eCoaching Tip 82 Three Scenarios for Engaging Students with Rubrics

October 22, 2010

eCoaching Tip 82  Three Scenarios for Engaging Students with Rubrics

How would you like to make one or two minor changes in your course design that would help your teaching go more smoothly while accelerating your students’ learning?

What might this minor yet powerful change be?  The change lays in the use of rubrics, scoring systems that clarify goals and communicate standards of student work.

Here are three rubric scenarios.  If you are already using rubrics, these scenarios might suggest a way you might tweak or refine your use. This tip also provides links to a few more “starting rubrics.”

Hope you enjoy!  Consider sharing your uses in our test wiki in the SLPA community area.

Getting Started with Rubrics

You are likely using rubrics for one of your assignments.  You may have gotten started by selecting a well-defined short assignment or a grouping of discussion board postings for two or three weeks.

For your first rubric, you probably found an existing rubric for one of these two assignments, and used the rubric as you found it, or modified it slightly to your particular course goals or purpose.  Here is a sample rubric for a short paper assignment(Parsell, 2009).  And here are two sample rubrics for discussion posts: Ecoaching Tip 69  (Boettcher 2009) and Rubric for Asynchronous Discussion Participation(Frey, n.d.)

Then you probably went through the following decisions.

  • Should I share the rubric with my students ahead of time? Preference is “yes.”  This is one of the benefits of rubrics, clarifying expectations for the students and making feedback on those expectations simpler and more specific.
  • Should I put the rubric in the syllabus or somewhere else? Including the rubric as part of an assignment is preferred.  This keeps the rubric which acts as part of the guidelines and expectations for the assignment where students are more likely to use it to guide their work. Or it can be part of the syllabus and specifically part of the assessment plan giving an overview of the course assignments.
  • Should I keep the first rubric that I use fairly simple? Again, a “yes.”  The preference is to keep the first experience with using rubrics straightforward. This can mean identifying no more than three or four criteria, such as organization, focus, argument, clarity or professionalism in an assignment. It also means describing three or four levels of performance, such as Above expectations; Meets expectations; and Not Adequate. Another set of levels might be Sophisticated, Competent or Needs work.  Or you can simply use points associated with each description of a performance element.
  • When giving feedback on an assignment, should I make detailed comments on the concept paper or the discussion posting, together with the rubric? Or can I let the rubric speak for itself? The answer here depends somewhat on your students and their maturity. If they have worked with rubrics before, they can virtually assess themselves and look to you for comment and guidance as to how to improve.If they are novices at following rubrics, the first rubric assignment is an opportunity to provide feedback that teaches the use of rubrics as well as the content. This can be done by noting how well their work meets the standards of organization, tightly organized logical arguments and clarity and professionalism of writing.

These preparations make the use of rubrics go smoothly.  Notice how this shifts when you spend your course time.  Developing rubrics takes place before the assignment, but then reduces the time that you normally might spend reviewing and grading assignments.

Now let’s look at three scenarios for using rubrics.

Rubric Scenario One:  Traditional Instructor Use

This scenario is probably the most traditional use of rubrics.

Preparations: You, the instructor, identify an assignment, select a rubric that closely fits the goals and learning outcomes of the activity, adapt it slightly to fit your course content and level of student, and then include it in the assignment description to the student.

Instructions to Learner:Your instructions to the student are to use the rubric to guide them in their assignment.  If they have questions about what is meant by any of the criteria and need more clarification on the different performance levels, they post their questions in an online forum so you can answer for all to see.

Learner Use of Rubric:Part of your instruction to the student is to use the rubric to review their submission before posting or handing it in.

Instructor Use of Rubric: Then once the student work is submitted you review the work to see how well the work meets or exceeds the performance criteria. Your comments and suggestions for improvement can point back to the rubric.

Rubric Scenario Two:  Self Evaluation with Rubrics

This scenario is a minor tweak on scenario one and invests more review responsibility with the learner.

Preparations: The preparations are basically the same.  You identify, select and adapt as you see fit a rubric that fits the learning outcomes of a course experience.

Instructions to Learner:  Your instructions to the student are also very similar.   They are to use the rubric to guide them in their assignment and to review their work with the rubric before handing it in as usual. However this time there is an additional step.  The students are to assign themselves the points that they feel are appropriate to their work.

