Sweet Sweet Lesson

Today my new bedroom set was delivered, and I must say it looks absolutely beautiful. During the delivery I began talking to the moving advisor who works in my building (I live in a high rise condo). This man is a ski instructor on the mountain just over a pass from where I grew up. It turns out he knows my first two bosses, Serge and Patrick (to be said with a highly seductive French accent).

These two men ran the ski school at Loveland Ski Area in the 1980s when I got my first job teaching skiing there. They not only hired my two other friends and me, but they also helped to train us into the skiers we became. They were the best type of boss: they pushed us to be our best in our vocation, but they pushed us to be even better in our occasion, the passion that brought us all to teach skiing in the first place, our love of skiing. These two men made sure the three of us never lost sight of our passion, and they gave us “free” ski days where they came out with us and actually pushed us hard to become better than any of us thought we could become.

This notion of finding what you love and becoming better at it has stuck with me. These two men were the first to teach me the growth mindset. They helped me understand that you can be good at what you do, but lose passion for your occasion for doing it in the first place. They always said that nothing else matters when the mountain is in front of you. All of the little things should fall away. Even if I was stuck teaching three year olds all day long, it didn’t matter because a day on the mountain, no matter what I was doing, is ALWAYS better than no day on the mountain…and that was exactly the attitude they took.

Any day I get to show kids the craft of writing, that I get to play with words, is always better than a day sitting in meetings. Figuring out ways to get better at my vocation, both teaching and writing, is better than a day without. For I have chosen my passion, teaching students to write well is the most important skill we can give them, to fuel my vocation.

That, my friends, is a sweet sweet lesson from my first job.

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Who does it work for, students or teachers?

The other day I posted about rubrics vs. feedback and I got some push back that made me think. First I would like to clarify a couple of points. I would never dream of assigning grades without some kind of rubric. Rubrics are a great tool for assigning grades. The conversation I had with this administrator put into question how valuable rubrics are to students, how effective they are in promoting student growth.

That is the question I would like to explore here, and I would love any feedback or thinking any of you might have on the subject as I consider this merely an exploration, nothing that I am firmly tied to.

I had a conversation with a colleague after the last post I wrote. In our conversation we discussed who the two work for: students or teachers? Here’s where we landed:

  • Rubrics work for teachers. They might be used as a diagnostic to determine where students are in a given moment in their skill base. They might also be used as a formative assessment to determine which skills need to be retaught or reengaged. They work to speed the grading process so that teachers are focused on just the parts that have been taught, or that need to be assessed. They also speed up summative assessments, and give students some feedback on where they are in skill level.
  • Checklists work for students during writing. Giving  students a check list as they work through a piece of writing helps them acknowledge what will be graded according to the rubric. Checklists are a form of self assessments that might help students engage and reaffirm their practice. The hope with checklists is that they will assist students to understand the complex parts they will be graded.
  • Feedback works for students after writing. The type of feedback teachers offer students will come from the rubric. The intention of feedback is to move the writer. I think of Lucy Calkins approach that when we offer students feedback, it should be something that they might remember to do in their writing a year from now.

So in putting this lens on rubrics, feedback, and checklists, it becomes clear that some work for teachers and others work for students. It seems that we need to be very clear about our intention in using these tools. I had not thought about the use of checklists for many years until my colleague mentioned them. This might be a great way to bridge the use of rubrics for teachers and the need students have to understand not just their feedback, but also why they are earning the grade they earn on any piece of writing.