Question of the Week: Should Teachers Base Grades on Classroom Participation?


student paricipation1 Question of the Week: Should Teachers Base Grades on Classroom Participation?

Lately, I’ve been flooded with e-mails from readers asking me questions they’d like to see answered on this blog.

So I’m hereby introducing a new feature, the Question of the Week, in which I’ll post the questions I see most frequently, and ask you to answer and discuss them via your comments. There’s such a wealth of insight among this blog’s readers — I want to find ways to pool your collective wisdom.

Then, a little later, I’ll offer my own take on these questions.

So here goes:

Should teachers base grades on classroom participation?

Please offer your thoughts (as well as questions you’d like to see answered in future posts.)  Thanks!

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  1. Mark D. White on 04.04.2011 at 15:05 (Reply)

    I oppose basing grades on class participation-as a professor I respect the choice, preference, or need of each student to learn in his or her own way.

  2. Royan Lee on 04.04.2011 at 15:16 (Reply)

    This is generally a constant hot topic in education. For some of us, the question is less ‘should we’ and more ‘can we’ because many districts base the answer on official policy.

    One thing all teachers should be doing is triangulating assessment and evaluation. This means that students are evaluated based on Product, Conversation, and Observation. As much as possible, we should be getting a balanced view of students, and get away from those ‘does this count on my report card?’ type questions which harm learning.

  3. Lindsay Lennox on 04.04.2011 at 15:19 (Reply)

    In an ideal world, where teachers had time to spend teaching and talking with students, I’d like to see grades determined in part by how well the student can intelligently discuss the material and respond to others’ views (in addition to how well the student can construct and write a coherent argument related to the material, usually tested by essay, and how familiar the student is with the raw factual information required by the subject, usually tested by exam). However, I think it would make sense for students to be able to meet this requirement through participation in classroom discussion OR through 1-to-1′s with the teacher if the student feels that their classroom performance doesn’t reflect their true understanding of the material. It’s also key for teachers to create and police the classroom environment so that it’s a place for reasoned discussion, not a platform for the more assertive students to share their views.

  4. Susan Cain on 04.04.2011 at 15:19 (Reply)

    Royan, official policy? That’s fascinating, I had no idea. Which way do the official policies tend to lean, and for which grade levels?

  5. Kristi on 04.04.2011 at 15:19 (Reply)

    I do have a small percentage of students’ grades as participation points. These are based not only on in-class discussions, but also on small group discussions, online discussions, and even talking to me personally about class topics. As an introvert who rarely spoke up in class, I appreciate that there are various legitimate ways in which students can participate.

  6. monika hardy on 04.04.2011 at 15:30 (Reply)

    gosh Susan.. sorry - i’m not a good one to ask that question.. as i don’t think we should be giving everyone grades.

    if a learner decides they want transcripted grades.. i think they should also help decide how those grades pan out.
    however, today there are so many incredibly authentic ways to monitor learning: portfolio; reputation; how much have you shared - ie: wikipedia/youtube; how much are the people around you doing/learning; what have you actually done; what do the people you did it for think of it; is it awesome; does it matter; etc…

    i mean.. what is participation? what is class? those have both completely changed with the options afforded us.

    1. Susan Cain on 04.04.2011 at 15:48 (Reply)

      @Monika, OK, wow, first of all, thx for your comment. Second — and sorry about this — I now have tons of questions. Like — how common are your views in the world of education? Do most educators feel that the meaning of the words “class” and “participation” are up for grabs? In what ways are students sharing their learning thru wikipedia and youtube? And what does portfolio mean?…Very very interesting.

      1. monika hardy on 07.04.2011 at 00:07 (Reply)

        hey Susan..
        attempts at your questions:

        in the world of education, perhaps not common, but certainly not rare. more people are starting to question the value of being together in a room. and many brilliant people have researched the influence of extrinsic motivation, such as grades, on authentic learning.

        just this year we are experimenting with video logging to expose 3-d and/or tacit knowledge, the potential of response videos to expose innovation, and wikipedia additions and/or edits not only as a pay-it-forward of what a person’s learned, but to test it’s depth by how it stands up through others’ edits.

        what we’re working on to share the options learners have today: - notice in the first section, alternate college admissions, the links to portfolios. - is a great example of real life combos of portfolios and reputation.

        warm regards..

  7. Sheila Stewart on 04.04.2011 at 15:54 (Reply)

    The expectation and/or necessity of classroom participation may vary from subject to subject, or assignment to assignment, as well as grade levels. It may reflect in the student’s performance on something, but I don’t think it should be included as part of the assessment and affect the grade. It could be assessed or reported on separately, if needed.

  8. Julian Wood on 04.04.2011 at 16:07 (Reply)

    I can only base my answer on my experience in Primary education in England (UK).

    We do have ‘summative’ assessment-which is teacher assessment based on class participation.

    Only at the end of key ‘stages’ are we obliged to do ‘formal’ assessment.

    Last year a number of schools boycotted the tests for 11 year olds because of concerns that schools taught to the test.

