Participation Points! Love them or Hate them?

classroom management participation teaching Dec 29, 2022

Let’s talk about participation points. In my opinion, participation points punish introverts and reward extroverts. If you use them, I’d like to challenge you to reflect on why you use them and what is your desired result.

My son is a painfully shy introvert. He causes no problems in class, does all his homework, and is respectful and polite. In his Japanese class he has earned A+’s on all his tests and assignments yet he has an A- in class. Why? Participation points. He tries to participate but he is a thoughtful processor; and, by the time he is ready to answer, the teacher has moved on. He is shy and while he is giving himself a pep talk to walk up to the board and correct a sentence in front of the whole class, another student has already done it. Because of this, he does not earn the coveted “participation point” for the day and it has dropped his grade significantly.

If you use participation points, take a moment to reflect if you are using them in a way that rewards extroverts and punishes introverts. Participation should be more than just a student getting noticed. Participation is also about quietly listening to everything that is being taught, absorbing it, and preparing to use it in a meaningful way.

I have a non-standard way of doing participation points. Well, to be honest, I don’t give out participation points anymore. Instead, I walk around the room and individually thank the students who are on task and not making my job harder. However, when I did use participation points, mine was a decreasing system, rather than an increasing system. All my students started out with a random number of points for a random time period. Usually something like 40 points per month, or 10 per week if I needed to break it into smaller chunks. As long as the student was on-task they wouldn’t lose points. However, if a student was off task enough that they needed points deducted, the student and their parents would see the number decreasing. I found this to be a much more effective way of dealing with discipline issues as the student would see that grade start to tumble and see how their behavior was influencing their grade.

I don’t know if participation points are effective, but I would challenge you to reflect on how you use them. Is your system doing what you want it to? Is it to stop discipline issues? If it's to encourage participation are you including all the ways that students can participate or just the ways that extroverts show? If you say, “Well, I want to reward my students who actively participate in class,” then make a list of all the ways there are for a student to participate besides raising their hand. You might be missing the student who always knows the answer because they are always listening, but are just too much of a slow processor to answer you before you've moved on to the next question.

My son's Japanese teacher will sometimes have team activities and the team that comes in first place gets their points for the day. What do you think of that?

What are some ways you use to give participation points that doesn't punish the introverts?



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