Questions to Ask Yourself When Students Won't Participate

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“Questions to Ask When Students Won’t Participate” (online article) turns the interrogative focus to instructors and their pedagogy, “encourage[ing] teachers to take inventory of what’s occurring in the classroom” by asking, “Is there something else that might be done [by me] to encourage students to get involved?”

  • The following 15 questions sets are each followed in the article by discussion prompts, advice, facts, options, examples, or “What you could say” exemplars to guide application:

1. "Have you given students something to talk about?" 

  • "Something to read?" 
  • "Questions to consider as they read?" 
  • "A reaction paper that captures their thoughts and gives them something concrete to contribute?"

2. "Have you talked about the role of participation in this course?" 

  • "Why do you want it?"
  • "What it contributes to learning?" 
  • "How do you feel about wrong answers and mistakes?"

3. "When are you soliciting student input?" 

  • "Only at the end of period?" 
  • "Only at the end of content chunks?" 
  • "Only when you have time?"

4. How often are you stopping for interaction? 

  • "Once? Twice?" 
  • "When you do ask for comments or questions, how long are you waiting for responses?" 
  • "Are you giving students enough time to think?"

5. "How do you handle answers that are wrong or not very good?" 

  • "Do you laud the effort?" 
  • "Do you show how mistakes can be opportunities for learning?" 
  • "Do you invite the class to help make an answer better?"

6. "How do you acknowledge good answers—those that are thoughtful, offer new insights, and show signs of being prepared for class?"

7. "What are you doing while a student is answering?" 

  • "Do you listen intently from start to finish or just long enough to determine it’s not a great answer, and then spend the rest of time thinking about how you’ll go about fixing what is being said?"

8. "Has the class had any role in determining the rules that govern participation in the class?"

9. "What are you doing that encourages students to listen and learn from each other?" 

  • Do you incorporate student responses in the material you present subsequently?

10. "How do you handle the over-participation problem—those two or three students who are already to answer?"

11. "Do you call on students or let them volunteer?" 

  • "Which do students prefer?" 
  • "Does it matter what they prefer?"

12. "Do you grade participation?" 

  • "How? Why?" 
  • "If you do grade participation, have you ever tried not grading it to see what effect it might have on classroom interaction (and vice versa for non-graders)?"

13. "How does your grading policy define participation?" 

  • "Does it require verbal commentary?" 
  • "Does listening count as participation?" 
  • "Should it?"

14. "If you grade participation, do you give students feedback on their contributions at a point in the course when there is still time to improve?"

15. "Do you have class discussions about class discussions?" 

  • "Do you share with the class what you think is working and not working?" 
  • "Do you ask students what they think?"

Source: Weimar, Maryellen. “Questions to Ask When Students Won’t Participate.” Faculty Focus Premium. 9 May 2017.

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