Class Participation — Guidelines and Grading

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Each term I am asked by at least a few students about how marks are given for “class participation.” This page is designed to provide an answer to this question.

It provides guidelines for all of our in-class or online discussions and interactions that fall under the heading of “In-Class Participation.”  

It is important that any questions or points of clarification about grading and participation guidelines be raised with the instructor at the beginning of the term. It is therefore important that each student read through these guidelines carefully at the beginning of the term.

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OVERVIEW OF ‘CLASS PARTICIPATION’ 

In this document, as well as in our course outline, “Class Participation” (sometimes referred to as “Participation” or “In-Class Participation”) refers to any discussion/interaction/exchange, written or oral, during the course of classroom lecture, discussion, or small group work. It also refers to interactions/exchanges carried out on the course websites (including Moodle) or outside of the classroom in the general context of class assignments (e.g., meetings during office hours with the instructor or meetings with one’s group outside of the classroom for work on group projects).

PARTICIPATION + ATTENDANCE  

One of the reasons for having a lengthy set of guidelines such as this is that students often equate participation with attendance. Some students who may have attended every class during the course of a term, may be confused as to why their participation mark at the end of the term was not quite what they expected.

Attendance and participation are related but, nevertheless, quite different. Attendance is required, of course. At the same time one’s contributions to the course are never based on sheer presence or merely “showing up” regularly. “Showing up” is your attendance. What you do when you show up is your participation: it is the measure of your engagement in the readings/discussions/lectures of the course. “Participation” is not just a measure of the quality and quantity of your exchanges with your instructor but also with your peers in the class, especially those you might find who will critique, question, or simply seek clarification about your own stances taken or interpretations offered about our the readings in our class.

GUIDELINES FOR CLASS PARTICIPATION

This course is based on the assumption that students take part not as passive consumers of knowledge but as active participants in the exchange, production, and critique of ideas—their own ideas and the ideas of others.  Therefore, students should come to class not only having read and viewed the materials assigned for that day but also prepared to both discuss the readings and films of the day and theorize the writings in relation to their own position.  (“Unless one is aware that one cannot avoid taking a stand, unwitting stands are taken.” — Gayatri Spivak).  I expect students as the course unfolds, to continually discuss and theorize the positions from which they write/speak — as I will, throughout the quarter.

While students may be regularly keeping up with the required readings and assignments it also important that they come prepared to show that they are keeping up with those readings/assignments through active class participation. Your in-class participation mark therefore is an index not just of what you do/say during class time, but how well you prepare your comments and responses before class time, and with what level of consideration and thoughtfulness you respond to the ideas of others within the classroom space.

While the guidelines for in-class participation, verbal and written, are broad, there are several discernible ranges of in-class participation:

  • A range: Participation at this level is marked by its active nature, its consistency, and its quality. When A range participants read assigned readings, they take thorough notes or prepare in other ways, in advance of class meetings, to participate in a class discussion; they read assigned readings fully, carefully, and critically enough to be ready not just to respond to the instructor’s questions but also to initiate discussion with comments and questions of their own. Such participants will also come to class ready to make and argue claims about the reading and to think out loud about a text’s relation to its contexts; they will attend to the comments of others in class, agreeing, elaborating, objecting, or civilly disagreeing with them; bring our attention to passages from the reading to make their point; and at times connect such thinking with earlier readings or previous class discussions.  The A range participant is not necessarily the most knowledgable, and in fact sometimes just the opposite, since the A range participant will often remark just as much on what they have not understood (or misunderstood) about the readings as what they have understood about them.  Finally, the A range participant frequently takes notes during class discussions, colloquiums, or film viewings.
  • B range: Students who come to every class, have almost always done all the reading, and consistently respond to the questions of others and the questions of the instructor in a way that demonstrates their command of the reading will earn a B participation grade. What separates this effort from an A one is not so much quantity as the level of preparation—one’s reading and thinking—that has gone on before one gets to class. The B grade participant comments with frequency and his/her comments show that he/she has comprehended the readings. Like the A grade participant, the B grade participant intiates comments on his/her own rather than waiting to be called upon. Finally, he/she takes notes during class discussions, colloquiums, or film viewings.
  • C range: The C participant comes to almost every class, usually has done most of the reading most of the time, but not with the energy necessary to demonstrate through participation their ongoing engagement with the material. Such a discussant contributes infrequently, maybe once every other class.  He/she rarely or infrequently takes notes during class discussions, colloquiums, or film viewings. The main dividing line between the C range student and the A and B range student is that the C range student rarely if never, initiates comments in class, waiting instead to be called upon by the instructor.
  • D range: The D range participant is physically in class most, perhaps even all, of the time, and contributes a few times throughout the quarter, and generally only when called upon.  When called upon this participant tends to respond with little thoughtfulness, reflection, comprehension of the readings, or willingness to take risk or engage with the ideas of others, especially those that may differ from his/her own. He/she rarely or infrequently takes notes during class discussions, colloquiums, or film viewings.
  • F range: The F range mark is the result of a combination of not coming to class, failing to take part in class discussions, not engaging with other students or with the instructor when called upon, or failing to take sufficient notes. Like the D range student the F range student, when called upon, fails to answer in part or in full, usually because he/she has not done the readings for the day.

