Everything You Need To Know About Using Rubrics In The Classroom

When you first come across a rubric as a teacher or a student, they can be hard to understand. We tried to sum everything up for you in a single web page. This is about a 20 minute read, but it should answer all of your questions.

What is a Rubric?

It seems that in the education field there are new buzzwords every day-we no longer teach in schools, we teach in "Professional Learning Communities" where we look at the "sustainability" of our "educational practices" and "common assessments." Sometimes, as teachers, we want to run screaming-we don't want to "scaffold," we like one level, thank you very much. So when this term "rubric" was thrown about a few years back, many of us rolled our eyes and thought it was just another fad.

We were wrong, thankfully.

When I was in school, the grading process was a mystery. I would turn work in, and the teacher would give me a certain color star. At the time, it seemed as though I was graded on how she felt that day. If her baby kept her up all night, I got a green star instead of a gold one on my English sentences. If she had a good night's sleep, I'd definitely get a gold star. I was completely unaware of how she evaluated my work. Rubrics have changed all of that.

What exactly is a rubric? The word originates from the term "rubrica." Rubrica (or "rubric") was the red earth ancient carpenters used to mark guidelines on wood to show them where to cut. "Rubric" also signified the red lettering used in the titles of laws. In an educational setting, a rubric is a tool used to evaluate students' work. Much like the red earth employed by the carpenters, educational scoring rubrics help to guide both the students to create and the teacher to assess quality products. Extremely user friendly, they can be used in all grades and disciplines.

Rubrics consist of a set of specific, evaluative criteria placing the work in usually one of three or four gradations. These gradations include but are not limited to: Advanced, Proficient, Partially-Proficient, Unsatisfactory; Good, Better, Best; or even (as in some elementary schools) Smiley Face, Plain Face, and Frown. Often written in the first person, the criteria are written in language that the students can understand. The goal is to give students a clear set of expectations on each aspect of the project or piece.

There are two basic types of rubrics: holistic rubrics and analytical rubrics. Analytical rubrics evaluate each separate part of the work. Analytical writing rubrics, for example, may break down Organization, Word Choice, Grammar, Sentence Structure, and Voice. The students then receive ranks on each section as well as a cumulative grade for the entire paper. Holistic rubrics evaluate, well, holistically. Instead of treating each part as its own entity, the holistic rubric evaluates the entire project as a whole. These rubrics are especially useful for performance-based projects where all aspects work together.

Rubrics are an excellent way to provide clear expectations for students. Written in student friendly language, rubrics are wonderful tools that take the fear out of the evaluation process for both students and teachers. With rubrics, students will fully understand just why they get green stars, and may actually help them to strive for the gold ones.

How Do Rubrics Make Students' Lives Easier?

How often, as teachers, have we heard our students lament, "This is too hard!" or "I don't get it!" or even worse "I hate this class!"

Too many times, before my use of rubrics, I found that I would give an assignment expecting grand results only to receive a wide array of products nowhere near my expectations. I was always dumbfounded. Wasn't I clear? Weren't the students listening? How is it possible that they could not do a simple assignment the way that I wanted them to? What I came to find is that for whatever reason there is often a disconnect between what we tell our students we want them to do, and what they actually do. The entire process often left the students confused and fearful.

This, unfortunately, is a common occurrence in many classrooms today. Teachers give what they believe to be uncomplicated assignments, and students utterly misunderstand what was asked of them. We roll our eyes and wonder why it is that our students just "don't listen." Funny, isn't it? We all know that the best way to educate is to give the same information a multitude of times in a variety of ways to be sure that each type of learning is covered, but when it comes to giving assignments, projects, and performances we often give those directions only once. Why is that? Rubrics help to alleviate these problems by making students' lives a little easier.

