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The Do-It-Yourself Rubric

Creating your own rubric takes time initially because you must think through carefully what you want students to learn from your assignments, but the effort pays off.

The basics of rubric construction:

Let’s create your own rubric. Why would you want to do that rather than take one of those available on the Web? For starters, you know what your students need to know. Rubrics work best when they match your assignment and your expectations.
Yet it’s not necessary to start from scratch. Sometimes you can find a model online, or one may be offered to you by a cooperative colleague in a related field. You might also like to check out the models in the book we co-authored, Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback and Promote Student Learning, or go to our Web site ( where we have some rubrics created by faculty after our workshop at the University of Alabama. But, in general, rubrics should be as specific to the class and the assignment as possible, so even if you find a good model, you will need to modify it.

Identifying rubric parts

There are four parts to a rubric: 1) the task description, 2) the levels of performance, 3) the dimensions (criteria), and 4) the description of the dimensions.

A rubric framework looks like this on the page:

Task Description:

Dimensions Level 1 Level 2 Level 3
Dimension #1 Description Description Description
Dimension #2 Description Description Description
Dimension #3 Description Description Description

The task description briefly describes the assignment; most professors cut and paste it from the syllabus. We put the task description on the rubric so that students can refer to it while they are completing the assignment. Another advantage is that you can see how you described the assignment as you are grading papers. This is an opportunity to review what you have written and revise it, if necessary, for the next time you give this assignment.

The levels describe the general level of performance; the above example is a three-level rubric, but you can go up to five if you want to be more specific. In general, the labels for the level of performance should not be too negative, even in the final column (e.g., Excellent, Good, and Needs Work).

The dimensions are the different criteria that students need to be aware of as they complete the assignment. Some people refer to these as the sub-skills like “organization,” “content knowledge,” and “writing conventions.” The description of the dimensions describes each dimension at different levels of performance.

Now that you can see the framework of a rubric, deciding what you actually want to see in your students’ work, letting them know what it is, and creating your first rubric will take time. However, each time you create a rubric it will get easier. We have found that the best way to do this is through a four-part process: reflecting, listing and grouping, labeling, and applying.

Developing your rubric

Reflecting: Go back to what you had in mind when you first created the assignment. What did you want your students to learn? How did you hope this assignment would help them learn it? What were you trying to accomplish: Review? Reflection? Critical thinking? Analysis of relevant literature? What results would fulfill your highest hopes? What would a really good paper look like?

Listing and grouping: Now write down all the characteristics of an exemplary assignment. Keep the characteristics simple: one-to-five word descriptions of what you want to see in a very good paper. We write these descriptions on stickies, putting one idea on each stickie. You may come up with another way to do this brainstorming part, but we like stickies because they can be moved around in the grouping step. Write down everything you can think of. Don’t decide in advance that something is trivial. And be honest. If spelling, for example, is important to you in a paper, write it down. I used to rant and rave at students because many of them did not number their pages; now, I put it on the rubric, and I have never had to remind them again!

When you have finished writing everything down, start putting related ideas together. Soon, you should have between five and ten groups of things you want to see in a good paper. You may find that some of your ideas no longer seem relevant or don’t reflect how you really grade. Feel free to throw them out.

Labeling: Read and reread the characteristics you have clustered in each pile. Find one or two word labels to describe each of your groups. These will usually be words such as Organization, Critical Thinking, Thesis Statement, Content Knowledge, or even technical matters such as Conventions (usually spelling, grammar, paragraph construction, and pagination), and Citations. These will become the dimensions on your rubric. Notice that these labels do not contain evaluative adjectives like “Exemplary;” they are simply labels. We can describe the exemplary aspect of the dimension like organization in the description of the dimension under Level 1 “Excellent.”

Applying: Enter your dimensions in the far left column of the table you are using for your rubric. Now comes the hardest part: the description of what constitutes each level for each dimension. Begin with the best possible fulfillment. You already have some descriptions on your stickies. Then, ask yourself, “What is a really good thesis statement?”, “What is excellent organization?” “How do I know it when I see it?” Enter these descriptions under the level labeled “Excellent” or something similar. You may find that you want to add more ideas and refine some you have already written down on the stickies. This is a reflective and refining process.

When you have finished the best possible descriptions, move on to the worst, those tactfully labeled “Needs Work” or something like that. The extremes are the easiest to describe. Once you’ve done those, you can fill in the middle. Or you can take the partially finished rubric to class and let the students fill in the middle. This gives them a real stake in the material you are trying to teach.

Once your rubric is finished, the next step is to present it to the students. In this, too, you need to do some serious reflecting. The rubric is not just for your personal use, although you will no doubt welcome the way that it reduces grading time. A good rubric can also be an effective teaching tool that will improve the quality of the papers you will then grade.

Involving students in rubric creation

There are many ways to involve students in rubric creation. We mentioned one above. Certainly, if students help create the rubric, they will be familiar with your expectations and with the task you’ve assigned.

While working with students in rubric creation, you can alert them to words or phrases or ideas that are unfamiliar to them, such as “cohesion,” and make sure that these ideas are fully explained in the rubric. Ultimately, we would like students to internalize the expectations for an exemplary task. When students help with rubric creation, they learn the terminology. Learning theory tells us that the more times they hear it, read it, say it, and write it, the more likely they will remember it.

Rubrics help us communicate our expectations to students. By following these steps in rubric creation you should be able to create the basic framework of a rubric that matches your assignment and your course objectives. They aren’t cast in stone and can be modified as needed to clarify your expectations.

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Thriving in Academe

  • anc_dyn_linksToo Much Time Grading Papers?
  • anc_dyn_linksTales from Real Life: Making Comments Count
  • anc_dyn_linksThe Do-It-Yourself Rubric
  • anc_dyn_linksBest Practices: Let's Hear It for Rubrics!
  • anc_dyn_linksIssues to Consider: Rubrics Work!
  • anc_dyn_linksReferences & Resources

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