“Rubrics are the death of curiosity”
– Jennie Magiera
Welcome back for part two of my review of Jennie Magiera’s master class, entitled Transforming School Culture: Curiosity Based Learning for Students AND Teachers. Click here to read Part One if you missed it. After returning from the morning break, Jennie returned to the exploration of Wonderable questions. Out of a class discussion around questions from a picture of a garbage truck emptying its contents at a rubbish dump, the what if question that emerged and captured the class’ interest most effectively was what if zombies are real and thought it would have been very easy to generate an entire unit of work based around that topic, Jennie continued exploring the question with the students, until they had generated a focus question; how can you survive the Zombie apocalypse?
Jennie took a sidestep here, halting the discussion on the zombie apocalypse to talk about rubrics, leading with the statement that
“[r]ubrics are the death of curiosity as they tell students how to wonder, how many lines or minutes to wonder in, what size font to wonder in and students stop wondering about anything outside the literal box of the rubric.”
I found this intriguing and given the prescriptive nature of many rubrics I can agree. My initial instinct was to push back, mentally with my rubrics are not like that (I have a preference for single-point rubrics as outlined here by Jennifer Gonzales from Cult of Pedagogy), but I stopped myself to question why single-point rubrics are any different and was unable to answer the question. They may not be quite as prescriptive as multi-point rubrics, however, they still outline specific criteria with specific indicators of success and so they still serve as wonder-killers.
Jennie turned us towards badging, which immediately turned my mind to gamification or game-based/inspired learning (which I have written about previously here). As with anything, Jennie told us, badging can be implemented brilliantly or disastrously, but the success of a badging program can be distilled into two areas; the frequency and the level of care. We were asked to consider how many loyalty or discount or frequent purchase cards we have in our wallet and how many of those we actually use on a regular basis. If, for example, you happen to purchase a coffee one day and are given a frequent purchase card of the after you purchase ten coffees, the eleventh is free is free variety, but you do not normally visit that coffee store, or you do not normally drink coffee, then the frequency of use is going to be low and you will not engage with the company meaningfully.
This translates into badging in the classroom. If there is little to nor frequency of use or reference to the badging system or program then the students are unlikely to engage with the badging. This leads to care, which is itself based around two sub-factors.
Jennie reminded us that there are lots of social situations with these structures that we participate in on a daily basis, particularly in the consumer market where companies make use of influencer marketing encourage people to engage with and purchase the new product. In the classroom context, prizes should be intangible for the sake of sustainability of the badging system (and for the sake of your wallet!), but there does need to be a shift, over time, towards social motivation. Social motivation can be achieved by gaining the support of the influencers in the classroom, as those students will be the ones with influence over the rest of the class and allow you to gain traction and the badging system to embed and become part of the class culture. As a side note, there is an interesting ethical discussion that could be had around this topic and the use of marketing tactics in the classroom in this manner.
Jennie did also note that there needs to be a conscious decision as to whether the badges will be digital or physical and that there are plenty of options for both, including Mozilla OpenBadges, Schoology and Credly.
As with many things creative in the classroom, you require an activator to set the scene, which, when working through the process of creating a badging system, can come from the task itself. Some of Jennie’s class created the below activator for the task, which was simply an image of a tv with a YouTube video overlayed in place of the tv screen, which was quite effective in generating ideas.
Students are used to the structure of video games and the badging or achievement structures therein, and so instigating a badging system in the class, or for a particular unit of work is not necessarily that big a stretch for their imaginations, or for them to grapple with. Another way to gain buy-in is for the students to design the badges and the achievements required to achieve those badges themselves. This is a method that is more applicable to some tasks or activities than others. For the escape from the zombie apocalypse task, the end goal was fairly clear; to escape from the approaching zombies and survive.
Knowing this end-goal allowed students to generate a range of achievements that would result in the awarding of an appropriately titled badge and so the students, in their teams, were required to create the badge or achievement title, what was required to achieve the badge, what the evidence would be that the achievement had been completed and the design of the badge and Jennie had us complete this task in our table groups. Here is a screencap of some of what my group came up with.
Our group got right into this task, and we realised partway through that we had been going about it thinking as teachers, with some very prescriptive descriptions for what was required, but that what we were putting in the how to achieve it column actually belonged in the evidence column and that we had to rethink our approach. We managed to do this and came up with the above badges, plus some more which were on the next slide in our GSlides document. The next step was for us to complete the task, plan how to escape the zombies and also achieve our own badges, which we had to then make a two-minute presentation to the cohort about, and then using a GForm which Jennie had set up, had to rate how well each group’s plan would allow them to survive the zombie apocalypse and how achievable their badges were.
Jennie closed out session two by stating that the difference between badges and rubrics is that badges are open and based on choice, allowing students to choose what they do while rubrics are prescriptive and tell students what they need to do. Students can choose to continue to the higher level, whereas in a rubric a grade that is less than an A is perceived as a failure by the students.
From this point, we went into our lunch break which makes this a convenient place to end this article. As always, thank you for reading, and feel free to leave a comment or contact me on Twitter if you have any further questions or thoughts regarding this article.