Empowering Student Creativity: Rubrics vs. Grading Checklists

Working within our campus Design Center, there are several lessons I have learned while helping teachers redesign projects and units.  The first, probably most important was about rubrics.  Most teachers believe that they understand how rubrics work, what their purpose is, and why they are important.  However, in working with all my different teachers, I found that everyone seems to have a different understanding.

So, what is the purpose of a rubric?  There is a myth that rubrics are used for only for grading.  Unfortunately, while some educators have adapted the rubric for that, it is not the best use of a rubric.  A rubric is a comprehensive table that outlines the skills and qualities you think are needed to create a high quality product by clusters.  For example, if you wanted students to produce a video for class, you might choose Scripting, Actor Rehearsal, Visual Background Setting, Sound, Editing, and Directing as your qualities/skills.  These clusters then are broken down into quality-based incremented categories such as Novice, Apprentice, Artisan, and Master.  The categories listed here are just colorful metaphors for the abilities of the students. The categories might be more easily be recognized if we used non-artistic titles such as Improvement Needed, Developing, Proficient, and Accomplished.  Since there are no “points” attached, the purpose is for students to read the rubric and identify with what they have present in their projects and work towards improving to the next category.  It is important to note that the wording in each category for each cluster should be written with only positive information (what is present).  It should not include negative wording (what is missing).  You can see an example below.

rubric

So, how is this different from a Grading Sheet you might ask?  While you would give a rubric to a student at the beginning of a project, the students may never see the grading sheet.  It can be as simple as a checklist or something similar to the rubric that was given to the students.  The idea is not necessarily to create two completely different documents so much as to create a sense of anticipation that forces the students to struggle.  This struggle increases their creativity by creating a sense of the unknown.  

So many of our students suffer from the “good enough” syndrome where apathy creeps in and they do enough to get by, but not to stand out as an exception.  By creating a rubric as described above, students are not given the opportunity to be apathetic.  They literally have to push themselves further than they normally would in order to get what they would assume is a passing grade.  Most students immediately ask what each category is worth.  The reply should be a simple, “the whole project is worth 100 points like normal.”  Leave it a mystery.  Let the students struggle.  They will go further than they have before.  Their projects will be of a higher caliber and quality.

  • Brookhart, Susan M. (2013) How to create and use rubrics for formative assessment and grading.
  • Marzano, Robert J. (20) Formative assessment & standards-based grading.
  • Krause, Jane and Boss, Suzie (2009) Thinking through project-based learning: Guiding deeper inquiry.
  • Brookhart, Susam M. (2013) Grading and group work: How do I assess individual learning when students work together?
  • Hoback, Mitzi; McInteer, Margaret; and Clemens, Bev (2014) A school leader’s guide to standards-based grading.
  • Beattie, Donna K. (1998) Assessment in art education.

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