Creating and Sharing Rubrics

When giving feedback on student writing, our comments inevitably reflect our priorities and expectations about the assignment. In other words, we're using a rubric to choose which elements (e.g., thesis, analysis, style, etc.) receive more or less feedback and what counts as a "good thesis" or a "less good thesis." When we read a student’s essay, that is, we always have a rubric. The question is how consciously we’re applying it, whether we’re transparent with students about what it is, whether it’s aligned with what students are learning in our course, and whether we’re applying it consistently.

  • Being conscious of your rubric ideally means having one written out, with explicit criteria and concrete features that describe more/less successful versions of each criterion. If you don't have a rubric written out, you can use the assignment prompt decoder for TFs & TAs to determine which elements and criteria should be the focus of your rubric. 
  • Being transparent with students about your rubric means sharing it with them ahead of time and making sure they understand it. The assignment prompt decoder for students is designed to facilitate this discussion between students and instructors. 
  • Aligning your rubric with your course means articulating the relationship between “this” assignment and the ones that scaffold up and build from it, which ideally involves giving students the chance to practice different elements of the assignment and get formative feedback before they’re asked to submit material that will be graded. For more ideas and advice on how this looks, see the "Formative Assignments" page in this section.  
  • Applying your rubric consistently means using a stable vocabulary when making your comments and keeping your feedback focused on the criteria in your rubric.

So what does all of this look like in practice? 

Before giving any written feedback, create and share your rubric

  1. Framing for yourself. The first step in effective grading happens before students start writing a paper: the course head and/or teaching team have to decide what their learning goals are, explicitly name them, and identify what elements and criteria will allow them to measure student progress toward those goals. That is to say, they need to design their assignment intentionally and create a rubric. See the Decoders+ page for direct links to resources on assignment and rubric design.  
  2. Framing for students. Sharing a rubric with students before they submit graded work makes them more active participants in their own assessment throughout an assignment. Not only does it motivate the lectures, readings, sections, and smaller assignments that build up to larger assignments, it also helps them recognize when they need more support in a specific area. 

While giving feedback, use your rubric consistently

Applying a rubric consistently means:

  • Reading student writing through the lens of the criteria you’ve established in your prompt and rubric (thesis, identifying positions within a debate, use of secondary sources, etc.).
  • Showing your priorities by focusing on these criteria when you give marginal feedback. Effective feedback is just as much about what you notice but don't comment on, so don't get bogged down in comments on style or structure if those aren’t tied to your assignment's learning objectives and rubric. 
  • Organizing your feedback letter in terms of criteria from the rubric, so that the letter itself becomes an evidence-based argument (drawing from your marginal feedback) about how successfully the student's written product did or did not demonstrate mastery of the skills laid out in the assignment prompt’s learning objectives, i.e., the rubric.
  • Norming your feedback approach from student to student and section to section. Using rubrics and having a grade norming session before you return work to students is a great way to make sure that instructors are all on the same page about giving feedback. This is especially important in Gen Ed, where the teaching team for a large course might include TFs & TAs coming from several different home departments, i.e., writing cultures. 

After commenting on what a student has done, shift your focus to the future

At its best, the feedback we give students is an accurate description of what they've done that is itself the basis for more forward-looking guidance.  

  • With formative feedback, e.g., on smaller assignments or drafts, this means guidance about how to improve toward an assignment's goals.  
  • With summative feedback, e.g., on a graded revision, this means guidance about how to apply lessons learned from one assignment to future ones. 

Consistently applying a rubric at each stage of feedback, with a focus on how students can improve, will help ensure that any follow-up conversations with students become opportunities to clarify feedback and strategies for improvement, rather than discussions about “the grade."

More Resources and Tools

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