    Many do because a Primary School is judged on it’s pupils’ success in this ‘one-off’ test!

    My opinion-I think teachers & schools should have the autonomy to use whatever assessment they think is best.

    I truely believe a childs’ grades should be based on collective evidence throughout not on a high pressure end of year test.

  9. sara on 04.04.2011 at 16:08 (Reply)

    I’m a teacher, and I think the answer is “yes” - but that the definition of what participation means should be flexible. I don’t think students can really learn and process material without ever talking to another human being about it - you’re in a void, and not getting the experience of seeing your view come into conflict with someone else, which I think is important for learning how to defend a position, as well as perhaps changing your mind after hearing someone else’s argument. However, I know not all students are super outgoing, so I base participation scores on a variety of activities - participation in large group discussions, small group discussions (3-5 students), office hours, emailing questions or articles of interest, etc.

    I also think that for almost all jobs, some ability to speak publicly is a necessary skill, at least some of the time. So, I don’t just grade students on this skill, I try to actively teach it to them and get them more comfortable with this experience. For some students, it may never be totally comfortable and they may not pursue a career that requires lots of public speaking, but I want them to be able to make a brief presentation or contribute a valuable comment in a larger group when the situation demands it.

  10. Susan on 04.04.2011 at 17:18 (Reply)

    I’m not a teacher, but I am an introvert. And I would have to say “yes” to this question as well — but with a big qualification.

    Teachers should also be teaching about different learning styles, different communication styles and appreciating the differences of your fellow students. These are skills that will last a lifetime — yet they often have to be taught to adults in the workplace because they haven’t learned them before.

  11. Aviva (@grade1) on 04.04.2011 at 17:18 (Reply)

    I agree with Royan here! I also think that we need to look at what participation means. This doesn’t always need to mean “oral participation.” Maybe we have a backchannel (through Edmodo or Twiducate or Today’sMeet) where students can share ideas and show learning through writing and not necessarily oral participation. Maybe this is a case where we need to differentiate and allow students to participate in a way that they feel comfortable. Just my few thoughts for the night …


  12. Melanie on 04.04.2011 at 17:21 (Reply)

    I teach writing - both composition and professional - at the college level and I always require classroom participation, although it’s a small portion of the final grade. Because I’m an extreme introvert myself (90% on the MBTI), as a student I learned that the best way to do this for my own success was to prepare one or two really smart, insightful things to say about the reading/material before class. In a large class, that was usually enough.

    Now that I’m a teacher, I give the class questions to consider when reading the material for the next class, and I start class with a short (5 minute) writing exercise, so hopefully everyone will have been thinking about the material already; I think this could work in courses in all fields. I don’t call on people, but I do try to leave space so that a few don’t dominate the conversation. I think the trick to getting more class participation is to create a cohesive community in the class, where people feel safe speaking up. How exactly to accomplish this is my big quest. Some classes just gel and some never do.

    I agree with Monica, to a certain extent, about grades really being a false indicator. One problem is that students demand them, and often need them for graduate school, internships, jobs, and parents. It’s a tough situation. I think the other problem is simply the number of students we now have and how much time we can thus allot to each one (in reference to 1-on-1 conversations). I have a friend who teaches at the local community college (tenured) and she has 125 students every semester; I have 65 in a writing intensive course (60 pages of final prose each). There simply isn’t time to do ideal evaluations, even though working with them individually is my favorite part of the job. And, unfortunately, I just don’t have the energy for it either.

  13. Carrie on 04.04.2011 at 17:43 (Reply)

    Student engagement and participation is key for my discover and explore based lessons. I try to offer equitable participation options where students can share their learnings and ask great questions. I respect those introverted students who quietly smile at their discoveries and explode with feelings, connections and aha’s through art, journals, writings, texts or quiet hallway conversations. The mark I assign to a subject is reflective of the learning I can measure which may differ from what a child really does know and what they’ve learned. My students are not “A” students or “B” students, they’re students who earn an A or B in a certain subject area. Active classroom participation helps me to see how confident the learner is and makes marking easier and more efficient, but is not necessary. I can work out alternatives in order for students to demonstrate their learning in ways that optimize the lens I look through at them through.

  14. Angie on 04.04.2011 at 18:04 (Reply)

    Why does it always come back to grading? A child should have multiple opportunies to practice skills and communicate their learning without it being graded. I think we need to define what grading means. I think you are asking whether we evaluate class participation. I don’t grade it. I don’t evaluate which means make a final judgment. However, I’m constantly assessing and deciding does the child understand, is the child interacting in large groups, is the child’s comment something that needs to be explored further? These are some of the many thoughts that I consider during large group disucssions. I’m not putting a mark in it, but I am assessing to see what my next steps for instruction are going to be. There is a difference between grading and assessing. Assessments need a purpose, Assessments inform what the teacher is going to do next in their instruction. Putting a level or grade onmclass participation doesn’t help students learn. However, my assessments enable me tp make better choices to support student learning. We also need to ensure what we are assessing is actually from the curriculum. In the oral communication strand in our Language curriculum document it does list expectations that deal with how students listen and respond to others in small and large groups. We are assessing how they listen and respond, not how they “participate”.
    I want to restate Royan’s point about the importance of triangulating data.our assessments need to be a combination of products, observations and observations. Your question implies a teacher would be basing a grade only on a teacher’s observations. Your simply question has many layers. It’s important to peel back the layers you have to define and discuss assessment verse evaluation, group work, curriculum expectations, and methods of assessments.
    My thoughts,


