To Rubric or not to Rubric - Part 1

Like most teachers I have a love/hate relationship to rubrics. At some level, they capture the uncapturable. Our love of data has led many educators to overvalue analytic data over anecdotal data. Yet, our classroom reality is not statistical. We are looking out at 20-40 real students with real strengths and weaknesses. Rubrics attempt to capture some of this anecdotal data and force measurement.

Rubric Love

Rubrics force us to define the metrics that we wish to capture. This pushes us to define explicitly what we want from a performance. Students understand what is important in a performance and what is not.  A well-crafted rubric can help teachers give feedback on spontaneous performances in real-time. If it is simple enough students can give feedback to each other. The metrics we use can elevate certain behaviors. ACTFL’s performance guidelines added communication strategies.

Communication Strategies

Unlike language acquisition, we can directly teach these strategies – at novice level they are mostly nonverbal. (Actfl, 2015). In the classroom, I extended this idea to add the perspective of French culture.

Culturally Specific Performances

In my level I and II French classes, students did their interpersonal speaking performance twice a year with native speakers from the community. Although charm seems like a nebulous feature to measure, at the novice level is was very teachable. The native speakers who mark the rubrics for my students found it very easy to measure, if not to define. Students felt empowered to fall back on charm; novices got very adept at maintaining communication with native speakers. The month that we spent doing improvisations in with different real-time variables, gave the students the confidence to speak to the native speakers.

Rubric Hate

99% of the time, the teacher is grading the students on the rubric. Teacher are human beings subject to the effects of subconscious bias. In the best scenario we inflate our favorite students’ grades. In the worst case, we penalize students who give us trouble. (Chapman & Lalloo, 2017).

If I am going to use a rubric, I need to give it to the students on the first day of the unit. Each year when I show the rubric above to my students they have moment of panic. I let them know that it is my job to create learning experiences over the next month to prepare them for the encounter.  By the time they are facing native speakers, they are ready for the challenge. After they deploy their skills they have a newly found confidence.

To be continued….

This week we will evaluate different types of rubrics and non-rubrics in the context of interpersonal speaking.


Actfl. (2015). Performance Descriptors for Language Learners. Retrieved from

Chapman, K., & Lalloo, M. (2017). Science’s problem with unconscious bias. Retrieved July 15, 2018, from