National Writing Project

Book Review: Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment by Maja Wilson

By: Meg Petersen
Publication: The WAC Journal
Date: November 1, 2009

Summary: What does assessment without rubrics look like and where will it take us? Maja Wilson, a teacher-consultant with the Crossroads Writing Project in Michigan, rethinks rubrics.


Maja Wilson won the 2007 NCTE James Britton Research Award for Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment. Meg Peterson, director of the Plymouth Writing Project in New Hampshire, wrote Making It Messy: A Review of Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment by Maja Wilson (PDF) for the November edition of the The WAC Journal.

Excerpt from Review

At this point, Wilson devotes a chapter to examining the arguments in favor of rubrics. She dismisses the most prevalent argument by saying, "An assessment method must convince us that it reflects our values about teaching writing before it seduces us with its claim to save time" (28). She notes that rubrics often substitute for meaningful response to writing. "When our purpose in reading student work is to defend a grade, we do not apply any of our natural responses to a text" (30). Instead, we search for ways in which it does not "measure up."

Wilson goes on to attack the idea of the determinism of factors and, in a point particularly relevant for readers of the WAC Journal, urges us instead to provide student writers with meaningful response that challenges their ideas. In other words, rather than looking at papers in terms of error correction, we should engage students as fellow thinkers in our respective fields. She cites Bob Broads's comparison rubrics to the Vinland map of the "new world" providing only vague outlines of what is out there rooted in earlier understandings, and notes that many contemporary and professional writers would score poorly on them. She wonders whether the reductive standardized categories of rubrics will produce standardized writers.

Rethinking Rubrics: An Interview with Maja Wilson

Petersen, Meg. 2009. "Making it Messy: A Review of Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment by Maja Wilson." The WAC Journal 20: 107–110.

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PDF Download "My Trouble with Rubrics"

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