Thursday, August 20, 2009

Getting on board with grading rubrics

An article in the NEA Advocate offers advice on how to create grading rubrics. The article also links to this site, which has a number of nice examples and templates for rubrics. I've become a big proponent of rubrics for student papers over the years. They save my time and communicate to students how they performed in a quick-and-dirty way. Some of the tips from the Advocate article I particularly liked:

  • Think in terms of a task description, the levels of performance, the dimensions (criteria), and the description of the dimensions.That's what a good rubric should do: explain the expectations, the degree to which they were fulfilled, and justify the evaluation.
  • Put a description of the assignment itself on the grading rubric. Simple, and helps reminds students of what they were supposed to accomplish with a particular paper assignment.
  • Involve students in the creation of a rubric. Why not? A little time consuming perhaps, but it's likely that when students work with you and their classmates to develop the grading rubric, they will feel more like they "discovered" the expectations and criteria than that they were imposed on them. An appreciation of those expectations and criteria is likely to 'stick' better when students have crafted them.

A few other tips of my own:
  • Refine rubrics over time by analyzing problem papers, i.e., those that, in your judgment, are better or worse than would be suggested by a particular rubric. I've definitely found that my rubrics have improved over time to better reflect what I actually expect and desire from student papers. Many of the changes I've implemented have come when I found a paper that, with respect to a given rubric at least, falls through the cracks: The paper is somehow better or worse than would be captured by my rubric. Sometimes I've photocopied those papers and made a note to myself to take a look at them when I later revise a rubric.
  • Simple rubrics for simple assignments, complex rubrics for complex assignments. I tend to use simple rubrics for writing assignments in my lower division courses, rubrics with a few general categories and descriptions, and more detailed, analytically penetrating, rubrics and descriptions in my upper division courses for majors. My lower division courses are bigger, so a simple rubric saves me time, and students in those lower division courses often seem overwhelmed by a complex or detailed rubric. Upper division students seem to prefer the more exacting feedback on the other hand.
  • Don't just use a rubric. Yes, students like the snapshot of their performance that a rubric provides, but this does not obviate the value of a few handwritten sentences or remarks at the bottom of the page to indicate that, yes, a real person read their work.

Anyone have good thoughts about how to construct and use grading rubrics?

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