Woah… Just Woah…


Honestly, Kohn just kinda blew my socks off… There were so many moments where he really just knocked me off my game & really made me question my way of thinking… To tie back to previous discussions – that’s part of being mindful in your teaching though. Reading things, especially things outside of your normal way of thinking, and reflecting on it. This article was definitely an exercise in mindfullness for me.

“When school is seen as a test, rather than an adventure in ideas,” teachers may persuade themselves they’re being fair” – Woah…. This has been me lately… I literally had this thought this week… I’m currently working with our Senior Design class this semester and one of things I’ve been asked to do is develop rubrics for the course assignments. Previously this has always been a small class and it was easy for the professor to kinda just go with however he wanted to grade it that year. This year, the class size more than doubled and he wanted a little more structure that could be easily transferred from year to year. I discovered Canvas’ rubric setting and quickly fell in love. But one of the things I’m learning is that when I have a rubric that I’m grading from, my grading tends to be really rough… I tell myself that that’s the fair way to do it and that this is how the students can see up front how everything will be graded… But the more I read this article, the more I realized how this doesn’t jive with the rest of my teaching style. I’m very collaborative. I want to get to know my students and I really want to focus on how their learning the material and transferring it to knowledge instead of just memorizing information… I did struggle with the fact that this seemed to be written for students in secondary education but I can see in the effects of grading that he listed at the beginning in not only my students, but my peers, and even myself at times.

I do think grading has its place in higher education. (I definitely don’t think I could tell my department next year that I’m throwing out the gradebook for my class.) But I am intrigued by the applications for my classroom and combining these ideas with others I’ve seen to comprise my own “grading style” if there is such a thing. Through working on these rubrics for Sr. Design, I’ve actually been thinking a lot about what kind of assessment I want to in my class next year… The course I’ll be teaching is our Intro to BSE course which has both a lecture & lab component. I’ve been looking at in-class assessments, more problem-based lab assignments, and even lab quizzes to make sure they come prepared. This idea of not everything being graded is really interesting to me now. Maybe the lab quizzes can be self-graded at the very beginning so they can ask questions before we start about what they don’t understand.  The in-class assessments don’t need to be graded either and can just be for helping the students assess their own learning during the “lecture” time. “We Assess What We Value” and if what we value is students leaving our classroom being able to apply the knowledge provided to them in our course, being able to problem solve, or even just knowing how to learn then in the words of Kohn himself maybe “grading is problematic by its very nature” to what we’re trying to accomplish.

I’ll leave you with the one part in particular of this article that really struck me personally. It was the story of the student and his zen master. As a very goal-oriented person, I literally make goals everyday and I’m better when I make goals & deadlines for those goals. But it’s true. When you focus so much on how close you are to that goal, no matter how important, enlightened, or critical it is…

“If you have one eye on how close you are to achieving your goal, that leaves only one eye for your task.”

Woah…. Just Woah….

3 Responses so far.

  1. Mary Norris says:

    I loved reading your reflections, Qualla. I think that your experience creating rubrics and using them to assign grades gets at two things. First, it is easier to be an effective teacher when you begin with objectives–things that you want your students to know and be able to do. You listed examples of problem solving and applying knowledge. Otherwise how do you plan your course? Every activity you ask your students to do should be for some purpose. If you have not thought about this, then I think that you are in danger of wasting your student’s time. Creating a rubric can be a good exercise in choosing what you think is important for your students to be able to know and do and defining what you think your student’s work should look like. When your students see the rubrics beforehand, they have a better idea of how focus their work.
    Second, you pointed out that the grades you came up with by applying your rubric were not what you would have assigned without the rubric. They were lower. Remember that you can assign grades from your rubric any way you want to. Earning 30 out of 60 points can be an A if you decide to make it one. If the purpose of your rubric is to show students what amazing work/performance can look like, then the higher categories can be aspirational. And grades can be assigned accordingly. I love your revelation that everything does not have to be graded! I agree!

  2. Jyotsana says:

    I really enjoy reading your posts Qualla, because you tend to incorporate your readings with previous discussions, your current teaching and learning and past experiences of what worked or did not work. I am excited to see how this awareness will lead to your making changes as an educator and thinking about pedagogy with a different lens.

    PS – rubrics are known to be “qualitative” methods of assessment. I don’t know what the ones in Canvas look like but maybe there is an overlap that can be discovered that fulfills both aspects of it?!

  3. tapputu says:

    Thanks for writing this Qualla! It has given me a lot to think about with respect to my (initial) use of rubrics for grading essays last semester and the debate about whether or not to use a rubric hybrid this semester. Something else it brought up for me is a question about implicit bias.

    In philosophy it is a known fact that, when hiring, if the qualities folks are searching for are x, y, and z then we find a difference how folks access the women and the men with the rubric. Namely, the men, even if they didn’t have x, y, and z were *made* to fit the search criteria in the rubric. Fit is “added” where it didn’t exist. For women, however, when they had x, y, and z fit was “explained away”. I’ve aways wondered whether or not this can happen in general with rubrics.

    Are there similar concerns in your discipline at all?

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