It took me a couple years of teaching to realize that rubrics are truly crucial when it comes to fair and accurate grading. I had always viewed them as time consuming and just not necessary, “I know what grade-level looks like!” However, upon incidence after incidence of noticing (unintentional!) inaccuracies in grading throughout my class, I knew it would be necessary to include rubrics in my day-to-day life as an educator. The past few years, however, I’ve taken it a step further. I’ve found great success in the act of demystifying rubrics for my students and have seen amazing benefits with my students’ progress and ownership. If you’re not quite convinced, here are my top three reasons why I refuse to assess without a rubric.
Clear Target: It’s no secret; when kids know what proficient looks like, it’s easier for them to demonstrate it. My transition into using rubrics more authentically in my classroom began with using them to communicate my students’ grades to them. However, as I began to use them more effectively, I realized they could be a huge help in showing my students what I’m looking for before the actual act of summative assessment took place. What does 6th grade level work look like? How will my students know if they are on the right track with their assignment? By analyzing rubrics before assignments WITH my students, they have a clear understanding of exactly what kind of work will earn them a 4, 3, 2, or 1. This simple act provides a clear target for students to hit.
Ownership: Most recently, I’ve been experimenting with student-created rubrics. This is definitely a process, and one that should be scaffolded, specifically when you first begin doing this with your students. Most recently, my students and I created a rubric for a research presentation they were giving. Because this is a new skill for my 6th graders, I asked my students to give suggestions for only part of the rubric. Together, they provided examples of what grade level work (a 3 on the rubric) would look like in each category of the assignment and what well-below grade level work (a 1 on the rubric). We made a giant draft rubric on the white board, and as I went through the categories that were on the rubric, they wrote down on sticky notes examples of what would earn a 3 and a 1. That afternoon, I edited their suggestions a bit (to make them more succinct), typed them up, and added them to our official rubric (while I also filled in what a level 4 and 2 would look like, using their words as a guideline). Not only are my students clear on what will earn them their desired grade, they feel more ownership in the entire grading process, which has proven to increase their effort.
Reflection: One of my professional goals over the last year was to allow more time for student self-reflection and self-assessment. Rubrics are a powerful tool to facilitate this process and provide a starting point for conferencing conversations with students as well. When assignment requirements and descriptors are clearly laid out (specifically in rubrics that were student-created or analyzed as a whole class), a student can more easily pinpoint areas of strengths and areas of improvement. With the help of rubrics, my students have been able to verbalize or write about specific changes they could make that would improve their performance on any given assignment.
Whether it’s to make your grading practices more equitable, communicate clear expectations to your students, or support them in taking more ownership for their work, rubrics are one of the most beneficial teaching tools I use in my classroom. To learn more about using rubrics in your classroom, supporting student-created rubrics, or online tools to help in the rubric creation process, visit TeachFirst.