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How to Grade Participation

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How to Grade Participation

I am a high school English teacher.
For years I have included a participation portion in the breakdown of the grade (worth 20%) because I believe my students' participation in my class is important. I want them getting involved in the discussions, answering questions, and asking questions, not only for themselves, but also for their peers, who benefit from hearing others share their thoughts, opinions, observations and questions.

For years this part of the grade has been very subjective. I grade it on a ten/ten scale, and after each class I'd find myself asking "Did Joe participate? Hmmm....(shrug)....I guess so....uh, 8/10". It was so vague. And I wanted to be nice and not give zero out of pretty much as long as the student was behaving, they tended to get their participation points.

Then one day this year I was researching some ideas for conducting a debate in class, and found this suggestion regarding giving everyone a fair chance to participate in the debate discussion. I tweaked it and immediately started using it with my high school classes.

Each student gets three 3x5 cards (up to five if you have a very small class, but in a class of 10-12 three worked well), and they put their name and the number one on the first card, name and number two on second card, and name and number three on the third card. Then when they want to participate by commenting, answering a question, etc. they hold up their card. When I call on them, I take their card and lay in on my desk. They must hold up a card and wait to be called on to speak, and they must use all three cards in order to get their full 10/10 for participation for the day (using 2 cards = 6/10 and 1 card = 3/10).

Immediately my students loved it. What they liked was:
1) when they have the floor, no one could interrupt them
2) those who were more quiet and never used to speak got to be heard, and the others liked hearing from them, and they liked being pulled into the discussion
3) those who used to dominate the conversation were limited to three times to speak, and their peers liked that they no longer dominated the discussion times

What I liked was:
1) Having my quiet students get involved for the first time
2) Finding a way to keep the dominant students from overpowering everyone else
3) Having an objective, guilt-free way to grade their participation. If they didn't use their cards once, then it was clearly a zero, and I no longer had to feel bad, because they knew exactly what they had to do, as well as what the result would be if they didn't.

It's been an amazing discovery! I hope it can help you in your class, too. I believe this could work well at the middle school level as well, and perhaps even in the older elementary grades.

Lesson by Mrs. Wheeler

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