Missing My Exit

Missing My Exit: More thoughts on #rubrics

Driving home from Olympia to Salem last night, I was in an intense but jolly mood. After all, I was listening to my favorite tracks and the weather was decent for driving. After I eventually made it out of the Portland area, I made a mental note: don’t miss the Salem Parkway Exit.

No worries, bro, I told myself. Not only did I think of this reminder, but I also had a GPS device loaned to me by a colleague (no, I don't have a smart phone with GPS--that's another story). You guessed it: I missed that turn off. Then, when I tried to follow the GPS instructions, the direction to turn came too late. So I missed the turn. Four miles later, I turned onto a series of roads that I knew would take me home—this was not the first time I’d missed my exit—while the machine urging u-turns.

As I have already blogged, @jessifer’s presentation got me thinking about #rubrics, but what occurred with rubrics’ naturalization in my thinking and teaching can occur with almost anything. One example is treats. Having a chocolate mocha shake to celebrate an event is a treat; having it twice a week for pleasure, that may be a treat--or not; getting that frozen mocha every day or every other day, it's moved from being a treat, or something different, in to being a habit or pattern. Often this transformation happens with great ease and we barely notice. In another realm, teaching for example, by focusing on having a smooth teaching and learning experience with students, by working to minimize conflict, and by agreeing with the master narratives about rubrics’ value—regardless of their accuracy—I had multiple things in focus. Similarly, when I drive, I can only concentrate on a few things—so I was watching my lanes, traffic around me, listening to music, and reflecting on the keynotes. I was in a zone, driving safely, but totally oblivious to my location. It’s clear that my teaching has allowed such things as rubrics to become a habit, to be naturalized.

Caveat: I’m Not Born-Again

I will continue to use rubrics, and I don’t see them as a plague, but I do regard them as flawed tools that should be used with a mixture of strategies. The larger flaw, however, is in my own heavy reliance upon the #rubric. Solution: don't toss out rubrics but adjust my use of them.

To continue with the analogy, once I realized that I missed my normal exit—my normal approach to teaching—I tried to obey the machine to save time. This resulted in multiple failures. In my working experience, completely trusting BlackBoard or Moodle-created evaluations—and relying on their structures—has not worked out well. At all. So, to be clear, pure reliance on machines rarely turns out well.

How did I get home once my habits and machinery failed me? I drove parts of a path I knew from my past, I trusted my instincts that I could get home, I was curious about how it would work out, and I did not get mad. Driving often frustrates me in unique ways, ways that only come from driving. This usually blinds me to thinking very clearly, and it’s irrational. As you can imagine, this rarely has good results. This time, though, I did not get mad. I was just frustrated, but I wanted a good solution. What would that be?

In the past, I’ve looked at grading contracts—but they’ve made me nervous. Now, whether or not I use them, I know I need to at least explore them a bit more. Since I know there’s a gap in my pedagogy, assessment, and evaluation process, I actively want to correct the gap and find a working amalgam to fill it. There’s no rush; I want the choice to be effective and smart. 

The GPS suggested one off-ramp, but that was just to make a u-turn. I took the suggestion, and then I continued on my way and ignored the prompt to u-turn. After ten minutes, territory was familiar, and I arrived home at the time expected.

In terms of the future of my evaluative and assessment work, I know what’s expected of me from the academic machine, and I know what feels right to me. This would hopefully make the analogy described work. But what makes the evaluation and assessment portion more hopeful, and more interesting than a drive home, is that there are the voices and experiences of others around me, of colleagues and researchers, whom I can hear, share, and learn from through the process. I don't need to make the drive all by myself.