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No Rubrics For Me

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I don’t believe in rubrics. I know a lot of educators firmly believe in them, because they tell the students what we, the teacher, expect for an A, B, C, D, or F. I know what the believers in rubrics say “They give students and parents benchmarks for grading and how do grade if we don’t know what we expect? Yes, there are many people who stand by them, use them, and expect “good” teachers to have them. I tried using them three years ago and my production and creativity within my classroom went down, my gifted and talented students dialed down. Then, I read “The Last Lecture,” by Randy Pausch. He experienced an interesting thing. When he first started his engineering/arts class, he was amazed at the caliber of the first project he received from the college students. After he talked to one of his mentor professors and expressed his concern that the students went farther than he ever thought. He exclaimed “What was he going to assign on the next assignment?” The mentor professor replied, “Tell the students it wasn’t good enough, they need to do more…”

That’s when I changed from rubrics to open-ended assignments. The more innovative and creative my gifted and talented students are with the assignments, they raise the standard in the classroom. If you do not acknowledge the gifted and talented and expect more from them, then the production of the entire class will go down.

The gifted and talented students bring so much to the classroom interns of production and behavior. Many of them are the “talker outers,” or the extremely quiet students who want to hide how gifted and talented they are. Notice I don’t use smart. Smart, in my eyes is the student who knows the facts and can take a test. The gifted and talented may not test well or know facts about the subject. But, they are innovative and have a thirst to create. They LOVE current events and are focused on being an early adaptor. They are beta testing for the class and work hard on trouble-shooting and teaching themselves. When these students are on full throttle, they push you as an educator and demand the rest of the students in the class to move forward with them.

If you have a rubric for them, they quickly find a way to do the minimal work and still get an A. Without setting a limit, you have the capacity to say “it isn’t enough” or “that was amazing” or “how did you do that?”

How would you grade Mozart or Spielberg in your class? Would you make them do the beginning composition of three notes or a 30-second movie using one or two characters? Would you say they had to do a seven-slide powerpoint project? What a loss you would experience not to let them fly. Giving them options only excites them and that’s when innovative and creative projects emerge from your classroom. When giving them options, other general education students may jump at the choice too. Allow that, you may find that some of that hard workers are really talented.

I say to many educators, all I give my gifted and talented student is software, hardware, and time. They quickly figure out what to do with the project and when you open the project up, have it about content, not a specific program. I don’t do an iMovie Project or a GarageBand project after fifth grade. It is a composer project, or color project, or the spectacular project. It is up to the student to use the software and hardware to create their project. Think hard about this. Newbies in technology fall for this on a daily basis because THEY want to be taught this way teaching an iMovie or PowerPoint project. Would they ever teach a pencil project or crayon project? Also, teachers want to direct instruct the technology, so it is easier to teach the tool. There are times in my classroom as many as fourteen different programs all going on at the same time. The student role in the classroom bounces between being a student to instructor to others within the class period. Remember once you TEACH, you learn more. That is the culture I foster, students instructing and learning side by side.

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