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Clarity on Course Purpose, Student Learning, and Grading

There are many different ways that diversity content can be taught and students' learning can be evaluated. When teachers are clear about the role of diversity in their classes, their own starting points, and their expectations for the students, then course design and evaluation mechanisms can be put into place that are congruent.

Ways in which multicultural/diversity issues are covered
One way of categorizing this is an adaptation of James Banks' typology of multicultural teaching 1 :

  • "Contributions approach"—the contributions of people of color and cultural elements are added to a course;
  • "Additive approach"—the contributions of scholars and authors of color are added to a course without changing the nature of the course. For example, Alice Walker's The Color Purple or Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street could be added to the reading of a literature course;
  • "Transformation approach"—courses and curricula are changed so that students view events, trends, issues, and course concepts from the point of view of targeted groups;
  • "Social action approach"—students study an issue in depth and are empowered to act on important personal, social, and civic problems.

Starting points for the course
Setting out a guiding perspective at the start of a course helps not only to clarify course planning but also to establish the instructor's foundation and starting points for the course. "An example of this framework comes from Women's Studies, where students learn that they will be using a feminist perspective, a value system which favors change toward equality in society. The idea of equality, therefore, is not up for debate. What equality means and how best to achieve it are controversial issues which require thought and discussion 2 ."

Teachers' expectations of the students
One overarching question in planning any course is "How will students be changed by taking this course?" Depending on the nature of the course, the answer may be increased knowledge or skills in an area. For courses with diversity-related issues, the instructor may hope that as a result of the course students may increase and develop new perspectives on the world; one way of assessing this is Milton Bennett's Intercultural Sensitivity Continuum 3:

"There is only
one culture"



"All culture are
relative to each other"

Denial of Difference

Denial Against Difference

Minimization of Difference

Acceptance of Difference

Adaptation to Difference

Integration of Difference

However, it can be problematic to establish student learning objectives based on increased sensitivity and/or awareness. Students and others may interpret this as an ultimatum that students adopt a "party line" in order to receive a favorable grade.

Student learning objectives, however, can be written so that students are required to demonstrate higher order thinking skills and to engage in reflection in order to meet the requirements of the course. The section on higher order thinking skills and reflection contains assignments that challenge students to think critically and analyze readings and current events.

Grading practices that fit with the course approach
Like the rest of us, most students are most comfortable with what they know—in this case, the kinds of testing systems and practices with which they are familiar. If you are using unfamiliar grading systems and practices, explain why you are doing it, why it is in the students' best interest to learn and be evaluated this way.

Students taking courses with diversity/multicultural content may question whether their answers or analysis have to mirror the opinions of the faculty member. Two ways to allay those suspicions are to be specific about grading criteria on major papers and essay tests and to assign work that needs to be completed for the student to receive credit but is not graded

One example of clear expectations on papers is a brief grading inventory for a paper on institutional discrimination:


Number of examples given, thoroughness of description


Connection to course readings and discussions


Analysis and impacts of these kinds of discrimination on different groups


Reflection of impacts of these kinds of discrimination on one's self and family


General presentation—clarity including spelling and grammar




A more sophisticated assessment is a rubric that provide descriptions of varying levels of performance for a task, activity, or part of an assignment. Below is part of a rubric for the assignment above, for the second component—"connection of course readings and class discussion to the paper":

4 8   12 16 20
few readings and topics cited, minimal connections made to concept of institutional discrimination

adequate number of readings/topics cited, good connections made to concept of institutional discrimination

many readings and topics cited, minimal connections made to concept of institutional discrimination

Faculty members wanting to know more about rubric construction can type the words "rubric" and "university" into http://www.google.com for information on rubric construction and a number of examples of rubrics.

If it is important to the teacher that students reflect on course content and learning, then a portion of the student grade can be based on written work that is handed in but does not receive a letter grade. Journal entries or 1-2 page reflection papers need to be turned in by the assigned date to receive credit, and completion of the written work will neither hurt nor harm the students' overall grade.

A variation of this which allows even more student anonymity is for an assigned student to collect unsigned small papers at the end of class after the faculty member has left. The student checks the students' names off of a list, which is subsequently given to the faculty member.

Communication and grading
Detailed instructions for papers and assignments can reduce anxiety. Also encourage students to communicate with you (office hours, e-mail, telephone) and with each other (using a listserv) about assignments.

  1. Adams, Maurianne and Marchsesani, Linda (1997). Multiple Issues Course Overview. In Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook , Adams, Maurianne, Bell , Lee Ann, and Griffin , Pat, eds. New York : Routledge, pp. 261-278.
  2. Banks, James (1988). Multiethnic education: Theory and practice . Boston : Allyn and Bacon.
  3. Stewart, Edward and Bennett, Milton . (1991). American cultural patterns: A cross-cultural perspective . Yarmouth , ME : Intercultural Press.