Numbers and Levels and Rubrics and Grades – Check #SOL2022

Midterm is here and I am anxious – again. I checked my assessments, flexed rubrics, collated the data, used observations and conversations. Yet, this happens – every time. It doesn’t matter what I might have done to prepare, to give feedback, to support student learning with clear evidence, I still feel an overwhelming sense of dread and panic at report card time.

I just listened to “Grades Have Huge Impact But Are They Effective?” and find relief in the fact that this dread is grounded in pedagogical science. Research suggests that students aren’t motivated to learn by grades, and that grades can actually interfere with learning, in particular, when students haven’t mastered a skill. Arrgghhh! How do I fulfill my obligation to provide a midterm grade while knowing this can be detrimental to learning and well being?

I’ve been struggling with numbers and levels and rubrics and grades for some time now. And it’s not just what it does to learning, it’s the fact that I can’t ascribe a number to the unique craft of writing or the cultural knowledge required for reading.

How do I measure beauty with a number? (I know – beauty isn’t in the curriculum, but it has a place in student lives and I hope they can see their own beauty.)

How do I place a level on writing that a student poured their heart into? (I know – skill and effort aren’t the same thing, but what do low evaluations do when a student is learning the skill?)

How do I apply a rubric to a piece of reading that requires background knowledge outside of a student’s lived and cultural experience? (I know. Scaffold the learning and provide background, but what about the cultural nuances that I miss, and I’m a skilled reader!)

I have so many questions about traditional evaluations in addition to the systemic desire for content control in classrooms. I went looking for answers and cracked open a thin book on rubrics looking for words to strengthen me in this internal wrestling match. These lines pinned me:

What really distinguishes Wilson’s analysis is her willingness to challenge rubrics not merely for their technical deficiencies but on the basis of the goals they serve. That’s a rarity in the world of assessment…She shows that their attempt to standardize assessment in rooted in an error to rank students…(Rethinking Rubrics by Maja Wilson, Foreword by Alfie Kohn, xv)

Wait…”that’s a rarity in the world of assessment” – someone who challenges the deficiencies of rubrics is a rarity? Does this mean that rubrics are mostly viewed as infallible solutions to accurately assessing and evaluating expectations from the curriculum?

When it comes to writing, I’ve observed that most rubrics (Ministry created, student co-created, teacher created, etc.) fail to adequately measure what students demonstrate. Rubrics are cumbersome when the range of written expression is qualified and quantified. LIke the author of Rethinking Rubrics, I wonder if the creative writing of Hemingway and Morrison would score poorly on the syntax of sentences or the jarring choppiness of dialogue. If a writer intends to struggle through dialogue in a parallel struggle with the character, then the writing has been effective. Maybe the writer wants the reader to create their own meaning.

Can a rubric actually be open enough and specific enough for the creative imagination to emerge? Or is this just another set of boxes for students to check, for teachers to check. For me, I think the answer is both “yes” and “no” – there is the discomfort rising in my chest again. I’m not going to find a solution to the discomfort that comes with grading – this is my space to navigate carefully with the student at the center and my signal to check.

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Break #SOL2022

“Hit the brake.”

Translation: stop

“Take a break.”

Translation: rest

“We are all on the verge of breaking.”

Translation: self-destruction

“What light through yonder window breaks?”

Translation: I see the beauty of another through a window.

“It is not, nor it cannot come to good. But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue.”

Translation: The situation will not end well and this means I will suffer in silence.

Caesura: a break between words in the metre of a poem.

Translation: a place for the reader to to fall and break open.

A poem for April in three drafts #SOL2022

Draft #1

Writing prompt: trace your hand on the page. Select a word which represents and emotion and try to write using the structure of the hand to guide your thoughts.

Draft #2

Move to lines or sentences to build a poem for April.

Draft #3

It lands in my throat

halting breath,

migrates to my stomach,

twisting flesh.

It rings in my ears

singing fatality,

but mostly, it lives in my heart centre,

stopping blood,

pooling platelets,

preventing

healing

here.