As educators, we know the power of a good rubric. Well-crafted rubrics facilitate clear and meaningful communication with our students and help keep us accountable and consistent in our grading. They’re important and meaningful classroom tools.
Usually when we talk about rubrics, we’re referring to either a holistic or an analytic rubric, even if we aren’t entirely familiar with those terms. A holistic rubric breaks an assignment down into general levels at which a student can perform, assigning an overall grade for each level. For example, a holistic rubric might describe an A essay using the following criteria: “The essay has a clear, creative thesis statement and a consistent overall argument. The essay is 2–3 pages long, demonstrates correct MLA formatting and grammar, and provides a complete works cited page.” Then it would list the criteria for a B, a C, etc.
An analytic rubric would break each of those general levels down even further to include multiple categories, each with its own scale of success—so, to continue the example above, the analytic rubric might have four grades levels, with corresponding descriptions, for each of the following criteria points: thesis, argument, length, and grammar and formatting.
Both styles have their advantages and have served many classrooms well. However, there’s a third option that introduces some exciting and game-changing potential for us and our students.
The single-point rubric offers a different approach to systematic grading in the classroom. Like holistic and analytic rubrics, it breaks the aspects of an assignment down into categories, clarifying to students what kinds of things you expect of them in their work. Unlike those rubrics, the single-point rubric includes only guidance on and descriptions of successful work—without listing a grade, it might look like the description of an A essay in the holistic rubric above. In the example below, you can see that the rubric describes what success looks like in four categories, with space for the teacher to explain how the student has met the criteria or how he or she can still improve.
A single-point rubric outlines the standards a student has to meet to complete the assignment; however, it leaves the categories outlining success or shortcoming open-ended. This relatively new approach creates a host of advantages for teachers and students. Implementing new ideas in our curricula is never easy, but allow me to suggest six reasons why you should give the single-point rubric a try.
1. It gives space to reflect on both strengths and weaknesses in student work. Each category invites teachers to meaningfully share with students what they did really well and where they might want to consider making some adjustments.
2. It doesn’t place boundaries on student performance. The single-point rubric doesn’t try to cover all the aspects of a project that could go well or poorly. It gives guidance and then allows students to approach the project in creative and unique ways. It helps steer students away from relying too much on teacher direction and encourages them to create their own ideas.
3. It works against students’ tendency to rank themselves and to compare themselves to or compete with one another. Each student receives unique feedback that is specific to them and their work, but that can’t be easily quantified.
4. It helps take student attention off the grade. The design of this rubric emphasizes descriptive, individualized feedback over the grade. Instead of focusing on teacher instruction in order to aim for a particular grade, students can immerse themselves in the experience of the assignment.
5. It creates more flexibility without sacrificing clarity. Students are still given clear explanations for the grades they earned, but there is much more room to account for a student taking a project in a direction that a holistic or analytic rubric didn’t or couldn’t account for.
6. It’s simple! The single-point rubric has much less text than other rubric styles. The odds that our students will actually read the whole rubric, reflect on given feedback, and remember both are much higher.
You’ll notice that the recurring theme in my list involves placing our students at the center of our grading mentalities. The ideology behind the single-point rubric inherently moves classroom grading away from quantifying and streamlining student work, shifting student and teacher focus in the direction of celebrating creativity and intellectual risk-taking.
If you or your administrators are concerned about the lack of specificity involved in grading with a single-point rubric, Jennifer Gonzales of Cult of Pedagogy has created an adaptation that incorporates specific scores or point values while still keeping the focus on personalized feedback and descriptions of successful work. She offers a brief description of the scored version along with a very user-friendly template.
While the single-point rubric may require that we as educators give a little more of our time to reflect on each student’s unique work when grading, it also creates space for our students to grow as scholars and individuals who take ownership of their learning. It tangibly demonstrates to them that we believe in and value their educational experiences over their grades. The structure of the single-point rubric allows us as educators to work toward returning grades and teacher feedback to their proper roles: supporting and fostering real learning in our students.