Let’s talk rubrics

Jill Weber is a middle school teacher in Cheney, Kansas and former Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year.

Today? She talks rubrics.


One thing I love about the teaching profession is that we are always constantly learning, growing, trying new things . . . all in the process of becoming better. This is true whether it’s your first year and you’re improving from the first month of school to the second. And it’s true if you’re a veteran teacher who decides to try something different to “shake things up.” There is always an opportunity to learn and improve.

One thing I am learning more and more as I keep going is how important it is to have clear expectations. Now, it’s not that I didn’t know that I needed that when I started but I keep learning that what I think is “clear” doesn’t necessarily translate that way to my 7th and 8th grade students. I find that they ALWAYS do better when I am as simply specific as possible with my expectations.

Don’t let that fool you. I didn’t say I lower my expectations.

I simplify my explanation of the expectations so that it is as clear as possible.

I am constantly getting better at this.

And one of my favorite examples is with my rubrics.

I am a FIRM believer in having rubrics to score students on. Nothing is more frustrating for a student to receive a score on a project or assignment and not have a clear picture as to why they were given that score. So when I’m making and using rubrics in my classroom, I’m always keeping in mind this #1 major rule . . .

As the teacher . . . the person setting the expectation . . . I will NOT take off points if it’s not listed on the rubric.

I just don’t feel like it’s ethical for me to hand out a lower grade to a student for something that wasn’t mentioned in the expectations. This means at times, when I’m doing a brand new project or assignment, I have left off something that I should have graded on. Opps. My bad.

I don’t just “make it up on the spot.” I write it down for something to add to the rubric next year. This year’s kids get a pass on that issue.

Having this #1 rule has also lead me to having a variety of rubrics in the past. I started with using something sort of a scale (one of my favorite versions from my college methods class). It looks like this:







Then after about five years of teaching, our curriculum director challenged me to paint a truer picture of what the students would earn by using a traditional 5-3-1 chart rubric. This would give clear expectations as to what a “5” score would get, what a “3” score and below. I liked it. It allowed me to give VERY DETAILED lists of what I expected and what the students needed to do to achieve a specific score.

Here is an example:








BUT . . . I discovered something. A problem that many teachers seem to face. The kids DON’T USE THE RUBRIC. If I’m lucky . . . they glance at it right before turning in the project. Only a handful of the students actually spend the time using the rubric to guide themselves through the project. I found that those detailed 5-3-1 charts were almost TOO DETAILED.

Too detailed? How can something have too much detail. Well . . . if you’re 12-14 years old (or older or younger) you get overwhelmed with having to look at too much.

I do still use the 5-3-1 rubric with my students, primary with their written responses. I try to make it as specific as possible with little clutter. This is an example of my writing rubric:







I’ve been on a recent mission to give kids a rubric that tells them the requirements and gives them the information they need to know with as few words as possible. This next example is one of my recent favorites and I’ve found myself using this as a template more and more:













And finally, sometimes I want a rubric that is as generic as possible but that allows me the freedom to provide comments and feedback for the reasoning of the score. I stole this idea on Twitter. (I can’t remember the original poster . . . so if it was you, thank you!)







Sometimes creating the perfect rubric for a project takes a lot of research about rubrics and what you’re trying to achieve and what you want your students to achieve. These are just examples of some of my favorites. I still use all of these types of rubrics depending on the assignment or project. Don’t hesitate to steal anything from this blog post or contact me to talk more about it!

About Glenn Wiebe

I work as a social studies specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas. Before coming to ESSDACK, I taught middle school US History and higher ed social science classes.

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