Many teachers use class participation grades, which are seen as a way to encourage discussion and improve students’ social skills. However, not everyone thinks class participation grades are a good idea. So, should teachers include class participation as part of a semester grade? Here are some thoughts to consider:
Class Participation During Discussions Is Important
In many subjects and courses, class discussion is vital to success. The open exchange of ideas between students is particularly valuable in things like history and literature. For example, when discussing a Shakespeare play, each student brings their own individual perspective to the topic, and each perspective is valuable. Class discussion also helps students process information and makes partial use of the fact that the best way to truly learn something is to teach it.
This means that teachers have a responsibility to encourage and facilitate discussion. The importance of class discussion is often how teachers justify participation grades.
Some Students Will Avoid Discussion
The fact that class discussion is important does not mean that all students will willingly engage in it. Some may engage better on some topics than others, while others prefer to sit back and listen. By counting participation towards grades, teachers have an easy way to incentivize all students to participate.
This then builds a better discussion which ultimately encourages further participation and learning. While it does not always work, a participation grade often encourages students to engage when they would rather avoid the discussion.
However, there are also some things to consider that speak against participation grades.
By their very nature, participation grades are highly subjective. Teachers may have one idea of what constitutes participation, and students may have a different one. Different teachers will judge it differently. Do taking notes count? Not all students learn better by taking notes. What about questions?
More reserved students are likely to see good participation differently, and cultural backgrounds can come into play here. Another factor that often comes into play, whether we like it or not, is gender. Boys and girls are socialized differently, and girls are generally less likely to speak out and put themselves forward. Many teachers are also subconsciously less likely to call on them. Heavily weighting participation can, thus, disadvantage girls. Teachers also need to make an effort to call on girls more often and encourage them to speak.
Because of the high level of subjectivity, teachers who use participation grades should be transparent with both students and parents about what they expect. Parents should push to get that transparent information so they understand why participation grades are awarded and the criteria teachers are using.
Issues With Introverted Students
Another group of students which can suffer when participation is heavily considered is introverts. Introverted students are quieter in class and find it a lot harder to participate. They can be particularly uncomfortable when asked to speak in front of the class. However, they often have an advantage in essay assignments.
A good teacher will define participation in ways that support introverted students. In addition to rewarding lively discussion and giving presentations, they will look at whether students ask good questions (introverts often wait to speak until they have thought), help other students, or do revisions.
Participation grades absolutely can help students learn. They might seem hard on some students, but the goal is to help all students process information by encouraging lively discussion and to ensure that every student has a chance to offer their own perspectives.
Learn More About Including Class Participation in the Semester Grade
At Tenney Schools, our faculty do their best to avoid the issues of grading participation in a manner that students and parents don’t understand, and we do our best to fully include introverted students. To find out more about how we can help your child learn, contact Tenney Schools today.