Assessing Classroom Participation

Today, I want to reveal my thoughts on assessing classroom participation, the topic of a #keltchat way back in May.

Looking at the rubric provided prior to the chat, I was pleasantly surprised that I agreed with most of it.  Let’s break it down a bit and see how it would apply to my own situation.  In my case, I’m a university English teacher in Japan so although the context would be slightly different in my case, the educational and cultural millieu is pretty similar in a lot of ways; the students come from a homogenous culture that is western-leaning in terms of outlook, they have a Confucious-style educational background, and limited exposure to native English speakers in their home country.

Here’s the first part of the rubric: This is the minimum expected by the teacher-


I teach quite a variety of classes in a normal week.  I have 5 Oral Communication classes once per week, 2 of which are with English majors and the other 3 are with non-English majors.  The other classes I have deal with current issues, writing, and academic discussions.  I think the first part of the rubric could apply to any of these classes and covers basic expectations for any student in a class that requires a minimum level of involvement.  I would classify this part of the rubric as the “being there” rubric and pretty much all of my students should be able to achieve this without a problem.  Would I adopt it for my own classes?  Yes!  It looks fine.



The next part of the rubric covers “extras” and I would agree with most of it.

On the left hand side, we have “contribution to class atmosphere” and in any communication-oriented class, this is a pretty big deal.  For the most part, I agree with the intentions behind putting this on a rubric but I would be hesitant to formally delineate this stuff for determining real scores in my own classes.

I would be ecstatic with students who did the first four points (asking and answering questions, saying if you don’t understand, volunteering, and helping people).  I’m not sure whether feedback refers to feedback with students or to the teacher and I would be worried about the “kindly” part unless I’ve specifically taught pragmatics.  Sometimes students can unintentionally come across as rude even when it’s not their intention.  In the next point, “Starting activities and continuing to the end”, I would mostly agree here too but I’m not sure I would formalize this into a rubric.  Some of my students finish classroom tasks quickly but earnestly and then use the extra time to relax.  If that’s a reward in itself for putting in effort, then I would think twice about removing the incentive students have for putting in that extra effort.

The next point deals with leaving problems outside of the classroom.  I think this can be pretty difficult for most people.  I’m always a little unhappy that someone would present themselves in class with hangovers, personal problems, drama, etc.  At the same time, I’m kind of impressed that they made the effort to come to class anyways.  I’m not sure I would put this on a rubric but if it was a repeated issue from the same student, I might refer them to counseling rather than deny them extra marks on participation.

Smiling is great and I’m happy when students come to class with a positive attitude.  On the other hand, I would be hesitant to put this on a rubric for a number of reasons.  The first one being that some students find it hard to smile either because they are really shy or are dealing with some serious stuff in their lives outside of the classroom. Peer pressure might also be at play here – no one wants to be seen as the teacher’s pet.  If the majority of my students aren’t smiling at some point in the class, then I would tend to think that I’m doing something wrong.  If one or two students aren’t smiling then I’m prone to believe there is a larger issue at work that has little to do with the class and more to do with the student’s life.

On the right hand side of the rubric, there’s a section for “Learning” and things start to break down here for me.

The first two points deals with using English even when it’s not necessary and refraining from using native language.  In my own case, I allow students to use Japanese to help explain a point to their friend if they don’t understand instructions.  I also have some activities in my class that involve working “with” English to construct something (a poster, a pair presentation, etc.) and this necessarily involves some amount of Japanese for the students to get going with.  I also find that encouraging students to speak only in English in class at all times often results in a silent classroom.  I also occasionally slip into Japanese in class in order to save time (and frustration) when dealing with lower-level learners so I find it hypocritical for me to expect students to do everything in English.

I’m not really clear on the last two points, which are setting and achieving goals and taking notes.  In my own case, I suppose a goal would be to achieve a certain score on a class test or be able to carry on an English conversation for X amount of minutes.  I’ve never thought about this before but I guess it could be really helpful to ask my students to write down their goals at the start of the semester.  I think this could be a really effective teaching tool. However, I would never expect my non-English majors to do this. They are thrown into the class without any real say in the matter and I’m keenly aware that their goals are to get their credits in order to graduate.  That is totally fine with me.

Insofar as taking notes, I would include this in my rubric if I took the time to explain to students how to take notes and then took the trouble and time of looking at them throughout the semester.  However, I’m worried that even then, my students would just be taking notes to improve their score rather than see the point of using them as a reference outside of class.  I’m not sure I would include this in a rubric in one of my classes.



Finally, we have the Bonus Points section and this is marked as very important.  I’m guessing that this is a way for students who are struggling to get the participation points they need to pass the class.  I think this is a really good idea and a nice safety catch for students who need to make up points for whatever reason.  I would include this in my rubric as I’ve had a few students come up to me in the past and say, “What can I do to pass this class?”  This is a really nice way of formalizing those things.

In conclusion, I think I could easily adapt most of these points for my own participation rubric in my Oral Communication classes.  They provide a basic framework for both reinforcing and incentivizing teacher expectations that make any “active” classroom work smoothly.  Except for a few small points, I would agree with most of the things on here.  I especially like the fact that it appears to empower the students (as in the last part) rather than work to enforce any kind of “mandatory happiness”.  It is also practical enough for any teacher to adapt – even in larger classes.  When I first started teaching, I would only account for participation by giving each student a point when they raised their hand in class.  It was time consuming and created book-keeping and thinking back on it, was not even an accurate or fair way of assessing overall class involvement.  If I had this used this rubric in my classes then, it would have saved time and frustration.