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Grading Class Discussion

Should class discussion be graded?  You will often see syllabi that say: "class participation will be worth 25% of the final grade, "  although many professors will still give an A to a student who does consistently good written work.   There are clearly pros and cons to grading students on class discussion.  On the one hand, it is important for students to learn how to present themselves orally.   On the other hand, the students who talk in class are not necessarily the ones who are the most attentive to the class discussion; sometimes they speak just to hear themselves talk (or to impress us that they are participating).  Furthermore, sometimes the students who don't speak up are quiet because they are shy. Telling shy students that their participation will be part of their grade can put pressure on them rather than making them feel more comfortable. Instead of grading class participation sometimes the way to encourage shy students to speak is to reduce the obstacles that make them fearful, creating an environment of less rather than more pressure.  

Another issue is how to grade participation. Here is is useful to help students understand the difference between talking a lot in class and participating in a meaningful conversation.  They need to understand that true participation involves a variety of factors such as: listening respectfully; being prepared; making comments that are based on the assignment; and making comments that refer to the thoughts of other students.  So if you do plan to grade class participation, you should probably make your expectations clear to students, perhaps by using a rubric that defines the elements of quality class participation.  (See our general discussion of rubrics for more detail.)  There are several sample class participation rubrics that might be useful.,

TΦ101 has also found that students self-evaluations of class participation are helpful, and are probably more valid than student self evauations of other course elements such as papers. Students know if they have been prepared and contributed usefully to class discussion.

Sources:

Chapnick, Adam. "A Participation Rubric,"  The Teaching Professor. March 2005, 4.

Maznevski, Martha L."Grading Class Participation."  Teaching Concerns. University of Virginia, Spring 1996. 10 April 2008
<
http://trc.virginia.edu/resources/grading-class-participation-2/>.

The Teaching Center at California State Fresno also has some useful resources on this topic.

Author: John Immerwahr
Update: January 1, 2014

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