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Assessing Participation

As we finalize our syllabi for the spring semester, I want to address the issue of student participation. We know that we cannot grade for attendance – or lack therof – so we must employ other means to ensure that students who attend class and participate earn credit. Built in to the requirements (and grade breakdown) of my course are “class participation” (as well as a variety of in-class activities – writings, presentations, etc which cannot be “made up” one missed – medical exceptions excepted of course). Nonetheless, I have often found it challenging to assign an accurate grade for the participation component. Here’s how I have worked it recently, and it has been successful for several reasons I will explain below:

1. The first week of class I provide a rubric for participation to my students; they must read it and come in with any questions or suggestions. We discuss for a few minutes, and I emphasize key components of the rubric – one of which is the reality that it isn’t the quantity of comments but the quality.
2. I have two or three pre-determined “participation assessment” dates included on the syllabus. On those days, we spend the last five minutes of class, with students writing about their participation over the last 5-6 weeks (or 7-8 if done twice for the semester) and THEY tell me what grade they think they have earned. The rubric is provided on the worksheet, so they can easily circle relevant components, and they also answer questions regarding what feels challenging – and what they hope to improve for next time.
3. Although sometimes my assessment does not “match” what the student has submitted, most of the time the students are quite reflective and honest about what they have (or haven’t) been doing. If there is a discrepancy (between their assessment and mine), the rubric helps me explain the gap to students.

So, that’s just one suggestion for how to assess participation and make students reflect more on their own contributions to discussion and the learning community. The rubric clarifies my expectations at the beginning of the course; the questions enable them to discuss some challenges they have and the few minutes of attention and reflection offers them an opportunity to consider how they might improve their own practices. If anyone has questions, suggestions, or would like to see the rubric, just let me know. Wishing you all a wonderful start to spring 2015!

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3 comments to Assessing Participation

  • Susan Tietje

    Hello Robin,

    That’s a great post! I too do something similar and I have had success with it. However I do not have a rubric.
    That is so kind of you to offer to share it with us!!
    Could you please email it to me at prof.tietje@gmail.com?

    Thank you so much!


  • Ja-Ying Teresa Wu

    Hello. I am Teresa Wu, a technology mentor at the QC center of teaching and learning. As a student myself, I also think it is wonderful to have a rubric for students like me to guide us to understanding what professors expect. Every class has unique requirements for a good grade. Most of my science classes require no participation at all and switching between an involving writing course and droning lecture is sometimes a difficulty. Having a couple minutes for students to consider their engagement and responsiveness to the class material is a great reminder that this is what is expected of them.

  • Andrea Mosenson


    I like how you involve the students to reflect on their participation in the course and then ask them to evaluate themselves. I also grade students on their participation in class with a list of criteria, but would love to see the rubric you use. Can you send me your rubric: Andrea.Mosenson@qc.cuny.edu?
    Thank you,