hat counts for participation isn’t always addressed when we talk with students about the importance of participation. It’s easy to assume that everybody knows what’s involved—but is that a safe assumption?
When considering what qualifies as participation, some behaviors come to mind quickly—asking questions, answering questions, and making comments. But are those the only options? Maybe interaction in our courses would improve if we broadened the definition and considered some alternatives.
The behaviors that most often count as participation relate to verbal communication—what students say. And we all know that some students, close to 50% according to most studies, are very reluctant to say anything. With broader, more inclusive definitions, we might make it easier for shy, fearful, and reticent students to learn how to answer confidently when they are called on and how to speak up in a discussion when they have something of value to contribute.
Moreover, classroom interaction does involve more than speaking. What would speaking be if no one listened? Can contributions be made to a teacher-student exchange or discussion after the fact? Are there ways to support the learning efforts of others in a course that might count as participation?
Here’s a list of familiar and not-so-familiar behaviors to consider when crafting a definition for participation and identifying what behaviors count.
- Asking questions
- Answering questions
- Sharing opinions (preferably those informed by the reading or course content)
- Making comments (preferably ones that refer to something in the reading or content covered in this class or one take previously)
- Sharing a relevant experience
- Following up with a further question or comment after the professor has responded to what you said initially
- Responding to something said by another student
- Answering another student’s question
- Constructively disagreeing with an idea (something that appears in the reading or that someone else expressed)
- Attentive listening; looking at the person who’s talking, nodding, smiling
- Sharing via email or on the course website something you wanted to say in class or a question you didn’t get to ask
- Talking to a classmate about something they said in class; verbally after class, online, or in a tweet or on Facebook
- Actively participating when working in small groups with other students
- Putting work on the board or otherwise sharing and explaining solutions to problems
- Taking notes during a class discussion and posting them on the course website
- Preparing and posting study questions for the rest of the class
- Preparing a short summary of the material presented in lecture and sharing it on the course website
- Coming to office hours for help or to discuss course material