Making Grading Writing Easier with Frankenstein-ed Conversational Rubrics

In my dream-teaching world, I wouldn’t really grade anything at all. I’d sit down with each student and have a roomy conversation with them — leisurely, with lots of time for getting sidetracked if we want. And we’d talk about their work: what they did, what they tried to do, what I admired, what still needs some thought.

There would be back-and-forth. Give-and-take. Real conversation and real understanding. Relationships baked into the assessment process.

In this world, I’m required to put traditional grades in a traditional grade book and I don’t have time for that lovely dream conversation with each child.

But here’s something that has helped me recently. Take a look, and then let’s talk:

Nothing here is super-original; rather it’s a COMBINATION of things that have worked for me in the past in a single, elegant little rubric.

I start with the single-point rubric.

Whose life hasn’t been changed by the beauty of the single-point rubric? Jennifer Gonzalez and the Cult of Pedagogy introduced it to me a few years ago, and I have never looked back. Gone are the days of trying to decide between an “emerging” or a “developing” on a rubric.

Here’s what I added to it: a writing checklist that shows the strategies I taught in mini-lessons. I have sometimes used checklists separately to help students work along the way, but here I embed it in the rubric with interactive checkboxes they can actually click. Because the strategy checklist is embedded in the rubric, students are constantly looking at the rubric throughout the writing process.

Students are responsible for clicking the strategies I should be able to see in their writing. This is fantastic metacognition for the writer, but it makes my work so much faster as I dig in to read and assess. The seek-and-find element is gone, and writers are taking ownership for what they consciously attempted.

Writers take a first pass at reflecting in the single-point rubric. For each category, they have already checked the strategies they tried. Now, they go through and consider what went well in each category (where they feel they particularly succeeded, what they are proud of) and what could use more work. This is in lieu of the much longer (and more time consuming) author’s notes they used to write me. Those reflections happen here now — category by category, skill by skill.

Then, I just get to talk to them! In most cases, students have already generated a lot of the comments I would have written anyway. So, instead of developing commentary for each category, I am responding to what they have already written. I am agreeing, disagreeing, nudging forward or pushing back. I am telling them where I am having trouble seeing a strategy they have checked and pointing out where they have subconsciously used a strategy without realizing it.

My grading is SO much faster, but, more importantly, it’s more responsive. I’m responding to the students’ own joys and concerns about the work. I’m responding to what they think they did versus what is readily apparent. We can celebrate together, but I can also see their partial understandings writ large. And that tells me what to teach next.

Combining a single-point rubric + writing checklists + author’s note reflections has made my assessment more efficient and more meaningful.

What do you think? Leave me a comment below or find me on Twitter @RebekahODell1.


  1. Rebekah, I love this! Thank you!
    Do you also leave marginal comments? That is where I find myself getting hung up with time. Is it actually ok for us to just give rubric comments?…please say it is! I can’t continue to spend 4 hours feedbacking each of my 5 periods…for 20 hours total!

    1. My rule for myself is that I only comment marginally if I just absolutely cannot resist it. Otherwise, comments inside the rubric and then some summative comments at the end.

  2. Uhhhhhhhhhh… why why why have I made the reflection separate from the rubric?????? This is a masterpiece. All the things in one place but make IT the grading. I’ve been holding self-assessment and reflection separate from scoring for DECADES. Thank you for this epiphany.

  3. I love this idea! So much easier than what I’ve been doing. How do you get from this to the number in the gradebook?

    1. Welllllll… then I leave my feedback and then I just choose a grade. 🙂 That’s really why I like the single-point rubric so much — it allows for so much more flexibility. I mean, you certainly can assign each category down the center a point value … but I’m just taking their feedback under advisement. It’s not as much for the sake of choosing a grade as it is for their own metacognition.

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