Monday, February 14, 2011

Rubrics: Letting the Students Decide

When I began teaching, I decided that I would let my students take the wheel when it comes to designing rubrics. I think that students look to the professor as the container of all knowledge, especially when it comes to writing. Letting them design the rubric helps them to see that I'm not the only one who knows what makes good writing. (Plus, they find it harder to claim they are being graded unfairly when they have chosen the criteria)

To design the rubric, we start early in the semester with George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," which talks about what makes bad writing. That conversation is followed by a discussion about what makes good writing. As students share their thoughts about the elements of good writing, I write their ideas on the whiteboard. Later, I copy these down.

The next step in this process is giving them a voting sheet. I lay out a spreadsheet of their ideas, along with SAT writing standards for a "6" essay, good writing techniques from "The Cognition of Discovery: Defining a Rhetorical Problem" by Hayes and Flower, and my own two-- addressing the assignment, turning work in on time. Next, I have them label the options 1-5. For every #1, I give two tally marks. For every #2, I give one. Then, I pull the top five to create the rubric. I'm sure there are other ways to do this, but this is what has worked for me best so far.

This semester, I think my students did a great job of choosing criteria. They will be graded on the following (listed in order of priority):

  • Effort (addessing the assignment, word count, drafts on time)
  • Create understanding for your reader (logical reasoning, good support, analysis)
  • Flow (organization and transitions)
  • Establishing a relationship with the reader (word choice, tone)
  • Formal/conventional features (format, genre, grammar, spelling)

Last semester, the rubric was different. They wanted to be graded by these criteria:
  • Followed instructions 
  • Affected the reader (strongly supported ideas, deep analysis)
  • Built a coherent network of ideas (well-organized, clearly stated thoughts)
  • Aware of audience (consistent use of tone, word choice, formal/conventional features)
Interestingly enough, though the students in the classes and the dynamics of the classes are completely different, you can see that both classes chose similar goals for their writing. Their objectives are also similarly prioritized. 

I think student-lead evaluation is one of the most effective means of teaching writing. Students are asked to assess themselves and also writing in general. They become more conscious of not only what is wrong in their writing, but also what works. Of course, the rubric is just one way of doing this. 


Heather said...

Hi Nicole, Do you teach developmental English? I only ask because I can't imagine doing this with the students I have this semester. I also don't know how I could fit it in. How much class time do you spend on developing the rubric? I do plan on doing peer- review for each of the three essays the students will write in the course. Do you consider peer-review student-led evaluation? It's not self-review, but it is close. Ha.

NP said...

Hi Heather,

I teach ENG1000c, which is the university's core composition course. It is a blend of students from all different proficiencies. The in-class time for rubric time is mostly spent with talking about what makes bad writing (in reference to Orwell's piece), and then talking about what makes good writing. What are their favorite authors doing? How do they do it? What makes an effective essay? Why?

Part way through the good writing conversation, I ask them what they would want to be graded on. For the next class, I put together a sheet full of choices, their own and some that they may have missed, and then let them vote. The Orwell-bad writing-good writing conversation takes about 40 minutes. The voting the next class takes about 10. After that, I piece together the rubric from their selections. There is only one for the class, not one for each student.

We definitely do peer review and self-led evaluations too. I'm a big believer in giving students the opportunity to learn to assess themselves. If they always need a teacher to tell them what's right, then they aren't really learning.

Thanks for reading!