The Ultimate 101 Guide to Class Participation

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The public sentiment surrounding class participation has generally settled in an unfavourable position—it is the bane of every university student’s existence. But instead of accepting this notion without question, it is worth investigating the pervasive condemnation of the class participation component.

Should graded class participation even be a thing?

Institutions have adopted mandatory graded class participation with a multitude of benefits attributed to it, making it seem like a no-brainer to speak up in class. 

Yet, many have argued against class participation as a whole.

Some propose that the fear of speaking up is a learned habit cultivated by a rigid education system rather than a personal choice, and that it is not something for which students should be penalised. The system is stacked against shy students—which is not to be confused with introversion—who fear speaking up due to social judgement, a fear exacerbated by the fact that their grades are contingent upon their class participation performance.

Furthermore, studies have also shown that it is not just verbal participation (a.k.a the ‘class part’ we know) that promotes deeper learning among students, but other forms of class participation as well. Some of these include timed assignments, homework, and other exercises that promote active engagement, which can help students achieve higher levels of understanding and learning. 

Another reason for the implementation of class participation is to grade students with a more holistic approach, assessing students not just on their ability to excel in exams but also to present their ideas effectively. However, Klein and Riordan argue that including participation marks into grades creates ambiguity in the interpretation of the letter. It may lead to a misrepresentation of students’ achievements as a single combined grade constitutes multiple factors. 

While it is difficult to determine whether graded class participation is good or bad, one thing is for sure: it will be here to stay—or at least for the foreseeable future. So, really, it’s up to you to decide if you should participate, and how you can participate in a class setting. 

So, what are some of the benefits of participating in class?

You can achieve better grades. No, I am not just referring to the mandated graded class participation component of the grade. Research shows that there is a significant correlation between the class participation marks and the raw final exam marks of students. This is further proven by another study, where higher levels of participation were positively related to exam performance as well as achievement of higher levels of learning. Overall, participating in class encourages students to actively engage with content by helping them to reinforce the information, while checking their understanding of course material. Higher weightage of class participation marks also led students to spend more time preparing for classes. Hence, it is hard to deny the tangible benefits that class participation offers to students’ learning in school.

Aside from that, class participation also helps to develop communication skills. As seen in the previous study, 69% of students feel more confident speaking up in class now as compared to when they first entered University. Participating in class is a great way to learn how to articulate and present your ideas to others, to have your voice heard in an extrovert-dominated society. This can help to build confidence to communicate effectively which is also crucial in personal relationships as well as in other aspects of life.

On the topic of relationships, class participation is a great platform that brings students and tutors together. Breakout rooms or small group discussions, for instance, encourage dialogue among students as they get to bounce ideas off one another before the actual sharing. It also offers a perfect opportunity for tutors to interact with students as they engage in back-and-forth discussions on interesting topics. Cherish such interactions with peers, especially when most of us are experiencing a mostly virtual university life where meaningful connections are few and far between.

That being said, here are some actionable steps to better participate in class:

  1. Partner up 

Find a friend to pair up with during the class to discuss the questions. This is based on the Think-Pair-Share technique, where we first think about the questions individually, then work in pairs to solve them and share them with the class. You will be able to better comprehend and answer the questions as you get to verbalise your thoughts before sharing them with the crowd. 

  1. Email your tutors

Building a relationship with your tutors can help to make you feel more comfortable participating in class. It will surely help to start off by contacting them through email to share your thoughts or questions before diving straight into class participation.

  1. Seek clarification

Instead of beating yourself up with trying to formulate the perfect answer, why not ask questions to clarify your tutors’ questions? By asking a question, the opportunity to reply with another follow-up answer is created.

  1. Pen down your thoughts

You can also try writing down your key points to better organise your thoughts before speaking in class. This can help to counter the fear of saying the “wrong” answer as it can help to structure answers to be more concise. 

  1. Prepare before class

Last but not least, prepare before class! You can prepare for class by going through lecture notes, jotting down doubts and questions, or reading up on tutorials’ objectives.

At the end of the day, the intention of class participation is to promote a deeper and more effective learning environment for students. While it has its benefits, it comes with its set of downsides. It is difficult (or impossible) to find a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to assessing students’ knowledge and understanding. Nonetheless, with the constant revision and incorporation of components such as class participation, presentation, and frequent low-stake testing in our learning pedagogy, this is a certain step away from traditional standardised testing. At the end of the day,  let’s not be too hard on ourselves, and better prepare ourselves for our next class in the coming semesters!

“Success is when opportunity meets preparation.

Zig Ziglar