On de-rubricizing

I almost forgot about my favourite line from yesterday’s QPAT convention keynote speaker, Alfie Kohn.

He said it as I was leaving the room so it didn’t end up in my not-live blog post but I just found the page where I scribbled it as I was making my way to my car:

The whole can not be reduced to the sum of its rubricized parts!

For a long time now I have been sceptical of the whole rubric frenzy. Must have a rubric, must have a rubric. Why? Why should we tell kids exactly what our expectations are and in such minute detail? I call that a creativity killer. Give them some parameters. If you are expecting the result to be some kind of multimedia presentation let them know that, give them the guiding question, maybe a few resources to get them going, to raise the velcro in their brains, but then let them experiment!

Let them show me what they can do without spelling it out for them. Rubrics lower the bar for our students. It is telling them that we do not trust they can do anything worthwhile without our providing them with all of the pieces. Kids will rise to the bar we set for them whether it be high or low.I like to push the limits of height.

A line that I find myself quoting on a regular basis is

Why do anything unless it is going to be great. (Peter Block)

I try to instill this in my students. They ask – why do I have to use proper letter-writing style elements in history when I write a letter to the King of France as a character from New France in 1665 offering ideas for how to stimulate population growth in the new colony? This is history, not English! I answer, why do anything unless it is going to be great?

I insist on learning with this philosophical slant. That being said, I better get to my readings. I have a paer due next week on an aspect of education for Native kids in Canada. I need to do some more reading so I can write a great paper.

Rubric, Shmubric.


  • When making an assignment one of our three daughters uses the line–“Impress me.” as the standard. She allows her students to present content learning in a variety of ways. Some are standard written papers, but others are open ended with it being up to the student to decide how he/she will present their content learning.

  • Elona says:

    Why do anything unless it’s ging to be great. Love that line.

    On another topic. How do you find time to do your papers and teach and …. I’m finding my blogging is really suffered since I started my MEd. I love it mind you, but the reading and work take up tons of time. Any advice. Maybe you could blog on that topic since you are so good at doing it. Really, I could use some help.
    .-= Elona´s last blog ..So what’s David’s story and how can we help him? =-.

    • Tracy says:

      Hi Elona,
      It’s not easy! And I am not always successful at it either (as you can see by the length of time it took me to respond to your comment!). The past few blog posts (including this one) were written during or shortly after the workshops they reflected on. Sometimes the blog is silent for a while, sometimes my schoolwork is procrastinated via the blog, sometimes I have to take a day off of work to put things in perspective.

      I do find that when I get a good night’s sleep everything seems to fall into place very nicely.

      Your comment helped to inspire my call for sentences the other day. There were some great comments on how to fit everything in to our lives, including letting go of the things that don’t need to be fit in. Here are the sentences:

      Day in a Sentence – Fitting it all in

  • Angela says:

    “Why do anything unless it’s going to be great?”

    I love that. Thanks for sharing.
    .-= Angela´s last blog ..Quick Checks for the End of a Lesson or Day =-.

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