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Teaching Online: Discussion Grading that Guarantees Growth, Not AN "A"

I learned about the importance of crunching grades into objective numbers early in my teaching career. I was assigned to teach a Gifted and Talented class my first year and believe me, EVERY increment of a point held value. I knew then I had to find a way to grade a highly subjective activity in an objective manner. In addition, students understand who is responsible for the earned score. I have continued to use this practice and have never had a grade appeal overturned. Clear expectations and the posting of those expectations protects you from charges of grade inflation and appeals. It is difficult to argue with numbers.


Discussion is an integral component of the online classroom. Unfortunately, it is also a component that screams a guarantee of 100% scores. I wanted a way to award students who meet posted requirements with a fair score while still recognizing discussion leaders. Discussion leaders are those students who love engaging with their classmates and add vibrancy to the activity. They follow the guidelines of good discussion writing and post replies that are sincere and enthusiastic. The students can see the difference. Their scores should reflect these subtle, yet important, differences in performance.

Discussion is the homework and practice space designed to prepare students for larger activities and writing projects. Feedback in this area is critical to overall success because it sets the standard for the rest of the course. An easily earned high score in discussion will turn expectations toward the same outcome for larger projects. Simply posting in discussion should NEVER result in a 100% score.

When scored properly, discussion can serve as a valuable guide in teaching online students a number of important skills and encouraging high quality assignment production. As in all classroom materials, TRANSPARENCY is key. Proactive teaching is most effective. Clear evaluation tools MUST ALWAYS be included with assignment descriptions. It is critical for students to have assignment standards available while producing their work so expectations and standards needed for success are clear.

Below you will find a grading rubric/table that I have used with great success in my classrooms. Please note the following key points:

Students earn 95% for MEETING assignment requirements as directed in the assignment description.

Students who EXCEED the requirements can earn above 95%.

Information on HOW to earn a grade in each area is clearly defined.

This table, created in Excel, is easily revised in order to change computing figures. This comes in quite handy if you are not allowed to change gradebook scores or simply don't want to.

This is example is best for discussion work that is consistent, ie 3 questions per week, 2 classmate replies per question, without deviation.

The example below is a Grading Table that can easily be adapted to change according to the stated assignment requirements. For example, two questions may be required but only one needs classmate replies.


Posting this information at the beginning of the term provides students with CLEAR expectations. I also include a standard on Netiquette to discourage falling off topic or troll behavior. When it comes to disruptions in the online classroom, a little disrespectful behavior can completely ruin the morale of the class very quickly. News online travels fast.

Happy grading!

PLEASE, if you would like a copy of the Excel spreadsheet, inbox me on Facebook at the link below!

I am happy to provide these stress-free suggestions for making your journey to success one to enjoy!

Join the conversation on my Facebook page: Education Coffeehouse: Encourage, Engage and Educate

~Professor Marsha

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