Graded Student Discussion, take 1

Posted: October 5, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about participation and how to teach and evaluate it. This has been a topic of discussion among the English teachers in Upper School as well. We all agree we want students to participate. Some of us agree on the desire to give some points/grades for this. Fewer of us agree on how to asses or determine the points or grades.

I am of the opinion that if I am going to grade something I need to have taught it and made it clear what the expectations are for good work in that area. I knocked around a couple of ideas, even got documents ready with rationale etc. and then went another direction. Here’s what I did.

Set up:

  • students were given the following homework assignment:
    • Read p110-136 (Slaughterhouse-Five)
    • Reply to a classmate’s comment on Ch 4 forum (on our online class page on Moodle)
    • Be prepared to be an active participant in a discussion where the question is: We learn in the first part of ch 5 that Billy voluntarily entered the hospital to try to recover from the war. “They had both (Rosewater and Billy) found life meaningless, partly because of what they had seen in the war…So they were trying to re-invent themselves and their universe.” Given the evidence, how successful has Billy been in this task? Come with details ready to support your thoughts.
      • Using this rubric, you will evaluate your participation in the discussion, as will I. It will count for a quiz grade.
  • When class started I had us all sitting around a number of big tables and made a diagram of who was sitting where. 
  • I told the students I was not there to answer questions or to say yes or no to statements. My only job was to record or maybe ask more questions. I shared that I would record comments (I) and references to the text (T). My goal was 20 minutes. (Note: I based this format on my recollection of the Junior Great Books discussion format that I used many, many years ago.)

Discussion starts:

  • A student reread the prompt and someone began.
  • I recorded comments as described above (and added a Y symbol for times students indicated agreement, but not much else and C for connection to another text!)
  • Initially conversation was stilted and the kids called on each other to “take turns”. That stopped after some encouragement from me, and conversation became more free-flowing. I did not enter the discussion at all until probably 15-20 minutes in, maybe more. I then did as I said I would and asked some more questions that would push some ideas that others had begun. Conversation continued in full force for 26 minutes, at which point I decided we had talked this idea out.
  • I recorded the conversation, but don’t know how well that went and have not listened yet.

Student Self-Reflection:

  • Post conversation, students filled out this rubric on their participation and turned it in. We then did a few other quick things.
    • Note–one student commented he felt prepared and hopes we do this again. Another was very honest about her lack of comments and explained her reasoning. A third believed he should be rewarded for not wavering at all from the stated topic.
  • I had the next period free and responded on the bottom of each self-evaluation with a few sentences and a grade out of 20 points. For those who did not participate enough or barely enough, I asked if there was anything I could do to encourage/support more commenting. I returned the rubrics with my comments the next day in class.

Here is the picture of my discussion notes.

Conversation notes

Conversation notes


This discussion took place 6th period on Thursday of our first full week of school, after back to school night. The students clearly came in ready, for the most part, and did a great job, again for the most part. Good energy and momentum in class. 

Now I am thinking about our next discussion. I think I will set some individual goals with students. For some, the goal will simply be to contribute more. For others, I would like them to focus on connecting ideas, doing what I often do in other discussion. A few others I plan to ask to think about being influenced by others, letting themselves hear new ideas and be altered by them. These couple of students have clear ideas, but tend to come in feeling strongly, share their ideas strongly, repeat their ideas again, and then leave thinking the same thing. While there are times that it is ok to hold firmly to ideas, I believe a few of my students need a little encouragement in allowing themselves to bend. (This will be a bit tricky to say tactfully.)

What else should I consider? What recommendations do you have for me?




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