George Lucas Educational Foundation

5 Tips for a More Meaningful Rubric

June 8, 2015
Students Working on an Assignment

Every educator feels pretty darn cool the first few times they grade students' work.  What a powerful feeling it ignites in us, right?  However, the reality of how much time we have to spend grading sets in quickly and the task becomes more and more monotonous.  No teacher digs grading the same problems, essay prompts, responses, etc. over and over again, but it is a large part of what we do on a daily basis.

So, why not make it meaningful?  I’m fully convinced that the most powerful assessment tool out there is the rubric.  I taught for more than a decade without consistently using rubrics, making claims along the way such as “I know the grade they deserve without a rubric,” “Using a rubric will just create more work for me,” or “Most rubrics are too complicated.”  Nonetheless, since I started utilizing them to assess student work, I have seen that rubrics can give invaluable feedback to me, to my students, and even to their parents.       

Teachers who use rubrics:

  • set clear guidelines and expectations from the outset of the school year.
  • hold students accountable for the work they produce in a justifiable way.
  • let their students know on which areas they need concentrate the next time they are given a similar task.
  • see improvement in their students’ work.

Teachers who do not use rubrics:

  • leave students without clear guidance on which skill areas they need to improve.
  • do not provide students with concrete evidence of what their work lacked.
  • do not provide sufficient guidance on what the student outcome was meant to be in the first place.

Basically, students who do not receive a rubric at the outset of an assignment feel frustration because they are not given specific parameters.  It is human nature to want to know exactly what is expected of us when we set out to do something.  Explicit guidelines lead students towards understanding what they need to do and, ultimately, what they did and did not do well. 

Many teachers I meet want to use rubrics, but they do not know what to include on them.  This, of course, will vary depending upon the grade levels you teach, your subject area, and the task at hand.  However, teachers should keep a few things in mind when creating quality rubrics:

  1. Be consistent. You should plainly lay out your expectations from day one by giving your students the criteria you will assess with throughout the year. You can show them from the get-go how they can approach, meet, or exceed your expectations. For example, if you are going to give a writing exercise, your rubric for that skill should vary little from one assignment to the next. 
  2. Base them around the skills you are assessing. The memorization of rote facts does little to exemplify how skilled students are at performing in the subject you teach. I know this firsthand because I am a Spanish teacher who once upon a time made her students memorize verb tenses completely out of context. Yes, many of them were capable of remembering and regurgitating them for a test, but then, they could not use them in a real world scenario. Now, I ask them to use language in a specific scenario and assess them using rubrics that measure their growth as communicative language students. I assess particular skills such as their ability to create with language, their ability to function in different time frames, their comprehensibility, and much more. I do not ask for specifics such as 5 uses of the preterite or 10 vocabulary words from the unit. Instead, they have to complete the task using what they know from our current unit, previous units, and even, previous levels of language study.
  3. Use clear language. If the language you use on the rubric is full of educational jargon, you cannot expect your students to understand it. You must keep your expectations and criteria for measuring them clear. Tell them exactly what they need to do and which skills you will be measuring. I also recommend that, before using a rubric to grade your students, have them grade a sample assessment using the same rubric you will use to grade their work. This will help familiarize them with the skills you seek. 
  4. Embrace the positive. When you use a rubric, you indicate clearly the criteria you seek.  And, normally, students do well in one, two, or several of the categories on which you assess them. If they end up with a low grade overall, they are not just seeing a confidence deflating '70' on the page, they are also buoyed by encouraging feedback. I always try to leave a constructive note somewhere on the document.
  5. Leave room for creativity. I call this the “wow factor”. All of my rubrics have “going beyond expectations” as one of its criteria. This is especially important if you are a proponent of project-based learning. Students should not simply be asked to meet expectations. While that may be all they do, if they want the maximum points, they should need to push themselves to come up with an imaginative way to go beyond what is asked. This pushes them outside of their comfort zone and encourages creativity. This resourcefulness will undoubtedly help them later in their future workplace.

Still not convinced? Just give rubrics a shot the next time you assign a project, paper, essay, etc. You can even ease your transition by using a brilliant website aptly called Roobrix, a tool that helps educators avoid grading errors when scoring rubrics. You can quickly input the levels, the number of criteria, and your minimum passing grade, and Roobrix will give you the student’s grade with the click of a button. Once you see that the feedback you are giving your students leads to improvement in their work, I promise you will never turn back.   

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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