A Fairer Way to Grade Group Presentations

Adam Sanford, Undergrad Made Easier

One of the reasons that students hate group work is that they don't want a free rider or someone who didn't do very well to drag down their grade. This is one way to counteract that problem. 

Divide the group's score into two parts: individual scores, and the group score. Each part is worth 50% of the grade, or 50 points.

On the day of the presentation, provide students with a sheet to tell you who did which part of the group presentation. For example: John did the research, Jaime did the presenting, and Jorge created the powerpoint slides. 

Tell the students that they have to introduce themselves with their full names before they start presenting. As they present, assess how well John did his research by seeing if he's cited the sources and given them correct credit; assess Jamie's ability to present well; and assess the quality of Jorge's powerpoint slides out of 50 points. (Remember that a 44 would be a B+, a 35 a C-, and so forth.) 

After the presentation, add up each individual score and average the total across all scores. This is the group score. Each individual's grade is now individual score + group score out of 100. 

To ensure that free riders do not get credit, give anyone who was listed by the group as "didn't do anything" or "came to meetings but never contributed" the group score only, and an individual score of 0. (Do not include the 0 in the group's overall grade average.) This controls for free riders, and is fair to the rest of the group.

The Quickwrite: A Weekly Student Reflection Exercise

Adam Sanford, Undergrad Made Easier

The quickwrite is a weekly exercise, designed to encourage students to reflect on the week's lessons and rewrite their notes while doing so. It also allows them a method of asking questions about the course concepts without having to go through the embarrassing ritual of asking in class. This method also allows the instructor to keep a finger on the pulse of the class about important concepts; if a third of the class mentions a concept as a muddy point, it allows the instructor to follow up immediately, rather than finding out on the examination.

The quickwrite consists of five questions:

1. What terms were the most important concepts of this week's lessons? Be sure to define any important terms in your own words. (2 paragraphs per lesson, 6 points to make sure they write enough content)

2. What was your muddiest point (that is, what did not make sense)? (1 paragraph for the entire week, 1 point)

3. What would you like to know more about from this lesson, and why? (1 paragraph for the entire week, 1 point)

4. How does this lesson relate to something you have already learned outside of this class? (1 paragraph for the entire week, 1 point)

5. Why do you think you were required to learn this content? (1 paragraph for the entire week, 1 point)

Put in caveats that point 2 must be about the course content (not its operations, such as how the grading system works), that point 3 cannot be answered "nothing," that point 4 cannot be answered "it doesn't," and that point 5 cannot be answered with anything relating to grades, degrees, or other achievements that do not directly relate to the course content. 

Make it clear that these disallowed questions will be an automatic fail on the assignment, so that they will take points 2, 3, 4 and 5 seriously enough to answer them. 

They may also answer point 2 with "I had no muddy points." 

Point 3 can often be the seed of a student's paper topic. 

If they do not answer the "why" question in point 3 or the "how" question in point 4, fail the question and explain why. 

This exercise makes students review their lessons in point 1, ask questions about it in a safe and private environment in point 2, explore territory not covered in class in point 3, connect their learning to outside knowledge in point 4, and do some critical analysis of the curriculum in point 5. I have had students tell me they have adapted it for use in other classes for studying and working on finding paper topics.


Start (and end) the term with student questions

On the first day of class, I ask students to submit three questions they have about the class topic. Reviewing questions helps me gauge the background knowledge and interests of students. I type up the questions to save for later. Then, on the last day of class, I distribute questions to small groups and ask students to answer them. Typically, students can answer most of the questions, demonstrating how much they learned over the course of a term. If the question is one that we did not directly address though the class, I ask them to review their notes, readings, etc. to look for relevant information that could build towards an answer with more research. In this way, the exercise also serves as a review for the final exam.

(This tip was anonymously submitted.)

Use studio pedagogy to help students see

Ariel H. Bierbaum, University of California, Berkeley

For those of us in interdisciplinary social sciences, it can be a challenge to engage students deeply in conversations about the complicated interactions among policy, economy, politics, and culture. As a teacher of urban studies, facilitating these conversations has an added complexity – unpacking the ways that these interactions manifest in and structure our physical environments.

 Learning to “read” the physical city and understand how it represents the layered and cumulative effects of policies and politics can be difficult to teach through traditional pedagogies of lecture and seminar discussion. I thus turned to studio pedagogy from planning and design disciplines, which emphasizes visual thinking and experiential learning.

 Studio pedagogy in seminar class has proven to be a powerful tool for my students to hone their visual thinking, spatial understanding, and critical analysis skills. The studio space offers production of visual representations not merely as a final product, but also as an iterative process to analyze, deconstruct, and reimagine our environments and the policies that create them. This pedagogy has worked in seminar classes of 10 to 15 students and in larger sections with upwards of 30 students, and enabled meaningful discussions, supported students’ diverse learning styles, and engaged students with different depths of content knowledge.

