How to Write Great Rubrics & Why You’ll Love Them!

Let’s start with the $6-million-dollar question: with so many other teaching tasks calling for your attention, why take the time to write a great rubric? (Because, while anyone can dash off a mediocre, not-very-useful rubric, it does take time to write a good one.)

Here’s why. A well-constructed rubric is a powerful communication tool that will result in a clear, measurable preparation process for students and a time efficient, consistent grading process for you. That means less time grading, fewer questions or complaints, and improved student performance in meeting your assignment standards and learning objectives.

What’s not to love?!

Canvas’s rubric tool makes using rubrics simple, easy and (dare I say it?) fun. There are three parts to the Canvas rubric grid:

  1. Criteria: These are the big-picture categories for grading. In a Discussion, for example, your criteria might be “Initial Post” and “Replies to Classmates.”
  2. Ratings: These are the explicit descriptions of the levels of performance that might be achieved within the specific criteria category.
  3. Points: This is your rating scale.

Criteria are best determined by considering which learning outcomes are being assessed. What, exactly, do you want to grade for this assignment? Use these guiding questions to help identify your criteria:

  • What skills will students need to have or develop to successfully complete the assignment?
  • What, exactly, is the assigned task?
  • What are the component parts of the assignment?

Ratings, or descriptors, detail the measurable evidence that the student has achieved your criteria—or not. “Knowing” and “understanding” aren’t easily measured. Instead, describe the evidence students can provide that shows they’ve accomplished what you’d hoped they would. Think of this as the feedback portion of your rubric. What are the highest expectations you have for student performance on this assignment? What is the worst execution of this assignment you can imagine?

Points are pretty self-explanatory. It’s a good idea to weight criteria appropriately. For example, is “few grammatical/spelling errors” really worth the same as “clarity and originality of thought”? Points should reflect the effort being asked of the student.

3 Tips for Effective Rubrics

  • Choose between three to seven criteria.
  • As much as possible, omit negative wording. Be encouraging; indicate what you’re seeking rather than what you don’t want.
  • Use clear and specific language. Words like some, several, perfect, and boring are all subjective evaluations.

Examples

Here are a few example rubrics from several institutions. Some are better than others, but you’ll get a sense of the structure, variety and languaging.

Rubrics are an assessment tool, a means to improve learning and a communication tool all wrapped up in one neat little package. When done well, they can be an asset to both you and your students!

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Having been a "Canvas Ninja" at Santa Rosa Junior College since mid-2015, Helen enjoys showing instructors how to apply best pedagogical practices in Canvas to create dynamic courses that keep their students engaged.

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