You think specificity is good; we’re taught it’s good. But it’s not. It’s oppressive. All those who hate rubrics, raise your hands.
I get it. I spent many years being more and more detailed in my assignments, being clearer and more precise about exactly what was expected of my students. That way, they knew exactly what they had to do. Bonus: If they didn’t do whatever exactly that way (which they hardly ever did), I was fully justified in giving them a lower grade. Yay. No guilt. I even had a great little mini-lecture about why it was so important to do the outline precisely the way I instructed: “Hey, we all have to fill out forms according to precise directions. Otherwise, we don’t get paid, or don’t get our taxes back, or get in trouble with the police, etc. etc.” See? I’m doing them a favor by preparing them for faceless irrational stubborn bureaucracies. But you know what? CUNY does that part just fine. I’m here to teach.
So I’ve become more general and more vague and I like it. The endless precision (hello rubrics) focuses them on details and checking off boxes or making a checklist, instead of the deeper more meaningful aspects of the assignment. It brings their attention to the surface details and atomizes the assignment, instead of approaching it in a more holistic way. Yes, I want them to write grammatically and stand up straight and use proper formatting. But breaking down the assignment into its most minuscule parts does not necessarily engender those actions. (Not to mention that writing properly is a multi-semester endeavor.)
I’d rather they focus on the meaning of the assignment, on creating a speech or paper that expresses what they want it to. I’ll give them feedback on the details. And they’ll learn those specifics over time. But it’s much more interesting to pay attention to what the student is actually saying than it is to pay attention to the minutia of grammar or para-linguistics. It’s much more fun to talk to the students about what they are saying and why, rather than how they are saying it. We have much better conversations when we’re all talking about what the student wants to talk about, instead of preordained categories of evaluation (goodbye rubrics). Specificity traps the teacher as much as it traps the student.
What this looks like then is fewer evaluation categories (I’ve talked about this already) fewer required assignments and more freedom for the students to create their own assignments. I am going for MEANING not details.