Small group guidelines

What to do, expect

Note: The small group part of class is stand-alone–you will not be tested over it on quizzes (that material comes from the regular readings schedule).

Individual portion: The abstract

You should submit an abstract in Canvas on the discussion day (Fridays of weeks 2, 4, 7 and Wednesday of week 10, see calendar). The abstract is worth 10 of the 30 points for the small group, and is part summary/part analysis, between 150-200 words total, that responds to the following:

  1. Briefly summarize the assigned source material (1-2 sentences at most for each source), and at the end briefly analyze–what did you learn, how do the sources compare to each other, etc.?
  2. Relate the sources to the class–what have they to do with social welfare?
  3. Basically I’m looking for you to show me that: a) you read/viewed all the assigned material, and; b) you got something out of them.
  4. Only one abstract for all the assigned small group reading material–not one per source.
  5. Somewhere on the page, include the full citations for the sources. You need to read all the articles, to get the full spread of perspectives and viewpoints. If there are four and you read and discuss two, don’t be surprised if you only get half of the 10 points possible for that week. As for the citations, they are right there, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to cite these in your file efficiently. But if you don’t do this, you’ll lose a point. I don’t want just the website home page either–author, date, title, publication, URL. A full citation. APA or MLA style is fine. Consider it good practice.

The abstract is worth 1/3 of the point total–ten points out of 30 for the week.

  • 9-10 pts means you showed that you both read and got something out of the readings.
  • 6-8 pts means you may have turned something in, but it’s not clear you read, or you read, but it’s not clear you got anything out of it.
  • 3-5 pts means it isn’t clear you either read the articles or got anything out of them. But you did submit something. A ‘0’ (out of 10 possible) for no abstract.
  • < 3 means you were physically present, but there was something terribly awry or random about what you submitted)
  • Here are a couple of sample abstracts (I & II)

Submitting late papers–You can have one excused absence or late abstract. If you submit by the next day, you can still gain full credit. If you wait until the next discussion period (calendar), you’ll lose a point (so the highest score you could receive would be 24 points). If you’re missing an entire discussion you need to turn in an expanded abstract of two pages, double-spaced, where you include both your abstract, and responses to the questions from class (which I will make available on the small group readings page the day before that week’s discussion). The point of this part of the class is participating in discussion in small groups, so you only get one excused absence, then you’ll begin losing points for not being present in Zoom.

Expectations for group discussion

Preparation and participation:

  • Students should have read/viewed the online material posted for that week, and be prepared to discuss it;
  • You might find it useful to be able to access the source material during the small group discussion period;
  • Participation means contributing. If there is a problem with group members not contributing, it becomes pretty evident to the keen observer;
  • As for participation, someone needs to write up the group’s responses to the questions, and submit those in Canvas.
  • Make sure every group member’s name is on the document / paper submitted (depends on whether we’re in person or in zoom).
  • It is important to stay on task–avoid tangents, make sure you’re discussing the questions posed, addressing the issues in the reading. Time is limited, and if you get distracted, it will likely be reflected in the paper your group submits.

The group paper to turn in:

  • Each group will turn in one set of responses to questions I’ve given you, due at the end of class, which should reflect your group’s discussions; good grammar and spelling are much appreciated but count less in this case than evidence of thought;
  • The group needs to choose a scribe–someone to write; write everyone’s name down who’s present, and you should choose a scribe who is talented at translating a conversation into a thoughtful response on paper.
  • For each set of group responses to questions, the group needs to make it clear that every member participated. The discussion leaders have been tasked with encouraging full participation. You need to show on what you turn in that each member has had something to say.
  • The scribe’s job is to document the discussion/thought processes of the group. There are two possible problems: one, the scribe is writing away while the group discusses last night’s TV fare; two, the group engages in profound discussion of the material, but the scribe isn’t doing the job of getting down the ideas; the important part of this is to see the group’s thinking on the issues–neatness doesn’t count for as much as evidence of work and thoughtful reflection. Responding to the questions is the point of the exercise, most of the time; it’s pretty easy to tell when the scribe and the group aren’t communicating well . . . So no matter how great the discussion, all I’ll read are the responses submitted. So put some thought into this.
  • The paper will be evaluated based on how well the group stayed ‘on task,’ responded to the questions, included diverse points of view, and showed evidence of thought; that is, summaries of the articles don’t show that you’ve been engaged in debate and discussion. You need to respond thoughtfully to each of the questions you’re given. I take time to think them through, I expect you’ll take the time to answer them.
  • Mutual respect–this class isn’t about changing people’s minds or ‘converting’ them to (y)our way of thinking. I expect people to show each other mutual respect. Disagreement is fine, and in fact expected. But respectful disagreement–we’re not here to rip on others because we don’t think alike. If there is disagreement in your group, make it known in what you turn in–you won’t be marked down for it. But I’m not looking for opinion on these–most of the questions ask you to engage the material in more rigorous ways. No point in coming to class if we’re just spouting off opinions uninformed by the assigned material.

2/3 of the discussion group grade will be based on the quality of the paper turned in by your group each week. 17-20 points for a job well done. You can lose points for not responding to questions, doing a mediocre job of responding to questions, not ensuring that everyone in the group is participating. 3 points for attending, 12 points for thoughtful discussion, and 5 points for making sure everyone contributes, which might mean ensuring that majority and minority viewpoints are present in your written responses to questions.


If you have to miss class, let me know as soon after class as possible. You will then be allowed to make the work up once–by doing both the abstract and responding to questions–in lieu of attendance. You will have until the next week’s discussion to do this. Each week will have a link to a ‘make-up’ document you can download and complete, which includes the questions. You’ll be expected to spend about the same amount of time responding to the questions as you would have in class (50 minutes. I can tell). The make-up at the latest is due at the next week’s discussion session. Everyone gets one excused absence. After that, you miss points for not participating in groups, even if you turn in an abstract. And for now, we’ll be in-person.