Saturday, August 2, 2014

5 things to consider when designing a rubric

For the record, I'm not a big fan of using rubrics in education.

It's not that I am against rubrics because I feel they are evil, but rather I'm against the way they are most typically designed and the way they are most typically used.

Like many tools in education, it's in the implementation and execution of that specific tool that really makes all the difference.

The best intended rubric can become a limiting and disastrous tool when not used properly, and unfortunately I find more often than not they aren't used effectively and properly.

1). Students will know exactly what is expected of them.

Sure, you will pick the standards and objectives you are hoping the students will master. The students will then clearly see which standards they should focus on and which objectives they are expected to meet. Here's the catch, what role does the student play in developing and designing these standards and/or objectives? More times than not, the student is merely a recipient of what standards or objectives are selected, which inadvertently removes students from the ownership part of learning. Obviously there are some objectives and standards that we need to do irregardless of if we have student voice and involvement, but when rubrics constantly drown out the voices and involvement of students, they can send the wrong message.

2). Help kids self-evaluate and self-assess.

Many rubrics lack the most critical piece of the self-assessment process... they lack the specific and concrete feedback that students need to take the next step in the learning process. The reason for this is simple, it takes too much time for a teacher to get specific and concretely enough on the rubric. Additionally, it's difficult to pigeon hole students into 4 or 5 different categories when they're going through the learning process. When students self-evaluate and self-assess great things are possible, but when the rubric forces kids to fall within a certain category based on incomplete and insufficient factors, the benefits of self-assessing can be quickly lost.

3). Ensure students are graded fairly and consistently.

The belief that a rubric makes sure everyone is graded fairly and consistently is possibly the most commonly used reason in support of rubrics. At first thought this sounds good and sounds right, but I'd push you to think about every group of students you've ever had. Were there times when you stepped out of the black and white and entered the grey because you knew it was what was best for that student? Were there times when you didn't follow the procedures/protocol you used with all the other students? Were there times when you treated students differently but deep in your heart you knew you were treating them equitably and treating them appropriately based on the circumstances? I imagine you probably answered 'yes' to all three of these questions. Remember, as Rick Wormeli so eloquently stated, 'fair isn't always equal and equal isn't always fair.'

4). Rubrics save time in the grading process.

The next point to consider is closely tied to your belief about what a grade represents. If you believe that a grade represents a student's level of mastery on a particular standard or objective with no time-frame, then you most likely believe heavily in formative assessing. You believe in numerous opportunities for feedback and you embrace failure as a means to growing and improving. If you are using rubrics to achieve these goals, then there won't be an 'official' summative grade for quite some time, which won't really save you time in the traditional sense.

5). Length, due date, participation and effort must be included in the rubric.

I'm amazed at how many rubrics I see that still include the before-mentioned components. When these components are a part of a rubric, we are not only devaluing the entire assessment process, we are also ensuring the rubric will add very little value if any. When used properly, rubrics can add value to the learning process, however these components have no connection to or relevance to learning and shouldn't be a part of the grading/assessing process. Do yourself a favor and keep these out of your next rubric and focus on learning demonstration and mastery of the skill.