Participation Goals

Like a lot of teachers, a small part of the grade in my class is “participation.” Over the past 3 years I have tried to refine this grade so that it’s less about just “talking more.” I made a rubric that defines “Participating in the Scientific Community” with 5 different categories that are focused on students engaging with each others’ ideas.

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The first time I used this rubric I made the mistake of using the students’ self assessment scores directly in their grade. As you can imagine, students felt a tension between being honest and reflective and wanting to give themselves a high grade. After that, I changed the grade to be based on students’ progress on a goal they set for themselves based on the rubric. In the beginning of each quarter, students self-assess using the rubric and come up with an example of how they have engaged in each category. Then they set a goal for themselves using the following questions:

  1. What is one participation goal you’d like to work on for the remainder of Quarter 1? (You can base it off of one of the categories on the other side of this sheet, or it can be something else, but it should be related to your participation in class)
  2. We will be checking in one-on-one at the end of the quarter to evaluate your progress on this goal. How will we know if you have made progress? (i.e., what observable evidence should I/you be looking for?)
  3. What are some obstacles or challenges you foresee in working toward that goal? What specifically can YOU do to overcome those challenges?
  4. What can I do to help you make progress toward your goal?

I give them feedback on their goal and hand back the sheet for them to keep in their notebook.

For the first time this year, I am going to have the students keep a goal tracking sheet where they reflect on how they’re progressing each day and include an example from class. At the end of the quarter, I will meet with each student individually (for 4-5 minutes) to talk about whether they feel like they’ve met their goal or not. Then their participation grade is based on that conversation.

The most common goals are some variation of “I need to share more” and “I need to listen more.” For the ones who say they need to share more, I’ve noticed an interesting split regarding what they think they need to do to meet this goal.

One group of students say they need to understand the material more before coming to class, which will allow them to participate more:

Student A:

“I’d like to participate more in whole-class discussions. Not understanding the material would lead to not being able to participate. I can make sure I know all the material and try to talk first.”

Student B:

“A goal for myself would be to be more open to sharing more ideas… Some obstacles would be not being confident enough. I will prepare for class more by making sure I really understand the concepts so that I will have some confidence and know what I’m doing walking into class. If I don’t understand a concept, I can set up a meeting with you or ask my classmates.

Another group of students say they need to share their ideas even when they’re uncertain because that’s what leads to learning:

Student C:

“I would like to work on having the confidence to share ideas/answers even when I’m not sure if they are correct. Basically, I don’t want to be too worried about being wrong, because I know that making mistakes is part of learning.”

Student D:

“I want work on sharing without being called on. I want to gain confidence in how I share with the class. I just dislike making mistakes publicly so I have to trust myself more and be okay with making mistakes because that’s the best way to learn”

The following questions come to mind when reading these responses:

What do students think is the purpose of the class discussion? Students A and B seem to think it is to display knowledge, and Students C and D seem to think it is to gain knowledge.

How do students thinking learning happens? Students A and B might think learning happens when reading information or hearing the material explained by a teacher or classmate. Students C and D might think learning happens through talking about your ideas.

One challenge I’m having is how to respond to these ideas. Part of me wants to tell Students A and B that you should share your ideas especially when you are uncertain, because learning happens when you talk through your ideas with others. (and in fact, I wrote that feedback on a lot of their goals sheets!) But why would me telling them something make them change their ideas? That’s awfully inconsistent of me! I know that teaching physics concepts doesn’t work that way, why would teaching about learning be any different?

So that’s the shift that I need to make – that part of my job is to teach about learning science, and that doesn’t mean just telling them how people learn science. Students have epistemological expectations coming into class, and telling them something else won’t change their minds. I have to set up experiences where they can use their productive epistemological resources and help them develop their understanding of knowledge and learning over time.

I will end with one more student’s participation goal. What a great idea for structuring whiteboard discussions!

“I would like to continue working on building off of my peers’ ideas to deepen understanding and gain multiple perspectives on one situation… I should be able to look at a graph [on my group’s whiteboard] and identify the role of my personal thinking that went into producing the graph as well as point out what parts of the graph reflect what my peers thought. It’s important to emphasize the process by which table groups reached agreement on a solution”

2 thoughts on “Participation Goals

  1. I love your emphasis on the importance of consistency between supporting students in learning about physics and supporting students in learning about learning. Do you find that students tend to make goals for themselves in one category more than others, or that there are patterns in how their goals change over time?


  2. jenrichar

    I love your emphasis on consistency between supporting students in learning about physics and supporting them in learning about learning. Do you find that students’ goals tend to cluster more in one category than another, or that there are patterns in how they change over time?


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