For the past two years I have been using a grading rubric for writing assignments in all of my courses. In my first few years of teaching I was reluctant to consider using a rubric. I thought a rubric would place burdensome limits on my subjective leeway in assigning grades for writing. And wouldn’t a grading rubric more likely be used over in the College of Education or some other department where the faculty didn’t acquire the innate gift of instantly recognizing good writing like we historians attained in our graduate programs?
My experiences trying to grade undergraduate essays destroyed my skepticism about using rubrics. Today I have come not only to love using them but also to evangelize about their usefulness. First, using a grading rubric makes it clear for students what exactly will be evaluated in their essays and research papers. The rubric, which I provide as part of the course syllabus at the beginning of the semester, specifies which parts of their papers will be earning them their grade. Second, a rubric gives students valuable guidelines before and during the writing process. The rubric makes the expectations clear and gives students a chance to think about how their essay will be graded before they even begin writing. Third, once the assignment has been graded, a rubric indicates to the student what parts of their writing needs improvement while showing them what parts of their writing is adequate or even proficient. This allows students to focus on specific areas of their writing that need the most improvement. Finally, using a rubric has drastically reduced the amount of questions and complaints I receive after I return their graded assignments. When students complain about grades, my usual tactic is simply to explain to them why they deserved the grade they received. A grading rubric actually does this job for me.
I have included an image of the grading rubric I use for my upper-level history courses and research seminars. I invite your comments and suggestions. Do you use a rubric to grade writing assignments? What are the advantages and disadvantages?