Essays are an important part of academia and scholarly thought from Plato to Ben Franklin to Carl Sagan. Writing them and reading them place us in good company. They are by no means the end all and be all of academic thought. (Please see “The Readiness Is All“.) However, I think that for sheer portability and packaging, the essay does such a lovely job of allowing thoughts to be communicated widely. It seems such a shame, then, that essays which are being used for testing purposes are being deleted from databases, when they could be used to move thinking forward.
So we practice essays. And to do this, we need a rubric. I like rubrics. For one, it requires my grader to prove that they are invested in the work I’ve done. Once, in college, we were asked to do a project which we were then expected to present to the class. I remember being truly hurt (not just my ego—but my grade—I was a scholarship student and couldn’t afford to have low grades) by the fact that the grading became a popularity contest. And I argued, strongly, in class, that it was unjust to grade something when there was no way of knowing what the expectations were. At that point, people were simply judging on what they liked. That’s fine for Facebook, but it is a serious mistake in the classroom. (I have to say that this still rankles. I felt totally betrayed by my classmates and my professors. Hung out to dry. That class was hell, and I think those professors should have known better. Come on, HDSR, I hope you aren’t still pulling that crap.) I vowed when I came into the classroom that my students would know how and why they were earning their grades. Which brings us back to rubrics.
Here is an example of a rubric I usually start with at the beginning of the year. It is a simple, five paragraph, expository essay. Students tend to come to me having written “book reports” if they have written anything at all, and that’s fine; there’s nothing wrong with that. However, book reports tend to be persuasive in bent. They may give some information on plot, extol the virtues of the book that the student thinks the teacher wants to see, and wrap up by telling the reader to read the book. As you will see, for the first few papers students write, I categorically deny them the right to say whether or not they liked the book for the purpose of moving them away from book reports. First I teach them some basic elements of literature: plot, character, and setting. Then I hand them this:
|Rubric for Humanities 1 Paper|
|Part 1 – Independent Grades|
|Brainstorm and Plot Map||10||Due:|
|Personal Skills Record||10||Due:|
|Total:||__ / 65 pts.|
|Part 2 – Final Draft||Due:|
|Paragraph One – Introductory Paragraph|
|Introduce the paper. (Touch on setting, characters, and plot.)||1 2 3 4 5|
|Setting||1 2 3 4 5|
|Atmosphere (tone)||1 2 3 4 5|
|Main Character||1 2 3 4 5|
|Plot Development||1 2 3 4 5|
|Conclusion Paragraph||1 2 3 4 5|
|(Remind readers about what was important in tone, character and plot)|
|Idea and Content Trait||1 2 3 4 5|
|Grammar and Mechanics||1 2 3 4 5|
|Final Draft Total:||__ / 55 pts.|
|Paper Total:||__ / 120 pts.|
And that’s the beginning. As the year goes on, and as students gain new skills, the rubric reflects what has been learned. I think I will copy and paste the rubric into the next post so that I can dissect it for you. The why is more important than the how. But now I need to focus on which rubric to hand to my students tomorrow. It may just be time for “Review/Reflection”.