  15. Valerie on 04.04.2011 at 18:28 (Reply)

    I am a teacher and a media specialist (fancy term for school librarian.). When I was taking classes for my Media credential, we were told at the beginning of each class that we were expected to participate in class, both in written work and by speaking out during class time. I really appreciated the “warning.” I was then able to prepare for my participation and was able to participate confidently. If I had not been warned, I wouldn’t have been able to participate well, if at all. As an introvert, I must be able to prepare. No surprises to put me on the spot, thank you very much!

  16. Mary Ann Reilly on 04.04.2011 at 20:17 (Reply)

    I don’t think we should be issuing grades to begin with so in many ways I may not be the most ideal person to answer this. If learners wanted grades, then that should be negotiated between learner(s and teacher(s). So instead of a yes or no to the question, I would ask: who is determining the emphasis (or lack of emphasis) with regard to participation & what constitutes participation?

  17. Julie on 04.04.2011 at 20:26 (Reply)

    I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with teachers who grade based on participation. In high school, I had a Spanish teacher who constantly knocked points off my (high) grade for not participating enough. Even when I started to participate constantly, almost exaggeratedly, in an attempt to stop her from docking me, it was too late-she’d already decided I was “quiet” and didn’t participate enough. I never could have done anything to change her mind.

    I’m an identical twin who shared many classes with my sister from K-12, and there have been times when teachers evaluating me on projects claimed I didn’t participate, when in fact I had-it was my (also introverted) sister who hadn’t, and the teachers couldn’t be bothered to tell us apart.

    I think the point I’m trying to make is that how much participation is enough is subjective, and teachers don’t always measure it accurately, so perhaps they shouldn’t give it much, or any, weight.

    The only exception I can think of would be a (high school or college) class specifically labeled as a seminar that’s discussion-heavy. I had several of those in college and they’re very rewarding, but they require everyone to pull their weight participation-wise. If you know in advance that a seminar course requires discussion and you’re not OK with that, you shouldn’t enroll.

  18. 'Aunt Amelia' on 04.04.2011 at 20:38 (Reply)

    No, not totally.

  19. Catherine on 04.04.2011 at 20:51 (Reply)

    Grading policies in general get me fired up. If a class/school is going to use a standard grading system (I agree with other commenters that this is not the only option), I strongly believe that the grade should reflect the student’s mastery of the subject. And that’s all. It shouldn’t reflect effort. Or even growth. It definitely shouldn’t reflect extra credit from bringing in tissues and dry erase markers. It shouldn’t reflect likability. And in most cases, it shouldn’t reflect participation.

    If a student never speaks in Biology, for example, but earns high marks on her tests and papers, than she’s earned her A. And if a student constantly participates, but bombs tests and papers, than she doesn’t. As others have mentioned, though, participation evaluation makes more sense in some courses. Speech and drama are obvious examples, but I’d say English fits as well (in the state I taught, public speaking and group projects/presentations were part of the curriculum). However, even in those classes, I hope that the teachers are looking for quality not quantity. A student who always seems to be talking but never really adding anything of value doesn’t deserve as much participation credit as someone who adds 2-3 really insightful comments/questions over the course of a marking period. Of course, that would be an objective measurement, but if the teacher is good (and not bogged down with too many bureaucratic responsibilities and/or students), I think she should be able to make that distinction.

  20. Jon Nicholls on 05.04.2011 at 01:40 (Reply)

    I don’t really believe in giving grades as a measure of learning so my answer would be no. That doesn’t mean class participation shouldn’t be rewarded. However, not all students communicate in the same way. I don’t tend to ask students to put their hands up, for example. I prefer direct questioning to take a snapshot of learning and progress. The noisiest kids aren’t always the best measure of what’s being learned by the whole class. Opening up a number of ways to gather feedback seems to me to be best. This might include debate and questioning in class but could also include a class blog for more reflective comments, a Voicethread asynchronous discussion and opportunities for students to respond with a range of creative products. Active listening is also a slightly undervalued ability. Grades tend to create a one dimensional regime for rewarding complex, multi-dimensional learning abilities.

  21. Amy on 05.04.2011 at 04:10 (Reply)

    I think participation is important for most classes and educational experiences. Interacting and trying out one’s ideas is an important part of the learning process. It shouldn’t always be in the ‘stand up in front of the whole class’ style, however. Taking advantage of multimedia and being able to have asynchronous conversations online, etc. adds options, in addition to small group discussions and one-on-one’s.

