Let The Learning Boil Over



“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” T.S. Eliot

I know, its a very eye-catching and thought provoking image to open up this post with isn’t it?

It all started with a conversation I was part of at ConnectEd Canada in Calgary with George Couros, and a small group of people as we prepared for a session. We were talking about rubrics, and George brought up that he wasn’t a fan as they can put limits on the learning, innovation and creativity. He talked about how the top end/side of a rubric puts a stop to where the learning could go. The more I thought about it, the more I thought he was right. While I am not a big rubric user, I am not against them either. Some people there were big supporters of rubrics, and as George’s session took place, the topic came up organically again, and some people really defended the use of rubrics.

That was more than a month ago, yet the conversation stuck with me. I started discussing rubrics with a few teachers at my school, and the more we talked the more the conversation kept coming back to a pot. Yes, a pot. The kind you cook things in. The metaphor that seemed to work best, when talking with my co-workers, was that of a pot on a stove:

potwlidWhen we think of a rubric that has an end point for learning, we are talking about a pot with lid on it. The learning is contained, and limited to the “pot” that it exists in. It doesn’t matter if the rubric is co-created with students, or comes directly from the teacher, if it has an endpoint, it can limit the learning. Maybe this picture would help:

Rubric Pot

Our final area on our rubric, marked here in green ends up being as far as most students will aspire to go with their learning. Unless some very deliberate teaching has been done, or the student is keen to push themselves further, the rubric says “This is far enough”. We know this happens all the time, we have all heard students ask “Is this good enough?”, and this has to be what we try to avoid.

So what if we take away that last line of our rubric? The one that puts a “lid” on “Excellence” or “Mastery” or whatever is at the top of your rubric. What if we take the lid off the pot and ensure that our students don’t ever feel like we are putting limits on where their learning could go?

Rubric Pot 2Maybe they take their mastery of writing persuasive essays to convince their local politician to stand up for the rights of child workers in another country. Maybe they take their excellence in understanding aerodynamics and build their own hovercraft. Wherever their learning, creativity and innovation might take them, I don’t know, but I do know one thing is certain, we don’t want to be the ones limiting where that might be.

“Good Enough” is learning for someone else, and we don’t want our students to simply aim for something that is not going to challenge them, or has no meaning to them. Thanks to George for this, and the first quote, as they seem to be right on the mark:

“Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.” Les Brown

So let’s continue to do everything we can to let the learning boil over, even it is simply ensuring our message is clear by making a simple change to the rubrics we use for assessment.


5 thoughts on “Let The Learning Boil Over

  1. Some great points here Jesse. I like the idea of letting the learning continue for the student and to avoid placing limits on the learning even if it is unknowingly. This is why I enjoy the concept of gamification in the classroom. If the student chooses to pursue deeper knowledge of a subject, they can go ahead and do that and earn points for doing so. The points don’t necessarily need to mean anything, they just help “take off the lid” to the learning and may help motivate the student to keep pursuing a subject of interest. Thanks for sharing, some great conversations to pursue with this.

  2. Hey Jesse – I struggle with the idea of pro- and anti-rubrics. I hear what you are saying and i think the key thing to remember is that learners need an idea of what success looks like. Maybe it is not about rubrics but more about how rubrics are written? Maybe we need to do a better job of writing rubrics without putting an endpoint/lid or maybe we need to understand that the rubric is about the specific skill and not the overall journey?

    • Absolutely Chris, I am not for or against them, but if we are using them they need to help students understand what the process should look and feel like, but not suggest an endpoint. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  3. Thanks for sharing Jesse, I have had similar conversations regarding rubrics with staff. Anything we do that restricts capacity for growth or creativity should be analysed and/or revised.

    It does go back to the ideas of what “tools” we use and “how” we use them. As teachers and admin we can use tools to organise work, manage students/people and structure tasks or ideas or alternatively we can use tools to provoke ideas, creativity and innovation.
    Just like a rubric, an iPad can be restrictive if we use it as a substitute for paper and pen. Provide a student an iPad and allow them to use it to connect and create and you release constraints and open pathways to discovery.

    The most valuable part of this process is that you have exposed a practice that may affect the learning opportunities of your students and have opened it up for discussion with your staff and PLN. Keep challenging and reflecting and we will continue to grow with the discussion and all our students will benefit.

  4. Thanks Jesse,

    What a great post to really make people think about what they are doing and how they are doing it. The more we understand how what we do/use can cause limits on our students, or leave our students asking, “Is that good enough” the more we can move away from that kind of discussion. We need to first become more aware of the impact of what we do so that we can become more open-ended and let our students aim high. I love that last quote you use – “Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.” Les Brown So true! We all need to aim high!

    Thanks for making me think!

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