Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Why I No Longer Grade Class Participation

Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed:  Should We Stop Grading Class Participation?, by James M. Lang (Assumption University):

I no longer grade class participation. I seem to be in the minority on that, based on my conversations with other faculty members. But I have come to believe that grading student participation is a poor pedagogical choice, and that a better alternative exists. Here I’ll explain why — and how I cultivate participation in my courses, even without hanging a grade-based incentive over my students’ heads.

What drove me away from grading student participation was an uneasy feeling — and it grew each year — that grades were not something that should be fudged based on my hunches and instincts, or influenced in any way by my informal observations and memories. In retrospect, it seems ridiculous to believe that I could accurately measure how much every student participated in all my courses during a 15-week semester.

Such a “system” is subject to every kind of bias imaginable. In addition to whatever unconscious biases I might be carrying toward students based on their identities, I might find myself looking more favorably on a student whose comments or demeanor remind me a little of myself — or unfavorably on a student who reminds me of someone I dislike.

You also don’t have to teach for very long to discover that some students love to participate in class, and will do so at every chance they get, sometimes in very superficial ways. How do I measure the difference between an introvert who makes one comment that changes the way we all think of the material, and an extrovert who makes 10 comments that are all the equivalent of “I agree with that.” ...

I no longer grade participation because — as I explain to students on the syllabus and on the first day of the semester — everyone participates in my courses. That’s the expectation and the reality. Participation is not some optional extra. It’s as essential to the course as writing the assigned papers and taking the final exam. You can’t be a full member of our community without participating in class. ...

 This happens via what some people call “cold-calling,” but what I prefer to call “invitational participation.” When I ask students to join the discussion, I’m not challenging them to a duel. I’m inviting them to share their views because I value what they think. My invitations are premised on the fact that their comments matter. We can all learn from what they have to offer to the discussion. ...

In a classroom in which everyone participates, everyone is equal. The discussions are not combat rings in which students battle one another for airtime in order to earn good grades. They are opportunities for us all to think together and learn from one another.

Legal Ed News, Legal Education, Teaching | Permalink