"Yeah, that's a B+ paper": Evaluating student writing before rubrics
Noah Guynn, Chair of the Department of French and Italian shares his epiphany about rubrics, which he experienced while teaching Global Humanities Forum (HUM 2A), which had an enrollment of 200 students.
"I couldn’t believe that I had to do this bureaucratic task"
What were your initial feelings about assessing student learning outcomes?
I couldn’t believe that I had to do this bureaucratic task that was all about the University intervening in my classroom and telling me how to assess and how to teach. We aren’t usually asking ourselves what our methods are; learning outcomes and rubrics require you to be quite focused and precise about what your expectations are.
How did you assess essays before using rubrics?
Before rubrics, it was more like “yeah that’s a B+ paper.” I write out a lengthy comment on every paper: this is what was good, this is what was bad. So in a way I was sort of using rubrics, but I wouldn’t break the grade down and show the student all the things that are important. The nice thing about rubrics is that they break down the components of the assignments so that you can decide how to allot points and figure out a calculation to arrive at the final grade. It’s equitable and clear.
"That’s 2000 pages of writing over ten weeks."
How have rubrics benefitted you as a professor?
Rubrics speed up grading a great deal. For HUM 2A, my course has 200 students, with two teaching assistants that do all of the grading…That’s 2000 pages of writing over ten weeks. Rubrics are incredibly helpful because they allow us to give detailed feedback and a justification for students’ grades, so that they can improve.
It’s also useful for the students. It makes them feel that they are in control of the learning experience. Informing your students about how you assess them is just being polite and it helps them meet your expectations.
What recommendations do you have for faculty who are thinking about assessment?
I would say that there is a lot of pleasure and clarity that comes from doing the work and it wasn’t very hard. In fact, it was almost ridiculously easy. I just got something from someone else, adapted it quickly, and now use it regularly. A rubric can be very intricate or it could be really simple and straight-forward. It can be three categories instead of five or six, depending on the class and what the expectations are.
Over the years you keep adding policies, procedures, and ground rules and you start to feel that you are doing more managing of learning than you are actually inspiring students. I understand faculty concerns that paying attention to learning outcomes is just another set of policies and procedures. But it is a really productive one.