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A major concern for many college instructors is how to grade fairly and efficiently. The simple answer is to employ rubrics. Usually rubrics are defined as a detailed breakdown of point distribution, with evaluative criteria that explains that distribution. More importantly, rubrics help us to clearly communicate focused, meaningful and consistent feedback. Rubrics can also reduce student anxiety by making the parameters of the assignment transparent, and allowing for better planning and execution of the assignment. To better align these advantages, students can even collaborate on rubric design. So what are the advantages of inviting students into that process? 

I began implementing student-generated rubrics in an effort to make my teaching, assignments, and assessments more equitable. Mary-Ann Winkelmes calls this Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT). I introduce the basic principles of assessment early in the semester by teaching students to deeply analyze assignments, reflect on their writing processes, and finally to evaluate their own work. Despite this preparation, when I introduce student-generated rubrics, I often hear variations of: “You’re letting us grade ourselves?!” While this may sound dangerously anti-rigorous, students actually have set very high standards for themselves. With my guidance, we usually find a healthy balance of high expectations and practical criteria. Importantly, I frame this exercise as an ongoing collaborative process. Though some classes respond more positively than others, I have found that the process better prepares students for the assignment and ultimately makes them more active participants in the course work. 

If you’re thinking about introducing a student-generated rubric, here are some things to consider:

Why use student-generated rubrics?
When we create assignments, we are usually communicating certain expectations, purposes, and ultimately goals for students to meet. When students receive that information the responses vary based on transparency, but they generally approach the topic differently than they would if they set their own goals. Inviting students to assist in developing their own evaluation structure can activate meta-cognition, motivation, interest, and performance. 

How do I introduce this?
The key to student-generated rubrics is an early expectation of self-assessment. If students are able to set goals, revise them, and reflect on their own performances, they are primed for the evaluation process. Of course, the success of this type of evaluation depends on the communication of learning goals both for the course and the assignment itself. Clearly communicating these goals and scaffolding assignments will help students to think about the criteria by which the assignment should be evaluated. 

What does this look like in the classroom?
The first step is to revisit your course objectives and the learning goals for the assignment. Make sure that you have clearly stated the purpose of the assignment, it’s learning goals, and the necessary criteria. From there, you can create a preliminary outline with suitable categories for students to fill in. Alternatively, this can be a multi-day process where students read and analyze the assignment itself, generating their own outlines and criteria. You can then review these and synthesize or amend where necessary before asking students to begin filling in detailed criteria. While technology (Google Sheets, Google docs, etc.) makes this collaborative process easier, it can also be done on paper and distributed to small groups. 

What are the outcomes?
If we invite students to the rubric as collaborators, they are empowered to use their own knowledge and experiences to become active stakeholders in their education. Bloom’s Taxonomy places evaluation and creation as the highest levels of knowledge. The experience that students gain from this exercise allows them to move through the hierarchy while simultaneously thinking about their work at various levels. As students gain the ability to judge their own work, they are also learning what it means to evaluate the work of others. Moving beyond the singular goal of an instructor-generated grade, student-generated rubrics show the value of collaboration, process, self-reflection, and yes, evaluation. 

Additional Resources:
Getting Learners Engaged with Student-Generated Rubrics
Berkley Center for Teaching and Learning: Rubrics
TILT Higher Ed


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