Got participation?

End of first marking period sparks discussion over participation grades

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Got participation?

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Corinne Flaherty and Lauren Greenspan

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As the first marking period comes to a close and grades are being finalized, one grade may stand out to students checking Genesis: participation. A key component to any Social Studies, English or Foreign Language class, participation is important to both the teacher and the student.

Unlike a multiple choice test, participation is far from streamlined. Every teacher has different policies and ideas. But what really is participation?

“I would say rather than speaking, it’s engagement,” said History Teacher Brett Curtis. To him, taking notes, being involved in lessons and working independently are all factors, aside from speaking in class, that contribute to one’s participation.

When it comes to defining participation, engagement is a common theme among teachers. “It’s mostly speaking in class, but also engagement, looking at other students when they’re talking,” said AP Psychology Teacher Robert Ebert. “Learning shouldn’t just be coming from me, but it should be coming from engaging with others and learning from them too.”

Teachers also agree a benefit of participation is that it will often lead to later success in the class. “I think participation is so important because I’ve found that the more actively students participate in class, the more engaged they tend to be in what we’re doing, which translates into a deeper understanding of the material,” said Spanish Teacher Bonnie Underwood.

‘I think [participation] does not accurately reflect your grade because sometimes you work hard even if you don’t want to speak in a class’”

— anonymous WHS sophomore

But do students feel the same way?

“I think participation should have weight in our grades, as it shows we are [understanding] the material,” said senior Sophia Morales. “Especially in classes that are revolved around discussions, participation should have a lot of importance, perhaps even more than quizzes.”

However, other students feel that their verbal contributions do not always reflect their understanding of the material.

“I think it does not accurately reflect your grade because sometimes you work hard, even if you don’t want to speak in a class,” said an anonymous sophomore. 

To overcome the potential challenges that may accompany grading and measuring a student’s participation, the teachers have developed their own strategies. Some teachers write daily comments to themselves, others tally each time a student speaks in class, and many just take mental notes throughout their classes.

Yet, most students, although acknowledging the importance of participation, still feel that there’s room for improvement in the way it’s measured.

“I think participation is very important as it demonstrates the student’s understanding of the materials,” said sophomore Hailey Stogner. “But it is not fair that it counts for so much of each student’s grade since certain people are not comfortable participating, so their grade suffers because they are shy, not because they don’t know the material.”

An anonymous freshman echoed Stogner’s opinion: “[Participation] is not always fair because you can’t control if a teacher calls on you or not, so then you’re not going to get participation points.”

Another aspect that is taken into account when grading student participation is the class’s difficulty. Whether it is a college prep, honors or AP course, the extent of the participation grade—and how it is graded—should reflect the level.

“The kind of participation that I would expect and encourage in honors classes is going to be different from the college prep courses I teach and it will also differ from grade level to grade level,” said English Teacher Nicole Scimone.

It’s important to note the sensitivity regarding participation grades within WHS. After contacting 19 teachers, only five gave responses. While some teachers were busy, others were uncomfortable sharing their policies on this topic. In addition, some students were also hesitant to share their opinions regarding participation.

Overall, despite its difficulty to assess, participation is a central part of both the classroom and the learning environment at WHS.