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Using Rubrics Effectively

Whenever students write a paper or complete a project, they are typically given a rubric outlining the requirements. However, many teachers simply hand students the rubric without explaining it or use a generic rubric that does not cover the task at hand. While rubrics can be an effective assessment tool, they lose their effectiveness when they are not designed and used properly.

Designing the Rubric

The goal of a rubric is to assess a particular set of skills. Before creating the rubric, you must determine what skills you are assessing. For example, if students are writing a paper, do you want to focus on the organization of the paper, the grammar and syntax or the general presentation of ideas? If students are completing a project, is the overall presentation important or do you want to focus on the critical thinking skills students display? With a rubric, you have the opportunity to assess students in multiple areas and clearly lay out what it takes for students to show satisfactory progress in that area. When creating the rubric, be as specific as possible and make sure the difference between each point level is clear. For example, if assessing a student’s use of grammar and syntax, you might not want to say at level four “student shows a strong command of the English language” and at level three “student shows a good command of the English language.”  The difference between the two is not clear. However, if you said that at level four “student has less than three errors in grammar and syntax” and at level three “student has three to six errors in grammar and syntax,” you have made it easy to determine if students should receive a four or a three.

Remember that when you are designing a rubric, you do not have to assess everything. Focus on the overall goal of the assignment and the standards you want it to cover. If you are giving students a project, you might choose not to rate the overall appearance of the finished product because it does not connect to the standards. When students write a paper, you may choose not to grade students on spelling or grammar and focus instead of the theme and organization of ideas. The ideal rubric will focus on three to five key areas with at least three different levels of performance within each area.

Sharing Rubrics with Students

If you are going to grade students with a rubric, you want to share the rubric with them as soon as they are given the assignment. This helps students know what the expectations are from the very beginning. Try to write the rubric in student-friendly terms and go over each section of the rubric with students. As you go over the rubric with students, try to share examples of the type of assignment that would receive a particular score in each category. You may even ask students to share examples of what they think it will take to earn a particular score in each category. The more you go over the rubric with students and the more examples they hear and see of what it takes to earn a certain score, the better students will understand what is expected of them. Since every rubric you create is designed based on the skills you want to assess, going over the rubric also helps students understand the purpose for the assignment instead of simply thinking that it is busy work.

Grading with a Rubric

You should also involve students in the grading process. Give each student a blank copy of the rubric and ask them to grade themselves before they turn the assignment in and write a short paragraph explaining why they graded themselves the way they did. Seeing how students would grade themselves will help you see areas where they may lack understanding and help you guide your feedback so that it is more beneficial to them. Some students may give themselves all fours or fives as a joke, but when encouraged to take the grading process seriously, you may find that some students are their own worst critics and will actually look at their work more critically than if you simply graded it yourself. You may also choose to have students swap papers or projects and grade their peers. This gives students a chance to actually apply the rubric to a sample project and gives them another perspective on the work they have completed.

If you are planning to use a rubric to grade students, it is best to create your own to make sure the rubric accurately assesses the skills you hope to grade students. However, if you use a pre-made rubric, the same advice applies. Create the assignment with the rubric right beside it, go over it with students and allow students to take part in the grading process. These steps give a rubric more meaning and help make the assessment more effective.