EAP Speaking Rubrics: A Student-Centred Approach

A Brief Introduction

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In this blog entry, I will attempt to briefly describe the contents of a presentation my colleague Glenn Ewing and I shared at TESL Niagara on February 8, 2020.

Glenn and I have been interested in EAP Speaking rubrics for many years. Information shared here and during the presentation is based on our personal reflection, professional experience, education, and research. Our focus is mainly on EAP speaking rubrics for midterm assessment. We maintain that typical EAP speaking rubrics often present some flaws which make them ineffective for the learner. We attempt to explain some of the problems, propose some principles of rubric design, and finally, promote, as an alternative, student-centred, formative speaking rubrics.

Main Flaws and Problems with EAP Speaking Rubrics

Glenn and I believe that many EAP rubrics are not uniformly focussed on a single kind of assessment, but rather multiple ones, for example, instead of being either formative or summative, some rubrics attempt to be both. This divergence can produce confusing rubrics that are ineffective and unfocussed.  Mixed and contrasting goals in a rubric create some problems.

You may recognize the usual suspects:

  • Unbalanced grades: You discover your grades don’t reflect student ability. Many EAP speaking rubrics assign the same weight to different categories. For example, grammar is worth 4 marks, but so is body language, pronunciation, and visual aids. This is not necessarily the best approach to marking because you may end up with inflated or deflated grades that don’t reflect what the student is really capable of.
  • Unclear descriptors: The descriptors try to encompass the different, contrasting goals, but in doing so, they become too complex for students to understand. Language may be overly complicated, discouraging the student from tackling it.
  • Lack of descriptors: In order to try to achieve different purposes often opposite to each other, descriptors may be dropped all together, creating a lack of clarity for students around how their grade was determined.

Principles of Rubric Design: Minimizing Entanglement and Problems

In trying to minimize flaws and problems, Glenn and I came up with some principles of rubric design for midterm assessments in speaking:

  • Rubrics for midterm speaking assessment should be formative and analytical: We want to build on student ability and inform them of their progress (formative) and have categories for the student to focus on (analytical).
  • De-emphasize the number: Whenever possible, use letters to grade or descriptors such as excellent, good, sufficient, and needs work.
  • Rubrics should focus on qualitative feedback that is clear to the learner: Descriptors should be understandable and clear.
  • “Map” quantitative scores onto the rubric if necessary (if you must produce a numerical score): Avoid having the numerical grade right on the rubric, but you can have a map for yourself when marking (e.g. A=100, B=80, or excellent= 100, good= 80 …).
  • Whenever possible, rubrics should include communicative elements such as conversation management and body language.

An Example

Let us look at an example of a rubric that follows the principles mentioned above; Glenn and I created this rubric for the purpose of evaluating a presentation, but the principles can be applied to design rubrics for other kinds of speaking tasks as well.

Speaking Presentation Feedback Form

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Student- Centred Rubrics

Glenn and I believe these principles would help instructors design more student-centred rubrics. We think it is desirable to do so because it encourages students to take charge of their own learning. In fact, we observed that when descriptors are clear and the rubric does not display a numerical value, students are more inclined to analyze what they need to improve and ask meaningful questions about the feedback given by their instructor.

Glenn and I do not claim to be experts in the matter, but we have seen some positive results by designing student-centred, formative, analytical EAP speaking rubrics for midterm assessments and tasks. We are very interested in your experience and opinion on the matter as well.

What is your experience with rubrics? What are your concerns and successes? I look forward to your comments.

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