Using Rubrics to Assess Student Blogs

Every time I talk about blogging with students, I am inevitably asked about the assessment process. I understand that some educators are wary of "grading" this new(er) medium for student writing, but I think that blogs are actually much easier to assess and to offer feedback on than are some other forms of traditional assessment.

First, most blogs have a comment section. I often leave comments for students in this space. I find that students are excited to see that I've commented (because I don't always do it) and I have found that they often will correct whatever I've suggested in a timely fashion.  Typing, for me, is easier and quicker than writing by hand. Students cannot lose their blog post, but they sure can lose a piece of paper that I've commented on!

Over the past three years, I have been working to develop rubrics to use with student blog posts. I have narrowed down my general criteria to the following six:

Evidence of Critical Thinking: Thoughtful observations, connections between readings and the larger world and/or your life, and growth in your thoughts/ observations from the beginning of the year.

Evidence of Critical Reading: Evidence of thorough readings, comprehension of reading materials, insightful reflections, and connections between readings materials.

Evidence of Creative Thinking: Inclusion of photographs, music, videos, or other media that enhances the presentation of the post; original ideas presented in readings are extended in a creative manner.

Evidence of the Ability to Write Clearly and Effectively: Grammar, spelling, capitalization errors do not interfere with audience understanding. The structure of your blog posts allows for understanding and is easy to follow.

Evidence of Awareness of Diverse Audience: Opinions, justifications, rationalizations, and summaries are written in a way that allows a diverse audience to understand your intent. Writings are not offensive, but engage audience members in your ideas and opinions in a creative manner.

Community of Practice: Wherever necessary, credit has been given to original source for photos and ideas. This is done through embedded hyperlinks.

Why these six? There are some specific challenges and opportunities that are presented in blogging. The challenge is that students cannot write a whole lot of text, because no audience wants to read on and on when they're reading on a computer. Blog posts need to be a lot more concise and quick. There are no five to ten page literary analysis papers on my students' blogs. This does not mean that we do not do this type of writing; it is just not appropriate for a blog format.

Another challenge that actually helps to build students' skills as writers is the unknown audience factor. A student who writes a post as if the audience is comprised only of me and his or her classmates has not prepared an unknown audience to be able to comprehend the meaning or significance of the post. This fact helps to create better student writers.

Something that blogging allows for that the traditional pen and paper routine does not is the ability to add-in images, videos, and songs. There are several students in my classes who do not think in a linear, linguistic fashion. Allowing students to add-in other types of media has helped those students who are not always able to completely express their thoughts through the use of language. I have absolutely found this feature to be invaluable in the blogging process.

Students are required to contribute to the blogging world with their thoughts, but also with their links. Just as plagiarism is not okay on a research paper, the same is true in a blog post. The more that students link to the outside blogosphere and web pages, the more that their writing will be picked up on google. This is just good practice for social responsibility. 

Finally, I wish that you could see students' faces when they look at their counters (cluster maps and flag counters). These counters allow students to see that their writing is being read by a huge, global audience. Once in a while, students will get a comment, but usually viewers will leave comments on my blog. Students love and cherish these comments; they are proof that the world cares about their thoughts and opinions.

I hope that this criteria helpful. I welcome feedback and suggestions for other items that I may have overlooked.