By Erica Hughes - Tallahassee, Florida
In my opinion giving a participation grade is basically a way to motivate students to speak in class. It's a way to encourage informal, spontaneous speech and give students "credit" for it.
I have started a system in my more advanced classes where the students receive a page of about 15 or so little squares that say "I participated" on them. The write their names on the squares and cut them up. Then every time we are having a discussion in class, and they make a contribution, they pass up on card. At the end of 1 or 2 weeks, I count the cards and return them to each student.
That is a way for me to quantify and defend the participation grade I give them, but more importantly the student who don't usually participate, because they don't see the benefit of making a comment in class, get immediate "credit" for their comments. It can get a bit cumbersome in big classes, and of course there are still a few students who always participate and others who never want to, but I have stuck with it.