Rubric for grading student essays

How To Design A Rubric That Teachers Can Use And Students Can Understand
Contents:
  1. appears like at each level, like this example from my “Analysis Writing” rubric:
  2. Grading Student Work | Center for Teaching | Vanderbilt University
  3. Grading Student Work
  4. Collections of Rubric Links

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To view our printable materials, you must download the latest version of the free Adobe Acrobat software. Our lesson plans are written and reviewed by educators using current research and the best instructional practices and are aligned to state and national standards. Choose from hundreds of topics and strategies. ReadWriteThink has a variety of resources for out-of-school use. This rubric delineates specific expectations about an essay assignment to students and provides a means of assessing completed student essays. Grading rubrics can be of great benefit to both you and your students.

For you, a rubric saves time and decreases subjectivity.

appears like at each level, like this example from my “Analysis Writing” rubric:

Specific criteria are explicitly stated, facilitating the grading process and increasing your objectivity. In order to help your students meet or exceed expectations of the assignment, be sure to discuss the rubric with your students when you assign an essay. This was in contrast to the feedback from my Russian literature professor at Stanford Extension. This professor provided no rubric but left comments that were funny and observant and showed that a thinking, caring person had engaged with my ideas.

On the surface, rubrics appeared to benefit certain students, usually those who were doing pretty well overall but needed some attention in one specific area, such as organization. But rubrics were unhelpful, even damaging, for two other types of students: 1 those who were successful in all categories of the rubric; and 2 students who were struggling and who rated poorly in almost every category.

Grading Student Work | Center for Teaching | Vanderbilt University

I could add a comment to this effect, but my students already had been trained through years of traditional grading to pay more attention to the grade and the ratings. The rubric failed these students because it gave them the impression that they were already at the top, which can create a fixed mindset.

Thus, these students would not learn much in my classes. For the second category of students, the strugglers, the rubric was a disaster. How does it serve any student to receive a rubric with abysmal ratings in most categories? If students were emotionless robots, then the rubric might help them identify their many problem areas and start tackling them.

But we know that students are not like this. Students who receive bad ratings on a rubric feel discouraged and shamed, no matter how hard we might try to soften the blow with uplifting comments. For these students, arguably the students who needed me most, the rubric worked against my goals. Instead of bolstering their motivation, the rubric killed it.

This is true of grades, too, which is why I am moving to a system of no grades except for a final course grade, which I am required to give. More on that in a future post.

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Grading Student Work

After receiving bad scores on a rubric, even the most strong-minded student will approach new writing assignments with fear and dread, emotions that hamper improvement. One might argue that most students are served by the rubric; it is only the outliers who are not. As I thought more about this issue, and as I experimented with removing the rubric and giving feedback only, I started seeing ways that rubrics had altered my own thinking about my students.

When I read an essay with a rubric attached, I read with an evaluative mind, looking for where the student had succeeded and or not.


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  2. Critics: Rubrics are a disservice to students!
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But when I read an essay without a rubric attached, I read with curiosity about what the student had to say. I engaged more with the ideas in the essay, and my comments reflected that. Some of my feedback was evaluative, but it was more with the goal of helping students find their best ideas and express them more powerfully. Ditching my rubrics freed me up to make the kind of comments that could most help my students. I could make observations that had no judgment attached.

Template for Creating a Rubric

I could tell the student where I cheered for them and where I was puzzled. I could offer ideas for how the student could expand or pose questions to get them thinking more. I could ask students to respond back to me on a particular issue, thereby starting a dialogue.

Collections of Rubric Links

I could tell my students how I personally connected with what they wrote, which built their trust in me. I could give my students a reader — not a judge, not a critic, but a reader. In theory. Plus, the rubric influenced how I read the essay, so I might not notice the sort of things I could notice if I read with an open mind and a helpful spirit.

That would be so efficient and so less fraught with uncertainty! But why are we so afraid to admit that the evaluation of writing is subjective and depends much upon the individual reader? I think it comes back to grades.