Advice for Using Rubrics

Focus on 3-5 of the most important criteria for the assignment. Think about the most important learning/critical thinking outcomes for the assignment. Research shows that students become overwhelmed if you focus on more than three or four significant aspects of their writing in your response, even if you are using a rubric. Combine related traits if the rubric becomes unwieldy. 

Match the rubric to the scope of the assignment. For example, a rubric for an in-class thirty-minute writing assignment should be different than a rubric for an essay written and revised over several weeks. The greater the variety of possible responses to the writing prompt, the more broad and flexible the rubric should be. 

Match the type of rubric to the purpose of the assignment. Holistic rubrics work best with more open-ended assignments, where you are not measuring a specific, discrete set of writing and thinking abilities. Analytic rubrics work best when you have 3-5 discrete abilities you are evaluating. 

Include examples and models to explain each domain to students. Define abstract terms like “limited” and “adequate” or modes of thinking like “evaluate” or “synthesize.” 

Emphasize the most important domain of the rubric first. For example, if your primary goal in an essay assignment is to measure critical thinking, don’t list grammar as the first criterion. 

Remember that no rubric can capture every aspect of writing. For more extensive assignments, it may be helpful to leave some space on the rubric for comments. 

If you notice patterns in terms of specific traits of the rubric students are struggling with, discuss these with the class as a whole. Use rubrics to improve teaching through a greater focus on scaffolding writing and thinking skills that students are struggling with.  

Use the rubric throughout the writing process. Give students the rubric with the assignment prompt, and consider using the rubric to have students give each other feedback in a peer response workshop. 

Match the rubric traits with course outcomes/learning goals. Use the rubric as a tool to emphasize the goals of the course and your discipline. 

Consider using rubrics in group norming and scoring sessions. Rubrics are excellent tools for group scoring, which can lead to more consistency across courses and increased discussion of writing expectations and issues within a group.