Update on the Single Point Rubric

Forty-eight hours away from taking my first writing project in my English 101, fresh college composition class, and those single-point rubrics are coming into play heavily. As my students and I come into the finish line, there are lots of questions:

“Do I need to use dialogue?”

“What should I include in my writing process folder?”

“What’s in the cover letter?”

The easiest thing for me to do is to point students back to the project’s single column rubrics for either process or paper. It’s a quick reminder for students of the qualities that the work should show to be “At Standard.”

For ambitious students, such a rubric provides a clear starting point for how to excel and go beyond the basics to achieve mastery. Furthermore, it prompts students to figure out for themselves independently how to achieve this level.

For struggling and reluctant writers, a teacher no longer needs to enter a debate about the levels necessary to “pass.” Nor do teachers need to enter into a pseudo-debate in an attempt to goad students into writing more.

In both cases, a teacher has a clear, direct rubric to form the foundations of a conversation for improvement.

The last several days before a writing project comes due are given over to “workshop” days. I turn the classroom space and time over to students to finalize projects, collect process materials, reflect on their writing in a cover letter. I don’t teach anything new, and I may only review certain concepts as I move around the class and look over shoulders and see what patterns I see in work. At this stage, it’s more important to just be there as a resource to students.

On a final note, the use of Canvas has been invaluable. While I’ve used the tool the past two years, making use of the “module” function has been essential in keeping this writing project super organized with all of it’s materials, pages, files–and giving students continued access to all of this media. Awesome.

Single Point Rubrics May Be On Point

A colleague recently sent me a link to an article by Jennifer Gonzalez from a year ago entitled, “Your Rubric is a Hot Mess; Here’s How to Fix It.” In this piece, Gonzalez makes the case for a single-column rubric focusing on the criteria that lead students to reach the standard a teacher is looking to assess.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been hot and cold on rubrics. When I came into teaching almost 20 years ago, rubrics were the rage. Good rubrics give good teachers a direction and a focus to instruction. Presented to students in the right way they may help guide students to what they need to do to hit particular performance targets.

At one point in my early teaching, an experienced teacher said to me, “You’d be a fool not to use a rubric.” Here, the philosophy seemed less, “It’s good for students,” and more, “How do you justify grades without one? You’re opening yourself to lots of problems from students and parents.”

I’ve read Maja Wilson’s Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment, which provides strong argument for moving away from rubrics. After reading her book, I don’t think I used rubrics for a year. I don’t remember having problems with parents about justifying grades, and much of my writing instruction went on the same, and with similar results from my students.

I’m back to using rubrics. Using online tools like Canvas or Turnitin make rubrics easier because you can build an electronic rubric and use it in a drop-down menu format.

After reading Gonzalez’ piece, I decided to put together two single-point rubrics for my English 101 class, which I teach to juniors and seniors at the high school level. One of the rubrics is for the process work submitted for a writing project, and the other is for the writing project itself. Here’s what they look like:

Single column rubrics

While certainly still in beta, I hope that when I roll these out next week to my students, I can help them to focus on the key skills and standards I’m looking for in this first project.