Assessment: Class Participation

Written by: Dr. Volker Ecke.

Goals: Class Participation

On each and every day, I want my students to be actively engaged in making sense of mathematical investigations. Communicating their ideas with other students in their small group is an important strategy to make sense of the mathematics. Sharing their thinking with the whole class and discussing everybody's ideas can help refine and deepen everybody's reasoning. This aspect of communicating mathematical ideas is a key goal for my class, serving as an integral component to constructing important mathematical ideas in a community of learners.

Take a look at this short clip of two students actively participating in mathematical reasoning in their group (this is about two weeks into the semester):

Among the student goals for our project, I see class participation as an important factor supporting the following goals:

  • Students will strengthen their reasoning skills and become better problem solvers.
  • Students will strengthen their skills in reading, writing, argumentation and speaking.
  • Students will become more self-monitoring, reflective learners and take greater personal responsibility for their learning.
  • Students will approach mathematics more positively and gain a balanced perspective of mathematics.
  • Students will improve their mathematical confidence.

Giving significant weight to the "Class Participation" component of the final grade is one way to communicate the value that I place on active engagement with mathematics, and in communicating mathematical ideas. In fact, the grade for participation in my classes typically forms between 30% and 40% of the final grade.

Communicating Expectations

In order to help students better understand what I am looking for in evaluating their participation grade, I've found it helpful to spell out some specifics in my syllabus:

Participation Grades:

To get an A in the class we expect you to attend regularly, participate positively and meaningfully in your group work and in whole-class discussions, give your best effort in solving the mathematical investigations, be reflective and independently change your perception of doing mathematics if applicable, be prepared for every class, and ask all your questions.

If you attend class regularly and you participate in your group, but if you for instance don’t share your thinking regularly with the whole class, you can only attain a B.

If you attend class regularly and participate in your group, but you don’t participate in whole class discussions. You don’t give your best effort in doing mathematics, and you are not prepared for class you can only attain a C.

If you attend class regularly, but you don’t participate in your group, and you are not prepared for class you can only attain a D.

Not attending class regularly will lead to an F.

Giving Feedback

For our freshman classes, we post the participation grades around the middle of the semester, inviting students to come talk to us if they have questions. If a student is ready to turn their participation around, I agree to give them the grade for the second half of the semester (e.g. if their first semester participation was a D, and their second semester an A, they would get an A.)

In classes for seniors, or in education classes, I ask students around mid-term to self-evaluate their own level of participation in group work, whole class discussion, mathematical investigation, reflection, and willingness to raise questions. Having read through their assessments, I share with them my own assessment of their participation in class. For many students in more advanced classes, these evaluations are fairly close. (This may not work so well with freshmen.) Where needed, I discuss my more detailed observations with the student.

Strategies for Enhancing Participation

  • "I'd like to hear from somebody that we haven't heard from today."
  • Ask a quiet person to be the "spokesperson" for their group.
  • "Jillian had a really good idea about this. Could everybody be really quiet so we can hear Jillian's idea."
  • "There is no whispering in this class. (pause of dead silence) I expect you to talk to each other in normal voices. (laughter)" See this classroom video form our First Day Blog.
  • In my classes for future teachers, I often use an activity I learned from my colleague Judy MacKinnon who has a lot of experience from elementary school to make transparent to students how often they participate in class (or not). This also models a method they can use in their own (future) classes. Every student in the class receives three glass beads (or other little item). When they contribute in whole class discussions, they can drop one of their beads into a little cup that is placed on their table. When they are out of beads, they are done participating. Students who tends to say a lot now need to be strategic about when to contribute their most important thinking, and students who are very quiet notice by the end of class that their whole class participation grade for the day is a zero.