Learner Use of Rubric: In this scenario the learner has the responsibility of first using the rubric to guide his work, and then to specifically use the rubric to evaluate and assign the number of points reflected by the work and to submit both the work and the points to the instructor.

Instructor Use of Rubric: The instructor reviews both the work and the points and determines how well the work meets or exceeds the performance criteria and how closely the points match the student’s evaluation.

Rubric Scenario Three:  Rubric Peer Review

This scenario adds other learners into the use of the rubrics.  This scenario creates more connections between learners and also encourages learners to think in terms of how their work is perceived and used by larger audiences.

Preparations: The preparations are basically the same. You identify, select and adapt as you see fit a rubric that fits the learning outcomes of the activity.

Instructions to Learner: Your instructions to the student are also very similar and the learner proceeds the same up to the point that they hand their work for peer review.   Your instructions then include directions on the process of peer review, such as the amount of feedback and timing of the feedback by another learner or learner team. For example, there may be questions regarding the process and timing of the peer review. Peer review might occur in the context of a blog or journal space.  Learners may also be encouraged to add an additional paragraph or note at the end of their work on the peer review input and process.

Learner Use of Rubric:In this scenario the learner has the responsibility of first using the rubric to guide his work, and then to hand their work for peer review.  Once their work is reviewed by one or more of their peers, they can then use the peer feedback to revise their work. The learners then submit their work to the instructor for the instructor review

Instructor Use of Rubric: The instructor reviews both the work and the peer review comments and determines how well the work meets or exceeds the performance criteria and weighs the value of the peer review notes.

Types of Rubrics

The sample rubrics in this tip and previous tips are examples of “descriptive rubrics.”  This usually means a matrix with the assignment criteria in one column and then three or four columns with the levels of performance with each cell providing descriptions of the criteria in action. Other choices for simpler rubrics are checklists of criteria or rating scales. However, for important assignments, the descriptive rubrics are generally more useful in communicating expectations and standards.

Why Rubrics are Catching On – Nine Advantages

The advantages of rubrics are many. Here is a list of nine advantages identified by Linda Suskie in her 2009 book, Assessing Student Learning, 2ed. Linda Suskie is a vice president of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and expert on higher education assessment.

Here are the nine advantages listed by Suskie (p. 139).  You can see the many benefits both for faculty and for students.

  1. Rubrics help clarify vague, fuzzy goals
  2. Rubrics help students understand your expectations
  3. Rubrics can help students self-improve
  4. Rubrics can inspire better student performance
  5. Rubrics make scoring easier and faster
  6. Rubrics makes scoring more accurate, unbiased, and consistent
  7. Rubrics improve feedback to students
  8. Rubrics reduce arguments with students
  9. Rubrics improve feedback to faculty and staff.


Many of you probably have great stories and suggestions about how rubrics are working for you. If you can, drop a line in an email about what works for you and your students.

By the way, in the recent SLPA webinar, faculty member Kelleen Stine-Cheyne shared how she incorporates a coaching step in one of her assignments in her class, Introduction to the Graduate Study of Leadership. The assignment is an article summary and questions assignment and she encourages learners to send their work to her — a minimum of five days before the due date — for feedback and she provides coaching prior to the assignment being turned in.  Just as with rubrics this preview stage turns grading and assessing into a formative learning experience.

The test wiki will be a place for more “starting rubrics” for teaching strategies such as reflective journals, posters, and blogs.  Check this out over time.

Selected References

Boettcher, J. (2009) Tip 69 Using Peer Feedback to Increase Confidence and Community. Retrieved October 15, 2010 from

Banta, Trudy. W. (2007).Assessing student learning in the disciplines. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Boettcher, J. (2006) E-Coaching Tip 27: A Rubric for Analyzing Critical Thinking Retrieved October 15 2010 from

Frey, Barbara (n.d.) Rubric for Asynchronous Discussion Participation.  Retrieved October 16, 2010 from (Note:

Parsell, Mitch (2010). Instructional Rubrics(Podcast, rubric and transcript) Center for Learning and Teaching. Macquarie University Sydney, Australia.  Retrieved October 16, 2010 from

Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide(2 ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright by Judith V. Boettcher