Rubrics for Class Participation

Introduction

Most instructors expect students to participate actively in their courses and often specify that a portion of the students’ grade will be determined by class participation.  However, class participation can become an amorphous category without any specific standards for determining points allocated toward a grade.  That is, the behaviors involved are rarely specified, and related expectations are rarely explicated to students. Developing a rubric for class participation allows an instructor to be specific about how participation is evaluated, including the relevant dimensions and the meaning of the various performance levels.
► Creating Rubrics

Participation has been understood as comprising a variety of behaviors, both active and passive. For on ground courses, definitions have included quantity and quality of contributions to class discussions, volunteering to lead class discussions, listening attentively and responding to classmates, asking questions, coming to class prepared, attending regularly, being respectful of the instructor and classmates, being supportive of classmates, being mindful of the group’s dynamics, and engaging in small group activities. For asynchronous online courses, many of the dimensions have been the same, with the addition of behavior specific to online posts (e.g., format, mechanics, timeliness, responsiveness to prompts, and discussion etiquette).

Participation – in its many forms – can be thought of as a skill to be developed and thus adopted as a course learning objective. This objective should specify which behaviors are to be developed in the course and therefore evaluated through rubrics.​​​​​​​

The benefits of classroom participation for student learning include

  • Encourages students to prepare for classes and engage with course readings and materials
  • Encourages students to think about issues that relate to the class
  • Encourages students to develop and demonstrate oral communication skills
  • Fosters the development of students’ presentation skills
  • Encourages students to clearly articulate and share ideas
  • Develops respect for others’ points of view
  • Develops group and team interaction skills
  • Develops students’ capacity to critique peers’ responses in a supportive manner
  • Through fostering students’ active involvement in their own learning, increases what is remembered, how well it is assimilated, and how the learning is used in new situations

The benefits of a classroom participation rubric include

  • Creates a fair and equitable standards available to all students
  • Clearly details what is expected of students
  • Provides instructors with feedback on students’ understanding of course material
  • Provides instructors with a means of acknowledging students’ contributions
  • Provides a way for students to get timely and specific feedback

Creating and using rubrics for class participation does present some challenges, however. Specifically, student contributions – when thought of as including speaking up in class – may be affected by class size, group dynamics, and other factors unrelated to the purpose of the assessment. Additionally, some students find it difficult to participate actively in classrooms due to cultural inhibitions and face-saving concerns (e.g., students from non-English speaking backgrounds or students from cultures that do not encourage voicing opinions).

A related potential problem with evaluating and rewarding class participation is that students who are confident speaking up in group situations may be disproportionately rewarded, regardless of the quality of their contributions. Conversely, students who are shy and those who feel self-conscious or uncomfortable speaking English in a group setting may be disadvantaged.

In fact, some educators believe that instructors should not grade participation. For example, Dr. James Lang, Professor and Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption University, has argued against this practice. He believes that participation grades are subject to bias and memory distortions, advantage quantity over quality of comments, and disadvantage students who are shy or anxious or those who, for other reasons, find it difficult to participate. He recommends structuring a course to include other forms of student engagement, including small task-oriented groups and invitational participation, as well as creating a safe and inclusive environment that feels supportive rather than competitive. Should We Stop Grading Class Participation?

In a follow-up article, Dr. Lang suggested two options for “fairly” grading class participation (although he does not intend to use them). One is to grade students not on their participation but on their engagement, which means their completion of class-participation activities that the instructor can track, collect, and assess. The idea is to have students produce something concrete that requires them to engage actively with the material and can be quickly evaluated to ensure that students are showing up to class and participating. A second is to create a rubric that covers all the forms of class participation in the course (e.g., attentive listening, asking questions, contributing to a discussion, participating in group work, or posting comments to a discussion board before or after class). The rubric can be given to students at several points throughout the semester, and they can be asked to log their participation. Two Ways to Fairly Grade Class Participation

Good practices for creating and using rubrics for participation are similar to those for creating rubric in general and include