 

STUDENT CONDUCT AND INTERACTIONS

It is quite common in a university-level writing, literature, or humanities course to encounter analytical issues surrounding issues and readings that can broadly be defined as challenging and controversial, “poltical” and confrontational, or as, some might say, personally off-putting or socially “unsettling.” A central part of the work of any humanities course in writing or in literature is to enable all students to engage inclusively, in a mature, self-aware, and intellectually complex fashion with these issues and readings. Such material commonly includes the interpretive complexities of race, class, gender, sexuality, age, ability, etc.; questions of social difference and the representation of “otherness”; social and cultural relations of power, domination, and marginality; as well as the way in which these relations are displayed, and–given certain historical conditions–reproduced and/or challenged in language, writing, images, fiction, and non-fiction writings.

Students that cannot approach, discuss, write about, or analyze the material of the course in a civil and inclusive manner, with respect for all, especially those who may have directly or indirectly experienced one of these forms of marginality at some time or another (homelessness, sexism, racism, classism, etc.) may find it difficult to take part in the course, and in rare circumstances may be asked to leave the classroom. According to the “Student Conduct Policy” (article 2, available in full at the “Policies & Procedures” section of the Capilano website), one of the “most important” goals of the university is:

to develop the skill of critical thinking through the free expression and exploration of a wide range of ideas. This may involve challenges to a students’ and faculty’s strongly held beliefs and values. As long as such challenges are clearly directed at ideas, and are not merely personal attacks on those who hold them, the College accepts and encourages them as part of the learning process.

Our classroom is a place for everyone to take part with equal access in the process of open discussion, collective debate, and critical, intellectual exchange.  Students in an academic context should be capable of responding to such material not only in a thoughtful manner but in a mature, self-aware, and self-reflexive manner, no matter what their stance may be on the materials and ideas under discussion.

At the same time I strongly encourage all students to bring even “strong” personal responses and reactions to texts and films into our class discussions—especially when it comes to passages or texts that provoke an “offensive” or “discomforting” reaction.  The classroom, after all, is, among other things, a place for developing a public language for discussing what seem like private and individual reactions, even when they are “strong”. As the cited passage above implies, one of the most important foundations of critical thinking is the insistence on the possibility of distinguishing “persons” from their “ideas” and not confusing a strong critique with a ‘personal attack” but also not dismissing a strong response to a text as a “personal” and “private” matter.

What this comes down to is the following:

    1. being attentive to the language that we bring to a class discussion, and using language that indicates a critique of a ‘’position” (“That argument seems racist to me.”) rather than an attack on a “person” (“You are a racist.”)
    2. not making a given person into a spokesperson for a particular social, ethnic, religious, or cultural group
    3. recognizing that simply because a view/position is not “affirmed” or accepted at face value this does not translate into “disrespect.”  There is nothing more “disrespectful” than patronizingly “affirming” everything someone says simply because they say it (!)
    4. being aware that your grade in this course is not dependent on the correspondence of your views with the views of the instructor – grades are made on the basis not of WHAT you think, WHAT you say, or WHAT you write, but on HOW rigorously it is supported by an intellectually coherent argument, complex analysis, and verifiable evidence.  My comments and occasional challenges to your ideas, an instructor, are not a sign of disrespect but of respect: I take what you say in class and in your papers seriously, and therefore want you be able to support your points in the most effective way possible
    5. realizing that our “ideas,” no matter what they might be, always have consequences for the “other”: there is no idea/interpretation/opinion that is not worth opening up to public critique (“Reason accords [sincere respect] only to that which has been able to sustain the test of free and open examination” – Immanuel Kant).

IN CONCLUSION

The students that are in our class have often made tremendous sacrifices to attend university, and expect that the time they spend in a classroom will be time spent learning. I hope that reading the comments above, we keep this in mind and that everyone makes an effort throughout the term to do their part to make our classroom as a serious learning and teaching space: from showing up to class on time, to having enough respect for your classmates to set aside the same time as they have to do the readings and preparation needed to participate in the class on a daily basis.

Knowing that all students in our classroom have given throughtful consideration to the guidelines and points made above, allows me to look forward to an engaging set of discussions and exchanges throughout the term with everyone in the class!

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