Rubric practice

First, click here for a blank rubric - please print it out.

Let’s practice writing a rubric with a particular example that seems to work well (and for which we are indebted to Joy McTighe):

Let’s imagine that after many years of toiling in the nonprofit world you’ve decided that you want to open a restaurant and you want to write a rubric to train the waiters of this fine restaurant – your restaurant.

So where do you begin?

The first step to writing any rubric is to decide what you’re writing your rubric about. In this case, you’ve decided to write a rubric that will have train the waiters at your restaurant. This is not an exercise for hiring and firing waiters, but rather to let them know explicitly what kind of restaurant environment you want to create. So our rubric is about “What does ‘good’ work look like in my restaurant?”

By what criteria would you gauge the quality of a waiter? What does success look like? The next step is to brainstorm these criteria or “traits.”

Let’s imagine some words that can go in the rubric boxes. Think of or write down adjectives about traits that you’d like to see in your waiters. It is useful to do this exercise along with a co-worker, but separately. If you then compare notes with your co-worker, you may run into the challenge of synonyms.

For example, when you think of traits in a waiter you’d like to see, what if one of you says “friendly” and the other says “personable”? What if one of you says “aware” and the other says “attentive”?

See how there’s a shade of difference? What feels right? These shades of differences, when you are not clear about what you mean, are what lead to communication problems with your colleagues and employees. It’s important to talk about what you mean so that there’s no misunderstanding. You can imagine working side by side with a co-worker for years and not connecting on work because you’re using, or imagining, slightly different terms.

What are the things that are really most important here? Discuss this with your key stakeholders, prioritize and decide on key criteria.

Take the example, “knowledgeable.” What does that mean? Using descriptors in this example can help you decide that being knowledgeable means that the waiter knows the menu: he knows what’s fresh today, what the chef’s specialties are, and what’s on the wine list. Being knowledgeable might also mean that the waiter knows the best Broadway shows to see or the best bands playing in town that night.

When writing a rubric, you do the descriptors first.  But then you need to get even more specific. Indicators help you better understand the descriptors – they tell you what the stories and scenes are that you might actually hear or see.

Some indicators come along that you aren’t expecting, such as when a waiter says, “Good evening, Mr. Yingling. Welcome back.” If you hear a waiter do this, and you think, “That was terrific – I’d like my waiters to know the names of regular customers,” then you go back to the rubric and add that as an indicator. You’re tackling the job of “What does good work look like?”

Translate the restaurant example to your own work. You take the same steps: decide what you want to write a rubric about and then brainstorm your criteria. Use descriptors and indicators to really explain what you really mean.

When you’ve written a rubric and started to follow it and use it to measure your work – to measure what matters - then you must also ask yourself: Is it working? Did it improve performance?

More likely than not, you will find that it does – although sometimes it takes time because it takes time for people to adopt and buy into what the rubric says. For this reason, it helps when staff write the rubric together. Often, it is the process of creating the rubric with employees invested in the work, not the resulting rubric, that leads to improved performance and/or work culture.

Need to see some specific examples from other organizations?

For non-linear browsing of the online Assessment Workshop click on the links below:

How To Navigate This Workshop

You may choose to go through this workshop in a linear, page by page fashion, by clicking on the "Next" and "Previous" buttons at the bottom of each step.

If you want to browse through the steps, jump around, or need to go back a few steps, use the "non-linear" menu of steps at the bottom of each page.

If you are familiar with this workshop, and you are looking to refresh your memory, we think the following steps about the Rubric, which is the tool at the heart of this workshop, might be most useful to you: