Rubrics are ultimately a communication tool with students that in many forms. They give students a clear picture of what you’re looking for in an assignment and give you an easy way to tell them where they went wrong. But designing rubrics can sometimes feel daunting. This article will walk through the basic steps for creating a rubric. It will then explore several examples of rubrics for discussions and written assignments.
Creating a Rubric
When you are developing a rubric, write down the mental list that you would go through when grading that assignment. That list becomes your criteria for the rubric. Compare that list against the learning objectives for the assignment, unit, and course. Do they match up? For example, one of your criteria may be grammar and writing mechanics. If grammar is not one of your learning objectives, then consider assigning only a few points to that criteria or leaving it off the rubric altogether. If it’s very important to you, then that should be a learning objective for the assignment.
Rank your criteria in order of importance, using the learning objectives as your guide. Our course management software allows us to assign different point values to each criteria, so you can have some criteria that are very heavily weighted, and some that count for only a few points.
Once you have assigned points to the various levels and criteria, imagine how you would grade using that rubric. Better yet, practice grade an example. Does the calculated score match how you would intuitively grade that assignment without a rubric? If not, you may need to adjust your point values or change your criteria.
Before you publish the rubric, envision what your students’ experience using the rubric would be like. Would they get a clear picture of what you are looking for before they complete the assignment? Would they know where they missed the mark after the assignment?
When designing a rubric, it can be helpful to see examples. There is no one perfect rubric, but you can mix and match the elements that make the most sense. The following are a few examples from our courses.
Discussions can be among the hardest to grade objectively, but rubrics help make grading discussions more consistent over the long term.
Example 1: Satisfactory/Needs Revision
We use the following rubric in the Online Teaching Certification Course. This rubric only uses two levels: Complete and Incomplete. This is for a couple of reasons. First, for clarity’s sake; the student can easily see what is expected. Second, this is a pass/fail course, so we decided to grade assessments pass/fail, too.
Many instructors also employ two-level rubrics for their courses with letter grades. If a student contributed only two posts, for example, the instructor can manually change the point value for that column to award the student partial credit and add a note as to why points were deducted. Although this rubric encourages flexibility while grading, it does make the process less objective and slower. It may also be harder for different instructors to use the same rubric consistently across classes.
Notice that the rubric evaluates a post’s contribution to the learning community. This signals to the student that developing the learning community is of primary importance in a discussion.
Example 2: Discussion Leader/Discussion Contributor
Below is a discussion rubric used in a large undergraduate writing course. This rubric uses three levels: discussion leader, discussion contributor, or needs improvement. The middle level allows the instructor to easily give partial credit for student effort without having to manually adjust the point value.
Heavier weighted criteria are towards the top, visually signaling to the student that they are more important.
Example 3: Blank Five-level Rubric for MBA Course
This discussion rubric is for an MBA course. The matrix doesn’t contain descriptions because this rubric opts for flexibility over expediency; rather than having pre-programmed feedback, the instructor using this rubric would need to manually note why she marked the student down.
One issue with these level labels (excellent, above average, etc.) is that they may not seem fair to students; if a student’s work is “above average,” why should they lose a point in that level? Additionally, if “average” coincides with a C grade, that would be a 3.8 on a 5-point scale. However, on this rubric, it is worth 3 points, which equals 60 percent of the total possible grades, or what is often labeled as a D-. The instructor will have to take care with level labels and points distribution to most closely match his or her intentions for the rubric.
Rubrics for written assignments have different emphases than those for discussions. For example, written assignments do not contribute to a community of learning. These rubrics may also place greater importance on writing mechanics, citations, word count, and research than discussions.
Example 1: Traditional Five-level Rubric for MBA Case Assignment
This is a fairly traditional analytical rubric for an MBA course case assignment. There are five levels to choose from, and each criteria for each level has a description. More important levels are at the top and are worth more points.
Careful attention must be paid to point values for the levels. For example, a student with an average level of Context in this assignment earns 16 points, or 80 percent of the possible points. This seems about right.
Attention must also be paid to the description to ensure there is meaningful difference between levels.
Example 2: Range of Points Deducted Per Criteria Not Met
The rubric below for an MBA business communications course works differently than the previous examples. Because it is for graduate students, it can be more demanding than rubrics for undergraduate students.
This rubric lays out what the student needs to do to earn full points, then indicates the consequence for not meeting those criteria through minor deductions (1-5 points) and major deductions (6 or more points).
Of course, using a rubric like this would not be a matter of clicking boxes—the instructor would have to adjust the points manually. However, it does accomplish the goal of communicating expectations to students and standardizing grading (a rubric’s main jobs). An instructor using this rubric would have to be clear why the student lost points, perhaps by copy and pasting the items missed into a comment box. This rubric could be reconfigured into a standard “box checking” rubric if the instructor wanted.
Example 3: Simple Straight Points Rubric
The previous examples have been custom point rubrics, where each criterion is worth different points. The rubric below is a straight points rubric, where every criterion is worth the same number of points. There’s no right or wrong regarding straight vs custom points as long as the decision is intentional.
More examples of rubrics are listed below. What does each rubric communicate to students? How would you change the rubrics for your own course?
- International Business Research Paper
- Research Paper Rubric
- Research Paper Rubric for any Discipline
- Original Research Paper Project
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