Using Rubrics in Your Classroom

Using Rubrics in Your Classroom

How to save grading time and convey effective feedback to promote student learning and engagement.

Grading students’ assignments and tests can take a long time and be tedious when you are making the same comments and grammar corrections on each student’s paper. And once the assignments are returned to the students, there are still more and more questions like, “Why did I receive this grade?”

An effective and efficient way to grade assignments is by using a Rubric.

A rubric is a tool that instructors use to identify the elements that should be present in each assignment for receive a certain grade.

A rubric lays out in detail what the instructor is looking for and how the students can achieve a desired grade.

Professors who use rubrics often consider them to be the most effective grading devices since the invention of the red ink.  The way a rubric works is that it divides the assignment into components and provides a detailed description of what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable levels of performance for each of those parts. For the ease of reading and grading, rubric should ideally not be more than one-page long.

Parts of a Rubric

A rubric is divided into four basic parts: task description, scale, dimensions, and dimension descriptions. These parts allow the professor to set the parameters of the assignment.

Part 1: Task Description

Instructors should frame the task description in a way that involves some sort of performance required by the student. Task description should be placed at the top of the grading rubric as this acts as a reminder of how the assignment was written as they are grading. Also by adding some reference to grades, the task assignment and the rubric criteria become more immediate to students and are read more carefully by them. (If the assignment is too long to be included in the task description, you can choose to simply use the title of the assignment and add words such as see syllabus or see handout.)

Samples of Task Descriptions

Example 1: Title – Changing Communities in Our City

Task Description: Each student will make a 5-minute presentation on the changes in one Portland community over the past thirty years. The students may focus the presentation in any way he or she wishes, but there needs to be a thesis of some sort, not just a chronological exposition. The presentation should include appropriate photographs, maps, graphs and other visual aids for the audience.

Example 2: Title – Research Foundations

Task Description: You are to find at least 10 research articles related to your project topic. You will write a 10- page review of these articles that shows how they relate to and contribute to your understanding of your topic.

Example 3: Title – Film Presentation

Task Description: Working in groups of four or five, students will develop an analysis of a Japanese or American movie about World War II. This analysis should go beyond a simple synopsis of the movie to discuss how well or poorly the film reflects a particular point of view about the war. All group members are expected to participate.

Example 4: Title – Online/Blackboard Discussion Forum

Description: Each student is expected to participate weekly in the online discussion forum. Participation means: address the weekly question on the discussion forum submitted by the instructor, and respond to at least two other discussion forum posts that other students have made.

Part 2: Scale

The scale helps demonstrate how well or poorly a particular task has been performed. Professors must ensure that terms used to describe performance are clear. In order to encourage students and also to mitigate the potential shock of low marks in the lowest scale, it is advisable to use positive descriptions such as mastery, partial mastery, progressing and emerging. You may also choose to use non-judgmental, non-competitive language such as high level, middle level, beginning level or simply even numbers or grades. There is no definite limit to the number of levels a rubric scale should have, but try to limit the scale to 3 – 5 levels of performance.

Part 3: Dimensions

Dimensions of a rubric are a breakdown of skills and knowledge sets involved in the assignment. Dimensions help lay out the task in a simple and complete manner. It helps students understand how much weight each component carries. Setting the dimensions correctly will help appropriately outline the skills required. It will make the grading process easier and faster as well as provide a quick overview of the student’s strengths and weaknesses in each dimension.

An important thing to note is that, you should not include the description of the quality of performance here. For example, Communication is a good dimension to use but not Good Communication.

Part 4: Dimensions Descriptions

Dimensions alone are very broad all-encompassing categories. Hence, it is important for faculty to provide students with a short description of their performance within the dimensions. List the elements each level and dimension should include in order for the grade to be met.

With the help of rubrics, professors can grade research papers, book critiques, discussion board posts, laboratory reports, portfolios, group assignments, oral presentations and much more.


Go to the Resources page to download rubric samples that you are free to use in your course.

We have created a jigsaw game with regards to creating a rubric: Rubric Jigsaw Game


Benefits of Developing and Using a Rubric

  • Allows instructors to convey their intentions and expectations to their students more clearly
  • Saves a lot of time when grading assignments
  • The details, elements, and expectations are clearly laid out for the students
  • Eliminates the need to repeat the same comments on each student’s assignment and in turn allows for more critical and insightful feedback
  • Once a rubric is created, instructors can use it to grade many different assignments with slight adjustments
  • Allows instructors to provide comprehensive and informative feedback before and after students start the assignment
  • Allows instructors to provide feedback in more a timely manner
  • Decreases subjectivity for both the instructor and the student
  • Increases student understanding of what is expected
  • Can be integrated with Blackboard to allow easy grading of assignments and then the posting of the feedback
  • Increases the quality of students’ work

Reference: Stevens, D. D and Levi, J. A. (2013) Introduction to Rubrics. Sterling, Virginia. STYLUS PULISHING, LLC.

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Posted in Assessment, feedback, Grading, Rubric, teaching tool

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