    I attended Harvard Law School where class participation was not valued at all, at least for the basic level courses for the first year or two (there was blind grading in which grades were based entirely on one or two exams). I felt this was detrimental to the educational experience. I wanted to learn from my classmates; I valued their intelligence and insights and felt that I was somewhat deprived by the lack of encouragement of their contributions.

    In addition, it is an important life skill (and beneficial to pretty much any career) to be able to articulate ones self competently, so participating in a meaningful, succinct way should be encouraged and rewarded in school.

  22. Emily on 05.04.2011 at 06:30 (Reply)

    Like others here I believe there should be some grade that simply reflects mastery of a subject. This is a grade for whether or not they have learned the content and has nothing to do with anything else.

    There should be another grade, however, that reflects professional qualities we want to develop in students. This includes issues of lateness, attendance, interactions with other students, homework and effort, and yes, class participation. We may broaden our notions of class participation (online participation has been wonderful for me as a college professor for seeing the participation of students who would never speak in a large class - also small group participation or paired work) but I think we want that in some category. This grade reflects other qualities we care about but we need to separate it out from content mastery. Colleges would be able to see - wow this is a smart kid but they have never been able to get to class on time. Some schools have started to do this and I think it feels more authentic to students.

    I also agree with MaryAnn - I think grades should be negotiated - in fact the entire assessment system should be negotiated with students. I do this with my undergrads and grad students - we talk co-construct the criteria for assessment which gives them greater ownership over the system.

  23. Elizabeth Ditty on 05.04.2011 at 07:00 (Reply)

    While introverts may struggle with classroom participation, it is a skill that should be learned — the ability to critically process information and engage in a discussion with peers. Introverts are often quite insightful for the reason that they do prefer to process internally before speaking, and this is why it’s incredibly valuable to learn how to share those insights with others.

    Just because something is difficult or doesn’t come naturally for a student doesn’t mean there’s not value in learning it. For example, extroverted children must learn how to sit quietly, listen to their peers, engage in individual critical analysis, develop solid study habits, etc.

    As an introvert, I always hated seeing classroom participation as part of the grading process, but I’m glad it was there because it helped me learn how to move past my discomfort and engage my peers in discussion.

    In a perfect world with small class sizes, teachers would be able to give each student the individual attention he or she needs to develop weak areas. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, for whatever reason, which perhaps points to an even greater need for introverted children to learn how to speak up when they need help.

  24. Toni on 05.04.2011 at 08:48 (Reply)

    “Participation” should be defined. As a veteran teacher, I know that the learning process is a participatory effort, not a passive one. Therefore, a sensitive teacher will encourage every student to participate according to his style, inclination, and level of enthusiasm for the class. In fact, I would go so far as to expect and demand SOME kind of participation. Class activities should be structured such that they allow students to have a choice of the mode participation. This will permit even the quietest and shyest of students to access the curriculum.

  25. L.H. on 05.04.2011 at 09:07 (Reply)

    I do not believe that grading should be based on an inborn, genetically determined trait. Personality temperament is not something anyone has the right to judge and let’s face it, by grading class participation, we are judging someone. That does not meant that teachers shouldn’t appropriately try to help the introverted student feel more comfortable participating and emotionally educated teachers know the best way to do so is to give the student fair warning and to never put them on the spot. This is a hot button for me as my introverted child has been labeled by his teachers and repeatedly has comments of “shy” and “needs to contribute more” written on his report card. What message does this send? That he’s not accepted and perfectly okay as he is? He is bright, well behaved, responsible, respectful, a good friend and an ideal student. Isn’t being a deep thinker, thinker, thoughtful listener and responsible citizen something that should be graded? The kids who talk simply for the sake of talking are the ones who are seen as leaders and who are constantly praised and recognized. I honor and value the quiet, thoughtful introverts of the world and wish that those (teachers) who had the power to reinforce and celebrate them, would too. I think if they new the potential damage caused to a students self esteem by constantly sending the message that “you aren’t okay just as you are”, that they just might do things differently.

  26. Mark on 05.04.2011 at 09:26 (Reply)

    Foremost, I think teachers — at any level — are a truly undervalued resource.

    To the question, I was a painfully shy kid in a family that moved and moved and moved. By the time I was 16, we lived in 11 places. The combination of those to things combined to make me one of the quietest kids, in the most far away corner of a classroom, you would ever find.

    There is no way a teacher could be, or should be, accountable for that.

    The trend continued in my undergrad days — I went the first day, and if attendance was required, dropped the class.

    It was not until I got my MBA that I truly began to appreciate the interactive ways an education could blossom.

    As always Susan, a great column! Thanks

  27. Jlynn on 05.04.2011 at 10:20 (Reply)

    Participant is important at all age levels- introvert or extrovert. Classroom participation comes in many forms. Thinking that a student has to participate in front of a full classroom of students looking at this is scary and we have moved way beyond this in all aspects of communication.

