Welcome to How Do You Learn? Research Project. The project will outline my concerns about the use of rubrics for English, literature, and writing courses. I believe that rubrics are a necessary component for standardized testing but not for content-based writing. This section represents the research theses.
What Feedback Should Do
Feedback is that instructive tool that provides direction. The following is a major consideration into the necessity of evaluating students’ papers from our own position, as instructors, on the students’ papers and the topic as a whole.
Feedback should begin with an evaluation thesis.
Because a rubric should reflect a larger argument that addresses the student’s ability to sustain an understanding of the role of the thesis, body paragraphs, and organization throughout all papers and progress in content development from the introduction of one paper to the enduring of writing multiple papers, by the end of a course, a student should reflect progression.
The evaluation thesis that we create as instructors, when assessing a student’s work, should incorporate some reference to progression of skill, abilities, and understanding for the current paper in connection to the previous paper.
On a very basic level, the evaluation thesis, thus, should summarize the student’s specific issue with developing topic sentences that frame the paragraph and support the thesis statement. What I teach students is that the goal of a topic sentence is to support the thesis; apart from additionally framing a body paragraph, it does not have any other goal. It does not support the ideas within the body paragraph.
Instead, each topic sentence helps to sustain the framing of the argument throughout the paper and leading up to the conclusion paragraph. Essentially, the topic sentences are the legs of the paper. Therefore, if a student has an issue with maintaining base support for a paragraph, then that student might likely have a problem with incorporating and balancing different views since the topic sentence is what maintains the direction of the thesis and what maintains the goal of the paragraph. Not understanding the role of the topic sentence may cause a student to get confused when inserting a transitional sentence for the next paragraph.
In this case, the student has an issue distinguishing between the goal of the topic sentence for one paragraph and the necessity of a transitional sentence for the next paragraph. They read differently. In my evaluations, I encourage students to remember the topic sentence to help sustain the development of the argument overall. The evaluation thesis should further consider integrating evidence and grammar and style.
Integrating evidence is another basic level of the evaluation thesis. Feedback in this instance must be two-part: call attention to the error in integrating evidence and maintaining this strategy throughout the paper. The knowledge received after assessment should be a setup for a subsequent writing task.
Therefore, assessment of the students’ current work should consider what they have applied in understanding, what they currently understand, and what they will need to understand going forward. The evaluation thesis should assess the students’ papers for style, grammar, content development, audience and purpose, and related qualifying criteria.
In using an evaluation thesis, and writing an evaluation for the paper, I will know as an instructor what direction to take with the next student’s paper.
We should abandon for the moment the idea that “A” reflects 100% competence and understanding. In considering the qualifying criteria of the “Written Communication VALUE Rubric” developed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), we must begin rethinking the category “Content Development.” We may assess without a rubric the categories of “Sources and Evidence” and “Control of Syntax and Mechanics” because we have external standards, i.e., the citation referencing handbook and the standard grammar book.
We can conclude that “Context of and Purpose for Writing” and “Genre and Disciplinary Conventions” are more subjective and specific to the purpose of the assignment and the standard, discipline-based curriculum.
However, in assessing for content development, this speaks to our ability to assess the student’s understanding and demonstration of knowledge in an accurate, truthful, and appropriate way.
This speaks to the student’s ability to examine their own writing to ensure that it meets the integrity of the source materials used, the integrity of the overall assignment, and the integrity of content development.
Contrary to what many might think, instructors and students alike, a bad grade should create a more invested writer. Maja Wilson differs in her assessment. Wilson suggests in “Responsive Writing: Grades and Rubrics Get in the Way of Creating Better Writers” that “bad grades . . . convinced students that they couldn’t write or focused their attention on exactly what they should do to earn seven more points—hardly the kind of thinking that leads to better writing” (59).
We should not deduce that the bad grade is an indication that the student is a bad writer, or reinforce this belief in the student. Instead, we should deduce that the bad grade, or the less than passing score, is an indication that the student has not mastered the subject matter. When you know the subject matter, you apply that understanding throughout the work. Many people ask novelists how to become better writers. The novelist responds, “Read.” Reading is the only way that an individual will become a better writer, not the final score.
The score should be a motivator but not the ultimate measure of intellectual ability. Our math student in the previous example was motivated to know more than 50% of the material, pushing forward and studying the concepts until he reached 76% knowledge and later achieving 90% on the last quiz before the final test. He did not assess his score and deduce that he was bad at math. He deduced that he had not yet reached an understanding of the material to garner at least a passing score and he followed up this deduction with further action through extended study.
