A part of the assessment of almost any class is “attendance and participation,” or similar wording, referring, in general, to how often the student attended class and how he or she behaved while in class.
The relative importance of attendance and participation depends mostly on the level and skill being taught in the class. Again, generally speaking, beginning classes are weighted more heavily on attendance and participation than higher level classes, which tend to be more concerned about the quality of the work produced than the effort made in showing up and taking part in the learning process. Also classes more related to skills, such as use of foreign language and musical instruments, tend to weigh attendance and participation more heavily because of the dependence on regular and consistent practice for progress to be made in the skill. Rationale for an attendance and participation grade is relatively easily understood; less clear, however, is how to actually grade attendance and participation.
To begin, the “attendance” portion is more objective: how often did the student come? It is relatively easy to decide at how many missed days should be allowed before the grade is adversely affected. However, there are even some concerns here in this objective measure, with having to consider student missed classes in light of severe illnesses, hospitalization, needed visits to doctors or government offices, etc. However, these are still are relatively easy to measure and make grading decisions on: for example, I will not count Michelle’s three missed classes due to hospitalization, but I will count Tom’s two missed classes because his car broke down, and so forth.
Where matters get more difficult is deciding on the “participation” portion, which is more subjective. What is “good” participation, and what is “average” or “poor”? Where is the dividing line between the three?
However, even with these concerns, there are still some methods for rating participation in a relatively objective matter.
6 Simple Ways to Address the Attendance and Participation Grade
Define Explicitly. Teach the Term “Attendance and Participation.” Give Examples
Students may be unsure of what “attendance and participation” mean, exactly, especially since they are often used in close conjunction or interchangeably, when actually the behaviors connected with the two terms are distinct: many students attend regularly, for example, but actually don’t participate much or even at all. And what does “participation” mean, exactly? Again, a student may rarely attend a class but when there participate actively. What behaviors you see associated with “participation” are also subjective: listening to others, volunteering your own answers, establishing strong peer relationships and working in groups, taking on leadership roles, doing the assignments while in class and out of class. Any of these may be called “participation,” so it is important to give definitions, measures, and examples for both terms.
Define Your Use of Terms in Your Syllabus
In addition to the subjective nature to the term “participation,” there are actually individual meanings for both terms: “good attendance” for one teacher may be “average attendance” for another. What is your specific boundary between the two? How do you define “participation”? Speaking up in class? Listening well? Taking a leadership role? Understanding the importance of taking notes? What are some things students should NOT do to meet a standard of participation? This is another place where the definition is individual: one teacher may consider turning off all cell phones and electronic devices before class begins as a necessary part of “good participation”; another teacher may not have that standard. These uses of the term “attendance and participation” should be clearly defined in the syllabus so that students know to what standards they are held accountable from the start.
Walk Around. Take Notes on Participation
Observe students as they interact in groups or pairs and take notes. Who always leads the group discussion? Who seems more concerned with checking text messages than participation? Who offers comments but doesn’t seem to listen to peers? All of these observations are potentially valuable for gaining insight into the participation of individual students as well as the class as a whole. If most students in the class appear to be disengaged from participation and more interested in updating their facebook pages, then more instruction on good group participation is need. The observation and notes can also be used in recording points or other measures for the attendance/participation grade.
Debrief the Class on Participation
After a group discussion, debrief the class as a whole on their participation, what was working well and not so well: for example, a lot of discussion going on, which is good—students are willing to speak out—but also more listening and responding to one’s peers is needed as well to move a discussion forward.
Give Individual Progress Reports with Notes
Because it is a subjective measure, students should be given regular updates as to their progress in attendance/participation. If repeated tardiness is bringing down a student’s grade, for example, she should be aware of that fact before she sees the grade on her transcript. Sometimes students are unaware, or claim to be, that being on time to class and prepared is a part of their attendance/participation grade. A progress report can inform, or remind students of expectations before their grade is permanently affected. The progress report can also be part of the overall assessment.
Conference with Students
Besides the written report, a face-to-face meeting with the instructor, if possible, regarding a student’s grade in general and attendance and participation, specifically, can be very valuable feedback. Does the student listen well in groups but should speak out more? Does the student really need to attend more or put away electronics while in class? These are some attendance and participation concerns that can perhaps be most effectively, with most impact, addressed in an individual conference with the instructor. In addition, actually attending the conference and listening is itself revealing of student’s attitude toward the class and can be counted into the grade.
Attendance and participation can be difficult to grade because it is a vague term, not an objective measure clearly tied to performance, and its definition can vary from instructor to instructor. However, some methods such as defining the term as it will be used in class, putting the definition in writing, observing and recording student participation throughout the term, as well as giving updates on progress in writing and face-to-face, can create standards for the attendance/participation grade.