How to grade class participation?

Here in Alaska, we just wrapped up an incredible conference. Bill VanPatten of MSU and Scott Benedict of Teach for June were our Keynote speakers, and they joined with World Language teachers from across the state to inspire and challenge my ideas on language teaching and acquisition. I tweeted like a maniac, so check out #afla15 on Twitter for my notes on the conference and get just a taste of professional development that we received this weekend! I’ll put together a few posts over the next two weeks, and today I want to give you a speedy quick idea to make your teacher life just a little bit happier this week.

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time and/or following my curriculum, you know a few things about how I structure my classes:

  1. I use a standards based grading system. I made the switch in 2010 after “attending” several of Scott Benedict’s Webinars. My gradebook categories are Listening, Writing, Speaking, Reading, and Work Habits. More on Work Habits later.
  2. ONLY summative grades are entered in the first four categories. That means NO homework and NO classwork: only formal assessments that are given at the end of a learning period (unit, quarter, semester, etc.).
  3. ALL formative grades are entered in the Work Habits category, which accounts for just 5 percent of students’ overall grade (virtually, it has no affect on their grade).
  4. Participation fits into the Work Habits category, but I don’t really have a formal way of assessing it. I prefer to use classroom management systems to manage behavior so that their grade in the course remains [95 percent] purely an academic grade that gives a clear representation of students’ current state of proficiency.
  5. I have tried a lot of different classroom management systems. While I have yet to find “the one”, I have had success with different systems in different classes and by combining different components of different systems. Some things that I’ve tried are Preferred Activity Time, Marble Jars; Chiles, Quesos, and Superstars; and The Lunchbox. (Read all archived classroom management posts from my blog here.)

Scott shared an idea today that almost made me jump out of my seat in excitement! He has a very comprehensive participation system (that does not affect students’ academic grade). Here is a post from 2007 in which he describes it, but since the post is from 8 years ago, it’s not quite the same as what it is today. Here’s what I love and will definitely incorporate when I finally get back to the classroom…a long time from now…well, Scott gives out points during class to students that are participating actively. I do the same thing using my Chiles: I keep them in my pocket or nearby, and students receive a Chile whenever they jump out of their comfort zone in Spanish and/or say something quantitatively or qualitatively impressive. This could be during class discussion, when reviewing the Campanada, gesturing for a song, during a communicative activity…anything. So this isn’t different. What Scott has figured out is a WAY better answer to the question, “What can students do with their points?”

Since extra credit is obviously out (giving extra credit distorts grades so that they are no longer an accurate picture of students’ current level of proficiency), my students put their Chiles back into a jar at the end of a period (with their names written on them–their responsibility). Once a day, I draw a student’s name from the Chile jar to earn the honor of being the Singing Ninja. Every other week on Friday, I draw out five names to win really, really lame prizes from my prize box.

What Scott does is way, way better. Students are responsible for keeping their own points, and they can save them up to purchase prizes and privileges from him. They can purchase things like candy bars or whatever other prizes he gets, but the PRIVILEGES are the best part. Students can save their points to purchase things like the ability to eat in class or to wear a hat in class, or Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 3.52.09 PMTO HAVE SCOTT MAKE A POSITIVE PHONE CALL TO THEIR PARENTS. Oh my word. Best. Idea. Ever. For 25 points, Scott will call whomever the students want to say whatever true thing the student wants him to share with that person on a date of the student’s choosing. So the students get strategic and save up points for Scott to call their parents before big events that they want to attend or when they’re planning to ask their parents for special permission for something. And because students choose what they want him to say (remember, it must be true), it is an awesome opportunity for self reflection. Scott shared a story about a time that he had one particularly challenging student that asked him to call his parents and say that “his hair was on point”. Hilarious! I am sure that a quick survey of your students will glean all kinds of privileges that they would like to have in class and for which they would be willing to pay participation points if you need more ideas.

Again, remember that his system involves a lot more than I am explaining here, so all students are given points at the beginning of the quarter and can lose them for things like negative behavior or going to the bathroom Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 3.58.32 PMduring class. If you want to know all the nitty gritty details, sign up for some of his webinars or his Webversity courses or hire him to come speak to your organization in person. At the end of the month (or marking period? not sure), Scott tallies up points and awards Student of the [time period] to the Top 3 students with the most points. This reminded me of my Calculus class in high school with awesome Mr. Clancy: the student of the month was given the privilege of sitting in an ARMCHAIR that was off to one side of the room for the entire month. You’d better believe that that was the best month of my senior year. I wasn’t allowed to bring furniture into the school that I worked at most recently, but believe you me that the instant that I get back to the classroom, I will be asking my principal if I can haul an armchair into the building!

There you go. Just one fantastic idea from a weekend jam-packed full of them. Stay tuned for more!

