November 30th, 2010

Rubrics: The Essentials


“Teaching with Rubrics: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” What a great title and the article is equally as good. For a quick review, rubrics, as this author points out, are most simply lists of criteria and levels of quality. (p. 27) What makes them good, bad, and ugly? Here’s a list condensed from the article.

The Good

  • Rubrics help teachers clarify expectations and focus instruction.
  • Rubrics helps students understand the goal of an assignment, which means less time trying to figure out what the teacher wants.
  • Rubrics enable teachers to “provide individualized, constructive critique in a manageable time frame.” (p. 31)
  • Students can help teachers create rubrics and in the process learn about standards and associated quality issues.
  • Rubrics can let teachers assign more challenging work.
  • Rubrics keep teachers fair and unbiased in their grading.

The Bad

  • Rubrics are not entirely self-explanatory. Students, especially those unfamiliar with rubrics, need help understanding what they are and how they can be used.
  • Rubrics don’t replace good teaching. Students still need models, feedback, the chance to ask questions, opportunities to revise, and everything else teachers provide that rubrics don’t.
  • Rubrics don’t automatically improve self- and peer assessment. Students still need to be convinced that their feedback and the feedback they receive from others can expedite improvement.
  • Rubrics aren’t just scoring tools. “Rubrics used only to assign final grades represent not only a missed opportunity to teach but also a regrettable instance of the teacher-as-sole-judge-of-quality model that puts our students in a position of mindlessness and powerlessness.” (p. 29)

The Ugly

  • Rubrics are not valid, reliable, or fair automatically. What makes them so is their alignment with reasonable standards, and the curriculum being taught. “These concerns do not require us to perform complex statistical analyses but, rather, we simply worry enough about them to subject our rubrics to critique. Rubrics improve when we compare them to published standards, show them to another teacher, or ask a colleague to coscore some student work.” (p. 30)

Reference: Andrade, H. G. (2005). Teaching with rubrics: The good, the bad and the ugly. College Teaching, 53 (1), 27- 30.

  • Rubrics are most effective when built WITH the class after the assignment is given but BEFORE students begin. This way, expectations are clear to everyone and any questins can be worked out in the process. After building a couple with the whole class, students will begin building them alone or in groups once an assignment is given. It gives me chills to see this process in action. It's never failed and it turns them into leaders. Eventually, they realize they can actually rubric situations in their lives and the metaphor is complete.

  • When rubrics get too specific, they remove some of the task that the students should be doing. Take a computer programming assignment. The rubric could say "Do A, B, and C." But part of the learning value of the assignment is to figure out that, in order to do A, you have to do B and C first. That is, part of the course is learning the program design process.

    An alternative: think of rubrics as scaffolding. In the first assignment, give a specific rubric to students. As the course continues, make the rubrics given to students less specific (that is, take away scaffolding). Students will have to do design on their own, without cues from the instructor.

  • Lynda

    I started getting my students to develop rubrics in recent classes as a means to engage them in the process of learning. I have found that they do come up with much the same criteria that I had previously developed BUT and it is a big but they had to take responsibility for the process. It is interesting to do this in a class as students begin to think throught 'how do you know if something is done well/poorly?' I also ask for class feedback and expectations throughout the term…I tabulate the results and post my responses to them so they understand what I can/cannot change…
    For me the amusing part is that I had been developing grading models/systems before I stumbled on the term 'rubric' – does anyone know where the term originated?