Designing Rubrics: How To Get Students Involved in The Process

by | Dec 21, 2016

The most powerful thing to impact learning is students reporting their own results. That means moving assessment into the hands of the students. Here we are going to focus on teaching students to pull criteria from a project or assignment and get them designing rubrics for their own evaluations. In other words, we’ll guide you on how to teach students to build rubrics to assess and report on their own work.

What we want to do is present the process of designing rubrics through the lens of students taking ownership of their learning, and teachers being facilitators. So we’re talking about designing rubrics as formative assessment—and not only formative, but driven by the students themselves (astute readers will also find the great Stephen Covey in this article.)

Formative assessment is exponentially more useful to students. Teachers use it to give honest, accurate, and timely feedback. Rubrics are useful tools to do just that.

There are tons of tutorials and opinions about writing great rubrics. The most useful advice we can give regarding designing great formative assessment tools is to start with the end in mind—specifically, how the students will see and use your rubric feedback.

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Step 1: Give the Students a Sense of Proactivity

Have them design the rubric. When they feel in control they will accomplish more. This is not to say that you are giving up control, since you are still guiding them. Teach them to visualize desirable observable behaviours in other groups working toward the same goal. Allow them to see their project from the outside looking in.

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This may seem time consuming at first, but the benefits of great self-assessment are exponential in the long run. The words that you might use to describe a particular skill might not mean the same to your student. So allow them creativity; students might use pictures instead of words for descriptors.

Step 2: Begin With the End in Mind

Teach them to begin with the end in mind and allow them the capacity to dream big. Let their imaginations soar as they visualize what an awesome project outcome will look like. Of course, you’ll have your own expectations, and don’t give those up.

Use pointed questions to really draw out their own ideas. Really assess in your mind the purpose of the rubric:

  • To save you time?
  • To guide the students?
  • Does it do these things effectively?

Step 3: Assemble Skills by Priority and Decide Which Ones Need to Be Mastered

Each rubric for a given project needs to be a jumping-off point for the next assessment. Scaffold all checkpoints of the project so that they can clearly see a linear progression. There will be non-linear paths to the same outcome, but let them get there themselves. In other words, rubrics will be used at each stage of the evaluation process, so be prepared with lots of them along the way. Don’t be put off—remember that your students will be designing them (with your guidance.)

By putting rubric development in the hands of your students, you can easily accomplish a win/win situation. Remember that the rubric is designed to “get them there,” not punish them for a less than optimal outcome. You can win as a teacher because you have taken much of the burden of rubric creation off your shoulders and put it where it matters—into student formative self-assessment.

They will expect it of themselves, and they will learn valuable self-assessment techniques as grown ups. Rubrics will become internal as they go through the process of composing them. you will have taught them to teach themselves.

Collaboration is Key

Have them discuss the outcome of designing rubrics with each other. As the teacher you’ll redirect and refocus them. You can share the rubrics that your students create and collaborate with colleagues for even further evaluation, and to hone your own professional development.

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Take time to calibrate your rubrics. Once you get a sense of how your rubric worked or did not, go back and examine the process. In the end, remember that rubrics should be organic and must be evaluated and tweaked for consistency, accuracy, and efficiency.

If students consistently do not fulfill a rubric, this will tell you that you’ll need to change something—either the learning process or the way they are evaluated.

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To Sum Up

  • Tell the students they will be designing rubrics for themselves
  • Imagine the best outcome of the assignment and build backward from there
  • Prioritize which skills to test and when
  • Do not grade the rubrics
  • Discuss the rubric outcome with the students for better understanding
  • Evaluate and tweak the rubric for use in the future

Here’s a beautiful template that you can use to design your rubrics.

As a teacher of the 21st century, much of your job will be seeing how your students use information, rather than you dispensing information. Information, facts, and other basic building blocks are out there already. Your skills will be determined by how you can access that information and get it into the hands of your students, and then how you can lead them to use that information to solve real problems, create life enhancing solutions, or beautifying their surroundings. Formative self-assessment, in the form of rubrics (verbal, graphic, or multimedia) will serve as an awesome tool to get them there.


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