Rubrics – Killing Creativity?

If you are at all like me, you have sat through a student presentation that left much to be desired. When sitting down to apply a grade to the student’s work, they score surprising well on the rubric. The student managed to stumble through a presentation, barely grasping the concepts, and then scored surprising well because of the way the rubric was written.

As I am in the process of becoming an ISTE Certified Educator, one of the things that I had to do for the coursework portion is examine a set of rubrics and write my own. While I have written many a rubric in my time in the classroom, and saw tons of value in them while I was teaching, I have had the opportunity to truly reflect on the process.

Person working with checklist of items in notebook with black pen.
unsplash-logoGlenn Carstens-Peters

In exploring and writing a new rubric, as well as reflecting, I have started to wonder about the value of a rubric. I think rubrics may harm creativity and stop students from pursuing potentially amazing work. There are a number of reasons that I have thought about this. For example, when was in high school, I know that I stopped looking at the rubric and stopped trying on an assignment with a rubric when I was certain that I ascertained enough points to pass. I have visited many classrooms in 5 years as an instructional coach across many buildings, districts, and in multiple states to see that rubrics can harm. I have seen so many rubrics that support and award a behavior instead of academic or curricular knowledge. You can take a wonderful idea, ask someone to present it and provide them a rubric, then watch it suffer a slow, painful death as they check the boxes off on the rubric! I have seen this happen in many different circles, with both students and adults.

Value of Rubrics and Alternatives

Rubrics can be extremely helpful in the classroom. They provide a path to a singular outcome that allows for scaffolding and getting all of the students to the same outcome. This is not what I envision education to be. Instead of providing a specific checklist that all students have to meet, with a single path to the final outcome or even three or four paths, what about providing them with more options and less direction from the rubric. Voice and choice are extremely important in engaging students. A rubric, in my opinion, would limit student options to what is there. A rubric starts the process of thinking and guides it in a specific direction. “If I want to be successful in this assignment, I must fulfill this, this, and this.”

Group sitting in a meeting with papers on a desk
unsplash-logoThomas Drouault

If you want a rubric, ensure that the rubric is only measuring the standard. Remove all of the on-time performance and other behavioral indicators. If you want, develop a second rubric that scores the behaviors that are not entered into the academic record as a grade. Second, instead of asking the students to refer to the rubric, schedule multiple meeting days during the project to assess their readiness and direction. These one-on-one meetings can happen during work time and can help students achieve the desired outcomes without checking off the boxes on the rubric. It will provide you with the opportunity to facilitate and nudge the student or student teams in the direction of the desired outcome. Finally, instead of providing them with a rubric, try to give them the reins of the learning. Use the meetings to continue to push and nudge students as necessary, but let them follow their passion. If they are passionate about writing, let them write. Do they want to make a music video? Let them. There are so many more ways to assess knowledge than traditional presentations, papers, or tests!

Finally, in case you are asking, there is not a rubric that is used for creating the ISTE rubric. And here is the final rubric I turned in. While it is limiting in the sense of the final product, it does provide freedom and a separation of behavioral indicators and academic indicators.

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