Thursday, December 30, 2010

To Rube or Not to Rube; That is the Thirsty!

As I prepare for the spring semester, I find myself weighing the costs and benefits of using rubrics. I know they are the big buzz among education folks, but my previous attempts to use them fell flat. My students are so literal that if something wasn't specifically covered on the rubric, they would argue that I couldn't consider it when grading. I'm not sure if rubrics do more harm or good.

What do you think? Do you use (and like using) rubrics? Why? Why not? What are the keys to developing good rubrics that don't hem you in?


  1. I love rubrics. I let them know what the grading rubric is when I first hand out the assignment, and I hand out another copy during the exam, so they can check their work against it. Use the word "guidelines" and vague enough terminology that everything will be covered.

  2. I am a huge fan of using rubrics because they mitigate grade grubbing. The key is that you have to be specific enough that the students have clear guidelines, yet you have to leave a bit of vagueness to give yourself some wiggle room.

  3. I used to oppose them but have found them useful. Since my main gig not only mandates their use but dictates exactly which rubric to use, I don't have a fucking choice in the matter anyway.

    Rubrics are especially useful if you are a "softy." They help you set clear standards and stick to them. Break up a research paper assignment into 3-5 parts. Grading takes slightly longer, but you can consciously _see_ how the grade you "felt" becomes a transparent evaluation.

    Sometimes they are frustrating, locking you into a grade you don't want to give. But that is rare, at least in my humanities field. There is still enough "bend" to be just.

  4. I use them and I like them.

    There are two kinds of rubrics: Top down and bottom up. Which do you use?

    A top down rubric sort of assumes a "prefect" solution and docks points for missing stuff. A bottom up rubric assumes no solution is given and awards points for certain benchmarks. Technically there is a hybrid of the two, as well.

    A bottom up rubric is easier to float past the students since you are looking for specific things to award points for. It's a positive conversations when they complain. "Well, Johnny, you earned n points for knowing that and m points for knowing that. The other points were for knowing this and this." If "this and this" aren't there, it is understood that they can't get the points. For the most part any other stuff has no effect on their grade unless it's really, really bad (1+1=7 in every arithmetic system) or really, really good (think a brilliant observation very few students will ever be able to see).

    With a top down rubric you must consistently change the rubric as you find unimaginable horrors the students have submitted. I always feel like I'm cheating when I modify a rubric mid-marking. The conversation with a student also feels more negative. "Well, Johnny, you missed n points for not including this thing and m points for not including this thing." Students really don't take critism well at all. If there is something that they included that is "correct" they seem to think that they should get points for it.

    I also don't publicly broadcast my rubrics ever. That might help you, too. The reason I don't broadcast the rubric is that the "good" students already know what their answers were missing (they knew the minute they got back to their dorms). The argumentative students are the only ones who really look at the rubric and they only do that so that they can find a way to scam more points.

    The students who truly feel their grade doesn't reflect their knowledge will come talk to me. They will usually bring their paper and ask what they needed for the problem. We go over the solution (no discussion of grades at all) and they are almost always see that the grade was very generous. Only 1 or 2 percent of these students will argue. With those students I can usually find some issue in the problem and say, "Oh, I missed that. You score should have been a 4 not a 5." Then they leave thanking their lucky stars I let them keep the point.

  5. I love them. AdjunctSlave basically wrote the post I was going to write -- I agree with him/her completely.

    Some suggestions for wording:

    "Meets assignment guidelines"
    "Meets objectives"
    "Shows evidence of....."
    "Is well edited" or "Overall, well edited with a few minor typos" or "Typos interfere with clarity of message"
    "Follows format guidelines"
    "Uses outside sources"
    "Citations are correct" or "Citations are generally correct with just one or two minor errors"

    I usually include both:
    "Meets word count"
    "Provides detailed answers to questions"

  6. I definitely use rubrics and love them. I find generally that the students end up with lower grades than I might give, even though I'm a toughy, because you are holding them concretely responsible for crap like spelling and following instructions.

  7. I use rubrics to tell the students the issues I have detected and how intensely serious they are: e.g. "Spelling" 0 (abysmal) to 10 (supernatural).
    I do not assign the grade for the assignment by adding the points on each section. I give a letter grade based in balanced holistic performance. So, pretty much, whatever I want.

  8. I use rubrics in my composition classes, and I'm pretty pleased with the results so far. Categories are "Exceptional" (A/A-) "Successful" (B+/B) "Good" (B-/C+/C) "Developing" (C-/D+) and "Beginning" (D and below), with slots for things like "Thesis Development" "Organization" "Support" etc. The grade sheet (combined with comments in the margins) shows students where they are successful, and where they'll need revision/help. Using it has cut down on the number of complaints about grades. It also has an impact on their grades--the more they pay attention to the rubric, the better their grades get. It's kind of nice that by the end of the semester, I'm actually getting readable work that makes sense the first time through.

