Using Rubrics to Save Time and Improve Feedback

Welcome to the first Teaching Tips post of the Spring semester! We hope everyone’s semester is off to a great start. Beginning with this post, CETL’s Teaching Tips will be updated on Mondays (a departure from our previous practice of Friday updates), so watch this space and your email to begin your week with some fresh teaching and learning conversation.

In several recent conversations I’ve had with faculty, the interrelated issues of grading and workload have come up. It’s a perennial question in the teaching profession: How do I give good feedback to my students and still have time to do…well…anything else? We know that prompt feedback is one of the integral principles of effective undergraduate teaching, and no one likes to make student wait for their grades and our comments. That’s all fine and well in the abstract, but when we’re staring at several sections’ worth of exams or a stack of essays, “prompt” becomes more like a cruel joke than a realistic goal. There are some papers that have so many issues it feels like we’re be writing more words in our comments than our students did in the original assignment. There are times we feel like we’re acting more like copyeditors than teachers. The sheer volume of grading can feel overwhelming. (It never stops!) And hanging over it all is the reality that we end up writing either the same or very similar comments on a majority of the work we’re assessing.  Is there a better way?

The short answer is Yes, there are a number of methods we can use to reduce our grading time but still provide meaningful feedback to our students. And one of the better ways to do so is to employ rubrics.  There are a number of compelling arguments in favor of using rubrics:

  • Designing and writing a rubric helps us clarify the objectives and standards of an assignment.
  • Having clearly-stated criteria helps us grade consistently and fairly, even if we’re working through multiple sections’ worth of assignments.
  • Students have full and clear criteria in front of them to associate with their grade, saving us the need for writing long summative comments.
  • We don’t have to write similar comments over and over on student work; rather, we can simply note or refer to them to specific parts of the rubric text.
  • Rubrics can help us assess the actual application of student knowledge, not just the knowledge itself.
  • Once we’ve designed and built an effective rubric, it becomes a lasting resource for us to use (with possible modifications from time to time) with subsequent iterations of our courses and assignments.

So where to begin?

I’d recommend starting with this excellent overview of grading in general, actually, as it includes a nice discussion of why we use grades, as well as some practical suggestions to avoid common grading pitfalls. Then, consult this article from Carnegie-Mellon’s Eberle Teaching Center for an overview of rubrics and some good examples.

A really useful resource for rubric creation is John Mueller’s “Authentic Assessment Toolbox.” In particular, his descriptions of various types of rubrics, and his discussion of how to create effective descriptors and levels of performance, are very helpful.

Also highly recommended: this rubrics tutorial from the University of South Florida’s School of Public Health, which walks you through each step of the rubric-making process and contains some nice templates and examples.

If you are interested in using your rubrics on Blackboard (and if you’ve done any Core assessment, you’ve seen how easy they can make the process), there are some good video tutorials from Blackboard on how to build or import a rubric.

Here’s an overview of building and using rubrics in Blackboard:

And here’s how to use rubrics with grading in Blackboard:

Also, we have several books in the CETL Library that can not only help you get started, but to dive as deep into rubrics as you want. The classic text is Stevens, Levi, and Walvoord’s Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback, and Promote Student Learning (Stylus, 2004). 

We’re also happy to provide additional resources or consultations on assessment and grading in general, and/or rubrics in particular. Just call (263-6102), email, or come by Rasmussen 208, and we can get started!





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