Rubrics can seem both superfluous and bureaucratic. On one hand, they are these. On the other, they’re a great way to keep yourself honest and, most importantly, to clarify your expectations to your students, not to mention they provide something like a safety net for grading. If you can spell out precisely why your student has received a ‘D’ on their midterm paper, you feel confident delivering that ‘D’. All the better if you can point to the rubric to back you up. I’ve given in to the rubric and incorporated it into a guide I give to my students at the start of the semester, in which is spelled out everything they need to know about how to write and format a paper for my class. What I like best about it is that it has helped me clarify for myself precisely what I want to see in a paper. There’s comfort and accountability in that.
Rubrics can be written out as paragraphs, as I have done, or put into a table. I describe what an ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’, and ‘F’ paper contain, what they ‘look’ like. If I were to put this into a table, then students who are comfortable decoding tables–because they’re math/science people, or visual learners, or work with Excel a lot–will perhaps find my rubric more friendly to their style. Where the table rubric may be different in form, I don’t think the content is improved by charting it in a table. What does change when the rubric is put in table form is its authority. What may come across as a list of subjective expectations now appears with an aura of objectivity. The student can trace with their finger precisely where their paper falls on the table, and therefore pinpoint the exact location of their grade. They are convinced that, yes, indeed, they deserve the ‘D’. This is the power of the rubric in table form.