5 things I do with grading criteria and rubrics

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I often find it productive to think of grading not so much in terms of assessment but instead in terms of the goals of the assignment or class.  In doing so, I find I can use grading criteria and rubrics to get students to think about what we’re trying to accomplish in the course.  Here are some activities I use to do that: 1. Having students create grading criteriaOutside of class or in small groups I ask students to write out a set of grading criteria and, for some assignments, I let them know I will in fact use the criteria they develop.  This activity prompts students to think about what’s important in the assignment, what skills we’re trying to develop, and what it takes to succeed.  Not only does it help them then complete the assignment with a clear sense of the goals in mind but it also gives me a spot-check on how well we all understand what we’re trying to achieve. 2. Having students grade a draftI find that if students can understand what’s involved in grading then they can apply that knowledge to their own work.  And so I’ll distribute the grading criteria of the course or assignment to the class—this makes assessment more transparent from the get go.  Then I have students break into small groups: a group for not passing, for “C” level, for “B” level, and for “A” level.  I ask each group to read through the criteria for that grade and determine what they think are the key elements needed to get that particular grade.  After groups share their discussion with the class, I distribute a sample paper and we grade it as a class.  Surprisingly, students tend to be much harder graders than I am, but the resulting discussion helps them understand what I am looking for when I read their work. 3. Criteria to rubric or vice-versaAt my institution we have both a set of detailed written criteria and a shorter rubric in a tabled format.  Asking students to imagine one of these from the other is another way of getting them to focus on the essential elements involved in grading.  If you have written criteria, ask your class to design a document that translates this criteria to a tabled format; in doing so they will need to consider not only the crucial aspects of the criteria but also elements of document design (you might, then have them review handbook material on the précis and/or document design).  Moving in the opposite direction can be useful as well.  Students can expand on shorter criteria to create a more detailed account of grading.  Encourage them to use your comments on past assignments to assist in filling out fuller criteria. 4. Arguing for a grade changeWhenever I have students who feel that their grade should be changed, I provide them with the criteria I used and ask them to create a short written statement that argues for the grade they think they should have received.  I make it clear that they should use the criteria as a set of claims, tying it to the specific evidence provided by their work.  So, for example, if part of getting a “B” involves careful analysis of quotation, I ask them to connect that abstract criteria to the specific parts of their paper where they are doing that.  Sometimes, students will make a good argument but even when they do not, this statement helps me to see what they think they are doing so that we can have a conversation about whether or not that works. 5. Checklist for a better gradeCheck to see if your handbook has any checklists—for drafting or forming a thesis, for example.  For homework or in class, have your students use the grading criteria of the course or the assignment to make this checklist more specific.  They can then use this checklist as they draft, for peer revision, or as a final check before they turn their work in.  So these are some ways I use the criteria to help students think about their work and how it will be assessed.  Do you ever use grading criteria in class?  How?

About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.