Some instructors feel that students maximize their learning in a course when they take an active part in class discussions, raise questions, and participate in group work. As a result, final course grades sometimes include a percentage for the level of participation that a student exhibits in class. While extroverted students tend to participate regardless of marks, graded participation can encourage introverted students to also participate in class. It is suggested that “[t]he very first class is an excellent time to establish participation norms and to create a classroom climate that supports introverts in their learning” (Monahan, 2013). Other instructors try to motivate and improve student participation without attaching marks to it. Weimer (2013) suggests that instead of grading students on their in-class participation, instructors could have their students write a series of short papers with the aim to improve student awareness of classroom interactions and contributions to the class.
Participation in class is a challenge for myself, both as an instructor and a student. I typically did not participate as a student in class if it was not graded because I was an introverted student. I would follow along with the material in class and I preferred working alone at my own pace. When I began teaching, I found class participation that occurred was not particular helpful to myself or other students. On occasion, students would give comments without thought or make an inappropriate comment when they didn’t know what to say. These were the extroverted students in my class. The introverted students sat quietly and performed very well in the course, but I was unsure of their learning process. Last year I tried attaching marks for participation in the form of in-class assignments, which were designed to encourage discussion in class. I noticed that participation increased dramatically, but the discussions occurring where still not quality ones.
I would not put the blame on students for the lack of quality in participation, but instead place it on myself for not asking the right questions. The types of questions that I should be seeking to ask my students are essential questions. These types of questions are open-ended, thought-provoking and intellectually engaging (McTighe & Wiggins, 2013, p. 3). These types of questions are more complex than questions that require students to recall facts. They would require students to think carefully before making a comment in class. With rules established around how class discussions should unfold, I hope these types of questions would keep my students engaged and improve their learning. Student participation quality may also have been low because the marks I was assigning were not based on the actual participation, but the documentation that occurred after discussions had occurred. However, post-discussion reports have the “objective … to hone observational skills, encourage reflection, and get students engaged in some serious self-reflection” (Weimer, 2013).
I need to improve the quality of questions I ask my students and come up with more effective methods for capturing participation. I can create essential questions for my students by deriving them from desired understandings (McTighe & Wiggins, 2013, p. 30). For example, I desire for my students to understand how to use logical functions in Microsoft Excel. Asking the question “Why would we want to enable Excel to make choices in a spreadsheet?” could help students reach this desired understanding. In regards to capturing participation, I could continue having students submit small assignments related to class discussions. Alternatively I could use a checklist or rating guide for each student, however there are validity issues. A checklist may not be useful since it is a binary mechanism and may encourage students to say anything to get a check next to their name. Rating guides can result in different marks for similar participation levels if used between different instructors. Whichever method I decide to adopt, I need to carefully plan how I will use it.
McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2013). Essential questions: Opening doors to student understanding. Alexandria: ASCD.
Monahan, N. (2013, October 28). Keeping introverts in mind when in your active learning classroom. Retrieved April 21, 2014, from Faculty Focus: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/keeping-introverts-in-mind-in-your-active-learning-classroom/
Weimer, M. (2013, October 23). Grading Participation: An Alternative to Talking for Points. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from Faculty Focus: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/grading-participation-an-alternative-to-talking-for-points/?utm_source=cheetah&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2013.10.23%20Faculty%20Focus%20Update