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Canvas Spotlight: using rubrics

The tool can clarify expectations and make grading easier.

By Jennifer Whitton-Trujillo, Todd Wolfe and Alex McDaniel

October 19, 2021

Center for Teaching, Learning and Design logo with Roadrunner logoSome instructors have been putting off creating rubrics for assignments, either because they don’t like them or don’t know how to create them. But rubrics can not only help your students succeed but can make the grading process easier.

Rubrics provide a clearly defined set of criteria that serve as a basis for assessing student assignments and discussions. Using rubrics enables instructors to give students a clear outline of what is expected of them. They also give students the best chance of completing their assignments successfully because they know upfront what the assignment priorities are and can use the rubric as a guide to complete the assignment.

Rubrics help instructors as well. They can decrease the overall amount of time spent grading and clarify goals and expectations for a given discussion or assignment. Because they are essentially a to-do list of priorities and requirements, rubrics make it easier to grade impartially and consistently. And they present a clear relationship between a student’s work and the grade they receive. In other words, they make grading straightforward and easy.

Tips for writing rubrics

  • Rubrics can be applied to subjective assignments and discussions just as effectively as they can for objective ones. For example, in a reflective discussion in which students are encouraged to express themselves creatively, rubrics can be used to define expectations for spelling, grammar or structure instead of content.
  • Sometimes a rubric can be developed that is easily applied to multiple assignments or discussions to save time. For example, a discussion rubric may include criteria such as “use Socratic questioning,” “respond to at least two classmates” or “does not use ‘me too’ or ‘I agree’” responses.”
  • If it’s preferred to leave the content of a given assignment or discussion up to the student – in an essay, for example – the rubric can clarify expectations of students’ technical-writing skills, the structure of their paper or the number of required citations.
  • Finally, Rubrics work better for some assignments than others. For example, if a third-party tool, such as or some integrated publisher-provided assessment tools, is being used, rubrics work differently (or sometimes not at all) and may be less effective.
  • Here is a helpful checklist to consider when creating a rubric:

Performance levels (columns)

  • There are three to five performance levels.
  • The labels/descriptions of the performance levels are distinct, clear and meaningful.

Performance criteria (rows)

  • There are three or more performance criteria.
  • The labels/descriptions of the performance criteria are distinct, clear and meaningful.

Performance-level descriptors (cells)

  • The descriptors describe differences in performance that are observable and measurable.
  • The descriptors clearly articulate what the expectations are for each performance level for a given criterion.
  • For a given row, the descriptors evaluate the same criterion across all performance levels.
  • The descriptors represent meaningful differences in performance across the performance levels for a given criterion.

Best practices

  • Consider what learning objectives the activity measures when developing rubrics.
  • Build rubrics in the Rubrics section of Canvas and attach to the discussion or assignment rather than typing them in the text of the assignments. This allows use of the rubric to grade directly from SpeedGrader.
  • Create more than three rating categories to avoid the “catch-all” middle category and to make criteria clearer and more specific.
  • Provide clear evidence for each criterion and rating that relates to the skills, knowledge or behaviors measured by the activity.

Let’s walk through it together

For complete written step-by-step instructions, visit the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design Ready Spotlight tutorial page.

Have questions?

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Topics: Best practices, Center for Teaching, Learning and Design, Online Learning, Technology

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