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.
A multifaceted class discussion rubric is used in some of Villanova's freshman seminar classes.
Adam Chapnick, of the University of Toronto, has an even more elaborate participation rubric.
Martha Maznevski has another model in her article on "Grading Class Participation."
Kathryn J. Norlock (Trent U.) offers a compelling method of organizing and assessing classroom participation that requires students to come to class with prepared "Questions for Consideration." Her approach is designed both to minimize the (arguably) unfair disadvantage that grading participation based on volume of speech tends to confer on students with social anxiety, and to improve the quality of student participation (while carrying the added benefit of streamlining grading). Her instructions for students include the following:
A “Question For Consideration” may be about any philosophical aspect of the assigned texts we have read for that day’s session, but (1) it must be clearly and directly tied to a text by indicating a sentence or passage quoted from the text, and the page number on which the sentence or passage was found. (2) Not only should a selection and a page number appear, but a philosophical question about the selection or its context should be supplied. (3) Thoughtful and excellently prepared quotes supply a reason the student is asking that question, and further, (4) hazard an educated guess as to the answer. By an educated guess, I mean a guess informed by the text, so the best QFCs will include (5) a quote from another point in the text to support one’s own answer to one’s own question. Length usually exceeds one page but should not go over two. (2016, 488)
Norlock asks students to share what they have written in class (or, failing that, calls on students to share). Her article also includes several helpful rubrics for assessing the submitted QFCs.
TΦ101 has also found that students self-evaluations of class participation are helpful, and are probably more valid than student self evaluations of other course elements such as papers. Students know if they have been prepared and contributed usefully to class discussion.
Chapnick, Adam. "A Participation Rubric," The Teaching Professor. March 2005, 4.
Maznevski, Martha L."Grading Class Participation." Teaching Concerns. University of Virginia,Spring 1996.
Norlock, Kathryn J. "Grading (Anxious and Silent) Participation: Assessing Student Attendance and Engagement with Short Papers on a “Question For Consideration," Teaching Philosophy 39:4 (December).
Author: John Immerwahr
Update: June 2017 (E. Tarver)