Improving Student Participation

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the classroom, there are often a few students who readily and willingly raise their hands to answer questions and contribute to class discussions, while other students hold back and listen passively. Some of these students are shy and uncomfortable speaking in front of large groups of people. Others may be reflective learners who prefer to think about the material they have just learned before they volunteer to contribute their thoughts to the class. By contrast, more vocal students may be active learners who participate, in part, because they learn by thinking out loud.

Encouraging all of your students to participate in class engages students with the lessons more, gauges how well they really understand the material, and adds a greater variety of viewpoints to discussions. Here are several strategies for encouraging more class participation.

  • Most instructors state clearly in the syllabus that participation is expected and part of the student’s grade. However, it may be helpful to give specific criteria as to what you are evaluating in the student’s participation, such as the application of concepts to their answers, or evidence of critical thinking in the student’s comments and questions. Or, you could give bonus points for participation. For instance, you could give students one point for each time they ask a question about the material, answer a question, or contribute an idea to a discussion.
  • Arrive to class early and chat informally with the students. Getting to know your students in this manner may make them more comfortable with you, and therefore willing to speak up more in your class.
  • Give short, informal writing assignments that students have to complete before the next class, and come prepared to speak about it. This will allow reflective learners time to think about the discussion topic and formulate their thoughts and ideas. Shy students can prepare what they will say ahead of time to reduce anxiety about having to answer questions on the spot.
  • Pause frequently during lectures for questions and discussion. Students are often so busy taking notes that if you go too long before pausing for discussion, by the time you do pause, they may have forgotten what they were going to say. Also, present open-ended questions at the beginning of the lecture to give students a focus during the lecture around which to formulate their ideas. You may even have students write down their answers before answering aloud to give them time to clarify their ideas.
  • Provide encouraging feedback and follow-up questions. Positive encouragement increases students’ comfort level and will motivate them to participate more if they feel their contributions are valued. Follow-up questions will prompt students to clarify and support their answers, and sometimes reconsider the evidence behind their ideas.
  • Give students a preliminary participation grade and written evaluation halfway through the semester. Students can then see exactly how you are evaluating their participation and where they can improve, such as the frequency of participation, the clarity of their ideas, or courtesy toward their classmates’ contributions to discussions.

Labyrinth Learning’s full solutions provide a variety of resources to facilitate class discussions on the concepts taught in our textbooks. To learn more about our solutions for computer science and accounting courses, please contact us today.

 

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