Benefits of General Rubrics for Improving Students' Participation - The Learning Craft
The Learning Craft

Benefits of General Rubrics for Improving Students’ Participation

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General rubrics are great tools for identifying students’ participation, engagement and understanding during any classwork. They improve teacher student relationships in ways that allow students to express feedback while teachers mindfully help.

They are  use criteria and descriptions of performance that generalize across (hence the name general rubrics), or can be used with, different tasks.

The tasks all have to be instances of the same learning outcome—for example, writing or mathematics problem solving. The criteria point to aspects of the learning outcome and not to features of any one specific task (for example, criteria list characteristics of good problem solving and not features of the solution to a specific problem). The descriptions of performance are general, so students learn general qualities and not isolated, task-specific features (for example, the description might say all relevant information was used to solve the problem, not that the numbers of knives, forks, spoons, and guests were used to solve the problem).

These are the benefits.

  • Can be shared with students at the beginning of an assignment, to help them plan and monitor their own work.

  • Can be used with many different tasks, focusing the students on the knowledge and skills they are developing over time.

  • Describe student performance in terms that allow for many different paths to success.

  • Focus the teacher on developing students’ learning of skills instead of task completion.

  • Do not need to be rewritten for every assignment.

Let’s look more closely at the first two advantages.

Can be shared with students at the beginning of an assignment.

General rubrics do not “give away answers” to questions. They do not contain any information that the students are supposed to be developing themselves. Instead, they contain descriptions like “Explanation of reasoning is clear and supported with appropriate details.”

Descriptions like this focus students on what their learning target is supposed to be (for example, explaining reasoning clearly, with appropriate supporting details). They clarify for students how to approach the assignment (for example, in solving the problem posed, I should make sure to explicitly focus on why I made the choices I did and be able to explain that).

Therefore, over time general rubrics help students build up a concept of what it means to perform a skill well (for example, effective problem solving requires clear reasoning that I can explain and support).


Can be used with many different tasks.

Because general rubrics focus students on the knowledge and skills they are learning rather than the particular task they are completing, they offer the best method I know for preventing the problem of “empty rubrics” that will be described in Chapter 2. Good general rubrics will, by definition, not be task directions in disguise, or counts of surface features, or evaluative rating scales.

Because general rubrics focus students on the knowledge and skills they are supposed to be acquiring, they can and should be used with any task that belongs to the whole domain of learning for those learning outcomes. Of course, you never have an opportunity to give students all of the potential tasks in a domain—you can’t ask them to write every possible essay about characterization, solve every possible problem involving slope, design experiments involving every possible chemical solvent, or describe every political takeover that was the result of a power vacuum.

These sets of tasks all indicate important knowledge and skills, however, and they develop over time and with practice. Essay writing, problem solving, experimental design, and the analysis of political systems are each important skills in their respective disciplines. If the rubrics are the same each time a student does the same kind of work, the student will learn general qualities of good essay writing, problem solving, and so on. If the rubrics are different each time the student does the same kind of work, the student will not have an opportunity to see past the specific essay or problem. The general approach encourages students to think about building up general knowledge and skills rather than thinking about school learning in terms of getting individual assignments done alone.



So, go ahead and develop one that fits your classroom. 🙂

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