Why is Participation Graded?

Why is participation graded? Should this be factored into a student’s grade? Does grading class participation penalize shy students? Should good listening be valued equally?

These are all questions that are commonly asked when discussing the idea of graded participation. Through my education I have experienced an array of methods in which participation has been graded varying from a grade based solely based on attending class, interacting at least once, speaking a specific number of times in a discussion, drawing popsicle sticks with names on them in order to call students out, and the list goes on.

When I have a relevant thought or constructive points to add to a discussion, I have always enjoyed speaking in class as I believe that this challenges my understanding of a concept and furthers the discussion with my classmates. In cases where my participation was graded quantitatively, I found myself speaking for the sake of my required responses and not because I had a genuine thought to share with the class. In these instances, I have often experienced classmates fighting to speak and consequently seeing the discussion deflect to irrelevant topics as each student was trying to get his/her X number of responses in before the end of class.

Interestingly, the American Historical Association states that 60% of students believe that graded participation does not give them an incentive to participate more in class. I was shocked by this statistic as I assumed that through incentivizing one’s grade, students would participate more. This led me to recall a conversation that I was having with a friend recently. She mentioned to me that even if she knew the answer to a question asked in a lecture or if she had something to contribute to the class discussion, she would always spend the entirety of the class contemplating whether or not she should share before deciding it was best to remain silent due to the fear of speaking up in class. And in cases where participation was graded, she would choose to let this portion of her grade suffer. This made me sad as I’m sure her thoughts would have been extremely beneficial to the class discussion. And in these cases, teachers should strive to encourage participation and create an open environment where student’s will not be judged for sharing, even if their answer is not correct.


The following statement was published in an article titled “Why Class Participation Shouldn’t Be Graded,”

Each student is unique in a beautiful way, possessing different strengths and weaknesses. Some are artistic, others are strong mathematically, several have a passion for writing. Because of this fact, different students learn differently. While some may learn by promptly answering the teacher’s question, sorting out their thoughts aloud with ease and comfort, others may learn just as well by listening to their peers and teacher speak. These students should not be punished for learning the way they do, and when teachers grade class participation, that is exactly what they are doing.

I couldn’t have said it better myself and don’t believe that a student should be penalized for being active listeners and absorbing the information in a class discussion opposed to being outspoken. This differs tremendously from not paying attention and being disengaged from the class material. Each student deserves to feel comfortable and valued within a classroom and while it is essential that there is participation in class discussions, I believe there is a fine line between this open environment and one that is overly structured.

It is also important that teachers note WHY they are grading participation. If it is a course based on analyzing literature, it may be imperative that students read and come prepared to talk through challenging topics each day. Or in a science class a teacher may need help with finding out where there are “holes” in the student’s understanding of a concept. But at the end of the day, learning requires that students have different answers, interpretations, and ask questions when they are confused. By offering options for participating and stating why it is essential (and maybe even offering other graded opportunities for students who are reluctant to speak in front of the class), teachers are building a welcoming learning environment and one that students will be encouraged to participate in.

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2 Responses to Why is Participation Graded?

  1. leighahall says:

    This is why I give a flat amount of points for being present in class. You only lose points if you come late/leave early. Participation is subjective. You can be actively paying attention and learning but quiet. Some days you can have more to say than others. And the last thing I want anyone (you or me) to be doing is counting how many times hands get raised and people speak. Yuck. That is counter productive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • madisongoers1 says:

      It does sound like a hassle. Your thoughts on participation, gamification, and the structure of our course have really made me consider how participation grades can be counter productive to student engagement and learning. Thank you for highlighting these points and emphasizing how grades, if placed at too high of a priority, can become more of an incentive than the actual learning.


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