Using Rubrics to Guide Evaluation of Student Work

We're approaching that part of the term when many of us will require students to submit papers, reports, or make oral presentations. There are a number of reasons why some students don't look forward to these major assignments, but one of the most overlooked is that the quality of feedback they're accustomed to receiving isn't particularly useful. A simple letter grade of A- or C+ doesn't give the student much data upon which to improve their performance, which of course is the major reason they're attending college. Dr. Kenneth Blanchard, author of numerous management books and former professor at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), identified feedback as the key to motivation when he referred to it as the "breakfast of champions." Students need feedback to improve their performance - feedback that clarifies your expectations, objectively and specifically differentiates varying levels of performance, and points them in the direction of real improvement.

An especially effective tool for providing feedback to students is the rubric - a form which succinctly states the scoring criteria for the student project. For example, a simple rubric for an oral presentation would typically include the specific objectives of the opening, expectations of the body of the presentation, criteria for an effective closing, along with vocal and nonverbal qualities required for success. Each of the sections would include point totals possible. A good rubric also provides ample space for instructor comments related to each of the sections. A sample is available at the end of Chapter 9 of The Adjunct Professor's Guide to Success. More detailed examples and their rationale are available in many of the works of Mary Huba, of Iowa State University.

Besides increasing the quality and quantity of feedback to students, using rubrics to score student presentations and projects also increases students' acceptance of their grades, reduces questions, and frustration. Most of all, well-developed and effectively employed rubrics improve the chances of students' learning from their experiences, and thus submitting higher quality assignments in the future.

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