Google “essay-grading rubric” and you will find endless resources describing a well-written essay.
- clearly articulated
- bristling with energy
- identifiable structure
- provides a clear overview
- logical order
- stays on topic
- clear, well-focused
- well supported
- detailed and accurate
- introduce main topic
- author’s purpose is clear
- vivid words and phrases
- lean, economical
- easy to understand
- not overly repetitive
- and did I mention it should be clear…and focused?
I can picture it now personified in the form of a 60s era superhero RUBRICMAN!
Vivid and Energetic!
We have all had the experience of reading a piece of writing that met the letter of such a rubric, yet failed in every way to actually say anything or be about anything. (Just check out anypolitician.com’s platform page.)
Are we in danger of simply teaching students to master the art of political-speak? Grammatical, vigorous phrases peppered with topical keywords bolstered by statistics from reputable sources, topped off with a garnish of “Even sos, Howevers and Neverthelesses” to intimate that a great struggle between thesis and antithesis are taking place to produce a hard-wrought synthesis: “In conclusion…”
Is teaching-to-the-rubric any better than teaching-to-the-test?
A human can certainly discern when a student “uses complicated terms without fully considering their implications.” But can a machine? (I’ll leave that for another blog post.)
At Ponder, we see the value of such rubrics, yet we remain wary of their pitfalls, particularly where software is involved.
As a result, we’ve recently added written responses to Ponder…with caveats.
Readers must still first select from Ponder’s predefined menu of sentiments. Any written response is presented as an opportunity to elaborate on the sentiment you chose.
In that sense, written responses in Ponder are more “elaboration” than “free response.”
Why? Surely “writing your mind” is a more challenging and meaningful exercise than selecting from a menu of predefined choices.
Yes, absolutely! …provided there is someone (read: the teacher) to provide feedback (read: call b.s.).
Without timely feedback, written response can easily become a bureaucratic exercise: Writing for the sake of having written.
Therefore, given the time-pressures of teaching, we’re sticking with the idea that written responses in Ponder should be used sparingly and strategically, guided by the process of sentiment-selection.
How? Ponder sentiments are precise leaving little room for the kind of vagueness that allows you to say something without saying anything. Confused? What do you need to un-confuse yourself? Having a strong reaction? Is it intellectual or emotional? Positive or negative? Sarcastic or earnest?
Our sentiments are by no means perfect or complete. They are a work-in-progress and always will be. If you complained that they are a rather blunt instrument for expressing the finer points of human studies, we would agree with you while maintaining that they are still better than providing no structure at all. Nevertheless, Ponder sentiments’ bluntness is their principle strength.
They mean what they say and by pushing you the reader to choose one, they also prompt you to seriously consider what you mean by what you say.
Once you’ve committed to a sentiment, you are free to elaborate, equivocate, and caveat to your heart’s content. But first, like a disenchanted voter in the ballot box, you must cast your lot, clearly and purposefully.