Participation, or Speaking & Listening?

We all want student participation. After all, we know that students who are more engaged  are more likely to succeed in class.

At a recent Humanities department meeting, this commitment to participation was clear when my colleagues shared their grading schemes. For many, participation weighed somewhere on the order of 10-25% of students’ overall grades.  Most used a rubric that prioritizes behaviors like eye contact, having materials for class, and active listening.  But I wondered:  what skills are participation tied to?  And how does participation move away from a teacher’s subjective impression over the course of a semester, to helping support student growth and engagement? 

Thanks to Sandi Novak and Cara Slattery‘s presentation at the ASCD conference in New Orleans this past summer, my subjective impression of student participation has shifted to a skills-based focus on the skills of Speaking and Listening.

The key to this shift has been disentangling the Common Core standards on speaking and listening into manageable bits, directly teaching key skills, and providing students with plenty of opportunity to practice and to receive immediate feedback.


Now, instead of “Participation” as a grading category, my students are assessed as speakers and listeners, with discernible skills like Challenging Ideas and Presenting & Analyzing Evidence.  And, rather than leading most class discussions, I now observe, providing feedback to students with rubrics and checklists that measure their progress.  Moreover, students are empowered to measure their own progress, and to reflect on their own growth.



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