According to Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary a rubric is defined as "an authoritative rule; esp: a rule for conduct of a liturgical service." Since most of you will not be conducting liturgical services in your classes, the "rule of conduct" aspect seems to be more applicable here.
In Introduction to Rubrics, Steven and Levi (2005) provide a simple description:
A rubric is a scoring tool that lays out the specific expectations for an assignment. Rubrics divide an assignment into its component parts and provide a detailed description of what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable levels of performance for each of those parts. Rubrics can be used for grading a large variety of assignments and tasks: research papers, book critiques, discussion participation, laboratory reports, portfolios, group work, oral presentations, and more (p. 3).
Now that you know what it is, why would you want to use one? You've been getting along fine without one...or have you? Here is an abridged list from Stevens and Levi describing some of the reasons for using a rubric:
- You are getting carpel tunnel syndrome from writing the same comments on almost every student paper.
- It's 3 a.m. The stack of papers on your desk is fast approaching the ceiling. You're already 4 weeks behind in your grading, and it's clear that you won't be finishing it tonight either.
- Students often complain that they cannot read the notes you labored so long to produce.
- You have graded all your papers and worry that the last ones were graded slightly differently from the first ones.
- You give a long narrative description of the assignment in the syllabus, but the students continually ask two to three questions per class about your expectations.
- You've sometimes been disappointed by whole assignments because all or most of your class turned out to be unaware of academic expectations so basic that you neglected to mention them (e.g., the need for citations or page numbers).
If you have experienced any of these, a rubric might be right for you! With these problems in mind, here are some of the benefits of rubrics as described in Introduction to Rubrics by Stevens and Levi:
- rubrics provide timely feedback
- rubrics prepare students to use detailed feedback
- rubrics encourage critical thinking
- rubrics help us refine our teaching methods
As you can see, rubrics can help you and your students have a more enjoyable and stress-free learning experience! Check out this tutorial for more information.