As humans, our greatest fear is the fear of the unknown, and being that our students are human (most of them anyway) we can assume that one of their major fears in the classroom is the fear of not knowing what teachers expect from them. By demystifying our expectations and giving students a clear and definite set of guidelines for each assignment, rubrics shine a light on a process that was previously in the dark. With rubrics, students can then get on with the learning and stop with the guessing game.

Rubrics can also take the "fairness" question out of the grading process. Johnny will stop thinking that Jessie got an "A" because you like her more. Johnny and Jessie will stop believing that teachers are "out to get them" and start to understand what is expected of them. An added benefit of this is that rubrics can help to stop student rivalry within a classroom and instead help to create an atmosphere of camaraderie and high expectations.

Using Peer Review Rubrics is another way to help students become more comfortable with their learning. By more deeply delving into the work of their peers, students gain a stronger understanding of the assignment. With these rubrics students will be also be able to competently discuss projects instead of just making the dreaded comments, "This is good" and "This is bad."

Put simply, Rubrics help students to become more responsible for their own education. By understanding the teacher's expectations, students will feel more at ease allowing them to rise to higher standards. They will feel a sense of empowerment in their education and pride in their work.

How Do Rubrics Make Teachers' Lives Easier?

"You grade too hard. This isn't fair!" These are words most teachers dread to hear. If you are a typical teacher, you have had nightmares of standing in front of the room, trying to teach, while students, in a display of anarchy, threw things at your head. Perhaps you'd awaken, sweating, remembering it was only a dream, only to look at the projects you would be returning the next day and realizing just how not well some of those students did. Maybe you'd then get up and look the projects over again to make sure you graded them "fairly." This, unfortunately, is a common scenario for teachers. There is, however, a solution. By implementing the use of rubrics in your classroom, you may be able to alleviate some of that typical teacher stress.

In many ways, rubrics make teachers' lives easier. First and most importantly, rubrics take the mystery out of evaluation and expectations. No longer do teachers have to worry about being "misunderstood" on assignments. With rubrics, each task is thoroughly spelled out. Gone are the days of the common complaint, "You didn't tell us we needed to do that." All right, maybe those days are not gone, but now with a grin teachers can just point to the section of the rubric that explains that task fully. This helps to put responsibility back into students' hands, which is where we want it to be.

Rubrics also help shorten grading time. By looking at only specific items of any given project, grading can be cut almost in half. You can feel more comfortable putting that red pen away and focus your attention to the dimensions outlined on the rubric. Once teachers get the hang of rubric grading, they will wonder how they graded before. The grading process becomes less hazy, and more "fair".

Behavioral rubrics that explain classroom etiquette and expectations can also aid teachers in avoiding embarrassing or volatile situations. By helping to create a safe classroom that includes clear boundaries and expectations, rubrics take some the difficulty out of classroom management. No matter what we say in the teacher's lounge or at home to our spouses or pets, we know that most kids are good kids. They just need to feel safe to show it. Rubrics, when used correctly, can help to accomplish that type of classroom setting.

Finally, rubrics help to make communication with parents less stressful. While prior to rubrics, parents would have to rely on their children to understand assignments, now parents can walk through different expectations with their own children at home. This helps to reduce the miscommunication that can occur between parent and teacher, and give more time for teachers to do what they are meant to do: teach.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to look at projects, papers, or performances and know where to begin with grading them. Instead of hyperventilating into a paper bag or curling up in the fetal position under your desk, consider a well-written rubric. It will give you specific characteristics to focus on, thereby assuaging some of your stress.

How Rubrics Can Change the Way You Teach

Teaching is full of distractions and tasks that have little to do learning. After attendance, announcements, rallies, assemblies, fire drills, evacuation drills, state mandated testing, district mandated testing, and school mandated testing it is a wonder that any actual education goes on at all. Time is a precious commodity. So precious, in fact, that we often bicker about the difference of mere minutes. Anything, then, that will help us to streamline our teaching and make the grading process a little bit easier is a welcome addition. That is why the implementation of rubrics is a crucial step in changing the way we teach.

