Academic journal article The Professional Educator

Best in Show: Teaching Old Dogs to Use New Rubrics

Academic journal article The Professional Educator

Best in Show: Teaching Old Dogs to Use New Rubrics

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper discusses an instructional approach designed to help preservice teachers understand how assessments can be influenced by personal biases. In order to achieve this objective, we developed an analogy-based activity called "The Dog Show Analogy." After participating in the activity, we have observed that the participating preservice teachers are more aware of how their personal biases can impact the way they assess students. We explain the activity in detail in order to stimulate further discussions and reflections among teacher educators. In addition, we discuss how the development of the activity and the analysis of the data changed our perspectives on student assessment and stimulated future research.

Introduction

There is a tense silence in the arena as the fans at the 2006 Westminster Dog Show impatiently wait to see which champion canine will win the coveted title of Best in Show. After closely examining each canine individually, the judge slowly walks in front of the line of canines for one last inspection before he makes his decision. Finally, as the audience holds its breath in anticipation, the judge stops pacing and confidently points to the Bull Terrier, Rocky Top's Sundance. The crowd erupts as the handler and new champion respond with excited gestures in the ring.

For the winners, runners-up, and the audience, the reasons for the judge's decision will remain a mystery because no explanation is required. Everyone must trust that the judge was fair and objective, and that he used the guidelines for breed standards established by the American Kennel Club (AKC). However, without an explanation, it is impossible to know how other factors such as the canine's grooming, behavior, handler, and past victories and pedigree influenced the judge's decision.

Most Americans would chafe at the thought of being assessed in a manner similar to what happens at a dog show. If they received a poor evaluation from their employer, they would want to know why they were marked down and how they could improve. It is part of the American way of thinking that evaluations in the public sector should be open and fair. This concept is so important to Americans that state and federal legislatures have passed disclosure laws to protect people from surreptitious and unfair judgments. In light of our strong American ideals of openness and fairness, it is surprising that these principles do not apply to one large group of U.S. citizens: our children and their schooling.

In their role as students, children are subject to a variety of decisions that are dictated from school boards, superintendents, principals, and teachers. The most significant influences are from the teachers who act as the primary evaluators of their performances. On a daily basis, assignments are assessed, returned to students, and marked with a numerical value or letter grade. From the students' point of view, the feedback they receive on their performance is extremely limited (Bardine, 1999). They may not know why points were deducted or how they can improve on future assignments. It is also unclear how external factors like a teacher's beliefs and perceptions influence the scores. One solution to this problem is to use rubrics because they are objective assessment tools that clearly communicate expectations, provide feedback, and check the gut feelings and preconceptions of the assessor (Gronlund, 2006). Essentially, rubrics clarify the process and make it more consistent.

In order to make our students more aware of potential sources of bias, and to demonstrate the efficacy of rubrics, we created The Dog Show Analogy. The central premise of the activity is the disconcerting parallels between the treatment of students in schools and canines at a dog show. Our students are often shocked by how similar the two entities are, and they frequently comment that the activity changed their ideas about how to assess students. …

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