Participation Grades: Yay or Nay?


We have all experienced it: the silent classroom. The professor directs a question to the entire class, and everyone is sitting in silence hoping that the professor will not resort to the cold-calling method in order to get an answer.

Recently, I read a post that an educator had shared on LinkedIn where she discussed the challenges professors face when they want high student engagement in the classroom but are unsure of the most objective way to measure each student’s level of engagement. One way courses are designed to determine whether students are engaging with the material is through participation points. Many of the classes I am currently taking have participation scores built into the grading scale, with different professors having different ways of measuring it.

On one extreme, in my Business Law class, the professor will cold-call on students every class and have them explain the assigned case reading thoroughly. As a result, I have observed many students coming to class anxious wondering as to whether they will be called on. However, at the same time, it is also important to note that as a result, students complete the assigned case readings prior to every class, allowing us to have better discussions about the content.

On the other extreme, in my International Economics and Economics of Development classes, my professor does not require attendance nor does she factor participation into the overall grade. As a result, I have observed that sometimes there is not as much of an incentive to attend class when students can simply review the material on their own. However, the benefit is that students, as opposed to being anxious about being called on, are able to simply soak in the information and learn at their own pace.

Proponents on both sides have valid arguments. In an article I recently read titled “Participation Penalizes Quiet Learners” Emily J. Klein and Meg Riordan write that “the qualities measured in class participation—engagement and communication of ideas—matter in the real world.” However, as the article also points out, the “spontaneous nature of some discussions may be difficult for introverted learners who need time to process ideas before sharing them with a group.” In a classroom setting, where there are students from all backgrounds with many different personality types, is there one way that will allow for high student engagement while also preventing the potential hindrance of learning?

What are your thoughts as a student?

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1 Response to Participation Grades: Yay or Nay?

  1. John says:

    As someone who attends both classes with you I find that one (BLAW) needs participation more than the other (Econ) and so it makes sense for one to grade and the other not to.

    With that said I’m a proponent of having it graded (the more grades the better, diversification) and I rather like how some professors provide in-class assignments. Working in groups to solve problems and cases on relevant class topics and then each team participating as a group for the rest of class would solve the introverts problem and also (hopefully) actively engage all attendees.

    A common position I’m presented asks whether the most extroverted students are aiding in the in-depth learning that participation points are meant to encourage and how to control for students that are more of a hindrance than a help to the class as a whole. What are your thoughts on this?

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