Grading Class Participation


Teachers often include the assessment of classroom participation—or classroom contribution, as it is sometimes called—in an assessment strategy to encourage students to participate in class discussion, and to motivate students to do the background reading and preparation for a class session. When you assess participation in classroom discussion. you also encourage and reward development of oral skills, and group skills such as interacting and cooperating with peers and a tutor. Classroom participation can encompass active learning in a lab, studio, tutorial, team or group, online (e.g. in eportfolios and Learning Management Systems) or in role-plays and simulations.

Grading class participation signals to students the kind of learning and thinking an instructor values’ (Bean & Peterson)


Case studies

Assessing Classroom Participation in Practice

Assessing Laboratory Participation - Dr Iain Skinner

(See Transcripts for audio)

In this video, Dr Iain Skinner presents his rationale and approach to assessing student participation in laboratory work. We also get to see how the strategy works in a real classroom situation.

Associate Professor Karyn Lai in the School of Humanities presents her Course Assessment for ARTS1362

Thinking About Reasoning

This is a first year course offered within the Philosophy curriculum. However, enrolment is open to students from all undergraduate programs within UNSW. Objectives of the course focus on developing students’ capacity to think clearly, reason productively, argue well and to develop analytical, critical and interpretive skills which are important to life as a whole, beyond the knowledge and skills required for any particular profession or vocation. The course uses a combination of classroom and online teaching resources to give students the benefits of classroom teaching and more opportunities for practising critical thinking skills.

Why Participation?

As this is a skills-based course, it is particularly important for students to take an active role in their learning. Hence, students’ participation is critical if they are to do well in their course. There are two primary reasons that undergird the focus on participation skills in this course. First, participation increases the opportunity for students to engage in active learning, as contrasted with them passively absorbing content. Secondly, participation provides opportunities for students to learn from peers. Exposure to different views places the onus on students to compare and evaluate the views. In addition, students may be asked by their peers to provide justification for their view, compare it with competing ones, convince others, assess new ideas and revise existing beliefs. Feedback from peers may help in the development of knowledge and skills.

This raises the issue of how students’ participation skills are developed in the course, and assessed appropriately.

Developing Participation Skills

The course uses a participation rubric to (a) draw students’ attention to salient aspects of participation and (b) allow them to identify and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses in participation. The rubric is as follows:

Participation Rubric (for in-class participation and critical analysis assignment)


Levels of Attainment


Description of criteria





Made relevant comments

Relevant comments are those that focus on significant issues that bear on the topic in question. Relevant comments may include elaboration on a topic, explaining its assumptions, using an example or analogy to shed some light on it, etc. A student whose comments for the most part tend to focus on issues that are tangential to the topic in question and sidetrack from the debates is not likely to do well.





Articulated (your) ideas clearly

Use of clear, simple sentences to explain one’s ideas. This may involve taking some time to clarify your position where necessary. Statements such as “…. this topic is just too complex, and I can’t say what I mean but I take it that you all know what I’m talking about,” are unhelpful.





Presented well-structured arguments

Comments are coherent. This does not mean that you must express your ideas in formal sentences. However, your ideas are set out in a systematic manner such that people can follow what you are saying. People sometimes confuse their audience when they fail to present their ideas systematically.





Posed questions to the group

Raising questions that are central to the topic. This involves not simply surveying others’ opinions but rather inviting them to investigate particular issues further, or to query assumptions made in a particular argument. You may also point out that a particular point made by someone else is not as cut-and-dried as it is presented to be.





Sparked discussion and comments from others

Related to the previous criterion. Instigating debate rather than foreclosing on an issue. Rhetorical questions such as “I simply cannot agree with his conclusions, can you?” without further elaboration do not invite comments.





Responded to criticisms as well as compliments

Replying to others who seek clarification or who have rebutted one of your claims. If someone suggests that your view is implausible, respond to it. If they have misunderstood you or overlooked a particular issue, point it out politely, explaining how or why they have not grasped your point.





Demonstrated consideration and respect of others

Consideration is the key here. If there are differences of opinion, try to explore why this might be so rather than put someone down.





Built on the ideas and contributions of others

Drawing on the comments and suggestions of others, exchanging ideas and working together to arrive at a more plausible/defensible view.








This rubric is made available to students in the course outline and students will be familiarised with the marking criteria used in the rubric.

Assessing Participation Skills: Critical Analysis Assignment

The rubric is used in an online critical analysis assignment, whereby students are required to engage in small-group online discussions on a set topic for a fortnight. At the end of the fortnight, each student submits an individually-written essay on the topic.

The assignment seeks to assess students’ capacities for participating with peers in an online critical thinking exercise. From the point of view of developing students’ critical thinking skills, participation in online discussions that allow students to explore debates and issues in an in-depth way may allow them to improve their communicative and interpretive skills as well as higher-order thinking skills.

The instructions for the assignment are as follows:

Critical Analysis

Students will be given a set topic or article to review. There are two parts to this assignment. The first involves small group online discussions on the topic. The point of this is to allow students to participate in these discussions in order to learn from a range of different perspectives on the topic. The second is an individually-written reflective essay that encourages students to draw from the discussions to present a well-reasoned piece on the topic

Details of the two parts of this assignment are as follows:

  1. Participation in small group online discussions in Blackboard [Blackboard was the LMS used at UNSW previous to Moodle] (Friday 17th August–Wednesday 29th August), to discuss a set topic—15%

    A rubric setting out the participation criteria will be available on Blackboard and also included in this course outline.

    Rationale: The purpose of the online discussions is to give you an opportunity to test your views and then to refine them before handing your written piece in. So take every opportunity to try out your ideas with others—especially if they don’t agree with your analysis, as this will force you to reconsider your view. Your provision of a modified view, or a good justification for your initial view, is the primary objective of this exercise.
  2. 300-word individually-written essay on the same topic (Friday 31st August)—15%

Marking criteria

Students should focus on:

  • identification of the issues at stake in the debate
  • clear expression of ideas
  • coherent structure of essay
  • ability to take a detached position with respect to the article/theme, and to state why you agree or disagree with particular points of view
  • ability to raise questions or issues that warrant further debate or thought.


Additional information