In the FacultyFocus article, Clear Criteria: A Good Way to Improve Participation, Maryellen Weimer, PhD. discusses an approach to assessing class participation that involves using rubrics and qualitative feedback.  Even if a course grade does not include class participation, these two components can be used to improve the quality of student submissions.


Weimer notes the importance of using clear criteria for evaluating students’ work.  In other words, students will be more likely to meet expectations if they know what they are.  Although the criteria may seem obvious to the instructor, it is not always clear to students.  For instance, if grading presentations, what specific content is the instructor looking for?  Does it need to be engaging?  Are presentation slides required?  What’s the relative weight of each criterion?  Having knowledge of that information ahead of time means that students can focus their efforts on the outlined criteria, and it allows the instructor to grade each submission with less subjectivity.

The traditional way that these criteria are communicated to students is through the use of a rubric.  Rubrics can have different formats – the traditional analytical rubric that categorizes each criterion into three to five levels of performance (Proficient, Exemplary, etc.), or a more general holistic rubric that might list the same three to five levels of performance, but provides a broad description of the characteristics that make up each level.  More information about these types of rubrics may be found here.  A rubric also helps students focus their efforts on the right criteria, and shows them how much each criterion will contribute to their overall grade.  No matter what type of rubric is used, outlining the expectations for students means they are more likely to submit quality work.

Qualitative Feedback

Weimer describes a course in which students completed self-evaluations, and they were returned with instructor comments, but the grade was withheld.  The opportunity to provide qualitative feedback without a grade attached can be very helpful for students, especially in cases where no rubric is provided.  It gives students an opportunity to understand the instructor’s thought process when grading.  While a numerical score indicates to students how they are currently performing, qualitative feedback provides a future-oriented approach, indicating to students how they can improve in the future.  This type of approach is simple to incorporate into any course.  For instance, for a final paper, students might submit a rough draft before the final submission, the instructor would provide overall feedback, outlining any concerns prior to the final submission, and then the student would incorporate this feedback into their final submission.  Only the final submission is graded with a numerical score or letter grade.

Weimer’s discussion makes sense for the narrow scope of grading participation, but even for those courses where participation is not graded, the components that make up her approach can apply to a wide variety of disciplines and assignments, improving the overall quality of student submissions.

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