Athletes are often “graded out” by their coaches after a game, and they always know ahead of time the exact criteria that will be used to grade them. An offensive lineman knows that he will be graded on the number of sacks allowed, missed blocks, etc. The clear performance criteria allow athletes to focus on meeting them.
Unfortunately, the same is not always true of higher education. As a graduate student, I was taught how to grade students down on essay assignments for various errors. But I was not taught to explain my grading methodology to students ahead of time, so many students’ errors were a result of not knowing what I wanted.
Rubrics are an ideal way to clarify expectations for students. The assessment categories are clearly laid out and the different performance levels within each category demonstrate what constitutes good or bad performance. Rubrics provide students with models of what to do and what to avoid. This helps guide them in developing their work.
Rubrics also make the grading process easier by breaking it down into discrete items. The teacher has a clearer picture of what to look for. Plus, the rubric helps keep the instructor on track after doing a number of assignments. We all wonder about the “grading drift” that causes us to grade harder or easier as we get farther into a pile of assignments. Some instructors will even regrade an earlier assignment at the end to see whether they have drifted. Rubrics limit drift by tethering us to a standard.
But rubrics are also helpful in developing the assessment itself. Faculty normally consider assessments after determining their course content. But many educational theorists want faculty to reverse this process by first determining how students will be assessed, and then developing content that teaches to those assessments. While the term “teaching to the test” is often used pejoratively, it actually makes perfect sense. If the player will be assessed on how many sacks he gives up, then his training should focus on how not to give up sacks.
Starting with an assessment rubric also helps clarify in the instructor’s mind what he or she wants students to learn, and thus what should be taught. If critical thinking is an important part of the rubric, then the instructor needs to make sure that it is covered in the class. Too often students are graded on general skills like critical thinking without any explicate or related teaching, as if they were to acquire them by osmosis. It is a good exercise to sketch out in a rubric exactly what criteria will be used to grade students, and then compare it to your course content to see whether you cover all of those skills.
While many faculty build their rubrics in an Excel or Word document, there are a number of free online systems that make the process much easier. These all function in similar ways. Each provides a template in which you define the performance categories as rows and levels of performance within each category as columns, and then fill in the boxes at each intersection of the two.
) is a simple and powerful tool from RCampus. One nice feature of the site is that there is a gallery of over 485,000 rubrics made by other teachers that you can use or modify for your own purposes. I did a search on “digital storytelling” and came up with over 3,000 rubrics, and so there should be something for nearly any purpose. After creating your rubric, you can copy and paste it into a Word document as a table that you then copy onto a student’s work. I like to highlight the boxes that correspond to the student’s performance with a background color after copying the rubric into the assignment to make it clear what determined the student’s grade. If you wish to pay for the premium version, you can enter students into the system and have your choices automatically calculated and graded. For tutorial see (https://youtu.be/JmNhEelN4o0
) is a free Google Docs add-on that you can incorporate into your Chrome browser. You open a student’s work in Docs, open the rubric, and highlight boxes. OrangeSlice will calculate the scores and provide the student with a grade. This is ideal for faculty having students submit their work in Google Drive.
) is another simple yet powerful rubric-making tool. It works similarly to iRubric in that it provides a template with columns and rows to fill in. Unlike iRubric, it does not have a gallery of rubrics, but it does have a Tips to Writing a Strong Rubric page that can provide a good guide to getting started with rubrics. Plus, as a stand-alone system without a suite of non-rubric features, it presents a less cluttered page to work on if you are just interested in creating a rubric from scratch.
Try any of these rubric options to improve your grading and students’ performance.