Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Authentic Rubrics

Lindsay Hawkins, Lindsay Williams | Published: September 16th, 2020 by K20 Center


In this professional development session, participants will engage in embedded instructional strategies that will allow them to examine the criteria for authentic assessments. Participants also will explore connections between the “whys” and “hows” of creating and using rubrics for authentic assessment and as a tool to promote rigor and college readiness.

Essential Questions

  • Do rubrics guarantee more authentic learning?

  • Does the use of rubrics promote college readiness?

Learning Goals

  • Identify the “whys” of using rubrics for authentic assessment to promote college readiness.

  • Participants will brainstorm and identify connections between the "whys" and “hows” of using rubrics for authentic instruction and assessment in the classroom.

  • Participants will create a T-chart to illustrate the connections between the “whys” and “hows” of using rubrics in the classroom.

Materials List

  • Presentation Slides (attached)

  • Authentic Rubric Samples handout (attached)

  • Authentic Learning and Teaching handout (attached)

  • The Why and How T-chart handout (attached)

  • Instructional Strategy Note Sheet handout (attached)

  • Rubrics Traditional vs. Authentic handout (attached)

  • Evaluating the Rubric With Six Components handout (attached)

  • The Trouble With Rubrics excerpt handout (attached)

  • Scratch paper

  • Poster paper

  • Markers, pens, or pencils

  • Sticky notes


Welcome participants, and briefly introduce yourself and the professional development session using the attached Presentation Slides. Inform participants that several new instructional strategies will be introduced to them throughout the session. Explain that these strategies are tools to support higher-order thinking in an authentic way.

Make sure each participant has a copy of the attached Instructional Strategy Note Sheet, and encourage participants to use it to jot down their ideas for personalizing a strategy to be used as an instructional tool in their classrooms. Once all the new strategies are modeled, the presentation will allow time for participants to reflect on how to use the strategies.

Display slide 3 to share the session objectives with participants. This will provide a road map of where you will go together during the session and let them know what to expect from the session. Inform them: Today, you will have protected time to engage in hands-on activities evaluating how and why we use rubrics to promote authentic instruction. I will provide time for you to brainstorm and create rubrics to use in a lesson of your choosing.

Go to slide 4, "Strike Out." From the large group, have participants get in groups of four and make a list of why teachers use rubrics. Each list should have at least seven items or statements listed. Have each group pass the list clockwise to the next group. Each group will evaluate the new list they received and strike out the least important piece of information. Have groups continue to pass their lists to the right until only the most important information remains. There should be only one or two key ideas or statements remaining on the list.

As a whole group, have participants share the most important items that were left remaining on the papers/posters. Discuss as a large group the similarities and differences found among groups for why teachers use rubrics.

Go to slide 5, "Why We Use Rubrics," and ask: Do your remaining ideas about rubrics fit under traditional assessment or authentic assessment? Explain that rubrics are a form of authentic assessment only if they follow the criteria of the authentic side of the chart.

Transition to slide 6 and give each group a chance to “revive” one of the original items or statements that were struck out in the last activity. Take a moment and then ask participants to share why they picked that item or statement. Ask them: How does this fit under authentic assessment?


Once participants have finished sharing which statement or idea they would revive on their list, go to slide 7, which is another copy of "Why We Use Rubrics." Participants will refer to the right side of this chart on the slide and the Rubrics Traditional vs Authentic handout.

In this activity, all participants will vote on the three components they believe are the most important in developing a rubric. Make sure each participant has a copy of the attached Evaluating the Rubric With Six Components handout.

Once the three most important components have been identified, have all participants write them on the handout. Go to slide 8, "Building It Together." Participants will use their three components of authentic assessment and work together in a small group to evaluate a given rubric and discuss what could be done better.

At this time, pass out the attached Authentic Rubric Samples handout for each content area (the handout has four examples of rubrics to choose from). Allow time for participants to work in small groups to evaluate the rubrics based on the three attributes they voted on.

Transition to slide 9. Ask the group to rate the rubric on a scale of 1–3 using the "Attributes of Authentic Assessment," including the work from McTighe and O'Conner (2005).

After they have evaluated the sample rubric, have participants come up with ways to make the rubric more authentic.


