Tracking Student Participation

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Soulforce at Gordon College - PDR by Zach Alexander, on FlickrMy goals for the new school year include both increasing participation and asking students to track their own work. I’m hoping that putting those two goals together will help me succeed in checking them off on my list.

I have always had trouble with grading student participation. I like the elementary school options for kidwatching with sticky notes or forms, where you have a place to take notes about each student’s participation and work. The strategy doesn’t seem practical at the college level however, so I need to find something that works for me.

Part of the challenge is that students rarely understand what counts as participation, and, as a result, they don’t know when they need to step up their efforts. I found some tips in David Gooblar’s post, “ISO: A Better Way to Evaluate Student Participation.” My favorite strategy is Tony Docan-Morgan’s “participation logs.” I immediately knew I wanted to try them out in all the classes I am teaching.

Based on Docan-Morgan’s model, I created my own spreadsheet templates, using Google Sheets,  with details on what students needed to log. In my fully online Technical Writing course, I created tabs in the spreadsheet for each of the following:

  • Class Discussion
  • Small Group
  • Other Participation
  • Self-assessment & Reflection

On the Participation Log page on the course website, I provided an overview of the goal, details on how to make a copy of the template, and suggested how to log the work that students had done in the course so far.

My Writing and Digital Media class meets face-to-face, so I explained and demonstrated the template for their course in class. It includes the same tabs as the technical writing template, with the questions rephrased to fit the classroom and the course. I’ll add an explanation page to their site before midterm so that they have everything they need for a midterm self-assessment.

In addition to giving students the templates, I tell them what the work they are assigned would count for. For the Technical Writing course, I added a simple table, which had links (removed here) to the discussion activities to date in our CMS:

If you posted in this DiscussionList it on this sheet of your log
Questions about the Syllabus and/or Course LogisticsClass Discussion
I am Traci — AMA (short for "Ask Me Anything")Class Discussion
Introduce Yourself with a Short Professional BioSmall Group
Ethical Poster DiscussionClass Discussion

For the assignments that I have given since we went over the logs in my Writing and Digital Media course, I have been including a note that tells them how their work counts with the assignment. The multimodal dig assignment, for example, ended with a note about the end of the grace period and this sentence: “This activity is graded Pass/Fail and counts as part of your participation grade as a class discussion.”

So is it working? It’s still too early to tell. The Technical Writing students have only had their logs for a week, and the Writing and Digital Media students for a few days beyond a week. Their response in the face-to-face class to the logs seemed positive. The most positive sign for me, however, happened after a small group discussion of students’ design journals in the Writing and Digital Media class. As I was circulating among the groups, I overheard one of the students reminding the others in her group: “Don’t forget to add this to your log.” I’ll take that as enough of a success for now.

How do you encourage participation in your classes? What strategies do you use to track how students participate? I would love to hear from you in a comment!



Source: Cropped from Soulforce at Gordon College - PDR by Zach Alexander, on Flickr, used under CC-BY 2.0 license

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.