Rethinking Rubrics

Having been rubric free for about a year and a half now, I miss them. I don't miss how they've even used to rank and sort kiddoes. Nor do I miss how they can encourage mediocrity. I also don't miss how they can set kids up for failure by making them think that they are not good enough. Yet, I miss them.

Rubrics are a great way to relay expectations to our kiddoes. This is not to say that I didn't have expectations this past year and a half. I did. And my kiddoes knew what I expected of them. But here's what I realized. We all meet expectations on a spectrum, and there are times we fall differently within that spectrum. And we are never really failing when we are within the spectrum, we are just at different stages of success.

I'm thinking that there is a way to write Rubrics that shows children where they are succeeding and where their continued hard work will take them. This would mean eliminating phrases such as "shows no evidence of" and "limited". I think of it like a self-conference. When I confer with my students I always begin by telling them what I notice they are doing, "When you had your character rubbing his eyes you were showing how your character didn't want other people to see him cry. This is a specific detail." Couldn't a rubric offer this, in a general way?

I'm also thinking that there is a way to "score" the Rubrics so that they are not ranking. I've seen (and used) Rubrics that have numbers, letters, and emoticons associated with them. I've also seen (and used) Rubrics that have catchy ratings like mighty multiplier and historical novice. All of these are really just different ways to rank and grade.

I was reading an article on Teach For America and there was a picture of the classroom. One of the charts hanging was for reading groups. At first, I flinched when I saw a public reading group list, knowing how sometimes they can be labeled. But this was labeled pretty creatively. Each group was the name of an elite college: Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, etc. I thought this was ingenious because of the positive message it sent to kids. Couldn't we do that with Rubrics?

This is what I'll be working on this summer. Thinking about what's really important to me in the classroom, the expectations for those learning experiences, and how to positively frame them so every child can have success regardless of where they are on the spectrum.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Thanks so much for sharing your thinking! It's been a pleasure chatting with you this year around rubrics.

    What you describe in shift in thinking I hope to encourage in others through my militancy on Twitter and my wiki ( Quality rubrics should be about supporting student self-assessment and not making them feel "less than" as you described. I walk through the process of revising a rubric here ( - you may find that helpful as you revise some of your older rubrics.

    Your concern with ranking is a powerful one. The reality of quality work is that there are degrees. At one point, even Derek Jeter didn't know how to swing a bat - he was a novice and being a novice isn't a bad thing. It just means you're new to task or skill. But as your skill level develops, you move up in a degrees of quality. Much of this is deeply connected to classroom culture and how students perceive school. If they feel that being a novice or low on a rubric is "bad", than it's hard to shake that mental mental regardless of the column heading. This does, however, highlight why it's so important to have students be a part of the writing process and to use real world anchors and examplars to help students understand what the descriptions look like in practice.

    Thanks again for sharing and I look forward to hearing your thoughts as you work through this over the summer.


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