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Monday, January 5, 2015

Student-made Rubrics

One of the most useful TESL Ontario Conference workshops I have ever attended was called Happiness is a Good Rubric. I was not the only participant who went into it thinking that the title meant that student happiness is a good indicator of teacher success. Actually, the presentation title was intended to mean that happiness can result from having and using a good rubric.

I was then (and am still) new to ESL teaching; I had not yet started using rubrics in my own classes. Excited by the ideas that had been presented in this session, I went back and immediately started using rubrics--not only at test time, but for almost every activity and assignment, as the presenters had suggested. Until discovering the power of rubrics, I had been feeling quite frustrated by my students' seeming inability to remember to do homework, as well as by their inability to consistently remember and follow the expectations for a task. It didn't seem to matter how many times I reminded them or whether I wrote it in the special HOMEWORK corner of the white board.

All of that changed when I started giving them rubrics. The biggest shift, however, came when the students themselves started writing the criteria for the tasks and filling in the rubrics themselves.

"What do YOU think we should be looking for when we mark these essays?" I would ask.

As the learners brainstormed and came up with the criteria, we copied them together into blank grids. (You can try this in your own classes by downloading an editable MS Word rubric template from the FREE RESOURCES area - Assessment page.)


I can summarize my experience working with rubrics as follows:

  • When students have the rubric in hand BEFORE executing a task, performance improves.
  • When students help write the criteria, they invest more in the assessment process.
  • Providing rubrics ahead of time for every assignment and allowing students to take them home for reference while doing homework virtually eliminates misunderstood instructions, failure to complete assignments, and so on.
  • Students rarely if ever find reason to complain about their mark when they collaborated in creating the rubric and coming up with the criteria against which they are to be assessed. 
I have to agree with Linda Schwebke and Larry Iveson on this much: Happiness IS a good rubric!

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