    I think the key to meeting the needs and abilities of all students is to integrate many different options for participating. A few examples. Small group work and then reporting back to a larger group. Reporting back the groups ideas is often easier then stating directly a personal idea. Also, with the use of technology we can provide students the opportunity to ask questions and respond to peers online.

    Other ideas, have each student come to class with a note card asking a question about the material to be discussed. This is still participation and then a teacher can choose questions without stating the students name to engage students in larger and small group discussions.

    Even simply things like going around the room and giving each person a chance to participate. Something to brake the ice as simple as last song you listened to, favorite animal or color, etc.

    Participation and interaction with peers is critically important and children and adults of all ages excel using different modes to communicate. Like this blog, this post is a form of participation!

  28. Rachael on 05.04.2011 at 11:32 (Reply)

    At the university level, I think there should be a participation mark. But while I do encourage students to participate by speaking in class (and try to suggest strategies and discuss my own reticence about public speaking), I have also based a participation mark based on participation in my office. I think public speaking should be emphasized and facilitated, but for some students it just won’t work. I like to stress that participation can be silent (every lecturer loves an engaged listener) and that some talking isn’t all that valuable (when it isn’t, for instance, informed by actually doing the course work!).

  29. Jodie Valpied on 09.04.2011 at 01:36 (Reply)

    Great question! I believe that if meaningful collaboration forms part of the learning process, there should be no need to mark students directly on their participation. If students haven’t “participated” (in whatever way is best suited to their personality), it will show in the other work they produce.

    As a consultant and researcher in introversion, and a former teacher, I come across this issue time and time again. My personal experience also influences my view on this.

    Here are two contrasting personal examples which I think demonstrate my thoughts above.

    While completing my PhD, I am undertaking some additional business subjects. The first of these is based in my University’s postgraduate business school, and focuses on business strategy. The business school’s policy is to base a large percentage of each mark on class participation (around 20%+ of each subject grade). Because of this, students in my class seem constantly on edge to make comments during class, regardless of quality, and it is difficult for more introverted students to get a word in edgeways. The teacher makes an effort to give everyone a chance to contribute, however the more extroverted students often interrupt, and a lot of learning time is wasted trying to bring discussions back on track. As an introvert, I reflect deeply on what has been taught, and like to digest the subject matter a little before offering any thoughts or opinions. Often this reflection occurs during my drive home, rather than during class - however my teacher would not be aware of this. I frequently end up discussing the concepts learnt with family members and friends who have their own businesses. This way of learning is far valuable for me personally, than offering comments in class before I have had a chance to fully digest and understand the content. For the more extroverted students, making comments during class is an aid to learning, and this is also important. However, when being marked for these comments, the extroverted students seem to focus more on having their say than on the actual content of the class. Meanwhile the introverted students are less likely to speak up, as they feel under pressure (one of the best ways to make an introvert “freeze up”). This compromises the quality of learning for both personality styles!

    My other class is conducted by the University’s writing centre, and focuses on helping PhD students write commercially for the general public. The assessment is based entirely on the writing we produce, however it would be impossible to create this writing without “class participation”. However, in this context, “class participation” would be better described as collaboration. The subject is extremely practical, and runs more like an intensive workshop. Here is a description of the typical way the classes run…

    During our first class, after an introduction to the topic from our lecturer, we were each asked to write down some key points about our research. We were given plenty of time to do so. We each then stood up in front of the small class to share these points (we had plenty of time to prepare and it was all very relaxed). From these points, class members were encouraged to identify aspects of their fellow students’ research that would be of interest to the general public. A scribe was nominated to record these ideas. The relaxed nature of the session, and quiet encouragement from the lecturer, encouraged much discussion, and we each ended up with some great writing ideas. From there we received a short presentation on writing letters to the editor, and were given half an hour to draft a letter related to our research. We swapped our drafts to receive feedback from another student. Each student then read their draft aloud to the rest of the class, and received further feedback and ideas (both from the lecturer and the students). By the end of the class, we had prepared a letter we could submit to The Age (a prestigious Australian newspaper). This was just the first step. We have now progressed through a series of classes to develop our initial ideas into practical writing of increasing complexity – from opinion pieces through to a book proposal. We will be marked on this writing (although the main aim is to give us feedback so that we can go on to use and publish what we have written). We also have a guest speaker each week, and have the opportunity to bring any questions we may have to a relaxed discussion with this speaker.

    The reason I have given such a detailed description of this class is that it demonstrates a constructive and purposeful use of class participation. In this subject there is no pressure to contribute to class discussions, however even the most introverted students do contribute. It is a wonderful, quietly collaborative environment. Our marks aren’t directly based on class participation, however this participation is reflected in the quality of writing produced. Class discussion and collaboration is balanced by plenty of time for solitary reflection and concentration. I have made some fabulous new connections in this class (most of them fellow introverts) and it has been one of the most valuable subjects I have ever undertaken.

    I would love to see more university classes (and assessment) based on this model, and believe it is an excellent way of teaching elementary and secondary school students as well.

  30. [...] week’s post, on whether teachers should base grades on class participation, generated a huge reaction, which I’ll soon post [...]