Rubrics not only help to clarify expectations for students, they also add a great depth and variety to teaching itself. One way this occurs is through the use of student-generated rubrics. By having students work together to create a rubric for a given task, they develop not only a deeper understanding of expectations but also a buy-in to the assignment. Another peer-to-peer activity involving rubrics is the Peer Evaluation Rubric. These types of rubrics help students to learn the importance of tact and diplomacy and give them a stronger handle of what is being asked of them personally. As we all know, sometimes the best way to learn something is to teach it, and Peer Evaluation Rubrics give students a chance to do just that.

In both of these activities, the teacher steps away from the podium, away from being the center of attention, and enters the role of facilitator. The students then become empowered and tend to reach deeper levels within their educational process.

Rubrics also help you clarify expectations for yourself. The actual creation of the rubric forces teachers to sit down and think through all of the learning goals and objectives for the assignment being assessed. Knowing what you want students to learn before you even start the process, helps to focus teaching and guide instruction. You may even choose to use the rubric as a lesson plan within itself, or you may choose to break down each section of a rubric to teach students separately. Every activity can then center on what is most important for students to learn.

Rubrics lend themselves to more collaboration among teachers. Teaching, historically, has been a solitary profession. While there may have been a bit of collegial bantering in the teacher's lounge, teachers themselves tended to be autonomous. Not many people knew what goes on when that door was shut. Rubrics help to change that. Grade level and content area teams can use rubrics to come to a common form of evaluation for all students. According to the cliché, "two heads are better than one." In education, it is easy to forget that. The best teaching and the best learning comes from participation from a multitude of sources. This will truly help teachers to create the strongest learning community for their students.

The possibilities of rubric use within a classroom are endless. These excellent tools will help not only the way you grade, but also the way you teach.

What are the Advantages of Using Rubrics?

Sometimes the task of adding new material into our already inundated curriculum seems like a daunting one. With so many responsibilities falling onto teachers' shoulders, it seems that any added job will serve as a pesky straw sitting on our already breaking backs. Every now and then, however, an educational practice comes along that is just too good to ignore. One such tool is the educational rubric. Put simply, because of the numerous advantages rubrics offer, they are a vital component in today's classrooms.

One of the main advantages of using rubrics is the clarity that rubrics create for each assignment. By using a rubric, the teacher is able to specifically outline exactly what is expected for each aspect of a project. As long as the students follow the rubric, they will not be confused as to what is expected of them. This will alleviate stress for both the students and the teacher. This deeper understanding of expectations also can lead to higher quality student work.

Another wonderful advantage of using rubrics is the depletion of grading time that they provide. While disciplines like High School English may have more grading than some, all disciplines and grade levels share in the pain of correcting papers. Part of this misery stems from the fact that we want to be fair. Rubrics help to focus the teacher's attention to the specific aspect being covered by the rubric, which in turn helps teachers to cut grading time sometimes in half.

While the pluses of rubric use to students and teachers may seem obvious, some of the additional subtle perks to using these evaluation tools can be even more advantageous. One such benefit comes within parent/teacher communication. A well-written rubric allows not only the students to see just how they are being evaluated, but the rubric also lets parents in on the mystery that is their students' grades. In the short term this helps to cut down on parental phone calls about Little Susie not understanding the instructions of a project. In the long-term this helps to add to the credibility of the standards and rigor of your classroom or course.

Finally, rubrics aid in fostering communication among faculty members in a school. By using rubrics for grade level and curriculum wide assessments, schools can open up lines of communication that may have been previously closed. This can lead to more meaningful discussions not only on the specifics of what is being taught in a particular area, but also how the curriculum is being taught. The teachers, then, can have more of a say in what is being evaluated in their classes, as well as what they actually teach. These types of philosophical discussions among teachers are exciting and stimulating, and help to relight passions in this often strenuous profession.

