5 Ways I’ve Redesigned My Rubric and You Should Too

5 Ways I’ve Redesigned My Rubric and You Should Too

In Fair Haven Innovates, students from 4th to 8th grade follow the same design process. They use our design process to solve problems, create solutions, and turn these solutions into real products that they can sell to turn a real profit. If you’ve never heard of design, I’ll give you the simplest, best definition as created by my good friend and design mentor Kevin Jarret: Project-Based Learning + Empathy = Design. I can go on and on about how design-based learning should replace problem, project, and passion-based learning (this -based learning stuff is getting out of control), but what I wanted to share today was how I redesigned my design rubric a few months ago and have been thrilled with the results. Here are the 5 ways I’ve redesigned my rubric and how they’re having a big impact on student learning.


1. I Can Statements.

Often, we write rubrics from our point-of-view. Design thinking challenges us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. When I rewrote my rubric, I researched and tried to come up with ways to make my expectations sound like something a student would say after experiencing a eureka moment. I can statements came to mind. After rewriting everything as an I can statement, I needed to trim the fat. My rubric had too much information. I cut down the expectations of each design stage from 4-5 and wordsmithed them until there were only 2-3 per stage. Further, you can see I eliminated all the other columns of the rubric but one. With rubrics, less is more.

I also thought about language in the redesign. I tried to make the expectations as clear and concise as possible while using simple words since I wanted to create a rubric that students would use their entire time, four whole years, in my program. I’m really happy with the way my I can statements came out. I feel like it walks students step-by-step through our design process, captures everything I want my students to leave my program knowing how to do, and is much easier to understand.

Here’s a happy accident I’ve found after switching over to I can statements that has totally sold me on them – I spend at least five minutes with every team during class. During this five minutes window, I have been simply rephrasing I can statements into questions so students can tell me about what they’ve been doing. “So what have you learned from analyzing test data and user feedback about your prototype?” “How did the interview help you gain empathy for your user?” “What was the thought process behind moving these 2 ideas to the make stage?” Because they have the rubric with the I can statements in front of them or on their computer, students are starting to anticipate my questions and their ability to thoughtfully answer them has been improving. Now, I feel confident in saying that a rubric should help students be able to predict questions you will ask when delivering feedback. Reframing my I can statements as questions so kids can anticipate what you will ask them has been a welcome surprise!

2. Moving to a 1 Column Rubric

I was recently listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzalez. One one episode she talked about the idea of a 1pt rubric. I took this idea and ran with it and created a 1 column rubric. To simplify my rubric, the only column with I can statements is the meeting expectations column. I deleted anything in the not meeting expectations column and anything in the exceeding expectations column. I then renamed these columns as Not Yet… and Yes And… because words matter.

If a team or student has not yet met my expectations, I hand write what they should work on if they want to get to the meet my expectations column of that design stage. I feel students have been exceeding expectations, I hand write why I feel that way or give them an opportunity to tell me why they think they’re exceeding expectations. I went this route for two reasons. The first, multiple columns/rows of a rubric full of expectations, that are usually only marginally different, makes rubrics overwhelming. Using this style of rubric allows me to give students targeted, timely personal feedback on next steps they should to improve rather than just pointing out what they did wrong with no clear path toward success. Secondly, leaving the exceeding expectations column open-ended spurs innovation. When I was teaching high school English, as soon as a student earned the first A for a project, students started to copy what that A student did. I’m seeing this even more frequently in Fair Haven Innovates likely because the class revolves around coming up with innovative ideas. Letting students figure out what Yes And is to them by not limiting them to what’s in the box has led to more risk taking and less copying. Use a one column rubric to encourage innovation and deliver target next steps to struggling students! I’ve been happy with the change it’s brought to my classroom culture.

3. Linking to Useful Resources

I encourage students to use graphic organizers to help them organize their ideas and plan next steps as they move through the design process. You cant click the links on the picture of my rubric, but I hyperlinked the appropriate graphic organizer for each I can statement in the evidence column so students can use the graphic organizer they need whenever they need it. With the I can statements and the links to the graphic organizers students should be able to move independently through the design process. When students complete a checkpoint, an assessment I use in tandem with the new rubric, they can submit completed graphic organizers during a checkpoint to show me they’ve be working through our design process and mastering our design techniques. If you don’t teach design, this evidence column should be a link to anything process related that will help students be successful. When I was an English teacher, this column would have been links to videos I made to teach students, say, how to write a thesis or transition between paragraphs.

4. Linking Examples

The last column, example evidence, will link students directly to a student-made example of that graphic organizer that exceeds expectations. While I am still building up my library of student-created “A+” work, the ability to open a blank graphic organizer and an example of the same graphic organizer that exceeds my expectations will help kids model better understand what I’m looking for. The combo of I can statements, ready-to-use graphic organizers, and examples of outstanding work will help students learn and move more independently as they get better at design.

5. Adding a Soft Skills Section

Long time readers of this blog know how important I think helping students develop soft skills is. I wanted to make sure my rubric had a section that gave students clear I can statements around the skills we are focusing on in Fair Haven Innovates. Include the main soft skills you want students to learn on your rubric, coach them up, and give them every opportunity you can to reflect on the soft skills they’re developing. They’ll be better for it. Because it’s like Patrick Murphy said, uncoachable kids grow up to be unemployable adults.

6. Rubric Storage?

I’m not officially including #6 because it is still a work in progress. I need to find a better to “store” rubrics. As of now I leave students with the paper rubric so they can take action on my feedback, but I also want a copy so I can grade them on their design progress over time. My best idea right now is to have them take a picture of the rubric and upload it to Drive or Classroom but that has been a pain. I might order the rubric in duplicate so both students and I can have a copy, but that also may be a pain because that means I’d have to hold on to paper copies, which, being I see 300+ students a week, would add up quickly. I tried translating this rubric into a Google Form, but I didn’t like it. Maybe I should scan rubrics into the computer? I’m not sure, but I know I need to find a way to make sure they have the paper copy and I have a digital copy of their rubric. Hmmm.

I hope you can pull out one thing from this post to make your rubrics better. Feel free to share your thoughts, opinions, and takeaways from this post, too. I can always make things better. We can always do better and we teachers are better together. Share!

Until Next Time,


cross-posted at Teched Up Teacher

Chris Aviles presents on education topics including gamification, technology integration, BYOD, blended learning, and the flipped classroom. Read more at Teched Up Teacher.

Chris Aviles is a STEM teacher, edtech specialist, and president of Garden State Esports. He is also a regular contributor to Tech & Learning.