Why I dislike rubrics in my classes

I teach in a M.Ed. in Instructional Design program, where my students are generally mid-career professionals. They are all in the program because they want to gain skills that will help them make the career transition to instructional design – or enhance their abilities in the current careers. Either way, they come to class motivated.

One area where I sometimes get comments from my students is the lack of rubrics for my courses. In the context of the courses that I’m teaching, I hate rubrics. Rubrics are all about my expectations of students and not about the students’ potential. They in no way take into consideration the individual talents of my students, what each brings to the course, and they pre-judge what I think will be good work.

They change the behavior of students – causing them to focus on what is necessary to ‘make the grade’, rather than the internal motivation of excellence for excellence sake. They also take away an aspect of learner creativity – as the students then focus their assignments on meeting the rubric requirements rather than on making an excellent product out of their projects.

I always worry when I provide too much guidance in assignments. I worry that by providing that specific guidance I take away learner agency. I make the learning about what I, as the teacher, want, and not about what the learners themselves want.

Instead of rubrics, I have opted for checklists. I provide a checklist of what things need to have, and then I encourage students to be creative in how they solve the problem. I also give them permission to not be perfect, and not necessarily be ‘successful’, because you cannot be innovative if you have to be successful. The requirement to always be ‘perfect’ is one which causes students to be overly cautious in their work – and means they shy away from trying new things and opt for reproducing things they already know.

I am lucky that I don’t need to ‘rank’ my students. My students do not need to be compared to one another. I don’t need to grade on a curve. My goal is to get all my students to grow in the class – for all of them to be challenged and to overcome the challenge – to prove to themselves that they can do it.

My teaching is much less about what my expectations of my students are – and more about helping my students overcome their own expectations of themselves. Personally, I think a rubric would get in the way.

What do you think? Do you use rubrics? How do they help? How do they hinder?

2 Comments

  1. I am of mixed opinion on Rubrics. I do like them for some things. Some things that are measurable, and you need to have concrete numbers for (think compliance training, or your rating as a marksman) but for higher education the more you climb the ladder (so to speak), the training wheels need to come off. I see rubrics as a type of training wheel. When I teach a class I have expectations of where the class should go (after all, someone hired me to reach certain learning objectives with my students), but I do want students to be creative in what they do, and I want them to grow as professionals. Sometimes this happens with the experience of frustration, and sometimes it doesn’t I think a certain type of rubric is fine (a checklist is sort of like a rubric in my book), but the rubric can’t be suffocating the learner and striping them of their creativity and inquisitiveness. I have has students in the past who were a “Jus’ the fact, ma’am” type of learner (in other words, give them the rubric, I’ll perform to it, I’ll move on), and those learners have had some issues in my classes. They eventually get used to the looser rubric structure, but it jolts them.

  2. I hate rubrics. My approach is similar to yours. I give them broad guidelines of what is necessary, and leave details up to them. They surprise me often. Usually well! I also opted for holistic grading this semester. Just generally letting students know which grade they r on track for, after first asking THEM to grade themselves and justify and consider what they might do better in future to get a better grade. And now, as semester winds down, I’ve told them again what,they’re on track towards and what they need to do to do better. Mine are undergrads. Second to fourth years. I know this approach will be driving some of them nuts. All the good ones, about half the class, are handling it well (one mentioned it specifically in her reflection). The medium ones are doing ok. I have a couple who don’t care or have huge issues unrelated to the course they tell me I can’t help with…so I don’t think it’s harming anyone, really.

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