Participating in class


Alison Isko

When teachers grade for participation, it makes it more difficult for the class to cover material and to learn. Everyone wants to get 100% for participation, understandably, which leads to half the class raising their hand for every question.Since teachers try to call on as many people as possible, students derail the conversation: people raise their hands to repeat what somebody else already said to get those participation points, leading to multiple people saying the same thing in different phrasing, stalling the discussion. Thus, the material takes longer to get through, and penalizes those who may be confused by the topic; how can someone make a clear, coherent point about a topic that they don’t understand? Furthermore, many people are unwilling to admit to being confused about the material because of the competitive atmosphere of the school. Feeling pressured to understand everything the moment that it’s taught makes class more stressful, which, according to, can lead to students understanding less, as it’s harder to concentrate while anxious.
This problem is especially prevalent in classes like math, where there’s only one right answer. In math, one of the only ways to participate is to say the answer to a homework question or question that is being done in class, and giving the wrong answer can be embarrassing. Usually, when participating, a person is asked to explain how they arrived at their conclusion. Seeing the collective headshake from the class when the teacher asks if anyone else got the same answer or having a teacher point out where you went wrong to the class can dissuade that person from wanting to participate again, as they don’t want to feel like the “stupid one” in the class. When participation is taken into consideration, students might get a lower final grade than they deserve based on the work they put in to better understand questions they got wrong throughout the semester and based on subsequent grades on homework and assessments.
Grading for participation instead of the quality of work can also lead teachers to value how well a student knows the material less. In middle school, I had to do a project for a class, and even though my teacher said that my project followed all the criteria given, she gave me a B because she said that I didn’t participate enough in class—even though class participation wasn’t included on the grading rubric. Not only did this not encourage me to raise my hand more, it negatively impacted my overall performance, as that project was important to my grade.
There’s a reason why teachers incorporate participation into students’ final grades: it lets the teacher see that students are thinking because it forces them to speak in class and ensures that they’re doing their work. Most students, however, will participate whether they’re being graded for it or not. Class discussions would still be able to proceed if participation wasn’t graded and would occur much more quickly with a higher quality of engagement.