Classrooms Evolved, Part II: Social Grading

My style requires a reorganization of classroom society. The following section describes my processes and. It also makes reference to elected student officials who are instrumental in the process. Following this section, I will describe a model of deliberative democracy similar to one I have used successfully.

On the second class give a long multiple exam over the first chapter in the book. The point here is not so much grading but weighting the student’s votes in the classroom democracy. Biasing democracy in favor of high-performing students helps build a high-achievement society. The weighting does not have to be much, but it should be enough to effect the election of the President as well as establishing a “merit” standard for the legislators. Students, indeed all human beings, accept control more readily when they believe those above them are there because of “merit.” Similarly, students also like to participate in deliberative decisions. This system combines both.

Next, ask the Prime Minister to break the class into a number of groups. Every group should be responsible for some portion of class material, and each group should be responsible for lecturing on it. Grade students will be graded three times for every presentation they give. After a group presents, give the entire class a multiple choice exam on the material that group was supposed to cover. This creates an individual score for every student, a class average, and a group-presenting average. Give all students their individual score and give presenting individuals both the class’s their group’s average score. This makes every student responsible for three different levels of performance: individual performance, group performance, and class performance.

The general benefits of group work are well known, and include increased motivation when working collectively and increased validity of learning. Additionally, group work is closely connected to multiple perspectives, improved rationality, and better decision making. Just as we ask questions in class to engage students in the information, the whole structure of the class should be centered on student engagement. Additionally, groups are a better medium for social interaction than a traditional classroom where students are called on. People who speak up are generally looked down on, so socially wise students will remain quiet (and so not participate) during normal lecture students. Additionally, compared to mentally exhausting lectures, students simply enjoy well-designed group work more..

If possible, cycle through this process two or three times, depending on how the class units can be broken up. At the end of every cycle, ask the Prime Minister to re-divide the class such that no more than two or so students are in the same group with students they have already worked with. This both creates a social dynamic, by rewarding high performers with the ability to work with other high-performers, while preventing the groups from becoming cliques.

At the end of the semester ask the Prime Minister to create new groups, and then direct the groups to create an integrative project or report. Between its members, each group should have relevant expertise on several units of the class. This deliverable should focus on understanding and be graded by the instructor. This combination requires students to right an integrative essay based on a collection of unique expertise. It forces students to transform their knowledge to teach others, in order to improve their own grade, as well as the grades of their fellows.

No class goes as planned, so use the Government of the Prime Minister and his Ministers to handle grade disputes. If a student believed that a question on the exam was bad, or that the exam did not properly measure his skills, he can present his case to the Government. If the Prime Minister and one other Minister agree, the issue will be put to the Assembly for a majority vote. In my experience the toughest graders are students, as involved students are proud of their work and hate to see their achievement minimized by rewarding incorrect answers or involved students. Thus, by-and-large the decisions of such a commission will be academically rigorous.

Classrooms Evolved, a tdaxp series
1. Traditional Methods
2. Social Grading
3. Deliberative Learning
4. Overcoming Doubt
5. Conclusions

2 thoughts on “Classrooms Evolved, Part II: Social Grading”

  1. I find this (and your prev posts on the issue) fascinating. More experimentation for schools/learning is a good thing.

    I wish I could see or participate in something like this first hand.

    What do your fellow TAs and Professors think?

  2. Purpleslog,

    The TA's and faculty I've described it too are pretty impressed.

    I plan on handing out a edited version of this series to students as a formal constitution for my classes next semester.

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