Obviously, the benefits of using rubrics as evaluation tools are numerous. Whether they are used by individuals or entire schools, rubrics serve a whole host of outstanding purposes for every classroom setting.

How to Use Rubrics with Elementary Students

Rubrics are wonderful assessment and learning tools. In elementary classrooms, rubrics can be used in every subject and for almost any activity-from Math to Physical Education to Art. To aid in the implementation of rubrics in your classroom, remember some of these helpful pointers:

Use Clear, Creative Visuals. These visual representations of levels should be of items or activities students understand and enjoy. They may be sports related. For example a rubric using baseball symbols can show a Strikeout, Hit, and Homerun. They may be food related-a rubric using ice cream sundae symbols can start with a single-scoop and end with a banana split with the works. You can also choose different levels of the same theme such as tent, house, and skyscraper. With each grade level you can become a little more sophisticated in your symbol choice. Have fun with this-maybe students are at the bus stop, getting on the bus, moving to the back of the bus, or perhaps they missed the bus entirely.

Create two-rubrics for each assessment: One Self-Evaluation Rubric and One Teacher Evaluation Rubric. The template for the rubric is essentially the same. The Teacher Evaluation Rubric focuses on the actual work and uses third person descriptions such as, "The sentences all have…, the picture has.., the project is…" This rubric should then include a section for teacher feedback. The Self-Evaluation Rubric should contain the same sections of evaluation but start with personal pronouns: "My sentences all have…, my picture has…, my project is…" These personal pronouns will help students to gain a deeper understanding of their own work.

Rubrics are not only for Academic subjects. Part of elementary education is helping to form social bonds and understanding with and among students. Use rubrics to help with these tasks. Create a rubric for sharing. Have the students evaluate themselves weekly on how well they shared toys, tools, and time with their peers. Create a rubric for participation. Have students evaluate their own participation in activities throughout the year and keep them in a binder for each student. At the end of the year, have the students go through and track their own growth. Teach them the importance of self-evaluation at a young age, to help them with self-actualization later on.

Introduce the Rubric while introducing the subject. Rubrics are meant to be a learning tool. The information on them is important for the learning process. Take students through each part of the rubric before they begin the project. This will help students to gain a deeper understanding of what is expected of them as well as empower them to reach for higher standards in their work.

By being creative with your rubric use, you can create a classroom that is based on understanding and learning, full of excited and dedicated students who are prepared to accomplish anything you give to them. They will gain the skills necessary to help them become the type of students you dream they can be.

How to Use Rubrics with Middle School Students

As Middle School teachers, our educational tasks are vital. Not only are we to teach our beloved subject matter to our students, we are also preparing our students for the often terrifying world of high school. Rubrics used at this grade level, then, should echo this transitional phase.

Create rubrics that foster student responsibility. Students in middle school are starting to spread their wings. They are testing the waters of adulthood, without actually jumping in for a swim. The girls try eye-rolling and sighing to show disapproval. The boys are caught between trying to act cool, while still teasing friends with prepubescent joking. Try to help students ease this transition with rubrics that center on student-responsibility in your class. Perhaps the rubrics will be on something as small as keeping an assignment journal neat and updated. Perhaps they will take the next step with keeping an organized notebook throughout the semester. Regardless, help students to gain the skills necessary to become successful further on in their education.

Form presentation rubrics that help students with public speaking. As we all know, most people would choose utter physical pain over public speaking. Our students are no exception. Start to alleviate this fear with small projects in your classroom. Create rubrics that outline basic public speaking skills that are especially necessary in your field. Speech topics could include real-world applications of your subject matter with rubrics looking at content as well as presentation skills.

Let students join in with rubric creation. At every level, students who feel as though they have a say in what they are learning, will tend to be more invested in the process. Help to create this in your classroom by allowing students to work together to create rubrics for culminating projects. Using rubrics of their own invention will help students to gain a greater understanding of what is expected of them. With these rubrics, there will be no excuses about students not understanding the assignment.