This begs the question about the argument we pose to the student when we provide a final assessment that is reflected in the score.
If we answer the first question, we encourage a fixed mindset in the student. If we answer the second question, we encourage a growth mindset in the student. When confronted with difficulty, they reassess their abilities to learn the material
You may ask, What about the student who receives an “A” on a paper?
Even if the student receives an “A” on the paper, when we praise the student for their grade, using “Good job,” we do the student a disservice because we are praising the student for the grade and not for the process leading to the grade and the learning process that continues, or should continue, after the grade. We are assessing for intelligence and not for effort. When students are praised for effort, they “keep their self-esteem in the face of setbacks” (Dweck 2).
Students praised for effort still think that they are smart and enjoy challenge, but they learn how to plan better for future success (Dweck 2). On the other hand, when students are praised for their intelligence and they receive an assessment based upon their “smartness,” they later struggle when it comes to navigating difficulty (Dweck 2).
They receive a boost to their egos, but their self-esteem, which is their view of themselves, is shaken by difficulty (Dweck 2). Difficulty may lead students to “question their intelligence” (Dweck 2).
That is why feedback should begin with a thesis, especially for the “A” or high-achieving student. This student is more in danger of becoming fixated on their grade and less inclined to pursue learning for learning sake. The high-achieving student probably needs more motivation to pursue learning than even the low-achieving student. When the low-achieving student receives a “50,” then the student realizes that there is at least 50% more of the material to learn.
However, when a student receives a “95,” for example, the student does not conclude that there is 5% more of the material needed to learn. The student accepts the “95.”
When the high-achieving student receives an “80” on the next test or paper, he or she is confused. Most students genuinely believe that if they can achieve a “95” the first time then they can achieve at least a “95” the next time; or they may believe that if they achieved an “A,” then an “A” is their aptitude and that they can expect to achieve another “A.”
However, the grade itself might “promote a fear of failure even in high-achieving students . . .” (Kohn 234). The shift from “95” to “80,” from “A” to “B,” will often produce anxiety in the student, but this same student might not be intrinsically motivated to learn. Instead, they will ask the instructor, “Is this going to be on the test?” (Kohn 234). Then the assessment of the student’s work should consider both the requirements of the assignment and the shift in understanding and skill development.
This tells the student that learning is cumulative. If learning is cumulative, then feedback should also be cumulative.
Going forward, the next strategy will be to test my theory that feedback should be progressive in the composition classroom and that it should address both the cumulative nature of the experience of writing at the college level and the totality of the student’s learning, particularly when a rubric is used.
A research study of composition papers for one composition class is needed to assess the totality of the students’ learning; the student count for one composition class at the community college level is typically 25; focusing the study on just 25 students will help to create a control group for a subsequent research project.
All papers that require an argumentative thesis and quote integration will be assessed for writing skill and development of this ability, from the beginning of the semester to the end; the study will consider multiple essays that require integration of evidence and argument building and will focus on comparing and contrasting, argument analysis, and formal research paper topics.
The formal research paper serves as the ultimate demonstration of cumulative knowledge and writing skill development as should be reflected in “Topic Development” and “Content Development” rubric categories. Students will write on the same topics and use the same resources to integrate supporting evidence.
The goal is to examine the student’s ability to create a provable thesis, create solid topic sentences that support the thesis, integrate supporting evidence using MLA formatting, build an argument, and sustain that argument throughout the rest of the paper. The goal is to determine if they sustain these skills for each of the four major papers.
Assessment of the students’ papers then will focus on their cumulative skills for organizing and framing paragraphs; incorporating a claim, a counterclaim, and a rebuttal when appropriate; and maintaining an understanding of MLA concepts throughout the course and not just specific to one paper.
The goal is to determine if they move knowledge gained forward to each paper. This means that for MLA, assessment of the students’ papers will focus on first author referencing of a work, formatting the quote under three lines, block quoting, and the end of the sentence line formatting (I.e., parenthetical documentation). Assessment will also consider the works cited page since as the student receives instruction on new material for different papers, the student also receives instruction on how to format new source materials.
The development of research questions is in progress as well as the development of a measurement scale. The goal of the measure will be to determine for frequency. The ultimate goal is to create a measure that includes the category “Writing Progression.”
This means that we will need to focus our efforts as instructors on the tool of revision.