A Guide To Setting Up Classroom Groups for Success: Team Evaluations (Part 2 of 3)

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This is the second post in a 3-part series on how to set up teams to be successful.

I started this series with a question:

Should Students Be Able to Fire Teammates in a Class Project?

Again, in my classes, the answer to that question is “yes.”

Creative Commons Hernan Pinera

The first post looked at group contracts. If you haven’t read it, please go back and read it. If you have read it, let’s jump into the second, vital instrument I use to set groups up for success: Team evaluations (which I refer to in my classes as group report cards, but I will use the term team evaluations here).

A significant chunk of a student’s grade in my class is based on the evaluations made by her peers.

The more group work, the more I make these worth. A quick point about these before explaining how they work:

I do not release this grade to the students.  This is important because if a student thought her peers would know how she evaluated them, the student is less likely to be candid in her evaluation.

Team evaluations are based on research on team-based learning and the work of Larry Michaelson. I saw Michaelson present on this a few years ago during a pedagogy event held at Utah Valley University and have used this system ever since (note: the team-based learning approach I learned from Michaelson has had a big impact on how I approach teaching. For example, his work inspired my 2014 post on enhancing teamwork and in-class discussion). This is how I do it:

I provide students with a simple sheet of paper (an example to a similar scoring sheet can be found on p. 7 of this document) that includes instructions and scoring guidelines. They fill them out confidentially, and return them.

You can do team evaluations after each team assignment, or halfway through the semester and at the end, however you wish. The thing that makes these team evaluations unique and powerful is the unique math approach of the evaluation.

Usually, when you ask students to evaluate one another, there is a tendency to score everyone fairly well.  I’m not sure the reason why. Maybe it is that either they don’t want to be mean to someone else, that they simply don’t think too hard about it, or something else. Whatever the reason, a team evaluation where everyone receives about the same mark isn’t helpful to you, the professor.

In the way I do my evaluations, a student evaluates everyone but himself.  The student takes the total number of people in the group and subtracts himself. If there are 5 people total in the group, the number is 4. There is 10 points per student to distribute. So, in our example, multiply the number of students that one student would evaluate in a group of five, which is 4 (everyone but himself), by 10. There is a total of 40 points.

The student must distribute the 40 points among the 4 other students in his group (i.e., the students he is evaluating). And there’s only 1 rule: at least 1 student must get a 9 or lower, and at least 1 student must get an 11 or higher.

Why? This forces the students to really think about who did the most work, and who did the least. Giving points to one person is to take points away from someone else. This scarcity gets the students to take the evaluations seriously.

But your students probably won’t be happy about this. They’ll say, “Well that’s not fair.” So I explain them how and why, from my perspective, it is. A person who did more work deserves a better grade. And, I’ll explain that when I didn’t use a system like this, the students gave inflated scores to everyone in their team that did not reflect the reality they experienced. Importantly, I make a point to tell them that by giving someone a 9 you are not banishing that person to the Land of Bad Grades (this will make sense when you see the below).

Here’s how it works. In each example below, the team has 4 people in it. So each person is evaluating 3 other people:

If everyone did about the same work, students will score each other very closely.


John 11, Sally 10, Jim 9 (Jane is doing the evaluation)

But if someone was clearly doing a lot, or a little, it shows up:

John 7, Sally 10, Jim 13 (Jane is doing the evaluation)

Students get to explain their scores if they like.

Once collected, I add up the scores (from each evaluation of a student in a group) and divide by the highest score. Example: The highest score was John, he got a total of 28 points. Jim got a total of 22 points. So, John got a 100% (he did the most work, and went above and beyond others) and Jim gets 22/28=78%. That is, students are compared in relation to the person who does the most work. The person who does a lot of extra work, sets the bar high. Other students suffer if they also do not work hard. This is fairer to the student who does a lot of work.

If the work is distributed fairly evenly, then everyone is probably happy and they scored everyone like this:  John 11, Sally 10, Jim 9 (In fact, some very happy groups will conspire so that in the end everyone has the same score. I don’t stop this).

In this case, let’s say John has 33 (he got all 11s from the 3 people evaluating him). Jim ended up with 27 (3 9s, which is the lowest score possible if no one dipped below 9). He still got a B-, at 81.8%. And it is very unlikely that 1 person gets all the 11s and 1 person gets all the 9s in a group like this. And, if so, it’s because the team is saying Jim did less work.

In summary, this team evaluation approach is the fairest and easiest to conduct team evaluation I have ever done. The math takes care of itself and what emerges is a clear picture of who really did the extra work and who did not.

To me, using team evaluations throughout the semester on multiple projects is one of the most powerful tools i have. It is the ‘great equalizer’ that empowers those who did extra to level the playing field when it comes to grades. And, it is a shot in the arm to the students who did not pull their weight.

To see a sample evaluation form similar to what I use, see page 7 of this document from the team-based learning website.

Depending on how much of the grade you make team evaluations worth, it can sway students grades a one half of a letter grade, a full letter grade, or possibly more.

Now that students have the power to evaluate one another, they are also given the power to fire a teammate who is not doing his fair share of the work. In the next post, I’ll show you how firing a team member works. And, I’ll explain the modification I’ve made to offer students more options than just firing someone.

– Cheers!


References: The above-mentioned pedagogy speaking event at Utah Valley University by Larry Michaelson used information drawn from his (2004) Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching. As stated above, the evaluation method described above is derived from that presentation and this book. I highly recommend checking out the website.

Here are 2 approaches to team evaluations from the team-based learning website.  Also, here are some criticisms of the zero-sum approach to team evaluations, such as that which I use.


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