Rubrics and Creativity: Can they coexist? – Monica Vesely

We all recognize the potential value of a well-constructed rubric. Stevens and Levi in their book “Introduction to Rubrics” summarize these in their six key reasons for constructing and using rubrics:

  1. Rubrics provide timely feedback
  2. Rubrics prepare students to use detailed feedback
  3. Rubrics encourage critical thinking
  4. Rubrics facilitate communication with others
  5. Rubrics help us refine our teaching methods
  6. Rubrics level the playing field

Now, these all seem like compelling reasons to prepare and use rubrics, but more and more recently, I have heard expressions of concern over rubric usage. In particular, concerns arise about the restrictions that are inherently a part of both the generation and use of rubrics.

In preparing a rubric for a particular assignment, an instructor must anticipate the range of possible responses that a given assignment might generate as well as the level of quality that will define the various grade categories. The instructor must then clearly and concisely describe the selected criteria and the possible performance levels for each. This information is then disseminated to the students and the assignment markers.

Chapman and Inman in their article entitled “A Conundrum: Rubrics or Creativity/Metacognitive Development?” present some of the critical issues that arise from this conventional approach to rubric preparation and usage. These critical issues are expressed in the following key questions…

Are we creating an expectation in our students that such detailed guidance is the way learning should occur (whether in our hallowed-halls or beyond)? Are we generating a bland sameness in our students by honouring standardization and uniformity to such a degree that a student does not have the opportunity to explore the learning process for themselves by making connections and evaluating possibilities outside of the grading rubric? Are there incentives for students to go beyond what is required? And perhaps the most crucial question…

Are we limiting student learning by limiting student imagination if students feel compelled to complete assignments by strictly adhering to the rubric criteria?

As we strive for our students to meet undergraduate degree level expectations that stress critical thinking and analytical skills, we may need to revisit the qualities we associate with a well-constructed rubric. We should endeavour to provide for flexibility necessary to accommodate student initiative, exploration and deep understanding not easily captured in a conventional rubric structure.

If you have successfully used rubrics to assess for the creative component of an assignment please share your strategy. You can do so by adding a comment to this blog posting or by emailing me directly at .

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Monica Vesely

Monica Vesely is an Instructional Developer with the Centre for Teaching Excellence where she conducts teaching observations, facilitates the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW), coordinates the Teaching Squares Program, and assists new faculty with their teaching professional development. In her focus on new faculty, she chairs the New Faculty Welcoming Committee, supports new faculty initiatives across campus, consults with new faculty to assist them with the preparation of individualized Learning About Teaching Plans (LATPs), facilitates workshops and builds community through various communications and social events. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Monica worked with the NSERC Chair in Water Treatment in Civil and Environmental Engineering, taught in the Department of Chemistry, and designed learning experiences with Waterloo's Professional Development Program (WatPD).

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