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November 30, 2023

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Columnist explains why vague rubrics, set-in-their-way professors suck

rubric 5/9

If I were to just say ‘it’s dangerous to be vague,’ what would you, the reader, start thinking? I want you to ponder that for a moment.

My knee-jerk reaction to this is it’s dangerous to be vague because people could misinterpret what I mean. But it could also mean that people don’t understand what I mean or that there isn’t enough detail for them to acknowledge what I say as fact or fiction.

I have been criticized by my writing teachers in the past for being vague and floundering around on the topic without saying what I truly mean. But professors are rarely criticized for their vagueness and lack of adaptability when they choose to be vague.

And in my classes, this vagueness of instructions, rubrics and comments from my teachers has resulted in several bad grades, which I would have been fine with had I deserved those grades. And maybe this is me being upset about bad grades, but I have found in these several bad grades, I followed the quite vague instructions completely and was marked down simply because I took some creative liberties in getting my point across.

Which lends to the question if I’m not given a rubric or set of instructions, which permits my creativity, then shouldn’t the professor grade me based on how well my ideas are developed, not the exact wording I am using?

But yet I find myself losing points on assignments because I have worded things differently than professors would have. I find myself losing points because I didn’t go the direction the professor wanted me to go, even though I was supposed to be allowed some creative liberties, which is incredibly unfair.

Students shouldn’t be deducted points or told they are wrong based on how they process and express something. If I say ‘I like mac’n’cheese’ but the professor believes I should have said ‘I like macaroni and cheese’, I should not have points deducted because that is how I chose to express myself.  I opted to use the abbreviated term because that’s how I speak and write.

Granted, in various forms of writing, there are a certain set of rules laid out, such as journalistic writing and AP Style. However, the rules of AP Style are all written out in a quite thick textbook, I, and all other journalists, could pull up online or pull out in-person. At least in that case, I, and all other journalists, have a set of laid out instructions where they can find answers need be.

But if a professor chooses to make a vague rubric, they also should have to choose to permit creative thought processes and a wide variety of styles and responses for each project and paper they assign. It is not fair for students to be graded based off a rubric the professor created in their head and hasn’t shared with anyone else.

I will say though, I only dislike vague rubrics if the rubric in the professor’s head is shown in the grading process. But if a teacher is open to accessing each student’s creativity for the thought-process and development, rather than exact wording, I then encourage vague rubrics and assignments.

At least then, a student’s creativity is not limited. They then can be confident in the creativity of their work and be confident in sharing their work both in college and throughout the rest of their lives.

But as it is right now, this vagueness is ultimately hurting the grades of students.


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