After a work-in-progress has received commentary from peers and the instructor, the student creates an archival version of the discourse to be graded by the instructor. Many instructors make few, if any, comments on this final version, devoting their critiquing energies for the draft, where comments will be most useful to students as they revise their work.
Though there are many standard rubrics available, including for instance the AAC&U’s rubric for assessing written work, most Davidson instructors design their own rubrics, selecting traits to be evaluated based upon the nature of the assignment and students’ progress in attempting to master a particular skill. Some instructors share these rubrics with their students after drafts have been turned in and students are contemplating revisions before submitting the paper for a grade. So the thinking goes, if we give students rubrics too early in the writing process, they will find them constraining, and may overfocus on attending to the rubric’s traits rather than other aspects of their arguments.
The Writing Program doesn’t require its faculty to use rubrics, but, when tailored to the assignment at hand, they do a good job of signaling to students something about the quality of their work, and save instructors some of the labor associated with commenting on final papers. Here are some sample rubrics tailored to specific assignments:
Often, Writing 101 professors reveal a grading rubric tailored to a particular project immediately after drafts have been composed and before revisions begin. This both gives students some breathing room before and during the drafting process, and allows for focused revision thereafter. (There is no absolute rule here: other faculty offer a rubric as soon as they launch a major writing project). Ideally, the rubric reflects many of the key writerly techniques that have been focused on earlier in the project.
Some faculty give students the opportunity to argue that some aspect of the rubric should be clarified, changed, or omitted altogether. Sometimes, students will offer a revised definition of a trait, or will ask that a trait that seems prematurely listed be replaced with a trait they find more fair to assess at this moment. Sharing a rubric helps make the grading process transparent, but does not step away completely from standards and practices that a professor wishes for students to master. Ambitious students may ask a professor to give a recently-completed draft a trial rating using the project rubric. This can signal areas for improvement and revision.
The American Association of Colleges & Universities has assembled a master rubric that offers what it considers to be the most important competencies for college writers to master over the course of their undergraduate lives. It’s capacious and ambitious, but it offers at-a-glance a sense of what most practitioners value in student work.
The Educational Testing Service (ETS) has developed these guidelines for assessing the quality of a grading rubric .
Portfolios of Written Work
Some faculty prefer to use a portfolio approach to setting a final course grade. In this model, instructors comment on archival versions of projects, but refrain from assigning each project a grade. At semester’s end, students assemble a portfolio of their work, often accompanied by their written reflections on the nature and quality of individual papers as well as a statement that reflects growth and change as a writer over the course of the semester. If you would like to utilize this method, please contact the Writing Program so that we can direct you to resources and put you in touch with colleagues who use this approach.