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Articles for Teachers

Six Ways to Use Rubrics as Teaching Tools
By:Global Training, Coaching and Development for Educators <teslinstructor@gmail.com>

I just completed teaching an online university course offered in the Spring semester. One of the assessments included grading student participation in terms of their online postings each week. A rubric was provided for this assessment so instead of just using it myself, I thought it would be useful for students to use this rubric as a self-assessment tool. For the most part, students graded themselves lower than I did. Just a few students had what I thought were unrealistic and over-exaggerated beliefs of their participation (the online platform logs the number of visits by each student) so it is hard to argue with those numbers! Many students actually thanked me for the opportunity to self-assess!

Getting back to rubrics…Rubrics may not be the most exciting topic in English teaching but I suspect that most teachers use them. In Canada, rubrics are used as early as primary school. Did you know that the word rubric comes from the Latin word for red. According to the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) back in the Middle Ages, the rules for the conduct of liturgical services—as opposed to the actual spoken words —were often printed in red, so the rules were "the red things" on the page (ascd.org/publications/books/112001/chapters/What-Are-Rubrics-and-Why-Are-They-Important%C2%A2.aspx)

So what exactly is a rubric? It is a set of criteria for students' work that includes descriptions of levels of performance quality on the criteria. There are two major aspects of rubrics – a set of criteria and descriptions of levels of performance for the criteria. There are many rubrics on the Internet but it is rare that you find exactly what you need for a particular assignment. If you have had to design a rubric in the past, you know the challenges of getting the language just right! This blog post is not to teach you how to design rubrics but if you are interested in learning more, click on this link humber.ca/centreforteachingandlearning/instructional-strategies/teaching-methods/course-development-tools/creating-assignment-rubrics.html

Remember that rubrics must always be given before an assignment. It is also critical that you review the rubric with your students. For example, when I taught an academic writing course, I spent a considerable amount of time reviewing a very complex rubric with the students.

Here are 6 ways to use rubrics in your teaching:

1. Students as Teachers

In my academic writing classes, I provided students with a sample essay. I asked them to “grade” the paper using the rubric for their essay. We then reviewed the rationale for their “grading”. This was a useful strategy for both the students so they could learn more about the specific rubric and for me to see where there might be some confusion with criteria.

2. Self-Assessment

As previously mentioned, have students use a rubric for a “self-assessment” of their assignment. If their assessment of their performance greatly differs from yours, it can be a good starting point for further discussion.

Have you ever had a student tell you that they “need” an A in your course? I find that having rubrics is a way to help students focus on what an “A” looks like so you can avoid this unpleasant conversation at the end of the course.

3. Peer Feedback

I have found that students do not particularly like providing peer feedback but I think it is useful if students are given specific instructions and criteria. I wouldn’t expect them to “grade” a complete essay using the course writing rubric but they can assess parts of the essay. I usually ask students to provide feedback on one or two areas (not grammar since this is where they make most of their own errors). Peer feedback can also be used for presentation skills.

4. Work-in-Progress Feedback

If students have a long assignment or project, use a rubric to give them feedback on their work-to-date. You don’t have to assign a grade at this point (but sometimes that keeps students on track especially for large projects). Use the same rubric for the final assignment to help students improve in some areas.

5. A Rubric for Review

I have never used this technique but I see how it could be useful especially in academic writing. Teachers use the rubric for the completed assignment to give feedback to the whole class. After marking the assignments, scan the rubrics for the criteria with the most problems or for the criteria done particularly well. Then prepare a “mini -lesson” to review these areas.

6. Collaborative Rubrics

Have you ever designed a rubric with your students? Building a rubric together in class is a way to facilitate student learning. If you are going to be assessing presentation skills for example, have students help with the rubric. This is a way for you to check if they understand all of the aspects of a good presentation (which you have taught them previously) and to be very clear on how they will be graded.

For more information on rubrics, here are some useful links:

If you are looking for at research regarding rubrics, http://www.nus.edu.sg/celc/research/books/4th%20Symposium%20proceedings/19).%20Radhikda%20De%20Silva.pdf

For a lighter look at using rubrics, take a look at this one which was designed to “assess” chocolate chip cookies! https://www.teachervision.com/teaching-methods-and-management/rubrics/4522.html

If you are looking for specific rubrics, I have several that I have used for EAP, student group work, presentation skills that I am happy to share with you. Just email me at teslinstructor@gmail.com and I can send you what you need.

Happy teaching!

Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., TESL has 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Curriculum Writer in Canada including 7 years in Hong Kong. Patrice has taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs such as ESP, EAP, Business English, and language programs for new immigrants in Canada (LINC, ELT, OSLT). Patrice now works as a teacherpreneur doing the things that she loves such as writing courses, sharing teaching materials, instructional coaching and travelling at any time of the year to conduct short-term training around the world.

For free teaching resources, please visit https://patrice-palmer.mykajabi.com

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