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[Guest Post] Getting on the Same Page: The Value of Analytic Writing Rubrics

By: Sue Jacob on April 20th, 2016

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[Guest Post] Getting on the Same Page: The Value of Analytic Writing Rubrics

Personalized Learning  |  Curriculum Strategy & Adoption  |  Classrooms

The Value of Analytic Writing Rubrics

Writing—whether a persuasive essay, lab report, constructed response or research paper—is a consistent element of most performance tasks used by teachers to measure their students’ knowledge, understanding of concepts, and skills. The reasons are many, but perhaps the most important is that the very act of writing, which requires students to make sense of information and ideas and to express that understanding coherently, is itself a critical skill.

And yet, despite its importance, there is little consensus among educators at any grade level on what constitutes effective writing, how it should be measured, or even how it should be taught.

One step toward solving this conundrum is the consistent use of a general analytic writing rubric. An analytic writing rubric, like all rubrics, contains sets of criteria aligned to progressive levels of performance. However, unlike a holistic writing rubric, which evaluates all criteria simultaneously to arrive at a single score, an analytic writing rubric separates the criteria into discrete elements, such as controlling ideas, organization, development, diction and conventions. One of the benefits of the analytic rubric is that, in its most general form, it can be used with a variety of writing tasks—helping students learn the qualities of effective writing, regardless of subject area.

For such a writing rubric to be most effective, however, the teachers using the rubric must agree on the characteristics of effective writing, and align their scoring so that they are all applying the rubric’s criteria and score consistently. This outcome is best achieved by teachers calibrating their scoring. The calibration process asks teachers to score a series of normed essays that have been scored in advance by expert educators using the same rubric. When teachers successfully align their scoring with these normed essays, they are also aligned with each other.

Through this calibration process, teachers arrive at clear, consistent expectations regarding the characteristics of effective writing—and, in doing so, develop a common vocabulary with which to discuss student work with each other and their students. As Libby Baker, et al., explain in the article, “Reading, Writing and Rubrics,” calibrating and scoring student work is a meaningful form of professional learning: “As teachers deepen their understanding of the characteristics of good writing … and how students’ mastery evolves over time… [they] became more insightful as diagnosticians and instructional decision makers.”

The consistent use of a general analytic rubric across a team, department or school can be an important component in blended and personalized learning.

In the classroom, teachers can use this rubric to:

  • clarify expectations for students and make the grading process transparent;
  • gather diagnostic information to plan instruction and design interventions for individual students;
  • give students personalized formative feedback on each aspect of their writing;
  • help students identify specific, reachable goals for the writing they are to complete; and,
  •  provide students with a framework through which they can read, analyze and ultimately emulate the models of effective writing.

Individually, students can use the rubric to:

  • practice the language of the discipline by using the rubric’s terms, descriptors and criteria when discussing their own writing;
  • see how good writing is a process, not simply a task to complete;
  • reflect on and evaluate the quality of their own writing;
  • set personal goals for improvement; and,
  • give meaningful feedback on the writing of others.

There was a time when using rubrics and calibrating teacher scoring required a great deal of time, energy and paperwork—and the resulting data were difficult to manage and analyze. Today, however, online applications streamline calibration, writing instruction, the use of rubrics to score student work, and the collection of data that can measure student growth over time.

At AcademicMerit, for example, we offer an online calibration tool called FineTune through which individual teachers can calibrate their scoring using our Common Core-aligned general analytic writing rubric. Using this application, teachers score real, anonymized student essays that were previously scored and normed by expert educators. When a teacher’s scoring is proven to be consistent with that of the experts, s/he is considered calibrated not with just the experts, but also with any of the other teachers who have gone through this calibration process.

When teams of calibrated teachers use this general analytic rubric with their own students, they—and their students—share a common understanding of the elements of good writing so that all students are held to the same expectations, and the resulting data retains validity from teacher to teacher and from classroom to classroom.

In a blended-learning environment, the common expectations communicated by a general analytic writing rubric—used in conjunction with best practices in professional learning and instruction—can help students take control of their writing so they can clearly and consistently communicate their ideas.



About Sue Jacob

Sue Jacob is the Academic Director for AcademicMerit. As former high school English teacher in Minneapolis, Sue has held a variety of teacher leadership roles, including mentor, teacher-leader for English curriculum and instruction, and writer of accelerated curriculum for advanced learners in grades 6-12. Sue received her National Board certification in 2005. It was during the National Board portfolio process that Sue realized the powerful role writing plays in strengthening students’ critical thinking, a belief that is at the heart of AcademicMerit's academic and professional learning products.

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