Rubrics: Help or Hinder?

I spent the day with Jenn Scheffer at Burlington High School in Burlington, MA today. I was there with two co-workers, Randi and Sabrina, learning about how she has structured her student help desk. So much was learned and I received great inspiration on all that Jenn and her team are doing with the students. In a nut shell it was an amazing day, which I will blog more about later. Right now I want to reflect on a comment that Jenn made that really got me thinking. 

We were discussing the course structure and specifically on how the students receive credit. Out of Jenn's mouth came, "I do not like rubrics." In my mind, I was thinking, "WOW! How can someone not like rubrics." Then she followed up the comment by saying, "Rubrics teach mediocrity. We shouldn't show students how to be average. We should give them the highest expectation and expect kids to reach it and not stop until they do" (this is not verbatim, but a close rendition).  This really got me thinking, do rubrics help or hinder?

I can see both sides. On one side, I see how rubrics can help students self-assess and see what steps need to be taken to 'perfect' their work. I mean if students can't see where they are now, how can they see where they need to go. On the other side, I see how giving the students a guideline on what needs to be done, just to get by, can hinder some students. Are teachers showing students the rubrics to show expectations or is the rubric solely for the benefit of the teachers so they can grade objectively? Why should we give a range? Are the students only doing the minimum to get a passing grade? If we want students to reach a certain expectation then what is the point of showing them lower expectations. 

I am glad that Jenn made the comment because it truly has challenged a belief that I thought I was solid on. I can see both sides and am not sure I will choose a side anytime soon. Then again do I need to? Can rubrics be helpful in some cases, but a hinderance in others?

Still much to ponder...

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