PBL Rubric
I use project-based and problem-based learning a lot in my own teaching, as well as research it, recommend it, and present workshops on it.  Consequently, I am often asked about assessments and grading that come along with using PBLs and inquiry.  In conversations that I have with teachers and faculty members about using rubrics for grading student products, or learning artifacts, I consistently find there are two challenges that make rubrics not as effective as they could be.

Misalignment

The first challenge that I often observe or hear about is a misalignment between what the teacher or faculty member actually cares about and what is listed as criteria on a rubric.  For teachers, I usually see this as a mismatch between what they have listed on their lesson plans for the objectives or goals of the lesson and then what criteria they have listed in the rubric.

I try to remind teachers and faculty members that the objectives and goals of your lesson should be directly reflected (read as “obvious”) in the rubric.  That is, using the language from Bloom’s Taxonomy, such as “compare and contrast” or “analyze” or “explain,” that is embedded in your objectives or goals should be embedded overtly in the criteria for your rubric.

Often, I find that teachers and faculty members list criteria that are part of the requirements for the artifact, such as number of slides, number of pages/words, or spelling, but they fail to adequately list the very criteria for which they designed the lesson.  So, don’t forget to include criteria that delineate to students the quality you expect in their comparisons, analyses, or explanations.

Weighting

The second challenge I observe when teachers and faculty members use rubrics is inadequate weighting of criteria.  This is evident in a rubric when a student can do average or better (so maybe a “C” or better) with your rubric and still fail to understand the primary course content.

In my research, students told me it was easier to get a good grade with a project than it was on a test.  This calls into question the rigor of our rubrics.

Where I see this most prevalent is when teachers and faculty members use rubric maker tools.  I am a huge fan of tools such as iRubric, Rubric Maker and Rubistar.  I frequently recommend these tools to teachers as a beginning to building their own rubrics (see an overview at Edudemic).  I also always recommend that rubric designers (that’s teachers and faculty members) handle weighting in one of two ways inside of these tools.

Add a Column

The first way to handle weighting in a rubric is to add a column for weighting, such as a percentage or with points.  (I know this seems a little obvious.)  Many rubric tools, however, do not include this in their settings.  So, you have to go in and add this column.  I also encourage you to make sure that you weight most heavily what you care about most.  If the “scientific knowledge” or “analysis” or “articulation of symbolism” is what you care about most, make sure it is weighted appropriately.  Again, I believe that a student shouldn’t be able to do average or better on a performance-based assessment without demonstrating the knowledge and skills of the assignment. There is a great post by Pamela Flash that walks you through step-by-step of building a rubric and weighting is the second step.

Add Criteria

The second way to handle weighting is to add more criteria for the knowledge, skills, or requirements that you care most about.  For example, if you are emphasizing “compare and contrast,” then you may be able to break this down into more criteria, such as “identified…” and “supported…” and then “compared…”  If there is scientific knowledge that you are expecting students to “explain,” then you may be able to break this down into specific criteria.  Again, you’re adding criteria in order to increase the weight for the set of knowledge or skills that you care about.

Bonus Tip!

While I encourage teachers and faculty members to share their rubrics with students ahead of time (as well as consider having students collaborate in the creation of the rubric!), I also think it’s a great idea to turn the rubric into a self-check checklist for the students prior to submissions.

Following Up!

  1. Here’s a great article by Madeline Marcotte about rubrics and the pros and cons of using them.
  2. There’s another great post by John Larmer and the folks at BIE on how to use their rubrics for 21st Century Skills and PBL, so you may want to take a look at that one.
  3. Finally, Grant Wiggins offers up a thoughtful post on how rubrics can be created and how they should be used.  It’s thoughtful in that it offers some philosophical viewpoints about when and how rubrics should be used and what their purposes can be.

I would love to hear your thoughts on rubrics and how they work for you and what you struggle with when using them.  Please share your thoughts and any additional resources in the comments below. Good ideas are always welcome!

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Kathy Cassidy via Compfight

About Michael M Grant

Dr. Michael M. Grant is a passionate professor, researcher, and consultant. He works with faculty members, schools and universities, and districts to integrate technology meaningfully and improve teaching and learning. When 140 characters just won't work, then he blogs here at Viral-Notebook.com. He has a beautiful wife and three equally beautiful daughters, who will change the world.

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