New pick by carrots! I’m on time for once!
As a book nerd and obsessive student, I was a habitual participator. I did all of the reading, and silence in the classroom made me nervous. These students! Why were they not answering the question? I would only let a professor’s query remain unanswered for a moment before I’d put my hand in the air, whether I had something particularly appropriate to contribute or not. Sometimes, around mid-semester, my professor would begin to ignore me, waiting for a different student to contribute.
Yeah, I was that one.
The sole exception was, perhaps, my high school economics class. I’d settle into my seat at the back of the room just after lunch period, my brain lethargic after a turkey sandwich and a snack-size bag of Doritos — tryptophan! — and I’d realize within a few minutes that focusing on supply or demand was simply an impossibility. My teacher was surprisingly enthusiastic about fiscal policy and regulation, but the filing cabinet behind my desk was such a comfortable object to doze upon… I still feel a little guilty about that.
I’ve been considering the topic of classroom participation a lot lately, especially as I figured grades for my survey course last week. Participation comprised fifteen percent of my students’ final grades. This percentage may fluctuate in future classes, especially if I’m leading larger classrooms that preclude really engaged group discussions. But I will be teaching at Rice in some capacity next year, and therefore I’ve been considering ways to really perfect how I present the topic of participation to my students and, more importantly, how I evaluate it.
I want to be fair. And I want to demonstrate to my students that I understand my responsibilities as someone evaluating their performance in my classroom. And, of course, I’m also mindful that I’m teaching students who may challenge my decisions, and I want to be sure I have evidence.
So I’m thinking of doing something like this, outlined by a professor at the University of Virginia, with my own minor tweaks. I need to develop a system with clearer expectations, evaluations, and consequences for my undergraduates when it comes to class participation.
I’m particularly keen on that first one — expectations — because I’m realizing that many students don’t know what constructive participation looks and sounds like. For some, participating apparently means showing up and avoiding eye contact. For others it means toting a laptop into the classroom to feign research while, in fact, surfing facebook and putting in that winning ebay bid on a Count Chocula tee-shirt. And for some it means disagreeing with the professor. I don’t mind that last one, of course — in fact, I encourage it — but in and of itself it does not constitute participation.
What do you carrots readers — the educators and the former students — consider fair grounds for grading participation? Do you do it? If so, how? I am currently in R&D.