5 Tips for Using Rubrics

Ken Templeton | 11.19.2013

Rubrics are not just helpful for assessing student work—they’re an essential tool for students to set goals and improve their learning.

One of the many ways to help students clarify what they should know and be able to do is to use rubrics that describe different levels of performance on a task or product. Most teachers have seen rubrics and most have written or developed them with colleagues. When it comes to using the rubric with students, it helps to have some ideas.

Here are a five tips for using rubrics with students:

1. Conduct an exemplar analysis. Rubrics are useless without exemplars. It does not matter how “kid friendly” your language is. If you hand out a rubric to your students without examples of work, the rubric will be an abstract description at best. With exemplars, students can see what you intend by “voice,” “organization,” or “evidence.” By asking students to score the exemplars using the rubric, you also get a sense of what students believe to be quality work.

2. Have students set goals using the rubric. By identifying areas to work on, students use reflection skills and can focus on some specific skills or aspects of their work. Demonstrating improvement is one of the key strategies for developing a growth mindset in students. Maurice Elias has a great post on big-picture goal setting over at Edutopia—you can use a similar process for skill-based goal-setting in your classes.

3. Use the rubric for the formative assessment of student work, not simply to make summative assessment easier. As Dylan Wiliam (@dylanwiliam) and Paul Black have written, formative assessment is the most promising strategy for improving student learning. So, it is good to use examples, it is good to have students set goals—but it is essential that students get clear, descriptive, actionable feedback on their work and that they have the opportunity to improve it. This article, by Stan and Jan Chappuis, gives some great examples of descriptive feedback.

4. Use peer assessment. One of the most common questions about peer assessment is how to make it effective and not just a session of comments like “It was good, I really liked it.” By using a rubric, students can provide descriptions back to their peers, coupled with one or two specific suggestions for improvement and one or two strengths of their peer’s work. It is helpful to have students report back to their peers about the revisions they make—as someone who provides feedback, it is encouraging to know that your suggestions made a difference. Austin’s Butterfly, from Expeditionary Learning (@ExpedLearning), is one of my favorite videos on the power of peer critique and the belief that all students can improve and achieve at a high level:

Austin’s Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work—Models, Critique, and Descriptive Feedback from Expeditionary Learning on Vimeo.

5. Create the rubric with your students. Teachers often reflect that the process of creating a rubric clarifies their own expectations for student work. Let’s give that experience to students too. Some teachers break their class into groups by criteria in a rubric; others have small groups create draft rubrics that are then critiqued by the class. If students play a role in creating a rubric, based on exemplars of student work, they will have a much better sense of the expectations and how to be successful.

Other Resources

    • This page, from TeachersFirst (@TeachersFirst), is a nice overview of rubrics and has links to online rubric resources.
    • Some rubrics are holistic, providing broad narrative descriptions of performance. Here is a good example for assessing essays, developed by Carol Jago (@CarolJago).
    • Other rubrics are analytic, breaking down an assessment into different criteria (i.e., mechanics, voice, and organization) like this example, courtesy of the good folks at MiddleWeb.


What are some other effective uses of rubrics in your work?

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