Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kounting on Kohn

I. Trouble with Rubrics (Alfie Kohn)
o   Rubrics Are All I Know: As someone who remembers rubrics being used when she was in high school, I can’t say that I wholeheartedly agree with Kohn’s argument. As a student and as a teacher, I actually really enjoy using rubrics for grading. I mean, I guess I fall victim to that whole idea of rubrics being a handy strategy of self-justification during parent conferences.” To me, rubrics are the clearest way possible to justify a grade. What you have to remember is I barely remember school WITHOUT a rubric system, both within my own personal experiences and as an educator. Now, I do not use rubrics for everything; I use rubrics for probably about 2-3 assignments a quarter. I mean, some people use rubrics for everything, which can definitely be an overload for our students.  I actually do not like our school-wide rubrics; I prefer to make my own with specific directions so the students know what I am looking for.
o   Classroom v. Policy: I understand that Kohn makes the point of how rubrics provide the opportunity to get a bunch of people to agree on what rating to give an assignment as long as they’re willing to accept and apply someone else’s narrow criteria for what merits that rating.” But, what do we do as teachers when we are being TOLD to use school-wide rubrics that have graduation expectations and grade span expectations embedded throughout the columns? My high school is up for NEASC accreditation in March of 2012, and they are grading us using a rubric system. My principal has told us that part of the accreditation is asking us how often we use rubrics. So, now what?
o   All About the Grades: Kohn seems to be adamant that “all bets are off if students are given the rubrics and asked to navigate by them.” Part of our evaluation system (not so sure how this plays into the new evaluations) is “teacher provide the student with a rubric.” Ok, now rubrics are not only the way I am expected to grade my students, but I am being graded on whether or not I provide the proper grading tool?? AHH!! So, when we are evaluated at NPHS, the evaluator will take off points if no rubric is provided AND we are expected to read over the expectations during our lesson. Now, do rubrics limit creativity on the student end? Maybe. However, I teach heterogeneously grouped classes or inclusion classes at NPHS. I feel like my population of students need that scaffolding. Actually, my teacher’s assistant for our American History/ Civics I class just told me how one of our students claimed I was tricking to “trick the class” because I asked them to write an opinion essay! I mean, I guess this particular student falls into Kohn’s fear of students “who have been led to focus on getting A’s rather than on making sense of ideas.” How can classes, in some instance, not be “all about the grades” where federal funding is based “all about the grades”? I can’t stand the hypocrisy…..

II. The Case Against “Tougher Standards”(Alfie Kohn)
o   Ummm… What About The Kids? So, when talking about the societal changes in the 1800s with my history class, I bring in a graphic organizer that asks them to look at the ways in which modern society views the mentally ill, those with special needs, educational policies, and literature with the view from the 1800s. Education is the topic I focus on most. I do an assignment called “take a line and walk with it” (yeah Maureen and Morgan!) where I give them two quotes from Deborah Gist and her view of education from the Providence Journal.

“Parent involvement is important, and supportive, engaged parents are important partners in a child's education. Fortunately, we know that great teaching can overcome those instances when children have parents who are unable to provide that level of support. I don't blame teachers, but I do hold them accountable for results.”

“Schools and teachers should do everything they can to engage parents and to help them support their child's learning. However, every educator is responsible for student success regardless of that child's background or family support. In fact, children whose families struggle to support them need our help and a quality education more than anyone.”

      I ask the kids to reflect on the quotes. I didn’t know where this assignment was going to go, especially because the quotes were a little controversial. We literally had a 45 minute discussion on the idea of how the education system makes no sense and adults are blaming all the wrong people. One of my students asked, “how come no one asks kids what they think would be helpful for us?” which, of course, Kohn directly points out in his article – “Left out almost entirely is the point of view of the students themselves, and the impact on their learning.”
o   Who Makes the Rules: Kohn writes- “Today, it is almost impossible to distinguish Democrats from Republicans on this set of issues -- only those with some understanding of how children learn from those who haven't a clue.” I cannot tell you how many times I have talked about this issue with my students. Last week, I engaged my students in an activity to get them thinking about the setup of the Declaration of Independence. I asked them to get into groups of four, gave them chart paper, and asked them to list at least four rules that they did not agree with and come up with a compromise to solve the issue. They then had to sign their names (their “John Hancock”, if you will) at the bottom. One rule my high schoolers came up with was no recess and their compromise was a 15 minute break period right after lunch before class started. We got into a whole discussion of the reason why kids don’t have recess or study – obviously, the reason why kids aren’t learning is because there aren’t ENOUGH subjects in a school day and that studies are a waste of educational opportunities. It’s like how Kohn pointed out that “the idea that if something isn't working very well -- say, requiring students to do homework of dubious value -- then insisting on more of the same will surely solve the problem..” Like the kids need more school to motivate them. Riiiight…. I told my kids the other day, I had half hour recess from kindergarten to eighth grade THEN I had an hour and a half of study every other day from ninth through twelfth grade. Well, I think I turned out ok. I mean, some institute of higher education told me I earned a piece of paper that says I can teach kids. Like, why don’t people who are actually in the classroom get to help make the rules about education?? Oh, cause that would make sense…..


  1. There are educators in the decision making process, unfortunatly, they are not all current, practicing teachers. Many have left the schools to create these rules and over the years they have not gone back to see what the results have been or how students have changed. Or there are those who have only taught in one grade for 6 months and can say they were a classroom teacher when asked.

  2. Just catching up, since I just got my new computer. I really like your idea of giving them the first 5 minutes in class to read your comments. I become so angry when they ask, as soon as I pass it out if they can throw it away or I find it on the floor somewhere. Even though I know their minds are racing as to trying to figure out their grade.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful, and personal, connections you made each week with your blog. A pleasure!!