our July 1st work day to ask a few of my students to share their thoughts with me.

I didn’t want to take up too much of my students’ time on my own little side project, so I put together an anonymous, four-question Google Form. Ten of my students responded, and here is what they had to say. (Note: In the interest of verisimilitude, I left all of their spelling intact.)

First, did you notice that Mr. Primm didn’t use any rubrics this year? (Yes/No/Other)

n = 10

What does it mean that 50% of my students failed to notice that I wasn’t using rubrics this year? Only one of the student respondents was new this year, so this wasn’t a simple matter of lack of prior exposure.

First, I think they’ve got better things to do than care about whatever I’m up to. Second, I see this as a reflection (pun very much intended) of how much value I placed on the rubrics I used in previous years. If half of my students forgot all about the rubrics this year, how valuable could those assessments have been?

How did you feel about completing independent and/or capstone projects without rubrics this year?

The vast majority of responses here were positive:

Overall, these responses matched my perception of our rubrics as an unnecessary extra step in the assessment process, one that had bogged down some students in the past.

A few responses deserved more scrutiny:

This student refers to a previous change in our rubrics from the classic boxes-on-a-page format to a more “rigorous” (*not really) boxes-on-a-page-with-space-to-provide-evidence format. In retrospect, this change ended up making students duplicate the effort they put into their written reflections, to little additional benefit.

This student’s response intrigued me. I would like to review my previous rubrics and look for areas that my reflection guides might overlook.

This student seems to be looking to do less work in finalizing their projects. I get where they’re coming from — the whole impetus for reconsidering our rubrics was related to smoothing out the assessment process — but I don’t plan to continue removing barriers. Philosophically, I think that self-reflection should be at least a little challenging. Is there such a thing as an assessment that’s too easy? I’m not sure, but I think it’s a question worth pondering.

How did you feel about completing semester-long projects (Advisory, Field Experiences, etc.) without rubrics this year?

Again, these responses were almost universally positive:

Or basically neutral:

Then there is this student (the same one who raised my philosophical questions about challenging assessments above):

I’m actually not 100% sure if they are referring to completing these projects with or without rubrics. Even if it’s the latter, I don’t think that their stress has anything to do with the lack of rubrics. They clearly find reflection and finalization stressful and challenging on their own. Or, is it possible that the rubrics were helpful to them? I really don’t know for sure, so I can’t take much away from their responses.

(Note: This was an anonymous survey, but I recognize this student’s style. Knowing them, my suspicion is that they simply find finalizing projects and earning enough credit to stay on track stressful in and of themselves, regardless of the format. I could be wrong, though.)

Do you have any other thoughts about rubrics or reflections to share with Mr. Primm? (optional)

The only responses here were just nice to read:

So, what have I learned here? Mostly, that I have a pretty good read on my students’ feelings about rubrics already. Which makes sense, since we’ve spent all day working together over multiple years. I don’t see myself drastically altering my plans for next year after reviewing these responses. I’m still looking to continue along this path, perhaps with a vastly simplified rubric-type-thing to try out.

That said, I’m glad that I was able to give my students a platform to share their thoughts, and I look forward to picking their brains further when I see them next on August 5th. In the meantime, I’m leaving this work behind for a few weeks of rest and renewal. 😎

GMWP: Greater Madison Writing Project

Teacher as Artist, Teacher as Researcher, Teacher as…

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