How Writing Rubrics Improve Writing
Students grow as writers if they learn to identify the characteristics of good writing. Enter the writing rubric, which is a type of grading tool used to evaluate student writing. Writing rubrics serve as checklists that describe the elements of good writing—checklists that are shared with students. Thanks to the writing rubric, now teachers and students know what makes an A+ essay.
Writing Rubrics Help Students Learn and Educators Teach
Writing rubrics are great teaching tools because they put teachers and students on the same page. Used in classrooms nationwide, writing rubrics give teachers and students a common reference point to discuss the components of good writing—from content development and organization to sentence structure and grammar. When students understand these elements and the criteria for earning a top grade, they incorporate this knowledge into the writing process. Improved writing is often the result.
Writing rubrics also give teachers an objective set of standards by which to evaluate essays and other forms of writing. In fact, a rubric is ideal for grading writing, as it provides an authoritative measure to counterbalance the subjectivity inherent in evaluating writing. Without use of a rubric, a writing grade may seem arbitrary to the student. This is the same reason why writing rubrics are universally employed for state writing assessments, and other standardized tests, such as the SAT.
There is also a growing recognition that good writing is not merely a sum of its parts, and essay grading should also take into consideration the overall effectiveness of the writing. School districts, states, and standardized test administrators often hire trained readers to evaluate each student’s writing test using this holistic approach, as well as rubrics and anchor papers for each grade. Two readers review SAT essays, and if the scores differ by more than one point, a third reader is used. (Fewer than 5% require a third reader.)
Types of Writing Rubrics
Countless rubrics exist, as well as online rubric generators and software that help teachers customize rubrics for any assignment. Standard writing rubrics are designed around grade level or grade span expectations, from elementary to middle school and high school. In addition, there are writing rubrics for every form of writing, e.g., persuasive, narrative, or expository. An expository writing rubric might encompass these five areas:
1. Meaning: Does the writing exhibit a solid understanding, analysis, and explanation of the writing assignment?
2. Development: Are ideas explored using relevant details and evidence to support the thesis?
3. Organization: Does the writing establish a clear thesis and maintain focus, unity, and coherence?
4. Language: Does the writing demonstrate an awareness of the audience and purpose through word choice and sentence variety?
5. Conventions: Does the writer use conventional spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, capitalization, and grammar correctly?
In addition to specifying the exact criteria to be judged in each component, writing rubrics also define performance levels, from below basic proficiency to advanced proficiency. For example, a rubric might describe advanced proficiency in sentence construction as ‘skillfully uses a variety of sentence structures,’ whereas below proficient would be, ‘the majority of sentences are fragments or run-ons.’
Improve Writing—Know the Rubric!
Students can use writing rubrics to their advantage, whether they’re working on a writing prompt or taking a standardized test. When students pay attention to writing rubrics and examine their own work with an objective eye, they will improve their writing performance.
Indeed, many believe writing actually starts with revising, and at Time4Writing, we agree. Helping kids become their own editors is one of our main goals. Students should use their understanding of the writing prompt and writing rubric throughout the writing process, from the prewriting phase to revising, editing, and publishing. We encourage our students to:
*Read and understand the writing prompt. This is paramount to writing success. For example, students must understand what form of writing is required by the prompt.
*Review the writing rubric twice during the writing process—first in the prewriting phase and then during the revision phase to make sure the essay is on track. Students should let the rubric’s criteria guide their revisions, whether it’s making better word choices or providing more details.
Parents and caregivers should also become familiar with writing rubrics. Good resources include both the school’s website and the state’s department of education website. Writing rubrics put everyone on the same page and build better teacher-parent-student communications.
The Time4Writing Approach
Time4Writing is an online writing program for elementary, middle school, and high school students, which pairs each student with a certified teacher for one-on-one writing instruction. In a typical assignment, a student reads the instructions and rubric, completes the writing, and submits it for a grade. The Time4Writing teacher reads the submission, provides general feedback, and embeds specific corrections and suggestions for revision within the writing before sending it back to the student. This process often becomes a running conversation between the student and instructor, as the student revises and re-submits, and the teacher gives further feedback. Some students love the process so much, they must be asked to go on to the next assignment, or they’d never finish the course!
At Time4Writing, our teachers emphasize first what’s good and correct about a student’s writing (praise), and then suggest ways to improve (instruction). In our essay writing courses, students complete structured writing assignments that focus on a specific phase of the writing process. Time4Writing uses specially designed rubrics that provide guidance for each area addressed. This method gives students the opportunity to build critical writing skills, step-by-step.
Time4Writing Grading Rubric
This rubric example comes from our Exciting Essay Writing course for high school. It shows how the essay will be judged and the percentage of the total grade for each criterion:
1. Introduction (10%): Includes an attention grabbing lead sentence; provides background information, provides a clear and focused thesis statement.
2. Body (45%): Contains three paragraphs that follow the pattern of organization established in the thesis statement.
3. Conclusion (10%) : Revisits the thesis statement, connects back to an example in the introduction.
4. Transitions (5%): Essay reads smoothly from start to finish, with a logical flow of progression from one point to the next.
5. Grammar (10%): Sentence structure
6. Usage (10%): Subject/verb agreement
7. Mechanics (10%): Spelling and punctuation
Our certified and experienced teachers at Time4Writing understand the writing process is personal and they take great care to offer feedback that is both gentle and constructive. Students feel successful and even discover they now enjoy writing! Find out how Time4Writing can make a real difference in your child’s writing.
Grading rubrics can be of great benefit to both you and your students. For you, a rubric saves time and decreases subjectivity. Specific criteria are explicitly stated, facilitating the grading process and increasing your objectivity. For students, the use of grading rubrics helps them to meet or exceed expectations, to view the grading process as being fair, and to set goals for future learning.
In order to help your students meet or exceed expectations of the assignment, be sure to discuss the rubric with your students when you assign an essay. It is helpful to show them examples of written pieces that meet and do not meet the expectations. As an added benefit, because the criteria are explicitly stated, the use of the rubric decreases the likelihood that students will argue about the grade they receive. The explicitness of the expectations helps students know exactly why they lost points on the assignment and aids them in setting goals for future improvement.
- Routinely have students score peers essays using the rubric as the assessment tool. This increases their level of awareness of the traits that distinguish successful essays from those that fail to meet the criteria. Have peer editors use the Reviewers Comments section to add any praise, constructive criticism, or questions.
- Alter some expectations or add additional traits on the rubric as needed. Students needs may necessitate making more rigorous criteria for advanced learners or less stringent guidelines for younger or special needs students. Furthermore, the content area for which the essay is written may require some alterations to the rubric. In social studies, for example, an essay about geographical landforms and their effect on the culture of a region might necessitate additional criteria about the use of specific terminology.
- After you and your students have used the rubric, have them work in groups to make suggested alterations to the rubric to more precisely match their needs or the parameters of a particular writing assignment.