  • Identify behaviors you want to include as participation
  • Identify the qualities that you want students to demonstrate in their participation
  • Relate dimensions evaluated to course learning objectives and make that relationship explicit for students
  • Identify the criteria that you will use to assess whether students have displayed these qualities
  • Let students aid in developing the assessment criteria; talk with students about characteristics of high-quality participation and use their feedback to develop criteria
  • Make sure that the assessment is fair to everyone; it should not discriminate against those with a disability, women, different cultural groups, etc.
  • Distribute the rubric to students at the beginning of the semester so they know which contributions will be rewarded with high participation grades
  • Teach students how to participate effectively in class
  • Provide clear, timely, and usable feedback throughout the course
  • Get students to self- and peer- assess during the course

Sources

Questions to Consider Before Assessing Student Participation
University of Pittsburg University Times

Assessing Class Participation
University of Melbourne Teaching and Learning Quality Assurance Committee

Class Participation
London School of Economics and Political Science Eden Centre

Developing Participation as a Skill
Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Grading Class Participation
University of New South Wales/Sydney Teaching

Pros and Cons of Grading In Class Participation
University of Calgary Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

Evaluating Students on Class Participation
New York Institute of Technology Center for Teaching & Learning

Creating Rubrics for Effective Assessment Management
University of Michigan Online Teaching

Making Criteria for Class Participation Explicit
University of Wisconsin/Madison Writing Across the Curriculum

How to Add a Rubric
Canvas

On Ground Courses

Specific dimensions that have been proposed for on ground class participation include the following:

  • Frequency: How often did the student participate during class?
  • Relevance: Were contributions relevant to the topic under discussion?
  • Preparation: Did the student appear to be adequately prepared? Did contributions reflect or apply the content of course or other readings?
  • Content of contributions: Were contributions factually correct and based on evidence?
  • Quality of ideas: Did the student contribute new ideas that were insightful and constructive and advanced the level and depth of the discussion?
  • Critical thinking: What was the evidence of critical thinking in the student’s contributions?
  • Listening skills: How well did the student listen to the contributions of others – indicated by comments that built on others’ remarks?
  • Civility: Did the student engage in civil behavior during discussions (avoid interrupting others, use respectful language, etc.)?
  • Group dynamic: Did the student contribute to improving the group dynamic by helping to focus the discussion or move it forward?

Asynchronous Online Courses

Some of the dimensions that have been proposed for evaluating asynchronous online class participation are the same as those proposed for evaluating on ground class participation (e.g., frequency, relevance, preparation, quality, and content of contributions). Others are specific to the online environment and include the following:

  • Initial assignment posting: Did the student post well-developed post that fully addressed the task?
  • Follow-up postings: Did the follow-up posts demonstrate analysis of others’ posts and extend meaningful discussion by building on previous posts?
  • Responsiveness to prompts: Were all components of the discussion prompt addressed?
  • Style: Were the posts clear, concise, and well written?
  • Timeliness: Were posts distributed throughout the week?
  • Mechanics: Were posts formatted in a style easy to read and free or grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors?
  • Discussion etiquette: Do posts show respect for viewpoints of others?
  • Contribution to learning community: Were the posts responsive to other posts and attempted to move the group discussion forward?

Examples of Rubrics for Evaluating Participation

On Ground Courses

Rubric for Assessing Student Participation
Carnegie Mellon University Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence

Sample Rubric – Class Participation
Southern Methodist University Teaching Resources

Rubric for Participation in Class
Temple University Center for Advancement of Teaching

Rubric for Evaluation of Class Participation
Albany Law School

Rubric for Classroom Discussion
Northwestern University Searle Center for Advancing Learning & Teaching

Asynchronous Online Courses

Rubric for Asynchronous Discussion Participation
University of Delaware

Sample of Online Discussion Rubric
University of Iowa

Sample Online Discussion Rubric
University of Connecticut

Online Discussion Participation Rubric
University of Central Florida

Online Discussion Rubric
Northwestern University Searle Center for Advancing Learning & Teaching