« Care Culture | Main | If Schools Were on Wall Street »

Let's Talk


English teacher Ariel Sacks is rethinking her grading schema. “Just what is a class participation grade?” she asks. “How is it calculated? I’ll come clean and say that I’ve mostly been making mine up.”

While looking over the state standards—which emphasize reading, writing, and speaking—with her colleagues one day, Ariel realizes that participation, for her, is really about making “meaningful spoken contributions to class.”

And now, as I rip apart my less than useful practice of making up class participation grades, it occurs to me that I should just get rid of it, and create a new category for speaking. . . I have many assignments that are designed to build and assess students’ oral language skills, and even rubrics that make explicit what’s being graded. Yet I’ve struggled with which category to place them in! So now they have a home, and my grading is more aligned with ELA standards.
Speaking, with prescribed objectives much like reading and writing, can be taught and assessed. Now all she has to do is figure out how to manage students who express their oral language skills by interrupting the teacher. . .

Yes, yes, yes. Get rid of the participation grade. Grades, and participation grades specifically, are one of my favorite topics to talk about with teachers so I may run on and on at the mouth here.

Participation grades cheapen the overall grade whose purpose is to state how the pupil did with the class standards, and unless you have a class standard of "participation" and have taught it, mini lessoned it, worked with students on how to improve it, and modeled it...participation, as part of a grade, is meaningless.

But what about PE and Music...? Sure, that makes sense. In fact, those teachers usually have a standard called performance or playing where the student is asked to demonstrate the skill. Since it is usually a physical thing (running, playing a b-flat) you can see it and it often gets called "participation", but really it is the same as an English student using a comma correctly. The difference is that the English student usually does his on paper, so it appears less than participatory.

However, it is not. The student who actively pursues English skills, even if by himself, and takes on the challenge of the learning of English, is participating. Should he receive a grade for that? No. Participation is crucial for learning the material. You cannot learn the material without trying it out. Hence participation should not be an end goal, but a means to the goal of learning whatever skill it is.

If, say in an English class, you are using the 4 strands of English--Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening--and you want to work on the strand of Speaking. Doing so, and having wonderful discussions and learning how to build off of comments in the conversation, does not constitute participation. It constitutes working on that skill.

Making a participation grade could likely do all of a few of the following things (1) skew the final grade in a way that does not totally represent the student's mastery of the class concepts--higher for someone who is talkative, lower for someone who is quiet, (2) punish students who are introspective and quiet, and (3) turn the useful act of participation into a task which, as we all know, when forced, no one does willingly.

Thanks for this post about rethinking grading schematics. It's important to keep discussions such as these going, even if immediate reform doesn't take place. Your blog has given me some great ideas for a site I recently started with the NIFB Young Entrepreneur Foundation.



Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Julie Carney: Thanks for this post about rethinking grading schematics. It's important read more
  • Travis A. Wittwer: Yes, yes, yes. Get rid of the participation grade. Grades, read more




Technorati search

» Blogs that link here