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Assessment Possibilities for Discussion Classes

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Jon Cutler was nervous about making in-class discussions a major component of his classes. His concerns focused on two things: assessment of what was learned from the discussion and assessment of discussion participation. He turned to colleague Dr. Jamie Daubman for her thoughts since she had taught classes with student-centered discussions as a core component for some time.

Daubman began by describing how she assessed what was learned in the discussions. “I use insight journals. After each class, the students write something about what they learned about the discussion topic and about the quality of the discussion itself. I grade these about every two weeks. I think you’ll find they provide a very good sense of what students learned from the discussion. I can share some examples to give you an idea of what they’re like.”

Cutler was impressed. The journals went a long way to reducing his worries. “What about assessment of discussion participation?” he asked.

“First let’s talk about the challenges for doing these assessments. Depending on your class size, you’ll likely have multiple discussions going at once. That makes it difficult to hear what’s being said in each discussion group. Also, you’ll need to station yourself where you can see each group. Let’s say you have one student facilitating the discussion in each group. That student will put notes on a flip chart. You can ask the facilitator to place the contributor’s initials by the comments they make–which will also give you a sense of who’s participating.”

“I use a rubric to evaluate the facilitator. I fill out comments throughout the discussions. You have to be able to rotate your viewing of each group in order to do this. I think you will find this challenging at first.”  (Section six of the Interactivity Foundation’s Guidebook for Student Centered Classroom Discussions includes a rubric and covers a number of these assessment topics. You can find a rubric for online text-based discussions here.)

“Evaluating each student’s participation is almost impossible. You just don’t have enough time to observe every student. One thing I do is ask students to evaluate each other using a peer-shadowing system. This works pretty well if you ask students to focus on changes they would suggest their classmate make to be a more effective contributor. I do not recommend asking students to give each other grades. I tend to be generous with their grades unless I see suggestions that represent major concerns, like bullying or lack of participation. Just having a peer shadower tends to ensure each student is contributing. I can show you what a typical peer shadow report looks like.”

Again Cutler was impressed. “I have to say, you’ve made me much more comfortable about how to do the assessments.”

“One more thing”, said Daubman. “If your classes go like mine, students will take on more responsibility in doing their own assessments. That way they have more ownership in their own improvement. That’s what I really like about this approach.”

* * *

“If you want to appear accountable, test your students; if you want to improve schools, teach teachers to assess their students; If you want to maximize learning teach students to assess themselves.” – Rick Stiggins (founder and retired president of the Assessment Training Institute)


This post is part of our “Think About” education series. These posts are based on composites of real-world experiences, with some fictional elements and some details changed for the sake of anonymity. New posts appear on Wednesdays.