On Grading Participation

Grading participation is a concern that pops up now and again in faculty conversations about teaching at USF. On the surface, allowing for participation to count toward a grade can offer students alternative chances to improve their grades (and encourage engagement as part the learning process) however very real and common systematic problems lie in how we evaluate participation. We've created this post with two references to help further the discussion among faculty and encourage different ways of thinking about grading participation.

One classic article with some practical strategies for grading participation is by John Bean and Dean Peterson. Bean & Peterson point out some of the pitfalls to grading participation and offers some practical solutions.

Bean & Peterson article

Two issues NOT mentioned by Bean & Peterson, but discussed a lot recently (both in the field and at USF) are: a) questions of potential implicit bias on the part of the instructor b) access for different learners, particular populations that weren't as prominent when Bean wrote this piece -- for example, international students and students with mental health issues or learning disabilities.

Bean & Peterson suggest direct instruction in participation & participation behaviors and use of rubric; these can help avoid potential implicit bias. A visitor to our campus last year, Andrea Hunt, also noted that talking about potential bias has been shown to reduce bias.

For the second situation, we can apply some of Bean & Peterson's advice for "shy" or "pathologically quiet" students. Essentially, these involve providing alternate ways of participating in class. For example, one can allow email or online discussion to count as participation (in other words, "asynchronous participation), or provide some kind participation scaffolding (such as "think-pair-share" or similar exercises).

A second useful reference is a chapter from Margaret Price's book Mad at School, which discusses class participation with a focus on mental health and learning disabilities. The focused discussion of participation starts on p. 73 and the solutions/strategies section begins on p. 87.

Price chapter


  • Bean, John C. and Dean Peterson. "Grading Classroom Participation." New Directions for Teaching and Learning 1998: 33-40.
  • Price, Margaret. Mad at School. Michigan: U. of Michigan Press, 2011.