Better Together: How to Co-Construct Rubrics With Your Students

One of my biggest pet peeves used to be writing rubrics and reviewing them with students. After spending hours agonizing over just the right language, we would read through the document together, line after excruciating line. Once the bell rang for dismissal, my frustration and disappointment would quickly set in. Many of my students would leave the rubrics on their desks or the floor as they shuffled out of class. And there I would stand, alone in my room, my text-bloated masterpiece scattered like confetti. I felt pretty exhausted by this cycle, and it made me wonder:

  • How would my students create great work if they didn’t care about the rubric?

  • How can students get involved with the creation of the rubric? I’m tired of writing these by myself!

After having enough of this repeating scenario, I discovered a strategy that shares more ownership: the co-constructed rubric. This approach not only helped me with my rubric irritations, but it also helped shift the culture of my classroom. If you’d like to reshape your rubric approach, the key steps below will serve as a guide to gain clarity around quality while amplifying student voice.

Before we begin, a few suggestions:

  • This process is flexible, so consider how you might personalize and adapt this process to meet the needs of your learners.

  • Be sure to check out the “Rubric Co-Construction in Practice” sections for a real-life example of one teacher using this process. This section aims to provide additional clarity and a visual component to accompany the rubric co-construction process.

  • This blog post comes with some free tools to assist you, so please read to the end for access to them.

Initial Preparation

Before you officially begin the process of co-constructing a rubric with your students, be sure to introduce the project expectations and the associated learning goals. You may also briefly review the major product for which the rubric will be developed. If students have little experience with rubrics, you might consider what type of preparation they’ll need to participate in this process effectively. Once you’ve provided this foundational information, organize students into small learning teams and proceed to the first step.

Step #1: Analyze Sample Products

Provide time for student teams to examine various product samples that represent different levels of quality. As students review and discuss, encourage them to sort the products into the following categories:

  • At Standard: The product includes all of the features that meet the project's learning goals and quality expectations, and only minimal revisions might be needed.

  • Developing: The product includes several features that meet the project's learning goals and quality expectations, but more revisions are needed.

  • Beginning: The product needs a significant amount of revisions to meet the project's learning goals and quality expectations.

Once teams have sorted their samples, facilitate a discussion that allows each team to explain and justify the reasoning behind their rankings.

As you prepare students for this step, consider the following:

  • How will I locate or create sample products that represent a full range of quality for student teams to analyze?

  • How will I help students find common ground if their rankings vary greatly?

Rubric Co-Construction in Practice

Remember that products from the real world can serve as samples for students to examine. A high school history teacher designed a project (The History Website Project) that challenged students to create engaging and informational websites that highlighted the key events from World War II. Not having any previous examples of student work to share (this was a newly created project), the teacher decided to have students review historical and other general websites from a list that the teacher prepared in advance of this step

Step #2: Write Quality Characteristics for an At Standard Product

Once teams have sorted and shared their rankings, instruct them to focus on the product samples that they identified as At Standard. Then, allow teams to brainstorm an extensive list of characteristics that make the At Standard product samples such high quality. You can use the framing question below to initiate their conversations:

What makes a (insert product) superior?

Be sure to encourage teams to list as many quality characteristics as possible (see the “Rubric Co-Construction in Practice” section below, for example, quality characteristics). Once teams have generated their list, provide a process for student teams to share out some of the qualities they listed.

As you prepare students for this step, consider the following:

  • How might I need to scaffold this task for my students?

  • How might I need to differentiate this task for my students?

Rubric Co-Construction in Practice

Consider creating a starter list of quality characteristics to scaffold student understanding and to initiate their team discussions. Let’s return to The History Website Project and review some of the examples the teacher provided to get team conversations started:

  • attention to detail

  • accurately researched and written

  • exciting

  • easy to navigate

Once students saw a few ideas on how to use quality characteristics to describe a superior product, student teams were able to generate extensive lists to share.

Step #3: Develop a Criteria List

This step aims to narrow and refine their initial brainstorming into a more concise criteria list that explicitly includes the learning goals. Ensure that each team has a list of the learning goals that you previously reviewed before officially starting the rubric co-construction process. We want to keep these at the forefront during this step.

Have teams organize their list of quality characteristics into key criteria (categories) for a high-quality product. Students will need support with organizing quality characteristics into criteria, so you consider providing a process for how to do this (see the “Rubric Co-Construction in Practice” section below for one teacher’s approach).

Invite each team to share their criteria list with the whole group. During this time, you can chart these in a highly visible way to all students. As a class, collectively determine which criteria are most important and can be generally agreed upon by everyone. You may need to interject at times to ensure the learning goals are being featured in this criteria list. You may need to remind students that co-constructing a rubric is a collaborative effort, and your perspective should be represented.

As you prepare students for this step, consider the following:

  • What criteria do I think teams will identify as most important?

  • How will I specifically structure and guide the process to determine the final criteria list?

Rubric Co-Construction in Practice

Using The History Website Project again as a reference, let’s unpack a few key strategies that were employed during this step:

  • To support students with the process of organizing quality characteristics into criteria, the teacher had each team engage in a process called Affinity Mapping. Click here to view a short video that provides an overview of this activity.

  • To help determine the final criteria list for the whole class, the teacher used