I use a straight point system; there are a total of 100 points for the course. Specifically:
- Discussion participation is worth 40 points
- Each term paper is worth 30 points
I urge you not to think about or worry about grades. Everyone starts the course with an A. If you do the assignments on time—including discussion participation!—then you will do fine. If you find yourself calculating points, just stop. You have only so much time and energy to spend on this class, and that's not a productive way to spend it. All that having been said, I know you are going to worry anyway, so what follows is an attempt to provide some guidance. Note I said guidance, not guarantee. In the end, the grade must be your teacher's professional evaluation of your work.
I'll be sending out progress reports twice during the semester. These serve two functions: one, to let you know how you are doing in discussion; two, to list completed assignments and grades, so we can make sure neither you nor I have missed one.
The first thing I check is the length. If the paper is too short, or too long, then it gets sent back, with a provisional grade of F. As long as the due date hasn't passed, you can revise the paper to meet the length limit. If it does meet the length limit, I check for a bibliography and give it a quick scan. Only then do I start reading.
I will return your paper graded, with comments. My expectation is that you will use the comments as a guideline to try to improve your paper, but this is not required. I encourage you to try, though. It is truly in the re-writing process that you will learn thoroughly.
In the text itself, the first thing I look for is a good thesis statement. If it's absent, or poorly developed, this nearly always signals fundamental problems with the paper. A good thesis statement is vital to a good paper. I've never read an A paper that didn't have one. Ever. Nor have I ever read a scholarly article or book that lacked a clear thesis statement.
Once I identify the thesis statement, it becomes the standard by which I judge the rest of the paper. The structure of the paper should reflect the principal points by which the thesis is demonstrated. The individual paragraphs become the specific pieces of evidence, and the sentences within each paragraph develop and explain those pieces of evidence.
In judging the quality and extent of your research, I look at three things: the extent and depth of the bibliography, your use of footnotes, and the extent to which the research represented in your bibliography is actually used in the course of the argument.
Grammar and Spelling
Grammar and spelling do count. They don't count because they are intrinsically important but rather because when there are too many errors, the paper itself suffers. Your goal is to communicate. Spelling and grammatical errors, along with poor syntax, poor word choice, etc., are like noise—they get in the way of successful communication. In speech, if you say "uh" once or twice, it's no big deal. Say it every other word, and you undermine your ability to communicate.
I don't assign separate points to the above; I have broken the grading process into sections simply to make a clearer explanation. What I actually do is read the paper through from start to finish and assign an initial grade. Then I set the paper aside and grade more papers or go do something else. Once I've done all papers, I re-read your paper and see if there's any reason to change my mind about the basic grade. Then I go through it making comments, which also gives me a chance to change my mind one more time.
A paper that is turned in late will be graded down one full grade. The reason for the lateness doesn't matter; the extent of the lateness doesn't matter; late equals one full grade.
Make-up Work; Extra Credit
There is no make-up work and I don't give extra credit assignments. I explain about this in the Study Guide, but the short version is that I don't regard extra credit as either fair or as pedagogically legitimate.
I look first to see if you are posting at least three messages every week. If you are not, I stop there. The best you can get is a D. You cannot make up a week; this is an on-going discussion and if you weren't there then you weren't there. I measure the week as Monday through Sunday, but if you're keeping score at that level then you're going about this all wrong anyway. You should not be aiming for the minimum!
Assuming you are posting at the minimum, I begin to look at the quality of the discussion. In general, I am looking for evidence that you are learning the material, that you are gaining an understanding of the era. Beyond that I look to see if you are actually participating in the discussion and not merely holding a private conversation. Finally, I look to see how well you say what you have to say.
It's not enough to learn something. You must be able to communicate what you are learning to someone else. In a discussion format, this includes asking questions. A good question is one that shows that you have thought about the question and that you have tried to answer it for yourself. A poor question is one where you do not demonstrate this. Worse yet is when the answer is actually in our required reading, for this implies you didn't do the reading. People overlook things, of course, so I expect this to happen from time to time. It's when I see a patter of this over the whole semester that I take it into account when I assign a grade.
If it's a comment instead of a question, I look for the comment to add something to the class. Comments that essentially say "I agree" with what someone else has said are fine; this is a conversation, after all, and not just a series of essays on a common theme. Here again, when a person's participation are made up mostly of the "me too" variety (or it's cousin, the "gosh I didn't know that" comment, or "it's amazing to me that..."), then is when the overall discussion grade may suffer for it.
The discussion board is a place for the entire class to discuss the Reformation. It is not simply a delivery mechanism so you can talk directly to me. I could have used email for that. In this class, each of you is always talking to the entire class. For this reason, I expect to see people respond to questions posed by fellow students, to engage in conversation. When I see a pattern where a student logs in once a week, posts three messages unrelated to what others are saying, and then disappearing until next week, that person will not do as well in their discussion grade, regardless of how historically accurate those comments are.
I do look at how well you write. Our discussions are "semi-formal," a term about as slippery as "semi-formal dress." What I mean by it is that I do not fuss over grammar and spelling the way I do in your formal writing assignments. In discussion, conversational English is acceptable. But I still will favor clarity over muddiness, strong rhetoric over weak. If I'm undecided between one grade and another, this can make the difference.
There is one aspect that's clear-cut, however: citing your sources. I absolutely require that you tell us where you found that bit of information. We don't have to get into formal citations, but if you read it in Tracy, then give the page number. If you found it on the Internet, give the URL.
A Rough Rubric
If you don't participate, you get an F for discussion. If you participate but at a rate of less than three messages a week, you cannot get any better than a D.
The C grade can apply to different kinds of scenarios. One is the student who does a reasonably good job with message, but who lands right at that minimum level, maybe was short on two or three weeks, and/or whose messages only rarely interacted with the rest of the class. In other words, all the signs of minimal effort. Another scenario is the student who participated well, but who simply isn't understanding the material very well.
The student who gets an A has participated at a high level in the on-going conversations and who has demonstrated a good understanding of the material. This person has been an asset to his or her fellow students. That's what I'm looking for. In my opinion, you all ought to get an A.
That leaves the B grade, which I give to those who come up short in some way. This might be the person who is obviously a very good historian but who didn't put out much effort. Or the person who tried very hard, but whose level of understanding simply doesn't merit an outstanding grade. I can't justify a C, but neither can I justify an A. So B it. (sorry).