Archive for March, 2007


March 23, 2007

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On Rubrics, Critical Thinking and Five-year Olds

March 7, 2007

Earlier this afternoon I met with the CTLT Learning Designers to look at some of my daughter Karina’s Montessori work and think about rubrics that I have been writing for Palouse Prairie Charter School that I am helping to create in Moscow, Idaho.

The work that attracted the most attention of the Designers was a bound portfolio from Karina’s first semester and an unbound collection of the same type of work from her second semester. The portfolio is a chronological collection of all the work of this type. I believe the unbound collection to be complete. It also has a few items from her 4th semester added.

From the discussion, I got a homework assignment, which was to ask Karina to select from the unbound collection “some” pieces that showed “her growth.” She and I talked before dinner about this task, and about how she had grown in ability in many ways. I regularly note this idea to her (couldn’t use a spoon, couldn’t get shoes on right feet, etc. and now can and does.)

The work in question is called “Metal Insets.” It is done with colored pencils on 5” square paper. A metal stencil is laid over the paper and its single simple geometric shape is traced. Then the student is to draw lines back and forth from edge to edge in the shape. “Quality Work,” the teacher’s term, looks like teeth in the mouth of a monster and this is called “jaws.” The lines that zig-zag back and forth are to stay within, but reach the perimeter outline.

The teacher showed us her notebook where this exercise is described and its primary purpose is to develop the hand and the skill of holding the pencil with a light touch, preparatory to penmanship. A secondary goal was to create a pleasing design or form, but the teacher stressed that metal insets are not art.

For this study 38 metal insets were examined (the unbound collection). A 39th was discarded during the process because it had a metal inset on front and back and we became confused as to which side we were examining. Karina does many metal insets that do not meet the “Quality Work” criteria as I understand it.

Karina was eager to help with my homework and sorted the pile into two groups while I was absent (it took about 2 minutes). One pile she called “Yes” the other “No.” I presumed that “Yes” was her denotation for “shows growth.” There were 10 Yes and 28 No.

I asked Karina for the rules for each category and wrote them down as she dictated. Words in brackets [] have been added to provide clarity
•    I stayed in the lines (mostly)
•    I like the shapes [of the stencil used to create the outline(s)]
•    [I used my (currently)] Favorite colors
•    I did “jaws”

•    Not my favorite colors anymore
•    I scribbled
•    Not my favorite shapes – I don’t like circles

To check how reproducible this classification was, I shuffled the two piles and then with her to check me, I classified each piece “Yes” or “No” giving my reasons from her list (above).  I was not able to do this work and keep records of my scoring. The biggest reason I seemed to be wrong in my classification was “favorite color.” “Not favorite color” was pretty easy (brown and black), but what makes favorite was harder. There must be a hue of purple and pink that are not in favor now which I could not recognize. Karina reclassified three (of 10) of  her “Yes’s” to “No.”  She also reclassified four (of 28) of her “No’s” to “Yes.” The reasoning for these changes was not clear.

I then found two more items that we had overlooked during our classification activities above. I evaluated each by her rules and found each a “No.” She agreed. These were set aside and not considered further. (One might be “Quality Work” the other is not.)

I then asked if she could adopt her teacher’s perspective and classify the 38 items as “Quality Work” or not.  The “Yes” pile now contained 11 items (10-3+4) and the “No” pile 27 items. I asked for the rules for “Quality Work” and wrote them down as she dictated:
* stayed in the lines [of the perimeter figure]
*  jaws
* color does not matter
* no scribbles

The 27 “No” pile was sorted into 5 “Quality work” and 22 not. The “Yes” pile turned out to have all quality work, despite my questioning what seemed to be scribbles and even lack of jaws on several. One of the pieces, dated May 10, 2006, has this annotation on the back from the teacher, “This is one of the most beautiful Metal Inset this whole year [smiley face] Cindy” In the procedure above, this item was first classified a “No,” and then later re-classified a “Yes.”  It was also classified “Quality Work.” It does not look like “Quality Work” to me, so the praise raises a concern to me that the artistic quality of the piece might impact its assessment.

Using the language of the Palouse Prairie School’s Critical Thinking Rubric (adapted from WSU’s Critical Thinking Rubric) I think Karina was demonstrating she could identify and summarize the problem, but did not articulate nuance or embedded issues. She also showed that she could identify her own a perspective, and it has some richness and is not her teacher’s cultural norm. She could also recognize the perspective of others (the teacher). She did not identify if this perspective was right or wrong, or if there might be yet more perspectives. (Another activity would be for me to classify the items with a rubric I create and see if she could understand and implement mine to sort the work.)

I then sorted the 38 items by date of creation (recorded on the back in a woman’s hand). Seven had no dates (six scored “No” and two scored “Quality Work”). The date range is 1/18/06 to 1/19/07. All but the last 4 items are from Spring 06 (ending May, 25) Of the dated items, the “Quality Work” pieces are scattered among the  dates with no obvious pattern, while the “Yes” pieces are mostly recent.