2 October 2012

Ticking boxes

Can rubrics hinder as much as help?

I had an official lesson observation for the purpose of our school Teacher Performance Assurance (TPA) about two weeks ago. I had my feedback meeting today, which is far longer than recommended 'same day' guidelines, but hey, life gets in the way most of the time.

Peer Feedback Using Google Forms 
My personal thoughts were that the lesson was 'bitty', as the learners were doing presentations that had spilled over from a prior lesson, followed by reflections on their learning. This meant that the lesson had two distinct halves - the half where learners were presenting or completing peer feedback on Google forms, and the half where they were working in groups to support each other to complete learning reflections on their project.

This meant there were two learning intentions, one for each half of the lesson and, whilst success criteria were determined by me for the first half, to ensure they met the criteria for assessment, they were devising their own success criteria for the second half, based on the differentiated outcomes of the reflective task. This was the first time the learners had really written their own success criteria and it took them a while - but they came up with succinct and helpful ideas, such as:-

  • follow instructions (which they kept failing to do), 
  • use the peer feedback (which some did), 
  • use the project log (which some had 'lost') and 
  • use the checklist (most did this). 
They then paired up with learners specifically predetermined and identified in conjunction with ELS and LS - in fact, the whole reflective task was designed collaboratively with these support departments. These learning partners used the checklist, which came from the reflection guidelines, to check all necessary elements had been included. This worked really well and learners used the 'no's on their checklist to make amendments and additions to their reflections.
The 'Onion' poem: each layer reveals a new line

The feedback from my observation was positive (thankfully) and apparently, I managed to 'tick' most of the boxes on the required TPA form. Which was really interesting, as I purposefully did not look at the TPA matrix before planning or teaching the lesson, as I wanted to see if my teaching is naturally 'ticking the right boxes'.

I feel like too often, teachers plan a lesson for observation in a different way than we normally would or naturally would, but rather so that all the 'boxes' are ticked - therefore making us a good teacher, right? This, coupled with the prior warning/preparation time, means that I believe these observations become a worthless exercise and a 'performance' (even the name of the exercise almost confirms this, if I really want to be facetious). Indeed, I have in the past been told by a colleague following such a 'performance', that now they can go back to the way they 'normally' teach - i.e. not in a way that does 'tick' the boxes and is instead, lackadaisical, mediocre and not given as much thought as is really needed for learners to benefit.

I do agree that we need to be accountable and we do need to meet certain standards. Realistically though, how many people put as much effort into everyday teaching as they do for the lesson we are being observed on? For the 'performance'. Even though I am rigorous and thorough and don't plan 'special' lessons for observations, I like to think I am always trying my best. I don't always give an observation-worthy performance - especially on days like today, when I have had too little sleep and too much wine the night before, on the back of too much running at the weekend, but hand on heart, I know that most of my lessons are up to scratch and that a great deal of thought goes into my planning (this was my main criticism from my feedback; I do too much planning). Hand on heart, I would welcome observation on any day of the week.
Any lesson.
Without warning.
I know I don't 'perform'. I know I don't plan a lesson to tick boxes - I just do what I do. And to know that that is good enough is awesome. I  do know I can improve and I do know I am not perfect but I do know I work hard to be good at what I do. Every day. Not just to tick boxes on observation days.

Can this thinking be applied to learners? This whole exercise made me think (which is really the point of it all, right?) - about rubrics and assessment. I firmly believe in co-constructing rubrics and sharing assessment criteria with learners to help them be successful. But if I apply the same thinking to my learners as I do to the observation process, is this at the expense of natural ability and creativity? Does the fact that we tell them what we 'expect' to see in any given task mean they do what they need to do to 'tick the boxes/ rather than do what they would naturally do without such 'limitations' or particular focus? There are always going to be some who go the extra mile and do more than is expected, but the majority of people want an easy life and will do what is expected; only what is needed and no more.

I have so many goals as a professional this year - yet I have to decide on a target for myself as the final phase in this round of TPA. I want to get Google Trainer certification, get my PBL certification, do some flipped classroom training, pass the Flat Classroom certification and implement all this learning into my teaching... I also want to really determine what it is I want my learners to learn, what it is that I feel is the heart of my teaching. This year, in a new school, also offers a great opportunity for curriculum review, which I have already started on... Ultimately though, I think I would like to focus on the rubric and assessment conundrum this year - do rubrics hinder as much as help, whether co-constructed or syllabus-based? I want to ensure my learners are informed about how they are assessed - because let's face it, ultimately, they are assessed - and yet not stifle their creativity, so they don't just 'learn to the rubric' and do only what is expected or measured.

Oh look, here we go again - where am I going to find the time to do all this?