From CommunityData

Written work[edit]

Overall, my assessment of students' written work boils down to "how well does this piece of writing fulfill the expectations and requirements for this assignment?" The rubric below breaks this down into some general criteria that apply pretty well to almost any sort of written work. That said, specific assignments may incorporate specific expectations or requirements not mentioned here. If you have questions about how the criteria apply to a particular assignment or type of writing, please ask me and I'll be happy to discuss it.

Instructor(s) in my classes will evaluate written assignments using the following criteria. Keep in mind, these criteria don't correspond to specific point values or anything like that. We usually evaluate them qualitatively/holistically. The criteria also tend to escalate in terms of difficulty. An exceptional piece of written work (such as a research paper) does all of these things exceptionally; a very good paper does all of these things well; a good paper does most of these things well; etc.

  • Clarity & style: Is the work readable and clear? Is it free of errors? Is the writing logically organized and coherent? Are sources appropriately cited/documented?
  • Quality of analysis: Does the work provide clear, original, and well-supported arguments and interpretation? Does it identify and analyze the challenge(s) facing the organization effectively? Where possible/reasonable, does the analysis draw on relevant evidence to support its claims and recommendations?
  • Scope: Does the work and the argument adapt a suitable scope given the constraints of the assignment? Does it provide a thorough and focused analysis of the key issues at hand? Is there an appropriate balance between high-level generalities and specific details?
  • Quality of insight: If appropriate, does the work propose a clear strategy to pursue or intellectual synthesis of the issues at hand? Does the proposed strategy or synthesis seem compelling and worth adopting given the evidence presented? Does the proposed strategy or synthesis reflect a thoughtful and sophisticated (i.e., neither obvious, superficial, nor reductive) interpretation of available evidence, relevant course materials, and other resources the author has chosen to draw upon? Would other members of the class (not the instructor(s)) be likely to find the argument interesting and insightful and maybe even counter-intuitive?


Almost every course I've ever taken or taught has some dimension of the assessment given over to "participation." Participation is one of the most subjective activities to assess. So how do I try to do it when I teach?

The short answer is that I assume everyone starts every course with a "perfect" participation grade. Students who go on to be present, prepared, engaged, and active in the class meetings while also supporting balanced participation with others (please note that engaged/active ≠ talking!) generally receive 100% of the possible participation grade. As a proxy for this, you can ask yourself: "am I consistently present, prepared, and making a positive contribution to this course? If the answer to this question is unequivocally "yes", you are probably doing just fine.

A more detailed rubric follows. In terms of participation, I assess students along four criteria:

  • Participation: Are you an active participant in class? (Although I will not penalize for absence, it is simply a fact that if you aren't present, you can't participate—even if you are absent for a good reason. Multiple unexplained absences will likely have a negative impact on my assessment of your participation.)
  • Preparation: Do you read/complete assignments fully with attention to detail? Do you note relevant ideas, questions, or connections in class?
  • Engagement: Do you make at least one excellent contribution (e.g., insight or question) to each class without monopolizing discussion? (see the bit on participation balance below). Do you give active nonverbal and verbal feedback? Do you refer to other students by name and engage their contributions to the course?
  • Activity: Do you fully engage in group exercises? Do you follow up on open questions and share your findings with the class?

Maintain participation balance[edit]

I do not assess participation in terms of how much you speak in class. Indeed, I will assess a student's participation less positively if they routinely dominate conversation or fail to leave room for contributions from others. A useful rule of thumb advised by Joseph Reagle is to be wary of speaking three times before everyone has had a chance and make sure you make at least one good contribution.

In any group there will be those who speak more and those who speak less; this might be because of differences in personality, language fluency, or culture. For instance, some people like to carefully think before they speak and some believe that interaction should be rapid and assertive. I want everyone to participate and I believe it's worthwhile to achieve balance in classroom discussion.

If you struggle with this, my friend Joseph Reagle shares two strategies that I've found helpful:

  1. In classes where I was excited about the topic, I tried to be mindful of how much I spoke when I realized others had interesting things to say but were not as quick to speak. We are often uncomfortable with a little silence, including teachers, and speak to fill the void. However, teaching and facilitation guides recommend that we be open to such spaces: take a couple of breaths, or even say “take two minutes to think about this.” So I began a practice of pacing myself, limiting myself to three really good responses in class, and then make sure others have had time before jumping in — if at all — to contribute.
  2. In classes where I was less motivated, I found that if I could still usually come up with one good comment or question that nobody else raised. In this way, I could still make a contribution to class — and lessen my chance of being cold called.

Credit for the participation rubric[edit]

Much of the participation rubric is borrowed and/or adapted from Benjamin Mako Hill and Joseph Reagle from these pages:

Reagle and Mako kindly make their material available for anybody to reuse and share under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike License and I distribute my own modifications under those terms as well (note this is different from the default license for this wiki).