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.

Give out participation marks two weeks at a time

Many teachers now devote a portion of their students’ final grades to a participation mark. Here’s a way to make participation grades actually encourage participation, while making the task of calculating those marks an easier job. 

Instead of waiting until the end of term to calculate your students’ participation grades, keep a running record of their contributions, and give out (or post) interim participation grades every two weeks. This has a number of benefits. Significantly, it gives students an accurate picture of how you see their in-class contributions. A poor interim participation mark can motivate quiet students to start taking part in class discussions and activities. In addition, by keeping track of students’ participation throughout the term and giving out grades so often, your task at the end of the term is a no-brainer. No longer do you have to try to remember how much a student participated in classes that took place months earlier. This takes what can feel like an overly subjective process and make it much more straightforward.

Use grades and comments to teach, not just to justify

The lack of absolute standards for grading can make marking assignments a task filled with anxiety. Are you too strict a grader? Too soft? Are you letting your annoyance at the kid who sleeps through class influence his essay grades? Why did one student get an 84, while another got an 83? This anxiety can lead you to put much of your energy, while marking, into justifying the grades you are giving. This is not ideal.

Instead of seeing a student’s grades as an official judgment that you need to preemptively defend, focus on your grades for your students’ assignments and tests—and your comments on the assignments and tests—as an opportunity to help your students improve. James Lang offers some suggestions to move the focus away from self-justification and toward further pedagogy.

  • Don’t just focus on the negative. Make sure, when commenting on an essay or an exam, to emphasize the things that the student has done right. Of course, you want to correct mistakes, and explain what he or she has missed, but let your criticism be constructive, and don’t forget to encourage what you’d like to see more of.

  • Return student work promptly. Your students have busy lives, and may forget most of what happened in class five minutes after you let them go. If you return their assignments three weeks after they’ve written them, your comments will most likely fall on deaf ears: they’ll hardly remember having done the assignment by then.

  • Keep your comments simple and few. It is tempting to think that by spending plenty of time on your students’ assignments, and giving them plenty of detailed feedback, you are doing more to help them improve. What may happen, unfortunately, is that the student will see page after page of comments and just assume that she’s done a terrible job and leave it at that. Too many comments can be overwhelming, and can detract from your pedagogical aims. Rather, focus on two or three important points that the student can improve upon, and highlight them in your comments. Underline the most significant matters, and do your best to ignore at least some of the small stuff.  -DG

Source: James M. Lang. On Course. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2008. 148-51.

A strategy to combat common writing errors ("gateway criteria")

If your students’ papers are filled with spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors, and you don’t wish to spend all of your marking time correcting these basic problems (particularly if you are not teaching English, and you have other content you wish to emphasize in your marking), here’s a strategy from Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Anderson’s Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment. They suggest setting “gateway criteria” for your class, clearly laid out standards that students must meet on each assignment before the paper is even graded. If they are not met, the student is given an F, and asked to revise and resubmit to be graded.

These criteria should be adjusted to the level of the students and made absolutely clear to them beforehand. Walvoord suggests that students can submit drafts a day or more before papers are due, to see if they meet the gateway criteria.  -DG


Source: Weimer, Maryellen, “A Strategy for Grading Student Writing Assignments.” Faculty Focus. Magna. 31 January 2012. Web. 24 July 2013. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/a-strategy-for-grading-student-writing-assignments/. Bas ed on research by Walvoord, B.E. and Anderson, V.J. Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.


Collect essay drafts without doubling your marking

Many teachers teach the revision process by having their students turn in each paper twice: first a draft, which is marked up and handed back, and then a revised version. John Sturtridge suggests a strategy that encourages students to take their first drafts seriously while potentially reducing the workload for the teacher. Require students to turn in rough drafts, but offer any student who receives an A grade on the first draft the option of taking that grade without having to revise and resubmit. Sturtridge reports that his students put more of an effort into their drafts, and he does not need to grade two papers for every student.  -DG


Source: Sturtridge, John. “Too Many Papers to Grade? Two Solutions.” Faculty Focus. Magna. 12 July 2013. Web. 21 July 2013. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/too-many-papers-to-grade-two-solutions


Have students respond to marked papers

When you return papers to students, have them 1) correct any grammatical or syntactical problems you have pointed out, either on the paper itself, or on a separate sheet, and 2) respond to any marginal comments you’ve made. Perhaps offer bonus points for thorough responses. This ensures that students actually read your comments, and that they might actually learn from them. -DG

Source: Tollefson, Stephen K. Encouraging Student Writing: A Guide for Instructors. Berkeley: Office of Educational Development, University of California, Berkley, 2002. 9. http://teaching.berkeley.edu/sites/teaching.berkeley.edu/files/encouraging_0.pdf