Student Participation Record

Problem Statement

Students often tune out in school. It is analogous to a "sit in strike." For whatever reasons they:

What can an individual teacher do to overcome this?


As educators we recognize that much of what we teach has to do with preparing the students to deal with life. Many of these lessons have nothing to do with academics directly. For example, being able to subordinate one's impulses in kindergarten. Another is to be engaged and participate in class lessons and discussions. Those abilities are significant elements in what we are trying to teach.

Students are usually graded on "Participation." They know this after seeing their report cards. But after that, in class, they forget to work on participating. Often other factors rise in importance (in their minds), and participation does not improve.

Children are not good at making connections between their actions of the moment, and the longer-term consequences of those actions. The "distance" from the action (participation or lack of it) and the end result (participation grade) is too great, and therefore is ineffective.

If there were constant and immediate feedback as to level and quality of participation, students would learn a new, good habit. They would also do better in all of their classes.

Student Participation Record

Keep a participation record sheet. It has the roster down the left side, in alphabetical order. To the right are a lot of "boxes" to be filled in with participation symbols, such as:

3 = good response
2 = Fair response
1 = Poor response
0 = unsatisfactory response
-1= flippant, sarcastic, or disrespectful response

Or make up your own, as needed.

During class discussion / participation periods, have the list always with you, on a clipboard. Put a blank sheet of paper over it to prevent students from accidentally seeing the contents.

Seldom ask open response questions, such as "Who can tell us...?" Instead use directed questioning of individuals. Pick the individual for a question by first looking at the Participation Record sheet to spot those who have responded the least so far that year. Call on one of those students.

After their response, and your counter response, immediately mark a symbol on the sheet, in the next open box for that student.

All of these factors tend to act as immediate, visible, and powerful feedback.

Start the year out by jumping all over the roster to "randomize" the sequence. Do this, and maintain near randomness throughout the year. Students will not figure out who will be called upon next.

It is possible that students might realize that once called upon, they won't be called upon for some time, and relax their attention. To help overcome this, call on the same student twice with only a few others between. This is done to encourage continued listening and focus. The momentary disruption of calling the same student with only a few between will be corrected automatically as time goes on.

To further the need to stay focused on the class, when a called-on student answers a question, call on others and ask if they agree or disagree with that answer, and why. Draw them out, trying to see if they really understand. Mark these on the Student Participation Record also. This keeps them focused, and it cycles through the children faster.

The Participation Record sheet:

Students who are not paying attention, or otherwise having difficulty, will stand out clearly very early on. They may then be brought into private consultation with you and parents to try to resolve the problem.

Tell the students what you are doing.

Some people might say that such a program would further demoralize a poor student. That may be true if used by itself in isolation. But a significant function in a school is early detection and then identification of a student's mental or emotional problems, and to provide immediate help to the student to overcome them. If used in that context, problems will not become exacerbated and difficult to handle. It will most likely do more good than any harm that might possibly result in rare instances.

What can a school do to overcome this?

In part because of the high turnover rate of teachers, recognition and thence intervention on student problems has become a more significant problem.

The Student Participation Record technique should be a big help to new teachers, and thus to the school. New teachers have many new things to do, learn, practice, and perfect. The subtleties of student participation may go unnoticed for some time. The Student Participation Record automates the observing process, helping the new teacher notice things that might have otherwise gone unnoticed for too long. It also automates fairness.

If the Student Participation Record technique were used school wide, at every grade level, it would help to spot problems as soon as they begin to develop, and before they become amplified, fully entrenched, and intractable! If problems are caught early, intervention becomes:

The school should make major effort to provide clear and immediate feedback to the parents, along with in-house diagnosis, interventions, or references to external helping services.

If you have Microsoft Excel

Download an Excel format spreadsheet that can be used for manual entry, and later automatic calculation of the Participation grade. - - - spr.xls - - - This document has a couple of examples built in to illustrate how it works.

To view an image in your Browser of one Sheet of this document, see sprgif1.gif.


Download sprdoc.rtf and follow the directions you find on it.

How to use these sheets

During class, use a hard copy sheet to record student participation. You also use it to assure all students are called upon equally.

To cut down on the amount of bookworm needed at the end of the grading period, after each week transfer that week's marks into the file, starting with Sheet1. Transfer its data into a digital COPY of the downloaded file. It automatically calculates the student's participation grade earned so far. That grade appears only on Sheet1.

As Sheet1 is filled up, start recording data into Sheet2 of the digital file, just as you did for Sheet1. As you do this, the new data is automatically carried back to Sheet1, where it contributes to a running total for all pages with data on them. As Sheet2 is filled up, put new data onto Sheet3, and so forth.

If you do not have Excel

If you don't have Excel, print out a blank copy of the Student Participation Record. This is a Rich Text Format document you should be able to edit in any word processor - - - spr.rtf. - - - Edit in the student names. Keep this, with no participation entries, as a master from which to make copies. Copy this form for use in class.

By Mr. Andrews

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 as of: 16 Jul '03