Rubrics

In continuation of my series of posts about helping students develop better emotional health and providing students with useful feedback (see standards-based grading, SE2R feedback, and commenting on students’ writing), I wanted to explore rubrics.  Even though they may not seem like the most exciting topic, they are not completely straightforward either.  I list here several pros of rubrics, cons of them, and other things to consider about them.  They are based on my own thoughts and those from John Bean’s Engaging Ideas.

response-to-literature-rubric3.png

Pros

  • Help grade quickly. 
  • Communicate to students what criteria you will use to grade their papers and how important each criterion is.
  • Help adjust to grading a new assignment.  If you are trying something new and the assignment is unusual to you, it may help to use a rubric and establish grading guidelines for yourself. They can help you communicate with students and share what is important to you, and they will help you emphasize these criteria properly when you grade.
  • Present an “objective” grade. Teachers can be trained to look for the same things in papers and evaluate the same paper in the same way. One way to develop these norms is to discuss four papers that are similar but on a range of levels. Teachers compare the papers and justify what criteria make one paper better than another. During the discussion, a facilitator can list all the criteria that are mentioned. At the end, teachers vote on what criteria are important and these become the norms for a class or department. This process also encourages teachers to explain grades and grade with more subtlety.
  • Provide a numerical score with which to compare students’ papers or work.

Cons

  • Create the illusion that all readers will read the paper in the same way. Some teachers read for ideas, some read for clarity, others for organizations. By creating a quantifiable rubric, we suggest that all readers look for the same things. In reality, all of these factors, as well as the field in which we study and teach, influence how we perceive a paper.
  • Create the illusion of precision even though it may be hard to explain why a paper received an 8 or a 7 in a given category.

Things to consider

  • How detailed do you want to make the rubric? Do you want to provide “An A paper looks like… A B paper looks like…, etc.” (like the picture, above) or do you want to break the rubric down into smaller quantifiable chunks like “Paper clearly states a thesis.” and “Paper shows evidence of understanding opposing arguments.”? Depending on your approach, you will communicate what you value or read for.
  • Do you use a generic rubric for all fields, like this one for reading or this one for writing? Do you use a generic rubric for Latin or Classics? Or do you tailor a rubric to each assignment?
  • What will actually give students valuable, useful feedback? A generic rubric or a task-specific rubric? A circled number or narrative feedback?
  • You can use more than the rubric to grade. John Bean says he reads and comments on papers, determines a provisional letter grade and writes end comments on the paper, goes through a rubric and assigns number values, but does not let the number determine the final grade. Once he has graded all the papers, he makes sure the rubric’s total and the letter grades on all the papers fall in roughly the same range. When they disagree, he rereads papers and makes adjustments to the rubric grade and/or the letter grade on the anomalous papers. When he is done, he uses the rubrics to identify common problems among all students or to make conferences with students easier for him. He also tells students that the rubric does not necessarily dictate the paper grade.
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