Mod 5: Rubrics: Fair for Everyone! Assessment

monks standing in a line in golden robes

​Rubrics. They are expectations, aren't they? Expectations about what we want our students to learn. The clearer the expectation, the easier it is for students to know what their teacher expects from them.

This is a very fair system, is it not?

The whole question of expectations can be a fraught one, though, depending on whether the expectations are stated or unstated, basically. I once knew a minister who was having difficulty, as many ministers do, with the question in his church of Who was his boss? His perspective was that God is his boss. The church council's perspective was that they were his boss. And there was the rub: He kept getting confused about what was expected of him. The council hadn't made it clear from the outset that they expected him to obey them more than his conception of what God was telling him to do! Isn't this interesting? The church council hires a minister and then expects him/her to do as they say; but apparently the church council believes in God, right? But their interests really are not always theological; many times a church council's interests are budgetary, or may be motivated by other expectations than theological.

So what's a minister to do? My minister friend told me that he liked it better when he was a military chaplain because his bosses there wore their authority on their sleeves, literally - everything was perfectly clear. There were no nuances of authority; its gradations in the military were starkly clear and evident to everybody within its system.

He liked it when the expectations for him were clear.

He didn't like having to wrestle with questions where the lines of authority were murky; he wanted to do his job, which in his understanding was working for God. But the church council was saying, no, you work for us. And who are you to determine what God's will is for you, anyway? So off on a theological tangent which we will end here.

Point being, clarity is the most important quality of a good rubric. Clarity of expectations.

Expectations is a loaded word, really, because we have learned that having expectations of others socially is not a healthy thing, that it's best to allow people to be who they are and such. I don't know about that; I think it's pretty clear that, as Dr. Phil said, we train people how to treat us. If we fully expect to be treated respectfully, chances are high that we will be or we simply won't hang out with that person. If we expect to be down-trodden, chances are high that we will be tread on and treated disrespectfully. I think there's a balance to be aimed at socially here between allowing and expectations.

The real problem with expectations arises when expectations are not clear, and are not stated out loud, because then you have the problem of co-dependence. Co-dependence happens when people hang out with each other because they get certain things from the other person but never acknowledge that causal relationship! For instance, if a rich older man and a young gorgeous woman get married, their relationship is probably going to be a lot better if they are both clear that: a) they are together because they like what they get from each other, i.e. money for beauty for money; or b) they are together because they love each other and the money and beauty are incidental to their relationship. If they're both clear about their expectations about each other, they'll probably do very well. If, however, they are not clear and the unspoken trade-off is never acknowledged, their relationship will probably be co-dependent and troubled with a lot of dark, unacknowledged expectations. In other words, the rules of their relationship will not be clear to both of them and therefore will not be able to be negotiated.

So. Clear expectations are healthy all the way around, basically.

With young students in a classroom, an expectation might be that you want them to behave themselves; but a rubric could express the expectations for behavior very clearly and specifically and so make them easier for students to honor. If one student is very popular and makes a joke and everybody laughs, but another student gets in trouble for making a joke because he interrupted to tell the joke, the expectation not to interrupt is the reason the second student got in trouble, right? But if that expectation is not stated and fully acknowledged in the classroom, that the teacher does not like people to interrupt her or each other, the second student might not understand he got in trouble for interrupting; he might believe he got in trouble because he's not as popular as the first student. Unclarity, see? There's the rub. But a clear rubric could solve this problem (so there aren't any rubs anymore; just rubrics. :)

A rubric for behavior in this classroom could have as a criteria "Respectful speaking" and the expectations could run along the gamut of "Everyone will take turns speaking so nobody interrupts another." This would be a very clear expectation that the teacher and students had hopefully negotiated together based on their commonly held beliefs and standards, including their commonly held belief that rules are necessary; but that is a topic for another day. Another topic is to make sure every single standard in the rubric is non-judgmental so nobody gets hurt. In any case, rubrics are best when expressing crystal-clear expectations. They are public documents that everyone understands because the standards are so clear. And hopefully, everyone is held to the same standards.

This way everybody knows what the rules are.

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