4 Tips to Get More Out of Rubrics

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When I work with educators on their professional development needs, rubrics frequently come up as something that teachers want to understand better and be able to find quickly and easily from a variety of sources for immediate use in the classroom. Often, however, rubrics found on the Internet are not of good quality—they may not be grounded in learning targets or the language may be too vague and confusing for students. The good news is that there are many great resources and tips out there to build your own rubrics. Here are some ideas to start.

  1. Use Common Rubrics. For some students, school is one of the few stable routines in their young lives. Let’s support this safe and supportive culture by using common rubrics across subject areas or grade levels. This will help to ensure that each teacher is looking at student work objectively and lets students know that the expectations are the same regardless of the classroom. These common rubrics might be based in content or even 21st century skills. Students will appreciate these common expectations and common language around learning.
  2. Decide Between Checklists or Rubrics. I used to fall into the trap of having too many numbers in my rubrics. I listed different numbers of sources, sentences, and so on, under each level, from approaching to exceeding a standard. Numbers don’t indicate quality. Focus on quality indicators when creating rubrics. However, if students need to have a specific number of something as a nonnegotiable, then create a checklist for them. Ask yourself, is this better on a checklist or a rubric?
  3. Use Them! Rubrics are useless unless you use them. Why do students often throw them away or lose them? Because they don’t see the value in them as a learning tool! It is critical to have students use a rubric for an entire curriculum unit, project, or even over the course of a year. Use rubrics to set goals, provide peer- and self-assessment, and reflect on learning. Through intentional and meaningful use, rubrics can become a tool that students see as invaluable.
  4. Focus on Learning Targets. Unless you are truly assessing creativity, it may not be appropriate to list creativity on the rubric. Similarly, neatness may not be appropriate if it isn’t directly related to the content or core discipline you intend to assess. Make sure you focus on learning targets, which could be standards or specific criteria, when you create the rubric. Articulate what the learning will look like in terms of approaching, meeting, and exceeding standards.

My biggest recommendation is to collaborate with others to create rubrics that are specific to your school, district, and learning targets. Whether they are state, Common Core, or 21st century standards, some of the best rubrics can be developed in-house. Use these tips as well as books from ASCD to support your work in building the best rubrics.

Andrew Miller, ASCD Faculty Andrew K. Miller is an educator and consultant. He is a national faculty member for ASCD and the Buck Institute for Education. You can follow Miller on Twitter @betamiller.