Scoring objective tests is easy: the answer is either correct or incorrect. But with essay questions, lab techniques, writing assignments, reports, cooperative or group work, presentations, or other projects (including multimedia ones), it gets more complicated. Some students (intuitively or through prior experience) just seem to know how to do things well. Others, however, need some guidance as to what the teacher would consider quality work. And facing a pile of reports or a roomful of projects to evaluate can be a daunting task. Sometimes the evaluation boils down to factors such as length, neatness, and spelling/grammar (and whether it’s completed on time). While these criteria are certainly important, it’s easy to concentrate on these without an in-depth consideration of the actual content, demonstrated skills, or creativity of a science project or activity.

This is where rubrics can be useful. A rubric is a summary of desired criteria for student work, including descriptions of levels of achievement for each criterion. A rubric can range from a simple checklist (where the levels are “present” and “not present”) to more detailed, analytic rubrics, written in the form of a table with levels such as excellent, proficient, basic, or beginning. Sharing the rubric with the students ahead of time shows them the criteria on which their work will be evaluated and eliminates the “guess what the teacher thinks is important” frustration that many of us have felt ourselves as students.

With a rubric, I found that after looking at a few papers or projects, I had internalized the criteria and I could focus more on the quality and individuality of the students’ work. I could give feedback that was more focused than just the phrase “good job” or “needs work.” Creating rubrics can be a challenging task, but fortunately the Internet can come to the rescue. In the June-July issue of Learning and Leading with Technology, there was a guide to online Rubrics and Rubric Generators (which you can download and read for free). As I read this, I looked at the resources that did not require a subscription or purchase (FREE is an important word in my vocabulary). In examining each of these, I focused on how the resource could be useful in a science class. Here are some of the ones that were mentioned in the article:

  • Ideas and Rubrics: This resource from the Chicago Public Schools has lots of information on rubrics in general and a 22-page download with ideas for science-related rubrics. I would re-format them into a more student-friendly style, but this is an excellent resource.
  • Assessment Rubrics: Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators has been around for a long time, and this is one of many resources on this site. Look under the heading Subject Specific Rubrics for ideas for rubrics on reports, presentations (although there are dozens of other resources here on graphic organizers, report cards, etc.).
  • Rubistar: This site can be used without the free registration, but the advantage of registering is that you can save and edit your customized rubrics online.
  • Rubrics for Assessment: This collection of rubrics from a variety of sources is provided by the University of Wisconsin.
  • Rubric Maker: I found this from the Tech4Learning a link in one of the sites mentioned above. You don’t have to sign in to use the generator, and you can save and print your rubrics.

I’m currently working on a rubric project with a group of educators. It’s not easy to put the criteria and levels into words, but the discussions we’ve had about effective classroom practice and student learning have been enlightening and enjoyable.

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