Once participants have had ample time to analyze and share the attributes of the given rubrics, go to slide 10 and present the following statement: The use of rubrics guarantees more authentic learning.

Introduce the Four Corners strategy. Give participants a moment to think about all the types of assessments they use in the classroom and how much they agree or disagree with the statement on the slide. Once they have a had a moment to evaluate where they stand on that statement, ask them to move to one of the following four corners: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree.

After all participants have made their decisions and moved to their chosen corners of the room, allow them to discuss their decision with their group members. Then, allow the groups to share out why they agree or disagree with the statement. Once finished, they may return to their seats.

Transition to slide 11, "What does the research say?" Give each participant a copy of the attached reading, The Trouble With Rubrics. Provide an explanation of Kohn's rationale in the short excerpt, and ask participants to quickly read through the excerpt using Why Lighting.

After they have read the article, have participants identify the three problems Kohn addresses in the excerpt. Lead a short discussion about what participants highlighted and annotated in the last three paragraphs.

After participants share a few key problems from Kohn's excerpt, click slide 11 again and briefly share the research listed, affirming what participants have shared.

  1. Dropout statistics show that numerous so-called "normal" students are not succeeding because they are not treated as individuals.

  2. Active learning embraces teaching and learning strategies that engage and involve students in the learning process.

  3. When educators show different ways to learn, students find new and creative ways to solve problems and achieve success, becoming lifelong learners.

  4. There is a correlation between high truancy rates and low academic expectations.

Go to slide 12, "Beware the Rubric Traps." Remind participants that rubrics are not assessments to be used for self-justification, as replacements for number/letter grades, or only because they can be quick and efficient. Authentic rubrics promote and encourage divergent thinking, develop meaningful skills, emphasize cooperation, and guide curriculum and instruction. Also, not all lesson assessments lend themselves to the use of a rubric, as discussed in the Four Corners activity.

Transition to slide 13, "Why and How T-Chart." Begin by quoting Alfie Kohn: When the how's of assessment preoccupy us, they tend to chase the why's back into the shadows. Ask participants: What does this mean to you?

Make sure each participant has a copy of the attached Why and How T-chart. Have participants use the T-chart to brainstorm thoughts about why we use rubrics and how we use them to address the why.

Once participants have filled out their charts, discuss the focus of "why" we use rubrics as a whole group.


Go to slide 14, "Authentic Teaching." Ask participants to discuss the following question with an elbow partner: Which of these four components do you see represented from authenticity in the use of authentic rubrics for assessment?

Refer to the attached Authentic Learning and Teaching document to support participants’ answers.

Place participants in content-related groups, and allow time for them to discuss what types of lessons best fit with the use of rubrics. Have group representatives share out to the large group.

Transition to slide 15, "Explore RubiStar." Go to the Rubistar website and demonstrate how easy and quick it is to create a rubric. Then, have participants use the URL on the slide to explore the site on their own.

If time allows, have participants pick a lesson they believe might benefit from the use of a rubric. Create and develop a rubric using the website and the tools from the Rubrics Traditional vs Authentic handout. As participants work to create their own rubrics for a lesson, walk around and help those with questions.


To wrap up the session, go to slide 16 and have participants individually use the 3-2-1 strategy. Participants will write three things they learned from this session, two questions they still have about writing/creating rubrics, and one lesson that lends itself to the use of a rubric.

At the end of the session, if time allows, participants may share out one of their two questions. This provides an opportunity for you, as the presenter, to clear up any misunderstandings or misconceptions about authentic rubrics. It also provides an opportunity for participants to reflect on their learning.

Finally, remind participants to finish filling out the Instructional Strategies Note Sheet if they haven’t already done so. Explain that this will be a great reference tool for planning lessons once they are back in the classroom.

Research Rationale

Rubrics are used for assessing student performance on authentic learning tasks. They allow for student ownership and empowerment. Rubrics challenge learners to focus on knowledge that could be applied in a real-world environment. This ownership and empowerment can lead to higher levels of engagement and participation, which can lead to more motivation to attend school. Attendance is imperative to academic success for career or college readiness, and rubrics for authentic assessment support this aspect of college readiness (Reimer and Smink, 2005).