Midterms are a great time to talk about rubrics. Rubrics are a concise way to convey your expectations to your students. After all, as a student, it’s much easier to perform exceptionally, if you know exactly what your professor thinks “exceptional” work looks like. And, as a professor, it’s much easier to recognize exceptional work if you’ve thought about what the essential attributes of exceptional work are before, say, the pile of work appears in your inbox.
How to get started? You might check out the Quality Rubrics Wiki for their collection of resources and tools related to rubric creation (and if you need rubrics about rubrics, they’ve got those, too!).
Once you’ve perused the info on the rubrics wiki (including What Deserves a Rubric? and What Makes a Quality Rubric?), you may want to head over to The Rubric Library and see if there’s a general rubric there that you can tweak to reflect your specific assignment and learning objectives. Additionally, note that the Koehler Center has an online collection of rubrics, too. Edit: this resource was removed.
If you end up amending a rubric you’ve found (or inherited), this list of tips on Designing and Using Rubrics might come in handy.
In closing, let’s consider the objections to using rubrics. One claim goes something like this: “Rubrics are impersonal”. It’s absolutely possible (and, in fact, encouraged!) to provide individualized comments when using a rubric. The most effective rubrics I’ve seen address all the common places in which students might succeed or fail on a given assignment (thereby saving the instructor from having to write the same phrases over and over), but also have a column / row / space for some additional specific feedback. Best, since your rubric has already addressed some of the issues, you can focus on the remaining points more efficiently.
The other anti-rubric claim is something like: “Rubrics are formulaic; Students could go in so many directions with this assignment and I will know excellence when I see it.” Rubrics are as formulaic as you set them up to be – as the instructor, you have a lot of latitude here. You also have the opportunity really think about what the learning objective of that assignment is and why you’re asking students to complete a given assignment. What skills are they practicing? How will you know they’ve succeeded? More importantly, absent your grade, how will they know they’ve succeeded? The answers to those questions provide the structure for your rubric, and, voilà, you’ve just produced a wonderfully specific, thorough rubric that you can use to help your students produce excellent work.