Sometimes to just give a description of a task or project to students is not enough. It sometimes fails to inform students how to produce a product that we as teachers will credit as successfully meeting the task’s requirements or our expectations. But we cannot leave the blame entirely at our students’ feet. Often the route you wish your students to take in completing a successful project or task can be unclear and challenging for them to navigate and they need more guidance. They need some type of success criteria or to be given a picture of what success looks like. So how do we communicate success criteria with students?
One means of sharing a success criterion is through a rubric. Rubrics can be used to clearly communicate the features expected from student work to receive each of the levels/scores on some type of scale. A rubric details what is important, defines how the students’ work will meet a set standard, and allows students and teachers to differentiate between different levels of performance e.g. satisfactory and excellent or beginner, getting there, doing well, or flying it.
When used correctly, rubrics can aid learning as well as promoting evaluation and self-direction. Rubrics provide transparency for the student which in turn makes them more accountable and responsible for their work. Judgments made on the quality of their work are upfront and based on a tangible scale that is written for the student to understand and consider. Like portfolios, exhibitions, and other original approaches to assessment, rubrics blur the division between instruction and assessment. If introducing students to using rubrics for the first time try the following;
- Divide students into small groups
- Give each group a rubric and some exemplary pieces of work of varying quality
- Students discuss where each piece of work fits in with the rubric
- Then then decide on some constructive feedback on how each piece of work could improve
Rubrics work well when asking students to self-assess and peer review work. It shapes the overall process and also provides a meaningful way to measure one’s self and take steps to improve through self-direction. When it comes to peer reviews, rubrics can be used to support providing proactive feedback to class mates. It is vital that teachers push students to act on feedback and push themselves to meet all aspects of the success criteria to the best of their ability.
Once students are familiar with the characteristics of a rubric, they can become involved in the design of rubrics for class tasks, activities and projects. This can be a very powerful exercise as the students then take a significant level of control in setting the standards for their own and their peers’ work. From the teacher’s perspective, there is an implicit gain here also whereby the teacher is confident that students understand the work and how to achieve well in a task given they participated in the design of the success criteria.
There are a number of great online resources for creating and accessing pre-made rubrics. Many of these have libraries of rubrics made by other educators which can be copied and tweaked to suit your task and classes. Some these are;