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One of the most common complaints about participation grades from both students and teachers is their subjectivity. Whether these grades are assigned once or twice per semester or for every class period, most participation grades involve teachers evaluating students on how often and how well they engage in class discussion. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this system, it can be challenging to determine an appropriate grade and to put aside extraneous factors that might impact that score.  If you are looking for some additional strategies to supplement your evaluation of students’ participation, consider trying one of the following methods:

  • Student self-evaluations. Ask students to give themselves a participation score and write why they feel they deserve that grade. This strategy allows students to reflect on their own participation and to look for ways that they might improve their performance in class. While some students will say they (undeservingly) deserve full credit, most students are actually tougher participation graders than their teachers. Think about the weight you will give self-evaluations compared to your own evaluations, and consider using the same rubric for both their evaluations and yours. This activity can be done any number of times throughout the semester, and could be a formal or informal evaluation of how they participated in class.
  • Peer evaluations. Occasionally over the course of the semester, you can have students “vote” for fellow students who they learned the most from in class or who they would choose to work with on a project. You could also ask students which particular comments in class they found the most insightful. (Try to keep it positive – it is probably not a good idea for students to identify “problem students” in their midst.) This also encourages students to actively listen to what their peers are saying in discussion, and gives you a chance to affirm quality participation from your students.
  • Short participation assignments. Have students take a more active role in generating discussion for your class. You could have students submit questions for discussion, lead one or more class sessions, give short, in-class presentations, or write reaction papers on the daily readings. You could also use short mini-quizzes/clicker quizzes to ensure students are coming to class prepared for discussion, or have students write one-minute papers on the topic for the day. When used as low-stakes assessments (as partial credit for that day’s participation grade), these activities will be less burdensome for students and provide a more objective means of evaluating class participation.
  • Participation outside of class. Try setting up a discussion board on Sakai, student blogs, or another course management system. Encourage students to post their own reflections on course materials, to add relevant articles and real-world applications, and to comment on what others post. This allows students to make connections outside of the classroom, and conveniently provides written documentation for you to grade at your own pace. It also offers a space for students to participate who might not otherwise speak up in class but are nonetheless engaged in the course.

Regardless of how you plan to evaluate student participation, be sure to communicate your grading scheme to your students. Define what “counts” as participation in your syllabus, a rubric, or by telling your students before using one of the above activities. Using a rubric, in particular, can be an effective method for grading on observable behaviors (such as whether the student attended and spoke up in class, was prepared for discussion, etc.). As you work to grade participation fairly and consistently, be sure to let students know why you are grading participation through alternative means; they will likely appreciate your efforts to reduce subjectivity in your evaluations of their contributions to the class.

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