Grading and Course Feedback
Martell applies the general Freirian principle of “guided process” to the grading procedure. In a course such as this one that emphasizes nonhierarchical power sharing, assigning grades is challenging but necessary to remain as a course offering at the university. Martell is very transparent in making the grading process an experience in self and peer evaluation learning. She does this by sharing her rubric with students, which lists all the course assignments and includes a power analysis of race, gender, and class; expectations of how the written papers and presentations should be constructed; and “the habits of mind” taken from Meier (2002, pp. 49-51). The students then apply the rubric to their own body of course work and to that of their peers for each assignment. In addition, the students, teaching assistant, and Martell evaluate the two group assignments (the reading group and the community profile) collectively. At the end of the course, Martell provides a take-home evaluation form in which students assign a letter grade to themselves, their peers, and the instructor and teaching assistant. This activity includes their explanation about the rationale for the grade.
According to the literature on peer assessment in higher education, employing peer feedback enhances student learning (Cartney, 2010; Cassidy, 2006; Topping, Smith, Swanson, & Elliot, 2000) and is viewed as a valuable way to share power in the classroom (Brown & Glasner, 2003; Cartney 2010). This is similar to what we have found in the course. A recommendation we are taking from Cartney (2010), who worked with bachelor's level social work students in a “Social Policy for Social Workers” course, is to highlight the “feedforward impact of formative feedback” (p. 18) by supporting students in better understanding how providing their peers with feedback on assignments and presentations will impact their own learning and also will be a useful skill to develop in their professional lives (Falchikov, 2005; Smythe, 2006; van den Berg, Admiral, & Pilot, 2006a, 2006b).
The final grading and evaluation includes one of multiple opportunities for students to earn extra credit through sharing their knowledge and skills with the class. Students can also attend community marches or political rallies related to the course content to earn extra credit through writing a one-page summary and sharing about their experience with the class. Students who actively participate and take leadership in the cultural celebration at the end of the semester can also earn extra course credit. Students have also created their own ways to earn it through leading the class in writing a collective response to an opinion piece in a local newspaper.
Martell notes that giving students different ways in which to engage in the course subject matter allows them to fully participate in their own learning experiences and challenges them to think creatively about what they are learning from the course. In the rare instance in which there is a discrepancy between
Martell and a student as to final letter grade, Martell initiates a negotiated process in which the student is given a chance to advocate for him- or herself.
An additional, more standardized course evaluation has also been conducted since the inception of the course in 1995. The students complete a pre- and postcourse survey developed by Mizrahi and Martell that is an assessment of their learning and ways they will utilize their learning in the future. Students report at the end of the semester becoming empowered and encouraged to look at themselves and evaluate their own privilege and/or internalized oppression (hooks, 1994; Sue et al., 2007).
As part of the standardized course evaluation, students complete a 12-item activism scale that asks them to identify which civic and organizing activities they have participated in before and during the course semester and in which activities they now plan to engage in the future. Throughout the years, more than 800 students have consistently reported that they anticipate becoming more active in the future and express newfound passion for social justice causes and organizing for social change whether in a paid job or as a volunteer (Mizrahi & Case, 1998). Every year, most students state that this course is the one from which they learned the most during a semester and the one for which they did the most work. Note that as an elective, some students drop out because of the course demands and time commitment. Students have consistently recommended it be a four-credit course or held over two semesters, for which there is agreement by the faculty but not the administration.