Jessica Greenfield, PhD
Director of the Cooper International Learning Center and Lecturer in Italian
Contact at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rubrics are not a new-fangled teaching device designed by some evil assessment gurus who thought we didn’t have enough hoops to jump through as is. They’ve been around for years and, far from being a burden, are, in my opinion, a teacher’s best friend and a frequent lifeline. As focus continues to grow on student evaluation of teaching effectiveness, and as we continue to reflect on our own teaching practice, it is important to ensure that the expectations we have for our students are clear and that we are evaluating them fairly and in a way that is explicit and obvious to them. Most of us do this as a matter of course; but rubrics are a fantastic tool to make this process as transparent as possible.
A few years ago, I became obsessed with assessment and feedback. I noticed that my grading would often shift from lenient to harsh within a single class, leading me to grade and re-grade each assessment several times as I tried to be equitable. I began to worry about fairness in my grading and clarity in my assignment design and explanations. Furthermore, I discovered that I often was assessing too many elements within one formative activity. And so, I began to search for better methods of assessment, which led me to the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages, and the Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA). While there are many elements of the IPA that I love, I was particularly enthralled with the rubrics provided in the guidebook, since they offered me a clear and compelling solution to the problems I had been experiencing. I now use rubrics in a number of ways: as a tool to help students evaluate themselves, as a guide for designing and grading assignments, and as a method to bring students into the assessment process when we create rubrics together, specifically for summative assessments that are more creative in nature.
While there are a lot of different rubric forms, I use two kinds most of all: ANALYTIC RUBRICS which are descriptive, finite, and exhaustive in the consideration of component parts, and HOLISTIC RUBRICS which use a single scale to apply an overall judgment in a specific area. I create “analytic” rubrics for each of my formative assignments, and “holistic” rubrics as a way of evaluating student participation or, often, for end-of-unit or end-of-course summative assessments. One can also create a SINGLE POINT RUBRIC in which you have a given standard you are assessing, and the instructor then adds comments during the performance. For example, in an oral presentation single point rubric, the instructor might have a standard such as: student links the presentation to reading materials from the course syllabus. The instructor would then evaluate that one element by providing comments on where the student succeeded or failed in meeting that standard. To provide a clearer sense of these various kinds of rubrics, check out some examples and further definitions here.
Analytic Rubric Example
Holistic Rubric Example
The research is definitive in showing that rubrics not only provide a clear and fair framework for evaluation of student work, but also is conclusive that the most effective rubrics follow certain steps (considering learning objectives, deciding upon the elements to be evaluated, and then weighing each of those elements as it contributes to the overall evaluation). Personal experience reinforces the research: good rubrics are clear, descriptive, and avoid generalities. They use such objective terms as “student uses…”; “student chooses…”; “student is successful in…”, rather than the more subjective, “I felt that…,” or, “it seems that…”, in order to provide as factual and objective feedback as possible.. The best rubrics are also context specific. I never use the same rubric for two different kinds of assignments and I always make sure to review and adapt my rubrics from semester to semester to check for appropriateness. Often, I will find some recurring area for improvement among student performance or an area that I did not describe well, which I update for the following semester.
While the process of creating rubrics from scratch can be time consuming (and, rather than reinventing the wheel, consider building off of the many resources available online or from our own CTIE), the payoff is large; you can reduce time spent grading and confusion among students as to what you’re looking for, and you will also be providing more transparency for students throughout the coursework. My teaching has definitely improved since adopting rubrics as my primary evaluation tool, mostly because I can spend more time focused on lesson preparation and less time reading and rereading student work. Some of the biggest improvements in my instruction since using rubrics include the following:
- My grading has become more uniform and fair. I no longer need to worry about whether I’m being too lenient or too harsh; I write explicit descriptions that allow me to grade fairly. It’s also cut down on grade inflation, which is always something at the back of my mind.
- In giving students the evaluation rubric at the same time that I introduce the assignment, I can be sure that students understand the elements within the assignment that I’m most interested in. I remember the day I discovered that the point values in rubrics don’t have to be equal across columns and rows, and that has allowed me to show students where the bulk of their energy should go in a given assignment. If I want to focus on vocabulary over style, I will give that column more points.
- Feedback is easy to give within the framework of a well-developed rubric as you are commenting on that specific aspect of the assignment. Not only is evaluation time greatly reduced, but also the time an instructor spends writing comments and critiques.
- The very process of creating a rubric also helps me ensure that I’m clear on what the assignment is asking students to do. Developing a rubric is often a metacognitive process which prompts the instructor to reflect on the task that she will present to students, and encourages her to take the necessary time to determine if the instructions are clear and appropriate.
Finally, I’m so grateful for the rubrics tool in Blackboard. Several years ago when I flipped my class, I discovered that I could recreate my rubrics right within the LMS and make them available to students. You can also copy them from one semester to the next, so once you’ve done the work, it’s easy to utilize them again. This feature also allows students to revisit the tool from the gradebook function and reflect on their performance before coming to you to discuss how they did on a certain task.
If you are interested in making your own rubrics, my recommendation is to follow these steps for success:
- Reflect on the task and content for which you are creating the rubric.
- Create Student Learning Objectives for the assignment with an explicit set of expectations.
- Group and label the elements so that students can see what you will evaluate and you are clear on what elements you want to look for.
- Apply the rubric form and add descriptors in each box. If you are applying points to the assignment, this is the time to weight the distribution of points as well.
- Discuss with colleagues and/or students and make appropriate adjustments.
Some useful online resources:
- Carnegie Mellon University, Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation.
- Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching
- University of California, Berkeley, Center for Teaching and Learning
- Brown University, Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning
- Cornell University, Center for Teaching Innovation