First off, Happy New Year everyone!
Over this winter break, I spent most of one day binge watching Top Chef, the reality cooking competition, and as I watched I couldn’t help but think of schools and teaching. The episode that really led me down this path was Restaurant Wars. For those of you who don’t know the show, a variety of chefs are competing for the title of Top Chef and during one episode each season, the chefs split into two teams and have to conceptualize and open a restaurant in 1 day.
This competition lead me to think about assessment and rubrics. At the end of the episode, the judges choose one winning restaurant. They don’t do this with a specific rubric (at least none that we as TV viewers see). Judges comments focus on the taste and presentation of the food, the service at the front of the house, the decor and atmosphere, overall teamwork amongst other things. Obviously these elements essentially make up a rubric for each restaurant. The thing that the judges ask each other at the end is: “which restaurant delivered a better experience?” And that’s the question that led me to think about rubrics and judgements.
In education, we are continually rewriting rubrics to recatergorize and reweight. We drive ourselves crazy as educators trying to write these perfectly detailed rubrics breaking down each potential element into categories in order to better assess our students to make fair and valid judgements. But we never ask: “Did this piece of work (essay, speech, project, etc.) deliver the experience it is supposed to? Did it achieve its desired impact?
I just finished grading a stack of argumentative essays. I used the rubric to assess the essay’s claim, its development, coherence, etc., but I never really assessed whether or not the essay was actually convincing. The rubric doesn’t have an area for this. In Top Chef the judges can sit there and tell the chefs that their food wasn’t good or the service at the restaurant was exemplary, but that doesn’t really tell the chefs if their restaurant overall was any good.
I teach public speaking as well and two of the assigned speeches are a sales pitch and a persuasive speech. After everyone delivers their sales pitch, I always ask the class if anyone went out to buy a product that their classmate was selling. If you convinced your classmate to purchase something, then it was surely an effective sales pitch. If I were the student, I would think of that as much better feedback than the rubric from the teacher.
I’m not entirely sure how to go about doing this, but it seems to me that discussing impact and intended results might be worth the conversation and help make rubrics more meaningful. I certainly don’t believe we should scrap rubrics altogether–in fact, I am a huge supporter of rubrics, but rubrics shouldn’t be just about justifying a grade; instead we should be focused on how we can improve feedback to our students. We can make better rubrics.