How and Why to Move Toward Student-Designed Rubrics

Get your learners involved with these tips.

The most powerful thing to impact learning is the notion of student-designed rubrics. After all, rubrics are a great way to give a lot of feedback in a short time. This is key to formative assessment and student-owned learning. So we're going to focus on how to move to student-designed rubrics for them to assess and report on their work. But why do this at all?

Here's the truth: the topic of student-designed rubrics has caused much debate in the past.

Nevertheless, there's one thing you mustn't forget as a teacher. Yes, we believe whenever possible that learners should be involved in the development, application, and reporting of assessment. However, the most essential role in this process is still the one left for you.

You are the moderator of the assessment—without you, it doesn't happen.

What we want to do then is present student-designed rubrics through the lens of learning ownership with teachers as facilitators. So we're talking about designing rubrics not only as formative, but also driven by the students themselves. We'll look at teaching students to pull criteria from a project or assignment to design rubrics for their own evaluations.

Formative Assessment is Still King

We've written much on the topic of formative assessment, specifically in our book Mindful Assessment. No matter what, it still leads the way for student evaluation because it's exponentially more useful to them. Teachers use it to give honest, accurate, and timely feedback and rubrics are useful for just that.

There are tons of tutorials and opinions about writing great rubrics. However, the most useful advice for experimenting with student-designed rubrics is starting with the end in mind. This is about how the students will see and use your rubric feedback.

Foster Proactivity

The very notion of student-designed rubrics gives learners a sense of control, so they will accomplish more. This is not to say that you are giving up control altogether, since you're still guiding them.

Instead, you're teaching them to visualize desirable observable behaviours in other groups working toward the same goal.

It's like allowing them to see their project from the outside looking in.

It may seem time consuming at first, but the benefits of great self-assessment are exponential in the long run. The words that you use to describe a skill might not mean the same to a student, so allow them creativity. For example, they might use pictures instead of words for descriptors.

Begin at the End

Teach them to begin with the end in mind and allow them the capacity to dream big. Let their imaginations soar as they visualize what an awesome project outcome will look like. Of course, you'll have your own expectations, and don’t give those up. Use pointed questions to really draw out their own ideas and really assess the purpose of the rubric:

  • Is it to save you time?
  • Is it to guide the students?
  • Does it do these things effectively?

Define Skills Mastery

Assemble skills by priority and decide which ones need to be mastered. Each rubric for a given project needs to be a jumping-off point for the next assessment. Scaffold all checkpoints of the project so that they can clearly see a linear progression. There will be non-linear paths to the same outcome, but let them get there themselves.

In other words, student-designed rubrics will be used at each stage of the evaluation process, so they'll make lots of them along the way.

Don’t be put off—remember that your students will be designing them (with your guidance.)

Putting designing rubrics in the hands of your students fosters deeper understanding of what’s expected.

Remember that the rubric is designed to “get them there," not punish them for a less than optimal outcome.

You can win as a teacher because you have taken much of the burden of rubric creation off your shoulders and put it where it matters—into student formative self-assessment.

They will expect it of themselves, and they will learn valuable self-assessment techniques as grown ups. Their student-designed rubrics will become internal as they go through the process of composing them. As for you, you'll have taught them to teach themselves.

Focus on Collaboration

Have them discuss the outcome of designing rubrics with each other. As the teacher you'll redirect and refocus them. You can share the rubrics that your students create with colleagues for even further evaluation.

Also, take time to calibrate your rubrics. Once you get a sense of how the rubric worked or did not, go back and examine the process. 

In the end, make sure your learners understand that rubrics should be organic.

That means they must be evaluated and tweaked for consistency, accuracy, and efficiency. If students consistently do not fulfill a rubric, this will tell you that you’ll need to change something—either the learning process or the way they are evaluated.

To Sum Up

So you should be ready to move forward now. Hopefully this has inspired you to consider student self-assessments as a serious practice if you've never done it before. The points below are references for your journey toward student-designed rubrics:

  • Tell the students they will be designing rubrics for themselves
  • Imagine the best outcome of the assignment and build backward from there
  • Prioritize which skills to test and when
  • Do not grade the rubrics
  • Discuss the rubric outcome with the students for better understanding
  • Evaluate and tweak the rubric for use in the future

As a bonus, here’s a beautiful template that you can use to design your rubrics.

As a teacher much of your job is seeing how learners use information, rather than you dispensing it.

Information, facts, and other basic building blocks are out there already. Your skills will be determined by how you can access that information and get it into the hands of your students. From there it's about how you lead them to solve real problems and create life-enhancing solutions. Formative self-assessment, in the form of student-designed rubrics, will serve as an awesome tool to get them there.

Additional Reading