Teaching Tips Creating and using Rubrics

All too often, teachers are beset with how to grade student work. Should the work be marked with an 80 or an 81? What is the difference between output that earns 90% and one that earns only 89%? This also becomes a point of contention among students who are highly conscious of their marks, especially if they are contending for awards.

Throughout my teaching and training career, I have found that rubrics are an excellent method for rating that minimizes the arbitrariness of giving a grade. No need to roll the dice or play darts when deciding what grade to give any output.

Rubrics can be as simple as a two-dimensional grid with rows and columns. Each row identifies a criterion-some requirement or standard that is expected of the output. If you were to mark an essay, for instance, one of the standards or criteria can be as general as “content” or as specific as “spelling accuracy.” There is no limit to the number of rows-and, in effect, criteria-but too many will make the rubric unwieldy. The number of criteria, however, should be determined by what you want to mark. The best way to determine your criteria is to make sure that they correspond with the objectives of the required output.

The simplest way to mark the output vis-a-vis the criteria is to assign a Likert-type selection to the columns. Once again, depending on how detailed and accurate you want to be, the scale can range from a two-column “yes-no” choice to a 10-column scale. If you have enough time to prepare detailed criterion for each box where the rows and columns intersect, you can create greater accuracy for your rubric. For the criterion “spelling accuracy,” for instance, the box under the 10 column in a 10-point scale might read “no spelling errors”; the 9-point box might read “1-2 spelling errors in the whole paper”; and so on until the 1-point box which would read “10 or more errors per page”. I usually do not use “0” on my scales so that no work earns a zero score. At the very least, any work marked with such a rubric would earn a minimum number of points equivalent to the number of criteria set. Then students don’t come running to you to ask for points for “effort.”

The best way to create the criteria is to get input from whoever is being rated. Once you have come up with an agreed set of criteria and an agreed scale, stick to it. That way, there will be no questions as to how a rating was arrived at. You can also get more than one person to rate an output, depending on the magnitude of the work. I personally like to allow students to rate themselves as well, with their self-rating accounting for an agreed percentage of the final grade for a single work.

Prepare several copies of your rubrics so that there are enough for all your students for each output you intend to mark using the rubric you made. To mark an output, use one rubric per output. Your work is simpler now because all you have to do is mark the box with the descriptor that matches the output being rated. At the end of each row, you can write the actual score earned for a particular criterion by referring to the scale at the top of the columns. The work will be worth whatever the total score is. You can easily convert whatever that total is to a letter-scale or percentages or whatever rating system you have agreed to use.

To spice up the rubric, you can assign labels to the ratings. Labels are also something you can use if you do not want number ratings. For a speech delivery, for instance, I have used names of famous speakers as labels (Martin Luther King = top rated speaker), jobs that require speeches (for a marketing class, e.g., “master motivator” for top rating vs. “vacuum cleaner salesman” for a middling score), or motivational terms (excellent, above average, needs improvement).

I use rubrics for everything that is difficult to measure in exact terms-performances, speeches, participation, attitude, projects, and, of course, essays and research papers. It might take some time to prepare, but once you have a collection of different rubrics, it’s only a matter of tweaking them to suit the output. From then on, it’s easy and objective sailing.