Social skill: what does “not half bad” look like?

I was surprised to learn–from my wife, no less–that I unconsciously assess things (especially edible things) on a personal scale with almost as many degrees as a thermometer.

It’s an understatement scale, I guess, because even as my approval increases, the terminology is…less than exuberant, as in these examples:

  • That’s okay.  (Barely acceptable.)
  • That’s not bad.
  • Not half bad.  (Well above average.)
  • Not bad at all.
  • That’s all right. (At least one Michelin star.)
  • Pretty good.  (At least two.)

There’s a theoretical maximum, “really good.”  It’s like absolute zero, only warmer; you don’t find it much in nature.

I asked my children whether they’d ever heard me apply these terms.  They couldn’t say, because it’s hard to talk when you’re convulsed in laughter.

The purpose of a scale is twofold: measuring and evaluating.  Measuring is a comparison with some standard: you’re this tall (in inches, in cubits, in stacked-up poker chips).  You typed 268 characters in 3 minutes and made 4 errors.

Evaluating is forming a judgment, usually by means of a further comparison.  You’re tall for a 14-year-old boy.  You meet the minimum speed required for this job.

Thanks to Stephen Downes’s OLDaily, I came across Clarence Fisher’s connecting assessment.  It’s a rubric he created for middle schoolers “to help students think about the connections and global understandings they are establishing.”

He doesn’t plan to assign grades based on where students are–this is a conversation starter, he says.  To me, it’s a way to say to the student, “This is how it might look if you’re at a beginner level of skill.  This is more-than-beginner.  This is how it looks if you’re accomplished.”

Fisher offered another rubric in an earlier post–one to help grade student blog posts.

What I like about these is that Fisher shares what he’s come up with for a particular situation.  He even provides Google doc versions (blogging rubric, connecting rubric) in case someone wants to use them as starting points.

Pretty good, I’d say.

“Approval scale” image adapted from this CC-licensed photo by mag3737 / Tom Magliery
(images are his; cartoon balloons are mine).

2 thoughts on “Social skill: what does “not half bad” look like?

  1. RE: “There’s a theoretical maximum, “really good.” It’s like absolute zero, only warmer; you don’t find it much in nature.” I wonder if that (theoretical max) is more prevalent in our field, where we frequently measure and assess. If I’m training people who are not in the L&D field (like sales people or small business owners), they generally have no problem checking the highest number. I don’t expect that when I’m dealing with trainers. I think I see more “4”s (on the 1-5 scale). Or perhaps I just suck when with my peers. Maybe it’s just a habit…I always find I want to leave room for something else. My iPod playlists include “hard” (rock) and “harder” (rock) but not “hardest” because I want to leave room for a genre (death metal) I’ll never listen to but wish to, in some way, acknowledge.

    I really like Clarence’s rubric. I’ll need to pull out some old work from my talent management folders but it seems a good way to help people understand how competencies can be written. I always struggled with SMEs on the difference between ‘analyst’ and ‘senior analyst’ type stuff.

  2. Janet:

    Mostly I was making fun of myself with the theoretical maximum.

    You make a good point, one that I think has to do with insiders or maybe experts–the more deeply you’re immersed in some field, the more nuance you tend to see. So you get refined, or maybe picky.

    Refinement can matter, especially in hard science, but I’m not sure it’s always a requirement in workplace or classroom learning. I see Clarence’s examples as spanning a reasonable range for schoolchildren: the blog-posting is something to examine in detail, and so, yes, there’s scoring attached to it. Some people will go nuts over that; I probably wouldn’t. The social-network stuff is painted more broadly, and I’m taking it to be his effort to fit practice with these skills in a particular context. Things would be different at the rural high school where I taught in Kansas, and different in other ways at the tech-oriented high school one of my kids attended.

    Reading your line about “hardest rock,” I’m thinking of Disaster Area, the band from The Hitchhiker’s Guide, “not only the loudest rock band in the Galaxy, but also as being the loudest noise of any kind at all… Many worlds have now banned their act altogether, sometimes for artistic reasons, but most commonly because the band’s public address system contravenes local strategic arms limitations treaties.”

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