Essay rubric

by Carl Dyke

The last page of all my syllabi is an essay rubric. Each student xeroxes this and attaches it to the back of each piece of work they hand in. I developed it in collaboration with my colleagues in the History Department; the idea, with accreditation coming up and grasping after quantitative data like a schopenhauerian Will, was to give us a common metric to compare our students’ performances across a range of consensus criteria. It hasn’t quite worked out like that, but I still find it a valuable tool because it boils down nicely some epistemological lessons I’m trying to teach, I can use it in classroom workshopping of paper drafts, then reinforce it in my evaluation of the final draft while also automating certain very common comments I’d otherwise have to write out for each paper.

A couple things about scoring: it’s a standard 5-point scale for ease of data handling, so 4 and 2 are possible scores while 5/3/1 establish the range of narrative translation. Also, the main purpose of the rubric is to allow comparison within categories; there is no intent to create a more comprehensive or linear valuation among the categories, or to allow the scores to ‘add up’ to a final grade. I use the rubric as a guide to a wholistic grade, weight the left more heavily than the right, and use 1s in any category as epic fails. The rubric explanation, also included in the syllabus, follows here.

There are a lot of this sort of thing out there; this one was developed through an internal process but it’s not particularly original. Please feel free to take it (click to go to .doc file), use it as you see fit, modify it at will, and/or to propose refinements minor and major. In the unlikely event you publish anything related to it we’d appreciate the courtesy of the usual citation, as addressed in column 5.

mu history essay rubric 09

mu rubric explanation 09

11 Responses to “Essay rubric”

  1. I really like this rubric, Carl. I’m not sure I could just plunk it down and use it for my own classes, but a similar rubric generated with other faculty could serve the same purpose and would be a great tool for channeling discussion with students and other faculty.

    I should tell you that I’m developing some new rubrics/assignments this fall for my intro to lit studies course using your cites of the sourcing/corroboration/contextualization materials via Wineburg. I’m stealing your schema of text/context/subtext (if I’m remembering it correctly; if not, I’m just extending it further) to use with this, since it works really well to talk about the effects of critical theory debates on literary criticism. So you’ll get your credit when I write the textbook and make a million bucks. Until then, sorry, but I’m not making much off this, either.

    Thanks for all the teaching goodies.

  2. Some additional food for thought.

    Click to access crl.pdf

    With a tip of the hat to Alex Golub (Rex) at Savage Minds.

  3. I really like this rubric, too, Carl. Of course, now we can’t steal it without outing ourselves :-).

  4. Thanks Dave, I’ll put that check in next year’s budget then. And yes, useful as this particular rubric may be as an example, I would not forego the bonding and clarification of group practices and standards that discussion with colleagues and students enables.

    Undine, you could always say you got it through a student, since of course no reputable academic would waste their time on the blogs….

    John, that article on the distinctive character of library research looks very interesting, especially in light of the discussion at Dave’s place (The Long Eighteenth) and Greg’s (Slawkenbergius) about Bauerlein’s recent argument that the interpretive humanities have oversaturated and used up all the new things to say.

  5. Very nice. I had developed a much shorter version for the classes I taught years ago (IIRC: A = made an argument, supported w/ text or evidence; B = made a competent book report about the readings, but not an argument; C = made a book report that was lacking in some important ways; D = didn’t really get it at all).

    Where’s the Abbott paper from? (I couldn’t stand him, incidentally; he’s one of those people who, while talking to you, is constantly scanning the crowd for Someone Who is More Important Than You, and he would walk away in the middle of a sentence in order to go talk to SWiMITY.)

  6. I just read the Abbott paper myself, and was a little shocked at the disciplinary arrogance on view. Apparently, he has never heard of the entire field of library science, or the journals that publish on these topics regularly. (not surprising, since he does not seem to have ever spoken to the librarians who read and publish on such topics) Nor, apparently, has he heard of any of the worldwide institutional initiatives in information literacy since the Boyer report. The whole thing is done seat of the pants style, via introspection and his own observations. Some of the observations, though, do seem valuable, but there are plenty of other people in a variety of disciplines worrying about these kinds of problems, and his own research does not seem to have turned them up.

  7. I have heard gossip that says that Abbott can be a difficult person. That said, I would not be dismissive on the basis of reactions to one essay without recognizing that behind it lie a long series of books, including Chaos of Disciplines, Department and Discipline: Chicago Sociology at One Hundred, System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor, Time Matters: On Theory and Method, and Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences.. Nor, without a professional ox being gored, would I worry excessively because he has not cited every possible source. Who does, after all, in a world where there is too much to get around to even within the fraction of a discipline in which one specializes? Everyone draws a line somewhere.

    I can see the argument that, in this age of the Internet, anyone who takes on a topic of interest to multiple disciplines should, at least, do a Google search and see what is out there beyond one’s own disciplinary boundaries. I am in a another place, chiding anthropologists who study advertising but write in apparent complete ignorance of what has been written in a voluminous and constantly expanding trade press and proudly announce discoveries that arouse this industry veteran to another tired, “Well, duh.” On the other hand, as an anthropologist with an interest in social science and sociology more broadly, I not only find what Abbott says interesting; I find his examples very much on point. (I am thinking here in particular of his observation in Methods of Discovery that what makes ethnography believable is the detail that persuades us that the ethnographer was really, truly there. He remarks that Evans-Pritchard’s Witchcraft, Oracle and Magic among the Azande is particularly compelling because it contains such anecdotes as E-P’s comment that, while working among the Azande, he used the poison oracle to guide his household affairs and found it as useful a system as any he had ever encountered.)

  8. Hi John, not to take away anything from Abbott, whose work I don’t know (I’m in literary studies), all I can say is that there is not a single reference to the fields he is apparently unaware of, nor to the secondary literature therein. All I can find is a bare Google keyword search, with 5 hits; though this suggests to him a wide open field to romp around in, this would suggest to me, the experienced teacher of undergraduates, that he does not know how to do a keyword search on Google. Am I permitted to observe that this represents an important aspect of information literacy? And that to some extent is one of the topics of his paper? I understand that no one can be comprehensive in their literature overviews, but I’m not seeing any evidence of his awareness of other scholarship on the topic he has chosen.

    There may be a generational issue here, and this seems to be an unpublished paper, so it’s no big deal, but I hope he shows this to someone who knows about the existence of such scholarship, because it would actually strengthen his arguments, which I agree are suggestive. But I think his elision of other, more relevant (though less glamorous) sources on this topic indicates something besides the usual rush to finish a paper.

  9. Hmm, when I googled Abbott, I did find the published version of this essay in a library science journal, with what looks like some modifications of his claims of novelty:

    Click to access Abbott08.pdf

    In its current form, it does argue interestingly for a more theoretical look at methodologies of advanced “library research,” and it seems more persuasive to me now than in it was in its draft stage.

    So thanks for alerting me to this, John.


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