Teaching Tips: How to Make Clear and Fair Rubrics Part I

This is the third post in my “Teaching Tips” series and, as promised in the last post, I’m going to discuss rubrics. This is a two-parter, because this post was waaaaaay too long when I tried to do it in one, and The Ranger already mentioned that I was getting a tad verbose in my posts. Me verbose? Never. 😉

Part I discusses the importance and usefulness of rubrics. Part II (next week) will discuss the nitty gritty of creating rubrics.

Clear and fair rubrics for assignments are particularly important for the humanities and social science fields, and they’re also pertinent for those teachers who require any sort of paper or project. Here are some reasons why rubrics are so important.

Prickly Purple
Creating rubrics can feel like a prickly task sometimes, but they’re necessary and useful tools. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

1.  They help you (the instructor) to lay out the nuts and bolts of assignments. Creating assignments is difficult. It will get overwhelming if you try to create something all at once. Developing a rubric helps you to identify the specific elements that you want your students to learn, which, in turn, aids you in creating the assignment. Click here to read about how to make major assignments: “Teaching Tips: Secrets to Making the Major Assignments.”

2.  They help to ensure that you are creating assignments that meet the expectations of your department and school. Remember to use your department’s and school’s learning objectives to see what you need to be teaching students and including in your assignments.

3.  They give students clear goals to work toward. The rubric literally gives them a checklist of what to look for, and you know how much I value lists. #listlife

4.  They keep you (the instructor) fair. The teacher who taught my “instructor training” course said the “fair” part, and I’ve always liked that thought. There are times when you’re going to be cranky while grading. It’s life and you’re human. When you have a clear rubric, then you have set guidelines that will keep your grading in check and that will keep your grading focused on the rubric and less on your mood. There’s no way to completely make grading objective (unless you’re doing multiple choice, and even that’s debatable), but a clear rubric will help.

Wildflower Crown
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

5.  They can be effective tools of communication when there are questions or miscommunications elsewhere. Students have a right to ask about their grades and to ask for explanations, and this is nothing to be scared about as an instructor. In fact, this is a good thing, because students asking questions helps them to understand the “why” of something, and when they understand that, then they’re often more willing to learn. The rubric provides you a touchstone to return to when answering students’ questions and concerns about their assignments.

6.  They protect both you and the student. When there is a debate between you and a student (and sometimes these can get heated), the rubric functions as a black and white document to which you can turn. This document protects the student, because if he did meet the requirement in question, then he has a solid foundation behind his objection. If the student’s objection isn’t really supported by the rubric, then the instructor has a solid foundation to keep the grade the same.

7.  They can help speed up grading. Grading quickly is a perpetual problem for teachers. If you’re not careful, grading will consume a ridiculous amount of your life. Rubrics can help with this. Someday, I’ll make a post on how to grade quickly and efficiently, because I need to brush up on that skill myself.

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