  9. You were fun to read x / 10

    You made a good argument x / 10

    Your argument was correct x / 10

    Whelp, got MY rubric done.

  10. Based upon your post, it sounds like your rubric might be too specific. Unlike the Syllabus debate, I'm a minimalist when it comes to rubrics. I like them because they keep you focused and help with the softie factor. But, I leave myself as much wiggle room as poosible.

    A written assignment might be broken down into 4 or 5 sections such as Grammar and Spelling, Format, Content, Analysis and Opinion. I then assign points/%. If I assign 10% to a section, then it' s just a range of 0-10 pts. Some rubrics specify a certain level of points in the range but I stay away from that to give myself plenty of wiggle room.

    I can then comment why I gave a certain number of points.

    When you find the balance between subjective and objective, it actually makes grading easier and faster. You also have to find the balance between sections so that a truly awful submission can still get an" "F" even if there's nothing misspelled and they followed all the "rules!"

    Don't trash your rubric yet; tinker..

  11. P.S. I vote you give the rubric ahead of time...then they can't whine "but I didn't know what you wanted..."

  12. Seems I'm already in the minority here, but here we go anyways. I used to do rubrics. No more. The furthest I'm going this spring is to write bullet points of what I expect to see and do a sheet with, "This is what an A paper looks like. This is what a B paper looks like," and etc.

    Thing is, and I know most of you can sympathize, my students are grade-grubbers. Let's say I give 18 of 25 points to someone for, oh, I don't know, a strong thesis paragraph. Then I get that kid in my office demanding to know why it's 18 and not 21, or 20, or 19, or 18.5 points. I'm not exaggerating. So not only do I have to spend all of that time deciding how many points to assign to each section, but I have to spend twice that defending my exact choices. It seems to be far easier for me to say, "This is what I expect to see in a B paper, as I described in the syllabus. Therefore, you get a B. End of story."

    We'll see how it works out - maybe by the beginning of June I'll be back here wondering how I could have possibly been so stupid.

  13. I guess I'll have to be a contrary voice! :)

    Initially, I was true believer of the mathematical purity of the rubric (as conveyed to me by my edu-school profs).

    Then, early in my career while I teaching high school, I had parents wanting to know why Snowflake Jr.'s B exam average didn't translate to a B final grade. No amount of explanations that exams were only worth 50% of the final grade (the other 50% being projects, homework and participation). On the other half of assessments SJ only earned 60%.

    (80+60)/2 = 70.

    Nope, couldn't convince them.

    Fast forward to just a few months ago ... here on this forum! I had a college student complain that I would not accept his paper (as it did not answer the core question assigned) but because my rubric had >50% as the lowest level of earnable points, I HAD (!) to give him at least a 50.

    I was rather surprised that a fair number of CMers agreed.

    So, after that, I actually did go back and ADD a ZERO CREDIT column for utterly fucking failing to meet the standard.

    Then, in my first term as a graduate instructor, I discovered that I was the most hardest instructor my students have ever had. Adhering to the university-wide rubric, I did not grade every submission as "Exceeds Standards" but "Meets Standards" -- because, well, they DID!

    Woops! Turns out that on a four points possible for each of four items rubric, three points for "meets standards" only translates to 75%.

    Then I needed to explain to the gradflakes WHAT depth and critical thinking is because they had "never been told" their straight transcriptions of textbook materials have lacked it before.

    Sorry, still waiting for the magic weatherproof rubric.

  14. Like most others here, I love me a rock solid rubric, and any type of assignment that requires analysis and writing, or any paper is graded according to one. I actually spell out the requirements of the assignment/paper with the rubric attached and that has saved me mountains of bullshit over the last few years.

    The students are powerless against my mighty rubric...and any dispute is quickly crushed when I ask why, oh why, does the appellant's paper deserve something higher when a higher grade clearly has properties X, Y, and Z and the student only managed to eke out X.

    I'm a little troubled by what Aware and Scared describes, but i'll continue to takes me chances.

  15. Like Tim, I have always had at least 1 student per class demanding (usually loudly, often whipping a class into a frenzy for) more points from each section of a rubric. My opinion: Rubrics are not snowflake-proof.

    I have even tried a binary type of rubric, where a student earned a point if they did something correctly. The screaming usually revolved around the idea that they should get one-half a point for sorta-kinda doing what was asked.

    Rubrics make grading a lot easier though. The whines seem to be ever-present in any case.

  16. Thanks for the comments! I really appreciate it. My experience using rubrics in the past was quite different from what some of you described. For me rubrics resulted in higher, not lower, grades than I thought students should have gotten. That's part of what I didn't like about them. I am better able to read a paper and decide that it's worth 76 points than I am allocating points on the point. But I definitely need to improve on communicating my expectations on assignments.

    I've got some time to decide on the rubrics, though. Early assignments are all objective -- no papers until later in the semester this time :)


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