Student-Created Rubrics

If we want students to learn how to learn, we have to teach them how to direct that learning. To do that, we need to help them set goals and look at their own progress.

That’s why I am a proponent of student-created rubrics. I want students to understand what they are doing, why they are doing it and how to measure their own progress.

I’m not a genius, but I am a risk-taker. I know that trying things helps me stay energized and keep learning. I also consider myself a late bloomer. I went to school for seven years to be a teacher (not a doctor), got married at 41, received my masters at 45, and I think the best ideas are yet to come…so I keep trying new things.

To get kids focused on targeted self-assessment, we start small. I give them choices on pieces of writing, and the student and I both assess the work for those choices. For example, if I have them write an argument paragraph, I have them choose whether they want to emphasize the level of elaboration, the evidence itself or the structure of the argument. Of course, I want them to work on all of them in unison eventually, but by establishing a focus for each and adding to it in future pieces of writing, they get better in that skill area with an attention to detail. I offer the same options in another argument paragraph and ask them to choose a different options. What do you know? All of the areas improve in each iteration.

I do the same thing with language concepts. Commas, sentence types or capitalization? What’s your focus for this piece?

Of course, that means we take several swings at each piece of writing. That, in itself, is vital to growth.

So, when 20% Time rolls around (the students use the second semester Fridays for these products), you bet I’m going to have them self-assess.

I am not a graphic artist, but I have a student who wants to work on charcoal drawings for her 20% Time project. Great!

The student created learning targets (exactly as she wrote them):

Charcoal Drawings

Learning Targets:

  • Students will learn to draw accurate and detailed illustrations using both charcoal pencils and charcoal blocks. This will help them recognize shadows and where they are placed.
  • Students will learn how to incorporate a multitude of information in a small paragraph about what they achieved in each drawing. This will help them learn how to make their writing short and to the point.

Notice the why on each one. That was a mandate from me.

Learning targets aren’t that hard. I showed them some common core standard language, and we practiced with some of the writing that we’ve done in class. They have seen these for years, and it clicked with just a little practice. Then it was time for the rubric. We use rubrics for everything, so they were familiar with them.

The rubric based on those learning targets looked like:

4 3 2 1
Drawing: Obviously put effort into learning how to draw with charcoal drawings. Anatomy and shading does not have to be perfect; this is an assessment on accurate use with charcoal. Experimented with most utensils, but could have tried to use more for the finished products. Used only a few things to draw with, and did not try to challenge abilities with difficult items to draw. Drawings may be unfinished and the user may not have experimented with charcoal pencils and blocks.
Writing: Paragraph is short and concise. Talks about both troubles and successes with the process. Paragraph may be slightly lengthy and might tell unnecessary information, but still works. Writing may be more than one paragraph, and talks about details that do not matter to the final product. Paragraphs do not talk about struggles or successes in the project, and may only be a few sentences.
Time usage: Used time efficiently, and did not stray from work for long. Wasted some class time, but still managed to complete the project on time. Got distracted easily and did not focus on the drawing. May have taken frequent breaks to chat with other people. Did little to no work, and may have not finished project on time. Talked with others and did not use time wisely at all.


I thought that she did a great job. Would I tweak it a bit? Probably. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that this student has created her own direction, and it really wasn’t that hard to get her to do it. I have 100 other examples, too. This is a real possibility.

It’s not just about choice. It’s about choosing a direction, understanding its purpose, and striving for mastery through self-assessment. At least that’s what Daniel Pink says in his book, Drive.

Empowering students to learn how to learn not only creates passion in students, but in us as teachers. To see the level of engagement in May is exciting for all of us.

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