Great Rubrics can accomplish many pedagogical steps all at once. I’d like to give a top 3 with some explanations.
A great rubric:
Communicates expectations clearly and concisely
From lab reports to online discussions, rubrics should communicate to the learner what is expected from a learning activity, and can also designate levels of importance. For example, I used to require a formal lab report each week in physics labs. The labs were worth 20 points, but comprised of 7 sections (note: 20 doesn’t divide evenly by 7!). Needless to say, some parts were worth more than others. The procedure and theory part (2 points) was important to include, but not nearly as important as the data analysis and calculations part (6 points).
Improves teacher to student feedback
It is no secret that feedback is vital to learning. At the most basic level, learning doesn’t happen without feedback! Another non-secret is that from elementary to post-secondary, education is a business, and the more students a teacher can teach, the more efficient the business model. (This reminds me of an article I came across a while back about feedback: (http://goo.gl/chjyzV.) The problem is now obvious: learning requires feedback, but teachers are not always set up to provide it. So, here is where rubrics come into play. Whereas it is next to impossible to deliver unique feedback about numerous objectives to every student, a great rubric can be an efficient mechanism for delivering helpful (vital) feedback that completes the learning process. The key here is in the descriptors (as mentioned in John Mueller’s article. If a teacher will invest up front time to write good descriptors, then when grading time comes the descriptors function as individual feedback (that stuff that there isn’t time for!).
Connects learning activities and assessments with learning objectives
An excellent resource for teachers is the Carnegie Mellon Eberly Center, and a short article on their site really resonated with me concerning learning objectives (http://bit.ly/1q14jZE). In it there is a visual model that is about as simple and elegant as a model can be – a triangle that connects learning objectives, instructional activities, and assessments.
I’d like to take the model a step further, and suggest that a great rubric fills the inner area of the triangle. Learning Objectives are great (except that students care more about grades). Instructional Activities are valuable, but only if as tools to meet learning objectives. Assessments are necessary, but are useless without objectives to measure. However, from the student perspective, a great rubric fills the blue-green space. It enlivens the learning objectives and holds the student to them. It validates the instructional activities by providing reasons for the effort required. And it provides clarity and reliability for an assessment tool.
Great rubrics are blue-green!