I found developing rubrics to be a nuanced and critical skill. I believe rubrics to be an effective way to de-mystify the grading process for students, to simplify and streamline the evaluation of complex assignments, and to make the grading of such assignments less subjective and more fair. In order to achieve these objectives, however, rubrics must be carefully designed and written with precise language that minimizes room for ambiguity and subjective interpretation.
Breaking an assignment down into assessable components requires careful thought. For instance, I assigned a project in which students had to create an analogy comparing the organelles of a cell to another complex thing. I required students to describe the functions of at least 10 organelles and compare each one to a part of the analogy. Some students described 10 organelles but made many errors; others described less than 10 but were accurate and made very creative and effective analogies. To fairly assess all these varieties on the same scale, my rubric had to have separate categories for number of organelles covered, scientific accuracy, and quality of analogies.
Another important aspect of a rubric is its role in increasing transparency of the grading process to students. To facilitate this, when I assigned a research project and presentation on biomes, I first had the students use the rubric to evaluate a mock presentation given by me.
Download the project guidelines here: Biomes Project.pdf
Download the project rubric here: biomes rubric.doc
Download my mock presentation here: The Fishbowl Biome.ppt
In my mock presentation, I used the example of a fishbowl, an "ecosystem" that students had recently built in class as they studied ecological interactions. Thus students were familiar with the subject matter and were able to judge the content as well as the presentation quality. As I presented, I modeled a variety of behaviors assessed either positively or negatively on the rubric, such as reading text off the slides, making infrequent eye contact, densely packing text on the slide, and omitting certain content. Students graded my performance and discussed what they would give me and why. This activity gave them an opportunity to engage with the rubric on a deeper level and consider what they would have to do to achieve a proficient score.
Because the project has a research and a presentation component, there is a separate rubric for each, emphasizing that both components are almost equally important in determing the project grade. Each aspect is also weighted according to its importance-- the delivery, for instance, is more important than the bibliography, and is allotted more points. In order to bring in multiple intelligences and talents, I also gave students an extra-credit opportunity to include a creative component. Because "creativity" itself is difficult to score objectively, I based the number of extra credit points students could earn on the relevance and informative quality of the creative component. There is also a space on the rubric for written comments, so that I can give specific commendations and recommendations.