Rubric’s Cue: What's the Best Way to Grade Essays?By Monica Fuglei • November 12, 2014
Because teaching is filled with spirited debate about best practices, the passionate responses to the National Council of Teachers of English’s recent Facebook post asking how instructors feel about grading rubrics should be no surprise. Some teachers embrace rubrics as an incredible device for communicating instructor expectations and grading students’ written work.
Critics complain that rubrics are rigid, unworkable and do a disservice to student writing. It seems that, as a tool for teaching and grading, rubrics are a controversial means of assessing student work.
Grading rubrics can turn writing assignments from “What does the teacher want?” into “How do I fulfill the criteria?”
Rubrics are not simply a checklist for grading student writing. Many teachers use them as both a grading tool and a teaching tool. Because a rubric identifies pertinent aspects of a piece of writing, these rules communicate expectations to students.
Students no longer wonder what their instructor wants, but instead consider how to fulfill specific criteria in their writing assignment. Writing teachers can set expectations in two forms: analytical and holistic rubrics. Both identify criteria for the essay, but then their paths diverge.
Analytical rubric pros and cons
Analytical rubrics are broken down into a grid explaining different measurement levels of each criteria. The grading process involves matching student performance to certain levels under each criteria — poor, satisfactory, or exceptional, for example — then adding the results to arrive at a final grade.
Fans of the analytical rubric find them incredibly helpful for evaluating how different criteria are fulfilled and for calculating grades, but they can prove to be unwieldy to create and time-consuming to apply. However, when assessment and data collection are a reality of writing instruction, analytical rubrics are useful in departmental assessments.
Holistic rubrics: detailed feedback for students
Sometimes the targeted requirements of analytical rubrics leave teachers at a bit of a loss because they don’t reflect the true quality of a piece of writing. Jennifer Gonzalez, teacher and education blogger for Brilliant or Insane, points out that sometimes writers “demonstrate qualities you didn’t even anticipate.”
As an alternative, Gonzalez suggests a three-column format that gives teachers the opportunity to pinpoint feedback to individual students. This unique holistic rubric allows teachers to provide detailed feedback while also judging a piece of writing with a criteria-driven framework. Holistic rubrics tend to combine the necessary criteria into one single grade assessment of the overall piece, having closely measured that piece against the requirements for the writing assignment.
Critics: Rubrics are a disservice to students
Even when they’re modified to allow for more commentary on student strengths and weaknesses, some educators are convinced that rubrics do a fundamental disservice to students’ ability to learn. Rubrics, say critics, result in standardized measurement of standardized writing, which is hardly the purpose of writing instruction.
Alfie Kohn concedes that rubrics might be helpful as one of a wide variety of sources a teacher could consult as they design instruction, but that rubrics should never drive instruction — nor should they be shared with students as a design element of their writing. He cites research supporting the idea that targeted rubrics result in student writing with less, not more, depth of thought.
These pieces of writing might measure well on a rubric, but result in students who do not have confidence in their own ability to decipher the rules of writing without using a rubric as a guideline for creation. Another critic of rubrics, Maja Wilson, suggests that writing offers its own set of criteria and that each piece should be examined individually.
Flying without rubric wings: essay grading alternatives
Without rubrics, some instructors grade student essays as a full and complete work that sets its own boundaries through its chosen audience. These graders give feedback specific to each essay; doing so reinforces to students that rules of writing are not standard, arbitrary or incomprehensible. While it can be difficult to align this sort of grading technique with department expectations and assessment, students can be encouraged to practice skills that would appear in a standardized test while not being forced to standardize their writing product.
As a composition instructor, I’ve struggled with my own rubrics of late, trying to modify an analytical rubric or redesign a holistic rubric for different assignments. I’ve even asked students to design their own rubric in order to examine what they perceive as important criteria for the assessment of their essays. Ultimately, though, I may abandon rubrics altogether for a style that emphasizes deliberate, student-focused feedback as a part of the writing process and prioritizes critical thinking and creativity.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writingLearn More: Click to view related resources. Tags: Assessment Tools, Language Arts
Still correcting tests, assignments and papers by hand? Be my guest, but I think you’re taking the hard and time consuming path. Why not take a helping hand from technology?
In this blog post, I will suggest some amazing grading apps that get your work done. Instead of spending hours and hours grading, you can use that time to refine your lessons, get to know your students, differentiate, personalize learning and so on.