Introduce rubrics that focus on writing in your subject matter. With the onset of computers and the decline of reading, writing is a critical skill that many students today are lacking. That is why writing across the curriculum is such an important aspect in education. Don't let the fact that you are not a writing teacher stop you from helping students learn and practice this crucial skill. Use a specific point-by-point rubric for writing in your subject area to help you to introduce this writing into your classroom. These rubrics will aid in the evaluation process and will help end any fears the teacher has of not understanding the teaching of writing.

There are infinite uses for rubrics within the middle school classroom. Since the advantages of rubric use include greater student understanding, higher level student work, and reduction in miscommunication and grading, it is incumbent upon us as teachers to find creative uses for these powerful educational tools. Be creative with your rubric use and watch the learning in your classroom grow.

How to Use Rubrics with High School Students

On the surface it seems as though the high school curriculum is too diverse for the use of rubrics. How could, after all, something that is helpful in English class be just as useful in Theater or Physical Education or Social Studies? The possibility seems illogical, but the flexibility and nature of rubrics help to make that impossibility a reality. Try using rubrics for many of your activities and watch your students gain a deeper understanding of your subject.

Create internet based research rubrics. High school students today are more technically savvy than teens of the past. Teenagers now can hold a complete conversation with you while text messaging their friends and listening to their I Pods. In a positive sense, their use of the internet has allowed students to gain a little knowledge about a lot of topics. This, however, often lulls them into believing that everything they read online is true. Unfortunately, much of the information gained on the internet is from less than credible sources. Create evaluation rubrics for web-based sources to help students understand how to find useful information online that can be trusted. This type of rubric can be used in almost every high school classroom, and can be tailored for each particular subject matter.

Have students join in rubric creation. As many of us have come to learn the hard way, students are more apt to learn different material when they have buy-in into the process. It just makes sense. Students will have a meaningful experience with material if they have a hand in creating the guidelines for evaluation. This does not mean that the class is left to total anarchy. The teacher serves as the facilitator in the process, and can guide students to include the most important aspects to be included on the rubric.

Create task-oriented group rubrics. Group-work can be a powerful learning tool, but without proper guidance can instead turn into student gossip and free time. Putting rubrics together that outline specific responsibilities for each member of a group will help to keep students on task and focused. Have one student act as a facilitator, one a scribe, one a reporter, and one a timekeeper. Giving each group member a specific responsibility will help to keep all students involved in the learning process.

Give a choice in assignments. When creating learning goals, think about a variety of ways students may show those goals. Form rubrics that give students a choice in how to show what they learned in the unit. Perhaps have them make a film about global warming they can then upload on YouTube. Help them to create a website on the 2008 Election and Candidates and link it to your high school website. Let them perform for the class a scene of their creation about the importance of the Pythagorean Theorem.

By tailoring rubric creation to our students and their lives, we will be able to help them reach higher levels of learning, and produce better work than ever before.

5 Tips for Making a Great Rubric

Rubric creating can be tricky. As many of us learn, if we are not careful we may create rubrics that do not focus on the aspects we meant them to. Many times I have created what I thought to be a masterful rubric, only to find that I missed the main aspect that I wanted to grade for. I'd tell the students their presentations would have to be at least two minutes, and then never include time on the rubric. I'd tell them memorization counted with their poem recitation, and then forget to write it on the rubric. The following tips should help you to create rubrics that will make both your life and your students lives less stressful:

1. Know what your expected learning outcomes are before creating the rubric. It sounds basic, but it is important to know what you want students to learn from the project before you start writing your rubric. Use student examples from previous years to help you to be certain that you have included all of the outcomes that you expect from your students' work.

