Wednesday / May 29

How to Write and Use Rubrics Productively

Do the assignments you design for your students involve multiple steps? For example, do the projects, papers, presentations, etc., in your class expect students to incorporate several different parts into one holistic outcome? Then, when you are grading, or scoring as I prefer to call it, the assignments, are you dismayed that your students did not incorporate all of the parts or take responsibility for proofreading their assignments carefully?  Plus, when you score submissions, are you challenged in allotting the number of points to account for each part of the outcome?

If you are nodding your head or saying yes to any or all of these questions, then I highly recommend that you start writing and using rubrics with your students.

Rubrics are graphic organizers that describe both the process and product for a particular assignment by (1) establishing expectations, (2) measuring outcomes, and (3) providing feedback.

Establish Expectations

When designing your assignments, start by completing a sample assignment. As you are completing your sample, record on a T-chart divided into thirds (shown below) (a) the expectations or steps required to complete the assignment to fulfill your vision; (b) the information, handouts, materials, resources, etc., that you as the teacher must provide your students in order for them to complete the assignment; and (c) the amount of time each expectation or step will necessitate (both in-class and out-of-class) to complete the assignment.

Here a sample T-Chart to help you establish expectations:


By recording these notes while you are completing your sample assignment, you will more clearly understand the specific sequence of events, items you need to prepare/provide/arrange for your students, and a realistic sense of time needed for successful completion both in class and out of class.

Always keep in mind that not all of your students have the same out-of-class environments and support systems for completing assignments.

Once you are fully aware of the expectations, you are ready to write your rubric using a model I have developed call the 3 x 3 x 3 Rubric.

3 x 3 x 3 Rubric

The 3 x 3 x 3 Rubric includes:

  1. Three outcomes: one outcome relates to knowledge, one outcome relates to skills, and one outcome relates to dispositions integrated into the assignment aligned with the T-chart.
  2. Three levels of outcomes: one level is the above mid-level expectations, one level is equal to mid-level expectations, and one level is below mid-level expectations.
  3. Three kinds of data associated with the outcomes: qualitative data corresponds to narrative outcomes; quantitative data corresponds to numerical outcomes; and a kind of data with a title that I have coined, connective data, which corresponds to the individual student showing personalization of the outcome through student choice and voice.

The 3 x 3 x 3 Rubric looks like this:


Notice that one line in the 3x3x3 Rubric is dedicated to the student’s completion of the rubric.  This expectation prompts the student to take time to proofread their assignments before submission, to comment on their overall learning, and to score themselves honestly. With the identified criteria and the stipulated allocated points corresponding to the criteria, students will begin to understand the parts of an assignment contribution to the whole outcome.

Three Outcomes

Based on your sample assignment and your T-chart records, you should be clear on all parts of your assignment leading to the outcome to fulfill your vision.  Now you are ready to prepare a detailed description of the knowledge your students are demonstrating with this assignment.

For example, if the assignment is to create a brochure and a map of an imaginary country to illustrate the physical and cultural geography of the country, you might summarize the expectation for Knowledge as: the student describes the geographic characteristics of a self-identified imaginary country on a tri-fold brochure that includes ten (10) physical features and ten (10) cultural features. The student should select physical and cultural geographic features from the lists developed in class, posted on the wall, and distributed to students prior to beginning this assignment.

Prepare a detailed description of the Skills, summarized such as: the student designs and illustrates a map of the self-identified imaginary country that includes a legend with the physical and cultural features described on the tri-fold brochure.

Finally, prepare a detailed description of the Dispositions, summarized such as: the student prepares a five (5) minute presentation to show the brochure and map to a small group of students and answer questions. The student should talk about the brochure and map for 2.5 minutes and answer questions for 2.5 minutes. Each student in the group will be responsible for asking two (2) geographic questions, prepared in a previous lesson.

Measurement of Outcomes

Once all of the outcomes have been identified, you’re ready to insert the descriptions into the left column of 3x3x3 Rubric and add the measurement of the outcomes, as shown here:


Teacher Feedback

Effective teacher feedback must be provided in a timely manner, correspond directly with the criteria, and employ consistent approaches. Above all, your scores and feedback must be objective, fair, and defendable.

