Why I No Longer Give Participation Marks

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photo credit: Julianna Zelt

I stopped giving my students participation grades as soon as I realized that their “participation” in class discussions had almost nothing to do with their engagement with the class material. Some of the smartest and best prepared students were chatty. But others said nothing. Not a peep. All semester. Conversely, some of the worst and least prepared students had a great deal to say in class. There was, I discovered, much to my chagrin, no meaningful relationship between participation and engagement. But there was a meaningful relationship between participation and personality: students who received high participation marks were extroverts (like me), whilst those who received low participation marks were invariably introverts. Alas, I was rewarding extroverted students for being extroverted students, which is manifestly unjust; indeed, it’s not unlike rewarding brown-eyed students for having brown eyes.

A charitable observer—trying to make sense of our educational system’s increasing reliance on participation marks, group work, and classroom presentations—might conclude that we think all of our students are going to end up in sales. A cynical observer might conclude that we’re raising a generation of bullshit artists and snake-oil salesmen. Be that as it may, my classes are just as reliant upon the Socratic method as they ever were. They’re still driven by discussion and debate. So this realization hasn’t changed the way I teach my students. But it has changed the way I evaluate them. These days, students do well in my classes because their words are thoughtful, not because they speak them well.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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