  31. Will on 19.04.2011 at 01:56 (Reply)

    Forcing students to talk in class is a waste of time better spent teaching relevant information unless the subject of the class is learning how to talk to each other. Listening to people forced to say something or they’ll be punished is not why I take a class at a college, I pay this person for information and absolutely nothing else, or if it’s compulsory others do. I see grading at all based on class participation as a sign of a low quality teacher with a dogmatic attitude about how people learn best, which tends to impede the learning process. It’s incapable of determining the actual comprehension of the students or how hard they study but rather who can think of something else to say within some narrow period of time and will indicate they understand the material.

    There is absolutely nothing that can be spoken which cannot likewise be written, as text is merely symbolic speech with the advantage that a group of people could display their knowledge of a subject simultaneously. This is obviously a far better use of time that’s extremely expensive to the students and/or their parents and is the only respectful way to try to evaluate the knowledge of people in a group. If people would like to have a conversation on the subject in class this is very helpful if they have something significant to ask or contribute. Forcing people who don’t feel comfortable talking to a group of essentially random people for a grade amounts to judging people based on an extremely limited amount of information which hardly reflects the depth of their overall knowledge but reflects mostly their willingness to speak in a group.

    What ultimately results in a comprehensive understanding of any topic is good access to well written well informed text and access to a knowledgeable person capable of articulating the subject in an elegant way. Speaking skills are a relevant form of evaluation for a teacher exclusively because that is what is required of a person in their paid position. I do think teachers should be evaluated perhaps on the quality of their speech skills by their students so that it could be better determined which to replace as this is far more likely to limit the progress of their students than a lack of group participation. If a person learns best on their own what business is it of anyone else to persecute them for not jumping through hoops imposed upon them by an essentially flawed instructor? There is absolutely nothing limiting a person from participating in a classroom if that aids their understanding and this should be encouraged, but to make that mandatory practically ensures that people will interrupt class with nothing very profound to say against their own will.

    It’s a slight as well to any schizoid or schizophrenic who often display profound intelligence while having a limited capacity to easily communicate such ideas due to extreme anxiety or anyone really with anxiety in groups, which is quite common. All this does is add unnecessary stress to certain students when merely taking the time to learn the material is stressful enough as it is, I don’t see at all how this improves rather than subtracts from the quality of education a person receives. It imposes a certain style of behavior on people which to me is insulting to my personality, which is outside the curriculum and ignores the fact that what goes on inside every persons head is very different due to variations in all species and no one has a right to tell others how they learn best. It amounts to grading based upon the dominance of specific brain lobes with partially specialized functions when what’s significant is the overall cognizance of the whole regardless of their willingness to express ideas verbally.

    1. Althea Wilson on 16.03.2012 at 20:17 (Reply)

      No. I was the introvert from K-12 and as a college freshman. Then, years later, I started taking courses here and there. I let the professors hear my voice through written assignments. Eventually, I became more couragous and started participating. I even began asking for help among my co-workers and lo and behold, I earned some really good grades.

      My family assumed I was just simply dumb and expected nothing from me, intellectually. I realized, much later, like 30 years, that I lacked discipline, would easily lose focus and start daydreaming/classdreaming, whatever. It still happens today, at 57; during staff meetings, church, even during conversations. What didn’t know then, was that once I became aware of my wanderings, I could bring myself back. All those years wasted. Nobody noticed I wasn’t mentally there.

      Oh, also, after all those years, I was asked to speak to at a women’s gathering, but I couldn’t compose a speech for the life of me. I had plenty of time to prepare, but I could expound on the topic. My que cards consisted of one or two words. Once I began talking, people began laughing, nodding their heads and smiling during my speech; they complimented me and shared their stories.

      In retrospect, maybe this was the way my life was supposed to be. Next, perhaps Dale Carnegie.

  32. L.H. on 03.05.2011 at 07:54 (Reply)

    Wow, what great discussion. Susan, I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

  33. Danielle Gauthier on 09.05.2011 at 11:57 (Reply)

    Dear Susan:

    If a child is afflicted with stuttering, is he or she automatically graded with an F (as in failure) because of his ailment? Are his or her efforts disregarded or are they taken into consideration when being graded?

    Think of the humiliation this child will be going through in front of the class. Needless to say, he or she will be taunted mercilessly and not just in the classroom.

    Public speaking comes much easier to the extrovert than the introvert. I’d love to know what the child is graded on.

    I’d love to get your thoughts on this one.

    Although I don’t suffer from stuttering, I remember being mercilessly taunted in front of the class by a teacher (a nun to be exact)for two years in a row in high school. She would make fun of me because I could not answer her questions in front of the class. What she did not know was that panic makes my mind go blank. Her taunting just set me up day after day for two very long and miserable years.

