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guiding principles

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on July 29, 2011 at 11:19:57 am

How do we define "quality rubrics"?


I was first introduced to rubrics several years ago, when I was a new staff developer, fresh from the classroom and attending a series of workshops. The program was school based, so I sat among teachers that had a long history together and was privy to their student work, curriculum tasks, and conversations. After a series of activities around expectations and feedback, including a discussion around measuring work that seemingly can’t be measured, we started to work with a task the teachers had recently assigned. They brainstormed what they expected to see from students, organized what students actually did, articulated the attributes of the work that met their expectations, and slowly but surely, built a rubric. Teachers then took the rubric they wrote, modified it for a future task, and came up with a plan for using it with students. When they returned to the next session, almost every teacher spoke of the improved quality of student work and clarity of language between teacher and students. I was hooked. Since then, I've seen numerous examples of high quality rubrics being used by students and teachers. I use them regularly in my work and will continue to advocate for using them. When I read blogs, tweets, and books that are anti-rubric, I almost always agree with their dislike of the things they are describing. To this day, rubrics remain at the top of my "wish I had known that then..." list.


Jennifer Borgioli - LCI Consultant


Frequently, what people describe aren't rubrics, they're something else.


Even though we touched on the general definition of what a rubric is on the front page, below are more specific attributes of quality rubrics as we define them in our work:


 1. A rubric is the result of defining and communicating expectations. The piece of paper the rubric is written or printed on is the product created from the process of articulating expectations of student learning and work. The rubric itself is the least important part of the process.


2. Rubrics are about the quality of work. "Work" is a general term that can describe a product a student creates, a performance she puts on or even the process she follows to accomplish a task.  The language of a rubric describes that quality of a piece of work - not the quantity. If we want to count items in a student's work, we could just create a checklist. Some, few, and many are quantitative terms, their definitions change from person to person, and they do not ensure quality.


3. The rubric must be understood by students. If they help create it, students usually understand the rubric better. In most cases, a rubric that hasn't been checked against student work, developed with students or gotten student feedback should be considered a draft. Some rubrics, even quality ones, may stay in draft form for the duration of a project due to content revisions or adding or removing examples that support or explain the text (also known as anchors). If students do not understand the rubric, they run the risk of inaccurately assessing their performance. Students asking for an explanation on a grade or feedback a teacher provided, even though it was scored with a rubric, may be a sign that rubric needs some revising. 


 4. Rubrics are way for students to reflect on and then improve their work. Telling a student what they did wrong doesn't help them do what's right. The language in quality rubrics focuses on what is present, not just what is absent. In a quality rubric, a student should be able to identify where his work falls and see what he needs to do in order to improve the quality of his work. A rubric may be created to support a teacher's grading efforts, save time, or quickly convey feedback. A quality rubric is created with students in order to:

  • communicate expectations,
  • prompt student learning through self-assessment,
  • in addition to helping with grading, saving time, and improving feedback.


 5. The goal of a rubric is NOT to stifle students' creativity or to embarrass a student who hasn't yet obtained mastery. In a quality rubric, the highest level describes what exceeds the standard or expectation and may include language about transcending rules, new, innovative, or unexpected approach to task. Meanwhile, the lower levels describe what someone new to a project may do. All though the words may be positive, we may inadvertently force a student out of honestly self-assessing her learning by how we present the lower levels. Consider the implications of seeing your efforts summarized by a smiley face - missing a smile, eyes, and a nose.


What message does this visual communicate to students?  Especially one who is new to a task?




6. Not all tasks are worthy of a rubric. Generally speaking,  rubrics are used for authentic tasks; tasks that we do outside of school ("the Real World"). (See the Checklist vs. Rubric page for further discussion of this topic)


 7. Not all rubrics are quality rubrics.  We need to be critical consumers of rubrics that are available in the cloud. (See the page on "Being a critical consumer of on-line rubrics" for further discussion of this topic)


8. Rubrics and grades are like ice cream and Volkswagens. They're only connected because we chose to connect them. Rubrics are about quality. Grades are about evaluation. They can co-exist without being connected. 


So what makes a rubric a quality rubric?

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