 For example, I structured an exercise for students to design exclusionary and inclusionary spaces as a way to conduct spatial analysis and prompt critical discussion about themes from readings. Before class began, I set out nine blank pieces of poster-sized paper and markers. When students arrived, they counted off by nine, creating teams of three. “Shuffling” students in this way ensured that they worked with new peers and mixed my quieter and more verbal students. First, each group determined the scale at which they would design (e.g., building, neighborhood, city, region) and identified a demographic dimension on which to focus (e.g., age, race/ethnicity, gender/sexual orientation, ability). Students divided their paper in half, and spent 10 minutes drawing an exclusionary space and 10 minutes drawing that same space as an inclusionary one. At the end of the 20 minutes, each team hung their posters around the room, and a spokesperson presented out key elements of their designs. After each team presented, I facilitated discussion and challenged all students to articulate the links between the visual representations and themes in readings and lecture.

 The energy in my classroom during these exercises is lively and jovial (even at an undesirable Friday morning time slot). This visual and tactile exercise successfully engages the diversity of my students, and inspires leadership in different ways: many of my more verbal students seemed a bit shy about picking up markers and crayons, while my quieter students often took the lead in drawing. In the follow-up discussion, students were able to articulate concepts from readings that they included in their designs, and also cogently critiqued and updated the scholarly theories. Students report that they enjoy these exercises and the ways they inspired thinking about the readings.

Use Monte Carlo Quizzes to promote student engagement

In a 2004 article in College Teaching, Peter Fernald writes of a technique that improves upon the surprise quiz. Fernald was looking for a way to ensure that his students were doing all of the reading, but also hoping to encourage the right kind of reading, reading that actively engages with the material and lays the groundwork for real understanding. He evolved something he calls the Monte Carlo Quiz. 

At a certain point in each class period a student must roll a standard six-sided die. If it lands on an even number, there will be a quiz on that day’s reading. If it lands on an odd number, no quiz is given. If there is to be a quiz, the student rolls the die again, this time to determine which reading, or part of the reading, the quiz will cover (this second roll can be skipped if students only do one reading for each class period). Then the student rolls the die a third time, to find out which of the six pre-assigned questions the students will have to answer. 

Fernald uses the same six questions, derived from Bloom’s taxonomy of learning objectives, throughout the term:

1. Knowledge: Describe the major thesis, the central idea or set of ideas, in the reading. . . .

2. Comparison: Identify two concepts or principles presented in the chapter or article and, when you first mention each, underline and define it. Then, show how the concepts or principles in some way(s) are both similar to and different from one another. . . .

3. Application: Select a concept or principle in the chapter or article, clearly define or describe it, and then indicate how it applies to you or someone you know. Provide sufficient details to justify convincingly that the concept or principle indeed applies as you suggest.

4. Critique: Write a critical perspective on some aspect of the chapter or article, citing evidence that prompts you to agree or disagree with the author’s perspective.

5. Passion: Citing page number(s), quote verbatim a statement or brief passage that elicits in you some type of emotional response . . . Then identify your emotional response, describe the meaning(s) that the statement or passage has for you, and provide actual or possible reasons for your response.

6. Student’s Choice: Answer any of the above five questions. 

The concept could work with other sets of questions as well, including those more specifically tailored to the course.

The real benefit of Monte Carlo Quizzes is that, because students don’t know which question they may have to answer, they must be prepared to answer any of the six questions. If you apply this strategy in every class period, as Fernald does, you ensure that the students always have an incentive to do the reading thoroughly. And yet, you are not forced to give over valuable class time to a quiz in every single class period; the first roll of the die should land on an odd number approximately half of the time.

Source: Peter S. Fernald, The Monte Carlo Quiz: Encouraging Punctual Completion and Deep Processing of Assigned Readings," College Teaching 52. 3 (Summer 2004), 95-99.

What exam questions do your students expect?

Fred Gardaphe, Queens College, CUNY

In preparation for an examination, have students write the questions they expect will be on the test and then administer them to you orally during the class you use to prepare them for the examination. This will give you a sense of what they think is important, and them a sense of how exams are created. I once did this exercise in lieu of a mid-term, but realized too late that they had never really had any experience in constructing questions, and so it became rather difficult to grade them on the questions they created. As an in-class exercise, it works well and takes some of the edge off exam taking.

Get students to read the syllabus with Jeopardy

Lake Mathison, Rutgers University

The most well-crafted, engaging, comprehensive syllabus on the planet isn't of much use if the students never read it. Putting a contract at the end might help, but it's too easy to just sign without actually reading (like we all click "Accept" on the "Terms and Conditions" page of a download). Rather than a monotone recitation of something they all could (but won't) read on their own time, turn key syllabus points into a game of Jeopardy ("answer in the form of a question" optional). Divide the class into teams and give them a time limit to confer (or look up the answer). This helps break the ice and satisfies the modern student's craving for competition and gaming. More importantly, having the students comb through the syllabus in search of information makes them more likely to remember where to find it in the future. This idea could also be expanded to include important resources contained in the course website, if there is one.

There are free programs and templates online for designing Jeopardy games, or go old-school and write the grid on the chalkboard.