Your teacher feedback needs to:

  1. Personalize messages: use the student’s name and contextualize your feedback based on the student’s submission
  2. Reinforce achievements: make positive and productive statements about specific outcomes that the student has demonstrated in relationship to the assignment expectations and highlight accomplishments. For example, you might want to use the sentence starter, “I like the way you….”
  3. Offer motivation: build upon achievements to extend encouragement and advance the learning. For example, you might want to use the sentence start, “You included many interesting (expectations); next time try to include one or two more (expectations).”
  4. Report scores: insert the earned number of points and the earned total

Data Analysis

After writing and using your rubric, take time to reflect upon the process and product to analyze the data.  Study the scores on each of part of your students’ rubrics. Then consider your instructions related to each criteria and/or section.

Ask yourself:

  1. Was the assignment developmentally appropriate built on prior learning and experiences?
  2. Did the expectations align with the standards, activities, outcomes, and assessments?
  3. Was the instruction sequenced, prepared adequately, and clear?
  4. Could students complete the expectations with the provided information, handouts, materials, resources and within the anticipated time?
  5. Were students engaged in the learning and did they demonstrate their achievements?
  6. Did students enjoy the assignment?

Modify Practices

After analyzing the data and reflecting on the questions, modify your practices so you are ready to use this instruction again in the future. Time spent now to modify your practices will benefit you greatly throughout your career.

Written by

Nancy P. Gallavan, Ph.D., is Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Central Arkansas where she specializes in classroom assessments and cultural competence in the Department of Teaching and Learning MAT Program, which she helped to start in 2006. The UCA MAT Program was recognized as the Distinguished Program in Teacher Education by the Association of Teacher Educators in 2010. Dr. Gallavan also serves as the UCA Academic Liaison to Institutional Diversity.

Receiving university and college awards for her teaching, scholarship, and service, Dr. Gallavan has expertise in K-12 education, classroom assessments, curriculum development, cultural competence, social studies education, and teacher self-efficacy. With more than 120 peer-reviewed publications in journals, as chapters in books, and as books, Dr. Gallavan authored two versions of Developing Performance-Based Assessments, Grades K-5 and Grades 6-12 with Corwin Press in 2009. She also authored Navigating Cultural Competence: A Compass for Teachers, Grades K-5 and Grades 6-12 with Corwin Press in 2011. With Ellen Kottler, she co-authored Secrets to Success for Beginning Elementary School Teachers with Corwin Press in 2007 and Secrets to Success for Social Studies Teachers with Corwin Press in 2008. Most of these books have been republished in multiple languages.

Her research agenda focuses on classroom assessments and teacher self-efficacy. Her chapter, “If you want your students to change, then you need to change: Mediating the sources and benefits of teacher self-efficacy with teacher candidates,” will be published in the Handbook of Research on Professional Development for Quality Teaching and Learning in 2016. Dr. Gallavan serves as the editor of the Arkansas Association of Teacher Educators Electronic Journal (ArATE EJ) and co-editor of the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE) Annual Yearbook of Research.

An active member of American Educational Research Association (AERA), Association of Teacher Educators (ATE), Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME), and National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), she is involved with the AERA Classroom Assessment Special Interest Group and serves as Chair of the ATE Commission of Online Teaching, Learning, and Schooling. Dr. Gallavan is a Past President and a Distinguished Member of the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE), a Kappa Delta Pi (KDP) Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Chapter inaugural member, and a member of Phi Delta Phi (education honor society).

Prior to joining the University of Central Arkansas, Dr. Gallavan was an Assistant/Associate Professor with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, specializing in social studies education and cultural competence. She began her career in education as an elementary school and middle level classroom teacher primarily in the Cherry Creek School District in Colorado. She earned her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Literacy from Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University); her master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Gifted and Talented Education from the University of Colorado, Boulder; her school administrator license from the University of Colorado, Denver; and her doctoral degree in Curriculum Leadership with a cognate in Cultural Competence from the University of Denver. At the University of Denver, she received the Phi Delta Kappa Outstanding Dissertation Award.

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