Happy I Had a Rubric

When our Mapping the Futures class focused on Assessment, group one asked us to implement or create a rubric for our classes. My initial reaction was not positive–I’ve used rubrics before and have found the short language neglects many of the complex dimensions I want to address. In my mind, I could only provide the necessary feedback with nuanced explanations and in my version of student friendly language. I am a certified CATW (CUNY Assessment Test-Writing) reader. In order to be certified, one must learn to assess according to a CUNY developed rubric. The certification exam is easy to fail. Many of the faculty who train to read have difficulty viewing essays through the lens of this rubric– you really need to take yourself out of the classroom and break the essay up according to the parts on the scale. So in essence, yes, student has accomplished some of objective A and not much of objective B. But, in the English instructor’s mind, student described and explained something else really well, but, the rubric doesn’t even ask about it, which has posed a problem for me and many of my colleagues. So,  as a challenge to myself, I wondered how I could create a rubric using language that worked for me, my standards and the departments standards along with the ability to tackle nuances– use a rubric, take some notes, then combine it with overall feedback.

For the first time, I have assigned a presentation assignment in my Freshman Composition classes. I knew what I wanted my students to get from this project, but I had no formal breakdown of skills and not enough language or idea of how to measure and assess skills acquired on a fair and formal scale. Constructing the rubric gave me an opportunity to norm my own expectations. I had to think through each category, build language for each score and think of what an A, B, C, D and F truly mean for this project. When I gave out the assignment, I attached the rubric as well, so that my students were fully aware of the requirements and criteria.

The first round of presentations began last week. I printed three rubrics for each class and sat down with them amidst the rest of the class. I wanted to show my students I was listening, looking, thinking about all the components they included in their presentations. I didn’t want to get wrapped up in taking notes, writing furiously as I had watched my own professors do in the past, and which always made me more nervous. So, as their presentations and lovely Prezis (thank you Danica), unfolded, I checked off values, and wrote down words to prompt my memory for later when I would calculate their grade and was therefore able to fully engage in the Q&A and enjoy the discussion that developed.

When I sat down to grade and began to formulate the feedback, on the works cited page, I was at a loss for words. I was so relieved when I looked over and saw the rubric. It had everything I needed there, even the language was my language and so I didn’t feel strange using it in my commentary. The rubric kept me centered and it reminded me about how each student had utilized and mastered certain skills and how well. The feedback was not too dense, nor was it too general. It went over the students strengths and weaknesses and addressed the nuances I hadn’t foreseen when I built the rubric. I felt sincerely comfortable returning the grades with feedback today. Nothing was a surprise and all areas had been spelled out early in the semester and my written feedback provided the students a personalized note that addressed those special areas outside of the box.