Grading Participation: 4 Variations

Decorative: "Grading Participation" written above three students -- one with a raised hand, one taking notes, one slouched over the table


1. "Grading Participation: An Alternative to Talking for Points" (online article) suggests that "grading contributions gets students talking for points, not talking to make points" and offers an alternative: “Participation, as in what you contribute verbally, is not graded in this course, but your writing about participation is.”

The article lists the following writing prompts (with guided questions for each):

  • My participation skills
  • Observing participation
  • The role of participation in learning
  •  My participation skills revisited 

Responding to this strategy, the author of "Turning Class Participation into Short Written Assignments" (blog post) makes the following points:

  • "[G]rade these short assignments for completion rather than using a complex set of criteria."
  • "The objective is to hone observational skills, encourage reflection, and get students engaged in some serious self-reflection." 

2.  "Grading Classroom Participation Rhetorically" (online article) suggests the benefits of a dialogical exercise for grading participation.

a. The Exercise: "[I]n-class [one-page] writing assignments three times during this semester ... in which [students]:

  • Propose what grade they deserve for class participation thus far, and
  • Defend their proposed grade with evidence from the classroom."

b. The Rationale: "The assignment ...

  • "forces students to revisit the guidelines laid out in the syllabus."
  • "encourages students to reflect critically on how they’re working to meet those standards."
  • "challenges the idea that professors randomly (or worst, vindictively) assign participation grades by exposing the process of evaluating participation to students."
  • "asks students to practice the central skill that this course seeks to develop: building persuasive arguments based on evidence."

3. "Participation Points: Making Student Engagement Visible" (online article) redefines "participation points" as "engagement points" "to move students from grade seekers (passive regurgitation of information—written or verbal) to knowledge seekers (independent, engaged learners who see, reflect on, and share their thoughts on the complexity of problems/situations).

The article offers a detailed "Engagement Rubric" by which students assess themselves and which balances preparation and participation in the assessment.

This approach has the following benefits:

  • "Metacognitive exercises help students understand their responsibility in their own learning."
  • "A monthly check allows you to praise, schedule conferences, or recommend tutoring while the semester is still salvageable."
  • It "[r]ecognize[s] quiet learners (during and after class)."
  • It "[r]e-direct[s] garrulous students who don’t full engage with the content."

4. "An Intriguing Participation Policy" (online article) outlines "a [easy to adopt] policy that’s impressive in its specificity and in the intriguing idea it contains." Further, it has several added benefits:

  • "It gives students some control."
  • It "invite[s] a conversation about making contributions in a group."
  • It helps students practice "adding value to the conversation, sharing views of those you represent, offering relevant information, and asking pertinent questions."
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