We tend to discuss teaching stuff a fair bit around here, and the other day, the question of "participation" as part of the grade (and also attendance as part of the grade) came up.
So now I'm wondering, do you folks grade "participation"? And if you do, what counts as "participation" for you? And how do you keep track in a meaningful way?
Do you count attendance in your grades?
Me? I don't count either. We're required to tell students our attendance policy, which suggests that the administration here thinks we count attendance as part of the grade. And indeed, since I read syllabi from across campus, I know lots of people do.
I don't, for a couple of reasons (and the same goes for attendance). On the practical side, it's a pain in the rear to keep track of. I mean, do you mark next to someone's name when they say something in class? What if they say something great, and someone else says something really non-contributive, do they count the same? To be honest, I do my best to facilitate discussions and such, but I can't do that even decently and try to keep track of who's saying what or how often.
I also think that what I really want in class is students who try and are cooperative and respectful with me and each other. But grading that is like grading people wiping their rears.
As far as attendance, I hate the gaming of who gets what excuse and why. The school gives official excused absences for music and sports travel, but I think if someone's kid is sick (or heck, if their dog is sick), then they've made a good decision to prioritize the kid over attending class.
The thing is, I rarely have poor participation or poor attendance in my classes. And when someone isn't attending, they usually have something serious happening and their term is screwed up anyway. And if someone doesn't participate, it may mean that they process verbally slowly, and they may write a really thoughtful paper, or come up with something cool for a project, or whatever. The important thing isn't saying something in class, but learning stuff. I do think that most people learn best when they learn in a variety of ways and by hearing other people learning and by trying out ideas and such and being wrong occasionally. For most people, then, being in a room with other people actively learning helps them learn. Of course, being in a private tutorial would likely be even better for some, but it's not financially realistic here.
And, knock on wood, I almost never have had a student be actively non-cooperative in class. I've had students who can't keep their mouths shut, yes, but when I ask people to, say, freewrite, most of them seem to be doing that. And when I ask them to work in groups, I haven't had anyone refuse.
So why make a rule about something that's so rare that it's not a problem?
I DO try to be really conscious every single day I teach of making that time valuable and worthwhile for everyone in the room. I want students to go away every single day glad that they came to class, glad that they learned something, glad that they've had the experience. I don't always succeed.
There may be regional issues. Students here in the midwest are pretty darned polite, and they're likely to be outwardly cooperative and polite, even if they think something's really stupid or irritating. They're likely to come to class because they're self-selected to be here and have been long trained that being in class is important.
Waht do you do? Why?