    The only thing that solved my public speaking problems was the Dale Carnegie Public Speaking Course I took in my early twenties. It was the best course I’ve ever taken and a great deal of fun because we were constantly congratulated for our efforts. We all supported and congratulated each other no matter how small the effort. We learned to use our panic as “gasoline in our tank” and to talk about those things that we love. If you are in love with your subject matter, once you start talking, there is no stopping you. That’s what the Dale Carnegie Public Speaking Course taught me. It was a God-send.

    Perhaps schools should hire Dale Carnegie Public Speaking instructors to teach the subject matter instead of their regular teachers. Regular teachers do not possess the knowledge nor have the proper understanding and empathy to teach public speaking. They should put this subject in the hands of professionals who understand not only the subject matter but also the psychology required to foster the students’ efforts and bring out the best in them.


    1. Susan Cain on 09.05.2011 at 20:24 (Reply)

      Danielle, I couldn’t agree more about needing public speaking teachers who understand the psychology of teaching such a sensitive subject.

  34. L.H. on 09.05.2011 at 21:33 (Reply)

    Susan, I would love to hear your “own take” on this when you have the chance. Thanks!

    1. Susan Cain on 09.05.2011 at 21:35 (Reply)

      Thank you for reminding me, L.H.! It’s a busy time because I’m on deadline right now, but I promise to do this.

  35. Danielle Gauthier on 10.05.2011 at 06:39 (Reply)

    I totally agree with Will, He spoke my mind so eloquently. Thank you.


  36. L.H. on 12.07.2011 at 09:38 (Reply)

    Susan, your opinion on all this? Will it be in your book (I hope)?

  37. Sheri on 16.03.2012 at 07:12 (Reply)

    I’m an extrovert, but I don’t always feel the need to “speak up” in class. Often times in my graduate classes there would be many people trying to vie for the Professor’s attention by asking questions that most of us already knew the answers. Often it ended up being the same people “interacting” with the teacher, with the teacher not bothering to ask the rest of us for insight. I actually had a class where this was the situation to the extreme. There was really no need for me to jump in. I went to the Professor after the last class and shared with him how much I had learned. He was surprised to “hear me speak”, he said. He gave me a B due to lack of “participation”, even though I made straight A’s on the work assignments, and he never bothered to address me. I was ticked off.

  38. John Barnes on 16.03.2012 at 17:01 (Reply)

    My experience was a bit idiosyncratic; I headed up a “speaking across the curriculum” program for some years, where we were trying to get teachers in all disciplines to use and coach speech as a regular part of the classroom (in the same way writing has been pushed for decades). So I used random questioning; before every class I generated a list of student names in random order, and called on students in that order; when your turn came up, you answered. (Often this meant a student would be called on to defend or expound opinions different from his/her own).

    I would have thought it would be hell for introverts, but in fact the the extraverts clearly suffered more; many of them were used to glibbing their way through and being the first commenter with the obvious answer. Since I would first pose the question, then repeat it, then pause 15 seconds (during which silence was required to allow thinking time) and only then announce the name, the introverts, with their better concentration, often better listening skills, and tendency to come up with second and third thoughts, not only tended to do better in grades, but acquired quite a bit of confidence; because there was a necessity to keep discussion focused, and I therefore had to (gently if possible but definitely) point it out when student answers were actually just vapid restatements of the question or attempts to avoid the question or divert the conversation toward pure personal expression, all of which are ways in which extraverts have learned to talk a lot in class, for some of them it was pretty tough. I received a lot of favorable comments in student evaluations to the effect that the student had talked more in class and enjoyed it more, and that discussion hadn’t seemed like a waste of time; there were a small number of shy students (not the same thing) who just didn’t like it, though some of them seemed to think it was developing their character, perhaps like spiritual broccoli. (My favorite negative comment was from a student who I was told often dominated discussions in other peoples classes: TOO MANY PEOPLE TALKED ABOUT THE READINGS. WE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO READ NOTHING [sic] TO EXPRESS OUR OPINIONS).

  39. Alice E on 16.03.2012 at 23:57 (Reply)

    Grades should be based only on what percentage, of the information presented to the student, was actually retained. (This requires lots of tests and lots of test scores). As a parent, daily work and class participation don’t interest me. I only want to know what my child actually learned.

  40. Amanda H. Bazner on 28.03.2012 at 01:59 (Reply)

    I once faced the dilemma of having a severe leg injury while enrolled in a college class that was held on the second floor of a building. The professor refused to move the class because “she liked the space.” I finally had to get the dean involved. By the time I could physically attend the class, it was over a third of the way into the semester, and the professor made nasty remarks to me in front of the class every day. I complained again to the dean, but it didn’t stop, and eventually the stress of it all became overwhelming. I quit going to the class except for tests and to hand in papers, achieving a 95% average in those. My final grade? I got a B due to “lack of participation.” Because of the participation requirement stated in the course syllabus, despite the obstacles I faced, I wasn’t allowed to challenge the grade.

    I know (or at least I really hope!) that this story is very unusual. But the fact is that teachers are human, and they will have biases against some students and toward some others. Good teachers will do their best to ignore them, of course, but including something as vague as class participation in a grade gives teachers incredible leeway to punish students for any reason they like. I can only be thankful that most of my other professors were more understanding, helping rather than hindering me during those painful and stressful two years.