So, how to save time with grading? Here’s the answer.
10 Amazing grading apps
Showbie is a platform that combines all essential tools for assignments, communication and feedback. Showbie has an effective gradebook with many other features.
You can mark and grade your students’ work using the class listing within the Shared Folder, easily grade student work while viewing it, and add grades as a value. You can also add a meaningful text with feedback. You also have some room to add text comments. But the real time-saver is the ability to add audio feedback: just hit record!
It’s also possible to quickly look at students grades by assignment, class or on a individual basis. On top of it all, you can export grades in a CVS file, as HTML, or in an email template that includes an attached CVS file.
Viper is an anti-plagiarism scanner and promises to scan uploaded documents for plagiarism, a serious issue in academic, business, and publishing circles. It’s aimed at students and is handy for reducing the copying and shopping of term papers and essays. Viper is effective at identifying plagiarized passages and noticing potentially similar passages, mis-identified or mis-attributed quotes, and other suspicious sentences.
ZipGrade is a grading app that helps you grade multiple choice tests in minutes. Simply scan the tests with your smartphone, and the app does the rest. Of course, not everything is about grades. This app only gives grades, it’s up to you to know on what the students need and what questions you have to explain again. Don’t forget to give some good feedback!
BookWidgets is a learning platform that allows teachers to create fun and engaging interactive lessons for tablets and computers. The tool has over 40 activities, such as quizzes, crosswords, worksheets, and other interactive teaching apps.
Once the teacher has made an assignment, the student can fill it in and send it back to the teacher. By the time it gets there, the assignement or test is already graded! The teachers' dashboard allows you to follow your student in time and give them constructive feedback. You access the platform and download the results anytime, anywhere.
5. Itunes U
Itunes U makes it easy to organize your classroom. With homework hand-in, an integrated grade book, and private discussions everything will be just fine. You can deliver lessons, grade assignments, and stay connected.
Everything is just one iPad away. The integrated grade book lets you know exactly how each student is doing, it lets you see when a student has viewed an assignment, when their work is complete, and when it’s time to reach out with a reminder.
With Edmodo you can quickly create groups, assign homework, schedule quizzes, manage progress, and more. Edmodo is a platform designed to give you complete control over your digital classroom. Its layout looks a lot like Facebook. You can assign an ordinary quiz to your students and Edmodo will grade it automatically.
7. Grade Ticker
Grade ticker is a simple tool for professors and teachers to keep track of point deductions as you grade papers and exams. Calculate the grade at the exact moment and save time by not doing a post grade tally.
8. Gradebook Pro
GradeBook Pro is a powerful classroom management tool. Its many features allow teachers to categorize assignments and view grades by category, use either weighted or standard grade scales, award extra credit or deduct penalty points, calculate the average score for each assignment, evaluate overall class performance, email grade, attendance or status reports to students. You can create PDF reports of class grades, rosters and attendance records.
Flubaroo is a free add-on to Google Forms/Sheets. It helps you grade and analyze online assignments and assessments. You can also email scores to students!
With Flubaroo you’ll be able to get scores for each student, and identify students in need of extra help, view the average score, and a histogram of scores and quickly identifies questions which a majority of the students missed.
Formative lets you distribute an assignment to your students. Students make it, and you get live results. You can follow your students in their learning process of that assignment and give instant grades and feedback. It basically is the same as Google forms, but easier to use and with some other essential features that a teacher can’t miss out on.
Formative is also a nice tool that you can use for - take a guess - formative assessments.
How to grade objectively?
Apart from these amazing and helpful apps, grades have to be justified. These apps are useless in speaking exercises or large essays. Anyone can grade, that is true, but some teachers still doubt their objectivity and what they exactly just graded. Did I grade the right curriculum objectives and what does that grade mean?
In that case it’s best to use rubrics assessment tools.
What is a rubric?
A rubric is a simple way to set up grading criteria for assignments. It lets you be more objective when assessing the student. You can use it with a value linked to it, or without. Then it is more a formative assessment. Not only is this tool useful for teachers, it is helpful for students as well. It defines in writing what is expected of the student. The student better understands the assessment criteria and can learn more purposefully. That is why the quality of the student’s work will be better from the beginning.
Here’s an example:
Find more examples here.
How do I make good rubrics? Don’t worry. This website provides a nice guide for you! Click here to learn how to make a good rubric.
Share this post with other teachers who are in over their head with grading. They’ll need it. Good luck!