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Assessing conversations

A teacher who heard my talk at the NECC last night has sent me an email wondering how teachers (pre-college) can “evaluate and assess the level of student contributions to conversations.” No fair disputing his premise that he has to assign grades, because we’re talking about a public school system under increasing back-asswards demands for more and more “accountability” and testing. So, given that he has to give grades, if he moves more to a conversational model, how can assess students’ participation? Do you know of any interesting approaches to this?

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7 Responses to “Assessing conversations”

  1. My best advice would be to use a rubric. While most people run to a pre-made rubric, I think the conversation with students around the development of a rubric is much more important than the assessment tool itself. Work with students to identify the aspects of conversation that are important, then use previous examples or discussion with students to identify the different levels. Students will have a better understanding of what is expected, and teachers will have an authentic tool to assess student’s conversations.


  2. Depends whether you want quantitative or qualitative evaluations. Quantitatively, it would be pretty straight-forward to come up with an evaluation rubric involving the total number of contributions, the number of direct (and relevant) responses to other’s contributions, and the number of responses prompted by each student’s contributions (assuming, of course, that all of this is being done on a blog or threaded discussion thingie). It begins to look a lot like Slashdot’s karma score.

    Qualtitatively, it is an exercise in distributed essay marking, since the collection of a given student’s contributions can be considered a form of mosaic writing. Taken in toto, and entirely out of context, the collection of a given student’s conversational fragments becomes a sort of zen poetry – what is the meaning of one conversant talking? However, I’m only being partially facetious. If the collection of one sided responses appear to create emergent, salient commentary, it is a Good thing; if it’s a series of “I agree Me too Right on” it is one child who’s gonna be left behind.

  3. There was a very detailed thread through the educational bloggging community about assessing conversations about a month ago. (Here’s a summary with links.)

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  5. One approach is to support school choice to push back against centralized management of education.

    A lot of the comments above trying to systematize this evaluation remind of that essay on evaluating poetry that Robin Williams destroys in Dead Poets Society.
    “Excrement. That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. We’re not laying pipe, we’re talking about poetry. I mean how can you describe poetry like American Bandstand. Well, I like Byron, I give him a 42, but I can’t dance to it.”

  6. Easy to suggest that we shouldn’t evaluate, could you please talk to Mr. Bush?

  7. I teach at the college level and am faced with the same issue.

    There are two things I do.

    First, I assess the quality of the in-class discussion. If one goes to and picks a syllabus off one of my courses, pages down to the Grading section, detail behind this approach can be found there.

    Second, I think that the quality of the discussion is also reflected in how the other students respond. Number of responses are useful here and the CMS I use records that data. The data is not easy to get to and analyze, but it is there. Also related to this is the quality of the responses. Quality tends to breed quality.

    Finally, quality discussion is mainly, I think, dependent upon the teacher. One ought to do some self-assessment of his/her contribution to the task.

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