Grading student-led discussions

Posted: November 4, 2016 in Uncategorized
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(CCO public domain image from

(CCO public domain image from

So, I’ve been thinking about grading. The other day I wrote about how well my students were doing leading discussions of the book we were reading.

No problem there. My students continued to do a good job during all the presentations. The group leaders were prepared, and the rest of the class stepped up and participated solidly. I could even join in without it stopping conversation. For our last few conversations, I was back in charge. We had one okay discussion, and then the last class I had a particular activity that I wanted to do as a wrap up, big picture type thing.

Now the problem is, how to grade this?

I took notes during the discussion and asked the students to fill out a reflection/rubric. For the most part, they gave themselves high marks.

Why grade it, you may ask. Good question. Here are my reasons to grade this assignment:

  • I said this would be a graded activity, because I knew they would need to spend some significant time, and it’s a big part of class.
  • If students do a good job, I want to reward that. And, since they did mostly do really well, that is all good.
  • I’m not sure if we will be able devote this much time to student planned and led discussion later in the semester, so maybe I should grade it now, while I have something.

However, I don’t really want to grade them on this. Here are my reasons not to grade this assignment:

  • Each discussion gave the next group more to think about in terms of a model, especially at the beginning. The groups and the class got better at this format as we progressed.
  • Did early groups have a disadvantage? How/will I take that into account?
  • Group work is always hard to grade. Do I give the same score to everyone in the group? For a few groups, there was a clear less-active participant.
  • Do I really want these first attempts to be part of a cumulative average? They are hugely important for learning, but really this is formative work.

In a perfect semester, we would do this several more times. I could give feedback this time. We could work on adding complexity to some of their questioning. We would work on connecting to big themes. We would work up steadily to students leading discussion with more complex texts in terms of plot and numbers of characters.

Back in the real world, where I live, I can’t do everything. IF I spend all that time on leading discussion, we won’t be able to work on writing etc. We are finishing a short read of some comics/graphic novel. The format wasn’t familiar enough for students to lead on this one. And, I think it’s good to mix it up. We will be starting our last book for the semester shortly. It’s a big one with many characters of note, a number of interlocking storylines, and a lot of pages. I’m worried that between the number of pages I need people to read per night and the many things going on in the book, it would not be a good choice for general student led discussions. However, I might be able to plan some particular topic-chapter combinations that would work for shorter, focussed discussions.

None of this answers my grading question.

Anyone have any ideas?

  1. Hey, I’m way behind on my reading and commenting on posts as life has thrown us some major curveballs this fall. Could you use the ladder of feedback ( and together with the class provide feedback for each leader? Then, could you sit with each student (or each group) and negotiate a fair grade? You mentioned that they have done well so the negotiations shouldn’t bee too difficult.

    • mseiteljorg says:

      Philip, great suggestion as usual. The feedback ladder looks like a great protocol, though I might need to adapt it a bit for seniors. I’m wondering if this is more involved than is necessary for this activity? I asked the students for feedback on their own presentations and compared that to mine. For a project that I just finished it would have been a great midway point review. Thanks for these ideas; I’ll be using them for sure.

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