Presentations, Projects, and Essays, Oh My! How Using Rubrics Will Set You on the Yellow Brick Road to Success

Presentations, Projects, and Essays, Oh My! How Using Rubrics Will Set You on the Yellow Brick Road to Success
Contributed By

Joey Ridenour

English Teacher at Whitesboro High School

Presentations, Projects, and Essays, Oh My! How Using Rubrics Will Set You on the Yellow Brick Road to Success

Posted in Pro Tips | October 23, 2017

Student presentations, projects, and essays are essential to building champion individuals who can thrive in today’s workplace, yet teachers are often reluctant to assign them because of the immense amount of grading work they create.

Want to learn how to implement choice-based learning into your classroom? Click here for a free guide.

In this situation, teachers often fall into one of three categories: the Scarecrows, the Tin Men, and the Cowardly Lions.

The Scarecrows

With the best of intentions, we assign projects that we imagine will inspire our students to create beautiful, whimsical pieces of art, that will adorn our classroom walls for decades. However, when posters, popsicle stick buildings, and clay sculptures begin to invade every inch of our workspace, we begin to wonder if we really thought it through. We have a scarecrow moment. “What was I thinking? Where was my brain when I assigned this?”


The Tin Men

Essays are a whole other problem. Students need to write but they hate it. Teachers need to grade each essay carefully but scramble to find enough time to give each essay the attention it deserves. We threaten, beg, and plead to get them to write something, anything for crying out loud! We get out our favorite little red pen, hide in a corner away from our families and spend hours making papers bleed so heavily that when we return them, our students wonder if we have a heart.

The Cowardly Lions

Students, or in many cases their parents, spend so many hours working on projects, it’s only fair that teachers take the time to accurately and carefully grade each one. But how does one accurately assess a project for creativity, attention to detail, spelling, grammar, and mechanics subjectively to satisfy the masses.

It’s pretty obvious what an “A” looks like next to a “C,” but how does one explain that to an angry parent? What about speaking presentations or theatrical performances? It takes someone well-versed in free hand to take accurate notes during a live presentation. Often, we skip the project because we lack the courage to identify what we are exactly looking for in the student’s work.

There's No Place Like Rubrics

The solution to all these problems is Rubrics. Those who teach the arts are already well-versed in the art of rubric making, but they can still be overwhelmingly frustrating. The points never seem to add up they way one thinks they should. What should be a “C” paper ends up being a “B.” The whole mess takes a lot of practice and tweaking, not to mention the unpleasant task of making an English teacher do math, the whole reason he/she probably became an English major in the first place. 

Use Rubrics and Hop on the Yellow Brick Road to Success

The wizards at Schoology have found a solution. Schoology made rubrics as clickable (and almost as magical!) as Dorothy’s heels. As soon as a teacher creates an assignment and attaches a rubric, it’s there for all students and parents to see. There is no question about what the teacher had in mind, it’s there in black and white in the cloud where it cannot be lost by the student.

Students are not required to submit an assignment in order for it to be graded by a rubric. That means a teacher can give an evaluation on a performance or speech in real time while giving her pupils the immediate feedback they desperately need and want.

Rubrics also work well with an iPad or Android tablet app, so teachers have the option to walk around the room and make eye contact with her speaker while grading them on the rubric. The app makes grading possible anywhere. I’ve graded assignments while walking around the room, standing in the hall on duty, and even at church while waiting on services to start. 

Click, click click. Graded! It’s that simple.

In order to make it work for grades instead of a point value, a small amount of math is necessary. Just take the number of criteria (in this case 8) and divide it by 100 for the first column, thus every box in the 100 column is worth 12.5 points and go down from there. This is all at the teacher’s discretion. There is also a comment box next to each category in order to give students individual feedback.

State standardized tests have always relied on rubrics to determine student achievement. Less than a year ago at state testing time, I would print out hundreds of rubrics to use for grading purposes, most of which were lost or soon thrown away by students.

This year, by spending a little time up front, I was able to create rubrics using the exact language of the state test for both the Open-Ended Questions and Essays. Here is an example of the Open-Ended Question Rubric on the crossover STAAR, the Texas State End of Course exam.

Rubrics save countless hours of grading. With over 80 freshman writing assignments, it used to be a torturous process that took many hours. But with rubrics, it may take 30-45 minutes, all while using my tablet and sitting on the couch with my family.

I’m already seeing a huge difference in the progress of my students from last year to this year because I can spend that extra time pushing forward with new material instead of lagging behind in the grading process. I’ve rediscovered by brain, I have courage to assign projects and presentations, and I have plenty of heart while grading students essays since the task is much less likely to make me the Wicked Witch of the West. Using rubrics will set you on the yellow brick road to success.

Illustrations by W. W. Denslow



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