“May I see the rubric, professor?”

In the last year or so, I have found that students are increasingly asking me for the rubrics I will use to grade their assignments.

This is a good thing.

Duquesne’s Center for Teaching Excellence describes a rubric as a “grading guide that makes explicit the criteria for judging students’ work on discussion, a paper, performance, product, show-the-work problem, portfolio, presentation, essay question—any student work you seek to evaluate.”  For the professor, a rubric enables one to grade efficiently and fairly by referencing back to a common standard.

Rubrics also benefit students as they complete assignments.  They communicate what students are expected to demonstrate in their work.  It also avoids surprises in grading.  For example, if a professor expects a paper to be in a particular format, he or she can indicate as such on the rubric; a student can use the rubric as a checklist to ensure that all required components are present.  Rubrics also help students to see how they can improve their work by showing the various levels of performance for each competency.  An astute student will consult the rubric throughout the writing process to ensure the student is maximizing the outcomes expected by the professor.

There is extensive research at both the K-12 and higher education levels backing up the notion that rubrics help students in the learning process.  Indeed, several studies have shown that, as early as the first grade, children can create their own rubrics to self-assess their work and that this, in turn, makes them better learners.  At the college level, students use rubrics to identify their own strengths and weaknesses.  As a result, they experience less anxiety around assignments.  They also perceive grades achieved using a rubric system to be fairer.  Rubrics help students develop the skill of self-assessment, which is critical to lifelong learning.

Our colleagues who teach at the undergraduate level are providing rubrics to students in advance of grading.  Therefore, it is not surprising that law students are beginning to ask to see rubrics used in their law school courses.  We should support them in the self-assessment of their work by providing them with our rubrics before they submit assignments.

There are many resources available to help faculty with writing rubrics, including: