Monday, January 24, 2011

Grading Class Participation

I've never been completely satisfied with the ways I have tried calculating class participation in the past, so I decided to look around a little bit before deciding on an approach for this semester's seminar. Everyone seems to agree that it is complicated. For instance, how many contributions in a class session count as an "A"? Do you assign a 0 if someone doesn't participate verbally at all? How do absences factor in? How does one distinguish between quality and quantity . . . on the fly? Obviously, I don't want everyone vying for participation. And I don't want to unfairly penalize students who are clearly engaged but who aren't as loquacious.

For these reasons, I tend not to assign a separate mark for class participation. (And I've had experiences in the past where I've assigned, say, 15% for class participation because it is important, only to realize at the end of the semester that I didn't keep track well enough to hand out a meaningful mark. In such cases, strong memories of positive or lacking contributions may affect the mark, but in general class participation works out to the student's average in their other assignments. This sort of "fudge factor" grading is obviously not ideal.)

In a small 4th year seminar, however, creating an ethos of community participation is vital; learning to contribute thoughtfully to high level discussions is part of the point of the course. In this context, assigning a grade for participation, however small, is important and makes sense.

But how does one do it efficiently and fairly? Here are a couple suggestions from an article and comments in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
  • "If they are actively participating every day, they get a perfect score. While active participation is easiest to measure by those students who speak in class and contribute to discussions, I also consider those who are clearly following the conversation and being thoughtful about it. If you don’t regularly participate in class, your score drops. Those who never participate in class but have perfect attendance will end up with a score around 60-70%." - Brian Croxall
  • "A person who comes to every class but never contributes earns a 50. A person who contributes to every class but never says anything of value–working for that tick mark–gets a 75. I tell shy students who protest that they don’t “like” to talk that I am certain they have classmates who don’t “like” to take exams or write papers. Don’t like the policy, don’t take the course. I send around a clipboard at the end of class for students to claim their participation and I keep weekly records. This all translates into real grades–not quite a bell curve, but stand outs and freeloaders earning their As and Ds, with various shades of B and C for most." - englishwlu (scroll down to the comments); profe1 in the same thread recommends a mid-semester self-evaluation.
Good suggestions, but lacking in detail. I'm tempted to adopted this rubic by Adam Chapnick or perhaps this one by John Immerwahr.
    I'm curious. What have you found that works well? (Both student and teacher perspectives are welcome!)


    Adam Couturier said...

    Doug Stuart developed an interesting system for recording class participation. He has a sheet with each students name and picture on it. He then asks students questions (usually a translation or parsing question). No student was required to answer his question and could pass if they didn't want to participate, but for those who answered his question (even if it was wrong), he would award them a check mark on his sheet. Based on the number of check under your picture you would have a fairly accurate assessment of participation.

    By the way, great blog. I will be adding it to my reader.

    Anonymous said...

    I remember back in Grade 7, during certain class discussions, I noticed the teacher was making tick marks on an attendance sheet every time someone said something.

    Zak Kenney

    d. miller said...

    Thanks for the comments, Adam and Zak. Now I wish I could talk to your grade 7 teacher and Doug Stuart about what those tick marks mean...

    RogueMonk said...

    Interesting thoughts.

    What about the student who over-particpates? Some dominating students (and the suck-ups too) may need a lesser score due to their 'over participating.' Sometimes too much participation is too much.

    I was once graded down from an A to an A- in a masters level seminar (eons ago) for this. At first I felt an injustice had been done, but it has served me well as a lesson in humility and in understanding group dynamics.

    Blessings, RogueMonk

    Eric said...

    I've struggled with this too, and mostly use it to "ding" someone who is asleep or whatever. I'm toying with the idea of having students self-grade, and seeing what they say about themselves.

    The Pedagogue said...

    Mr. Miller, friend of I. Gross' here and former BBC student. I'm a teacher now and I struggle w/ this concept, esp since the public school system often legislates against doing that very thing. So one way to encourage class participation and to meaningfully assess and evaluate it is to do small in-class workshop assignments that produce a type of product that can be graded; i.e. if you're not there, you couldn't have done it. Including test questions that one could only answer correctly if they had attended class (and alerting students to that possibility) is another tactic.
    A format I participated in for a teacher's college seminar broke the class into small discussion groups that were to discuss the reading for the week and answer a number of questions or write a group reflection to a number of prompts/concepts related to the readings. The group submitted a page or so of notes each class and this was marked; more importantly, it identified both participation levels AND the level of comprehension for that given week's topic. Assigning a mark to a group presents difficulty w/ the odd individual who refuses to contribute to the group, but this too can be adjusted for by asking students to submit self- and peer-evaluations.
    Ultimately, my pedagogical concern is less w/ assigning the mark and more w/ ensuring comprehension and encouraging meaningful participation, as I'm sure it is for you. Of course, there is no easy answer, esp. in large classes where 'on-the-fly' assessment is pretty much impossible.
    Great to read your blog!

    d. miller said...

    Thanks for the comment and helpful suggestions, Pedagogue!