How Single Point Rubrics can be a Game Changer

One day, a few years ago, I was doing what all teachers do at some point: writing a rubric. And it looked something like this…

Grammar and MechanicsThe writer has a strong command of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.The writer has command of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.The writer has little command of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.The writer has no command of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.
An example of one of my rubrics

Full honesty, I was going through the motions. I started with my “4” box and copy and pasted it into the remaining boxes, changing a few words, and calling it day. I found that I had no real motivation to do this other than I needed to communicate with my students the expectations for the assignment. This one particular day, I was really paying attention to the verbiage on my rubric and had this realization that what I’m saying in these boxes doesn’t really make sense to anyone except me. What does “has a strong command” really mean to students? Besides that, once students turned in their assignment, I would circle the boxes on the rubric, make some obligatory notes, give them the rubric back, then they would look at it and trash it. 

I knew I needed to make a change but to what. I really didn’t know as this is how I was taught to write rubrics. I started doing some research, and I found this game-changing idea called the single-point rubric. It has definitely changed the way I, and other teachers, have communicated and conferenced with students and how they (students and teachers) see themselves as successful. 

What is the Single-Point Rubric, and how can it be better for students and teachers?

My first introduction to this new concept was from Jennifer Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy post. She describes a single-point rubric like this: “A single-point rubric.. breaks down the components of an assignment into different criteria. What makes it different is that it only describes the criteria for proficiency; it does not attempt to list all the ways a student could fall short, nor does it specify how a student could exceed expectations.” 

Wow! How…easy. Is it too easy?

Image from Cult of Pedagogy

As I read on in the blog post, I noticed she said teachers love these rubrics because this rubric shows all the ways students can be successful and not fail. At the same time, students like them because the expectations were laid out in one box; they didn’t have to read row after row, square after square to see what to do, or what not to do. 

One essential component to the single point rubric is the feedback. This was, yet, another thing I really liked about this rubric. I couldn’t just circle boxes and expect the students to interpret them and move on. I liked that I could take the time to have a conversation or communicate with the student about why they scored in this particular box (even though the expectations were clearly outlined). I felt like it opened up more of a dialogue between me and the student(s). I also found that students responded more to this rubric because they wanted my feedback. They wanted to know why they scored in a certain square (because they thought they had met expectations). Once we had a conversation about it, they started to understand what they were missing or what they had done to impress me. 

This rubric changed my life as a teacher and created a new way for me to communicate to my students without just handing them a grade. 

How to use the Single-Point Rubric in the classroom

I loved everything about this rubric and wanted to give it a go in my classroom, but I knew my students, most likely, didn’t have experience with this, so I needed to teach it to them. After some discussion on this rubric versus rubrics from their past, they started to wrap their brain around it. I also told them it helps them focus just on my expectations and nothing else, for which they were really appreciative. I was surprised at how many students wanted to exceed the expectations and get in the “4” box, so it allowed them to be creative and think “outside the box” (for lack of a better phrase) to determine what they needed to do to be able to score in the box they wanted. On the other hand, some students just wanted me to tell them precisely what to do to score in a particular box. Since they were so used to the rubrics I, and other teachers, used (like the example at the top of this post), it was difficult for them to break out of that mindset. 

Image from Cult of Pedagogy

When I used this rubric, I was teaching in an affluent school district, but in my new role as an instructional coach at a low-SES school, I was curious to see how the single-point rubric would translate. I talked to my 8th grade English team about using this style of rubric for their writing assessment they had coming up. They had never heard of this concept and wanted to learn more, so I showed them an example of a single-point rubric I used, the blog posts, and I walked them through how I used it and taught it to my students. They absolutely loved everything about it, and they wanted to try it in their classroom. 

I loved their approach to teaching this rubric to their students, and the students seemed to understand it as they moved into working on their assignment. 

  1. First, they had the students underline or highlight all the verbs in the expectations. After that, the class had a discussion about what those verbs mean, including what kind of mental tasks or physical tasks did the student have to complete to achieve that expectation.
  2. Second, they had the students underline or highlight any words they did know or not understand what they meant in the context of the expectations. They had the students look up the word, or they had some discussion around what the word means and how it’s used in the context of the expectations. This was a great opportunity for the teachers to discuss academic vocabulary and how the rubric was written using academic language. 
  3. Third, they had the students create a checklist from the expectations statements to help them ensure they are successful with the assignment. If a student could make a successful checklist including all the expectations, then the teacher could see the student understood what is exactly asked of them to complete.  

When I asked my 8th grade ELAR team to reflect on using the single-point rubric in their classroom, they immediately gave me positive feedback. One of the teachers, Jennifer McCarthy, had this to say about it: “It truly is a game-changer and life-changing. They (students) can easily digest the information, and it is straightforward with little room for questions. I’ll never go back.”

Student thoughts and reactions to the Single-Point rubric

I wanted to see what students thought about this new type of rubric. Mrs. McCarthy allowed me to ask a few of her students their thoughts and feelings about this new way of grading and receiving feedback. This is what they had to say about it: 

“It is easier to look over and skim over. I know if I don’t do the expectations, then I’ll get a lower grade. It is simpler and easier to understand.” – Mia

“I think this rubric is better because I know where I would land on it, not having to bounce around to try to figure out what I would score. I also like that it shows the average and I can go above or beyond it.” – Sebastian

“I feel like the way she had it, the platform and design, helped me to understand what I needed in my writing (checklist). Other rubrics in the past didn’t explain or lay out what we needed in the writing.” – Mady

I told the students that I was writing this post for you all in the hopes that you, dear reader, would consider using this type of rubric with their students. This is their advice to you: 

“Do your best to explain it to your students and take your time to explain it.” – Mia

“Make sure you slow down and talk about it more. Students may get confused about what it is because it is kind of a new concept.” – Sebastian 

“This is easier to understand especially when doing certain writing assignments, like poems, because it spells it out there for you. It can double as a checklist, and I like that.” – Mady 

We’ve all been hearing this phrase in education recently: feedback over grades. Using a single-point rubric is a great pathway to make this change in your practice and really focus on moving the writer in the direction they need to move.

Do you use Single Point Rubrics in your room? How do you use them and what’s your format? You can connect with me on Twitter @shawnaeaston03 or on Facebook at facebook.com/movingwriters.

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1 Comment

  1. THANK YOU for this post. I spent a lot of last year trying to explain this idea to colleagues. Then I read about the terminology and philosophy of what I was describing from that same article on CoP. I felt very relieved it was a real thing! The push back was that they were “just checklists”. I started working with single point rubrics last year and appreciate clear articles like these that help explain the concept and initiate conversations with colleagues about their merits.

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