Saturday, April 6, 2013

Stultifying Rubrics

Today, when a kid gets a writing assignment, or almost any assignment, for that matter, they are usually given a "rubric." This is a step-by-step list of the requirements for the task.

In some sense, this isn't a bad thing, but in practice, I hate it.

This year, our 5th grader has had to do very little writing. The only assignment so far of any length was a paper on a patriot from the American Revolution. Unfortunately, the patriot he was to write about appears only three times in history: his birth, his escape from slavery, and the day he died at the Boston Massacre--the "patriot" was Crispus Attucks. In addition, he was dead by 1770, which was long before the Revolution got started, and so answering rubric questions such as: famous words (he had none,) little-known facts (he was tall,) childhood (no clue,) education (no clue,) occupation (no clue,) beliefs (no clue,) etc., was absolutely impossible. We joked that his entire paper should consist of one line: Crispus Attucks, he got shot. Furthermore, the soldiers who shot him were defended by a real revolutionary patriot, John Adams, and he got them off (mostly) by saying Attucks and the others were nothing buy rioters and the soldiers were just trying to keep the peace. So, maybe the entirety of the paper should have read: Crispus Attucks, he was a rioter and got shot. 

So, how is a kid to follow a rubric which so obviously can't be applied to his subject matter? We ended up arguing extensively with the school that the paper ended up consisting of fictional stories that have arisen around Attucks (such as, he went to sea on whaling ships...maybe,) and that they have no place in a fact-based paper; and, since there are no real facts about Attucks' life, you can't ask kids to write about him. The school has said that his name will be removed from the list next year.

...of course, that leaves Molly Pitcher...

Now, the kid is in the midst of writing the only real paper that gets assigned in 5th grade. Of course, it isn't assigned by the language arts teacher, but by the science teacher--it's the report for his science fair project.

Once again, the rubric is getting in the way. The rubric assigns only five paragraphs, and says that each paragraph "should have 5-6 sentences;" so, the only real research/writing assignment of the year can be done in 30 sentences or less.The rubric teaches kids to count paragraphs, count sentences, think narrowly, don't do one sentence more.

Not in this house!

The problem is, the kids are so trained to follow the dot-to-dot instructions, that telling them they have to do more, telling them to add more sections, telling them to be more complete is like pulling teeth; and they fight you tooth and nail.

Furthermore, he wrote an amazing paper for the 4th grade science fair, but realized that he got the same grade on it as most of the other kids. He was very disappointed and learned the important lesson: what's the point of doing a good job, when kids who do half the work get the same reward?

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