20 comments

  1. I’m intrigued by the student saving up points to get a positive phone call to his/her parents. Does Scott not generally make positive calls to parents? It seems like over the years I have heard from various profs and/or admins that it is a good idea. Of course I get it that we are often time-crunched, and I admit I don’t do it very often. If I had a system set up where a student could save the points up for a positive phone call, I am not sure I would feel right making those calls on my own–I can envision some students thinking, “well, hummphh, Johnny got a positive phone call without having to use any points, but I had to save up 25 points to get one….”

    Anyone else thinking along those lines?

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    • I can see what you’re saying. I wouldn’t have a problem making positive phone calls as usual. The idea that students can choose when the call is made and what is said is what makes them different than teacher-initiated calls. Scott said that his students are VERY strategic about it. So yes, you can wait and hope that I will call your parents at a fortuitous moment for you, or you can make it happen. When I had 175 students, I tried to make one positive phone call each day–and even that didn’t happen sometimes (and sometimes I made more than that). The reality is that with that many students, few teachers are making enough positive phone calls for it to render this system ineffective.

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  2. Scott said that with 147 students, he doesn’t have time to make positive phone calls to them all. This is one way of dealing with that lack of time. It’s possible a student might feel aggrieved, but with these points, they get to choose what the teacher will say and time the call for maximum benefit.

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  3. I love these ideas and have used a team system similar to the House Cup idea in Harry Potter. Unfortunately, my new school requires an actual grade for participation. I don’t agree that it should be part of the academic grade. Any suggestions?

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  4. Martina – how many grades do you have in each category at the end of a marking period?

    Love the phone calls home strategy, by the way. 🙂

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  5. I used to do the “boletos” system (hand them a colorful token to later turn in for points or prizes) and other point-based systems, but I realized that students only participated when offered points, and then only gave simple answers and then “checked-out” for the remainder of the time, etc. So now I just have a general rubric for participation (we do standards based grading, too, but the “work habits” and “timely completion” scores don’t affect their reaching any world language standard or a class grade, but do go on the report card).

    My participation is more about doing all the things we do in class that don’t get turned in or otherwise graded. Of course good behavior and coming prepared are also on the rubric.

    When a student is absent, I highlight that day for the student on my chart (printed out roster). They must make up all the classwork to earn back the participation. I have to post all the activities we do in class each day on a blog so they can access it to see what the warm-up was, the turn-and-talk, etc. If they miss a “no English day”, they also have to leave me a voicemail in Spanish for 2-3 minutes! Also, if a student WAS in class but not doing the class work, I mark an X for that activity. Anyway, if an absent student makes up their class work I put OK over the highlight and then then can “meet standard” for participation for the week. Students can go above standard by helping each other, helping clean up the room, doing extra classwork (writing longer answers), helping a substitute, being a leader in class, etc.

    Other regular class management techniques work for getting kids to participate in regular activities, and in my opinion, the “earning points” or other prizes for what is expected of ALL students anyway actually is cumbersome to keep track of and motivates in a way I’m not OK with anymore. I don’t even keep track of who raises their hand and is called on anymore. I just mark when a student ISN’T doing anything or is off task/chatty/etc. Way less things to mark if you have good class management!

    I will say that I DO issues bathroom passes (2 per month) for the middle school students. I actually print up the 1 page set of passes for them with their names (mail merge!) for the entire year, in August. That way I don’t have to do it every month. If they don’t use a pass in a given month, it becomes a RAFFLE TICKET. I have kids donate Mexican candy to my stash (no more buying candy!) and they get a sucker or other spicy treat. With all the workbooks my students have to lug around, this system makes sure they bring it all to class every day (Realidades!). I draw 5 names per class on the first of the next month, so it’s minimal and I don’t have to even remember – they remind me!

    Hope these ideas or thoughts were helpful! Below is my link to my class blog. Feel free to ask if you want my behavior rubric or bathroom passes, or to see how I mark participation on my chart/roster.

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    • Just came across this blog, and when reading about Scott Benedict’s management system, I realized I’m doing what he does! I became the sole Spanish teacher this year due to a retirement, and in my new classroom I found a box of full of paper Mexican pesos. I started giving them out for participation, winning contests, etc. The kids LOVE it! I enjoy seeing the whole class work together to save up enough for their fiestas! It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this, so my system will continue to develop, for example, I need to take them away more! Overall, though, I think it’s going great! I really like your idea for grading to the standards…I think I will do that for next year. Thank you! 🙂

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  6. Hi Martina. I love your work! I’m wondering what you do for final exams? It’s a bit tricky to translate TPRS content into final exams that won’t take a really long time to grade. Thanks so much for your time!

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  7. Does anyone have more ideas for privileges? My students didn’t have many suggestions. I’ve come up with something similar in my class-and the plus side is I use (paper) currency which is authentic, so they learn the denominations of coins too.

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