  41. John Barnes on 28.03.2012 at 09:18 (Reply)

    Amanda, I hope that story is unusual too but suspect it’s less unusual than either of us would like.

    For the sort of humanities subjects I used to teach (and hope to teach again as I’m back on the academic job market again) one of the important goals for the student was to become proficient at talking in a coherent, focused, informed way about a performance, the artists involved, its relation to the performing art, etc. To teach that I certainly required participation, but I also graded it, with some substantial penalties for the kind of discussion-BSing that many students do, and gave direct feedback (for the first month, I would end class 5 minutes early so that students who had participated could, if they liked, come up and get an immediate evaluation, a quick “you did this well” and “you were docked for that”.)

    Using participation as an excuse for “I didn’t want her anyway” strikes me as being the exact equivalent of insisting that the disliked student (and no one else) write an extra-long paper on a too-short deadline, and then taking a penalty for that.

  42. Sara on 12.07.2012 at 10:13 (Reply)

    As a decided introvert, I have always been nervous in classes where participation was counted as part of the grade. In particular, participation based on speaking out made me uncomfortable. Eventually, I developed a strategy of preparing a couple of comments before each class (sometimes just in my head but often jotted down someplace). I would then try to use one of those comments during the discussion where I thought it would fit. If I contributed something once or twice a week, I allowed myself to stop fretting about it and feel that I had done enough participation.

    I think the inclusion of class participation as a component of grading can be appropriate in certain classes. Seminars or other small courses, where the focus is stated to be on discussion, may have class participation counted.

    In larger lecture-style courses, I wouldn’t recommend it unless class participation is broadened to include more than just speech. One of my favorite teachers, who used class participation in a 200+ person lecture, had the entire class text in responses to polls - it was great for me. I could take my time, reason out my answer, and respond. If I was confident in my answer, I could raise my hand after all the responses were in and the professor had requested people to explain their choices. He also considered participation in student-lead forums and online activities.

  43. Larry on 30.11.2012 at 03:29 (Reply)

    I used to be a Math teacher. I decided to make a small percentage of my students’ grade class participation, maybe 5%.

    Much to my surprise, class participation still varied a lot. A few kids became more active. One class, almost everyone always had their hand up to respond.
    I eventually used the mark as a freebie for those who tried, and took it away from problematic kids who interfered with class progress. That was a small number.

    It becomes a problem to manage. One has to teach with a clipboard so you can mark participation actions, so you don’t forget anyone. This was pre-cell phone and computers, which make it a new kind of nightmare.

  44. Chase on 14.03.2014 at 13:20 (Reply)

    “F” for Effort
    You got a good grade, however, you know you just crammed all of your notes into an all-night study session and may have cheated. I think a student’s grades in school should be proportional to their effort because it would make grades completely fair and it would make some students work harder. Doing this would do a lot of good things.
    One of those good things is because grades and grading would become fairer. The student that behaves and tries his hardest would get a higher grade than the student that behaves horribly and ignores every rule but somehow, can study everything the night before and get a 100% on the test. If a student tries his/her hardest but does fairly bad on a test deserves the higher grade because s/he did the best they could ever do but the student who is the worst student in class that doesn’t pay attention during any lesson gets the highest grade in class because they copied other’s work and notes an barely put forth and showed any of their own knowledge.
    Another good thing that would happen if grades were based on effort is the student’s knowledge will improve. The student who tries their hardest yet still does fairly bad will probably think “Hey, I should try to learn more about this subject so my grade doesn’t drop and I can use it later in life.” Also, the student who doesn’t show any effort would think “Hey, my grades are horrible, so maybe if I try harder in class to pay attention, maybe I can get a better grade and not get in trouble at home with my mom about my report card.” If those two things happened it would put a lot of less stress on the teachers and the class wouldn’t be in trouble so much. Making school, in general, a lot better place, which increase students morale, which would make students like school, which would make everyone work harder. So, if effort was proportionally graded, it would cause the first domino to fall over and start a change of great things happening.
    In conclusion, improvement of fairness and effort in schools are both good and accurate reasons why grading in schools should be proportional to the effort a student puts in their work. Doing this could also help slightly improve the students school and home life. So overall I think making these changes would lead to many, many good things.

  45. astha on 19.09.2014 at 04:19 (Reply)

    No. NEVER. I’m a quiet kid. But I am still smart. We kids should have the choice about how WE want to learn. Plus, even if us quiet kids ARE trying to answer, our teachers don’t choose us. I have gone through the experience. I also think it is unfair that teachers are being like,”I like all the children in my class.” but they only like the others. So, no.

  46. astha on 19.09.2014 at 04:26 (Reply)

    Also, I don’t think grading is good. What’s the use of grading?

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Quiet: The Book

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Bill Gates names "The Power of Introverts" one of his all-time favorite TED Talks.

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QUIET has been voted the best nonfiction book of 2012


1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

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