Using Rubrics

Hello fellow WIDers,

Please let me begin by saying…. I love that as teachers we get to be forever students…and the term ‘lifelong learning’ is one that resonates deeply with me.

Ahhh grading… I have a love/hate relationship with it. Like most teachers, I love it when students do well and I get to reinforce/reward the ideas, comprehension, work ethic etc… but when students don’t earn the grades I find myself questioning my teaching and/or my assignments/instructions which, while necessary, I find uncomfortable.

When I was a student and given assignments where there was no specific rubric just a set of instructions, I always questioned if I was doing it ‘right’. There was guess work involved in terms of what I thought the teacher wanted and instructions can sometimes be open to interpretation. The possible ambiguity created anxiety, so as a student I always loved having a rubric… for a couple different reasons. I liked knowing exactly what I had to do. Listed with a rubric were the elements required but also a scale in which I got to measure where my work fell on this continuum, this made me feel that it was a less subjective measure. While it made it easier to take responsibility for the quality of my work I would still question the nuance of why I was in the 8 and not 9 column (which teachers could only sometimes explain). 


My master’s degree was in educational psychology and one of my required courses was on assessment. The most important idea I walked away from that course was ‘do your learning objectives align with your assessment?’ or how Bean puts it “what do teachers actually want when they ask students to write?” Rubrics, whether analytic/holistic or generic/ task-specific, aim to minimise the ambiguity and subjectivity involved with assignments

Begs the question… how much is subjective? Bean is right when he states that judgements about what constitutes good writing are complex. Do you think that including a rubric with its “grid and neat categories pushes us towards pretending an objectivity that does not match the complex mixture of likes and dislikes we feel towards any particular paper”?

One other point I would like to address are the different types of rubrics and possible commentary. I think teachers get frustrated when we spend time giving (valuable) feedback and students either don’t apply that feedback to the next draft or if a final, don’t pick up the papers. I like that Bean touched on the concept of the universal reader and while I have only ever used analytic rubrics (because that is all I have ever known), now I see other types might be more helpful for some of my assignments. It will allow my comments to focus not what the student did wrong but how she lost certain readers and how to minimise that. I feel this would be especially helpful for IS.

What are your favourite types of rubrics to use and why? Do you find making encouraging revision oriented comments easy using rubrics? If not, how might some of the ideas in this chapter facilitate that?