2. Decide on either a Holistic Rubric or an Analytical Rubric. Holistic rubrics are wonderful for projects that you are evaluating as a complete entity. These types of rubrics are often used in performance and creative projects. Alternatively, Analytical Rubrics evaluate each section of a project individually. In elementary writing rubrics, for example, the dimensions of the rubric may include Neatness, Spelling, Voice, Punctuation, and Details. The type of rubric will guide how students will view the project so choose carefully!

3. Choose your dimensions and gradation levels. Which specific tasks do you want to focus on? You don't want to overwhelm your students, so give them only four or five dimensions to concentrate on. When deciding on gradations are you a traditionalist who is satisfied with Advanced, Proficient, Partially-Proficient, and Unsatisfactory? Or are you more of a rebel who evaluates by the more creative: On the Boat, On the Gangplank, Walking up to the Gangplank, Missed the Boat, and Can't Even Find the Ocean? Perhaps you don't even go for words and would rather use symbols. Why not try something funky like Butterfly, Pupa, Larva, Egg-even high school students enjoy a change, and the images can be fun.

4. Write in student-friendly language. Ultimately, the rubric is to be used by your students, so the language has to be understood by them. Just because you love the word "tagmemics", and may use it in your everyday speech, does not mean that it belongs in the grammar section of your rubric. Rubric language is meant to be non-threatening. For self-evaluation rubrics, try starting out with personal pronouns like my and mine to help students truly delve into their work.

5. Test the Rubric Out. Finally, before using the rubric on the entire class try it out on a student sample or two. The test run should help to iron out any wrinkles you may find. You could also test it on one of your students. See if she understands what is being asked of her. This should help you to finalize your rubric and get it ready for its debut!

5 Ways to Use Rubrics in Your Classroom

As we gain more understanding of rubrics, we come to discover many wonderful uses for them. If you are tired of the typical applications for your rubrics, try one of the following:

1. Shipshape Space Rubric: How many times have students left our rooms not in the state that they found them in-leaving cute little pictures on the desks and gifts left all over the floor? Using a cleaning rubric is a fun way to teach students to be responsible for their surroundings. Include topics like "designer desk" or "fresh floor" on the rubric. Help students to understand that keeping the room clean is not punitive. Teach them that it is a responsibility.

2. Present a Poem Rubric: Public speaking is an important aspect in any student's education. As a dual memorization and presentation skill assignment, this rubric will help students to gain confidence in their public speaking abilities by presenting a poem to the class. This assignment can be stretched over a semester. Choose one day a week where one or two students present a poem to start the day.

3. Choice Your Own Project Rubric: Since choice is often a powerful motivation for students, why not give students a choice when a learning objective lends itself to many evaluative ends? Create a rubric of creative choices for final unit projects. Some examples are a music CD and jacket with songs and symbols that relate thematically with the topic, a board game with spaces and pieces that hit the major points of the topic, and an illustrated comic book explaining themes or specifics of a topic. Students have more buy-in with the choice, and will have fun with the different activities.

4. Peer Evaluation Rubric: Help students to truly understand the grading process by using a student-friendly rubric to evaluate a peer or peers' work. As each student identifies sections in her classmate's paper or project she will then gain a deeper understanding of her own product. Be sure with any peer evaluation task to discuss the importance of tact and accuracy. Help students to understand that saying something is "good" without giving any specifics is often just as detrimental as saying something is "bad". Set up peer guidelines and appropriate terminology for use with the peer evaluation process.

5. Personal Evaluation Rubric: Finally, one of our major tasks as educators is to create self-awareness within our students. Show that you trust your students' voices by having part of their final grade to be their own personal evaluations. Create a rubric that helps students to deeply reflect on their behavior or work. Remind them the importance of honesty and accuracy. Be sure to cover each important topic of the project on the rubric using personal pronouns such as "I" and "my" in the descriptions.

These creative uses for rubrics will help to form true growth of learning in your classroom, as well as help students to fully understand what is expected of them. Do not be afraid to use creativity in your own rubric designs. The more specific you are with your expectations, the more students will feel comfortable enough to learn.

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