Getting Students to Participate in Class

Getting Students to Participate
Stephen Brookfield
University of St. Thomas,
Minneapolis-St. Paul
Setting Up Today’s Meet…
Situating Stephen
• How we learn frames how we teach
• Participation in School – Correctly
Answering Teachers’ Questions / Socratic
Guidance to Correctness
• Good College Students – Sound Smart,
Speak a Lot, Use Correct Language,
Evince A Sophisticated Understanding of
the Material
• What stops you from
participating in a class,
professional development
session or meeting?
What Students Say….
• I don’t want to risk looking stupid
• I don’t know what you mean by
• It’s uncool to be enthusiastic
• There is no reward for participating
• I’m a shy introvert
• It’s your job to teach, not mine to
What Students Say They Want
• We need to know what you mean by this - what
participation looks like should be clearly
described & operationalized
• We need to see how it will be assessed &
rewarded – how taking it seriously benefits us
• We like it when you provide clear structure,
guidance & protocols to help it happen
• We appreciate you incorporating social media to
demonstrate participation
• We learn how to do this better if you guide us
along the way & make adjustments as required
• Don’t forget us introverts & ESL speakers
Operationalizing Participation
• Class Participation Grading Rubric – 20%
_D._Brookfield/Home.html - click on ‘Workshop
Materials’ & scroll down to ‘Class Participation
Grading Rubric’
• Rubric lists specific behaviors that are examples
of good student participation, for example:
• Ask a question or make a comment that shows
you are interested in what another person says
• Ask a question or make a comment that
encourages another person to elaborate on
something they have already said
Indicators of Participation
• Bring in a resource (a reading, web link, video)
not covered in the syllabus but adds new
information/perspectives to our learning
• Post a comment on the course chat room that
summarizes our conversations so far and/or
suggests new directions and questions to be
explored in the future
• Make a comment (online if this is appropriate)
indicating that you found another person's
ideas interesting or useful. Be specific as to
why this was the case
Indicators of Participation
• Contribute something that builds on, or
springs from, what someone else has said. Be
explicit about the way you are doing this.
• Make a summary observation that takes into
account several people's contributions & that
touches on a recurring theme in the
discussion (online if you like)
• Ask a cause and effect question - for example,
"can you explain why you think it's true that if
these things are in place such and such a thing
will occur?”
Indicators of Participation
• Find a way to express appreciation for the
enlightenment you have gained from the
discussion. Try to be specific about what
helped you understand something better.
• Post a question or comment on the live
Today’s Meet feed that takes us in a new
• Alert us to someone who is trying to ask a
question but is being overlooked
• If you talk a lot try the 3 Person Rule
Rewarding Students for Participation –
How to Get the 20%
• Ask students after each class to post how they
enacted one of the behaviors in the rubric
• Provide a one page sheet listing the behaviors
& ask students to check those they enacted,
with specific descriptions of at least one
• As part of mid-terms & finals ask students to
provide a half page summary of the different
ways they participated in class
A Silent & Visual Protocol for
Participation – Chalk Talk
• Write a question in the center of the board &
ask everyone to move up to the board
• Ask for 5 minutes silence as students write
responses to question on the board
• Others draw lines between postings to show
connections/differences, ask questions, add
to postings, provide examples etc.
• You add responses & draw lines as needed
• After 5 minutes is up the group then talks
about clusters of responses, outliers, what’s
missing, important questions & what’s next
Examples of Chalk Talks
• What is a Proof?
• How do we decide a hypothesis is
• Why is Theory ‘A’ accurate?
• What does autism look, feel, sound like?
• What are exs, illustrations of Concept B?
• What’s the most important thing to know
about this theory, policy, concept?
Circle of Voices
• Students silently think about a question assigned
to them by the teacher & make notes on their
• Participants go round the circle in order - each
person has up to 1 minute of uninterrupted air
time to give their viewpoint on the topic. No
interruptions are allowed.
• Students then move into free exchanges with the
ground rule that every comment offered must
somehow refer back to a comment made by
someone else in the opening circle of voices.
This need NOT be agreement - it can be a
disagreement, a question, an elaboration, an
illustration, & so on
What Students Appreciate
• It begins with silent time to think named as
part of the exercise – those who need time to
process appreciate this
• The structure decreases anxiety for students
who wonder what ‘participation’ looks like
• Everyone is heard in the first round
• It forces students to listen to others
• It makes it easier to participate in the future –
if participation is important to you then you
must engineer it very early on
Incorporating Social Media
• Social media ‘backchannels’ are a useful way to
get students to ask questions, provide examples,
respond to questions & offer reactions to the
• They by-pass the dynamics of verbal participation
– giving everyone an equal chance to speak
• They can provide anonymity – meaning nobody
runs the risk of looking stupid
• They allow students to ask questions as they
occur to them – not when the professor invites
What Students Appreciate
• It’s private & anonymous
• It feels familiar
• It democratizes the classroom – no one can
dominate the class as in verbal interaction
• It allows us to raise questions, seek
clarification & pose problems in our own time
& at our own pace
• It by passes the performance anxiety of
speaking in class – yet allows us to contribute
& be heard in a non-pressured way
Monitoring Participation
• Participation should not be experienced by
students as “participation for participation’s
sake”. You need constantly to monitor that it’s
being understood in the way you wish it to be,
& that it’s supporting students’ learning, not
getting in the way
• One way to monitor this is through the
Classroom Critical Incident Questionnaire
(CIQ) available for free download on my home
CIQ Questions
• The moment in class this week when
you were most engaged as a learner
• The moment you were most distanced
as a learner
• The most helpful action anyone in the
room took
• The most puzzling action anyone in the
room took
• What surprised you most about the
class this week
• Takes 5 minutes to complete at the end of the
last class of the week
• Anonymous
• Instructor reads through responses &
prepares a short summary to be given at the
first class of the following week (or online)
• Instructor responds to problems, explains
confusions, shows how she will adapt her
teaching to feedback – or why she cannot in
good conscience do this
What Students Appreciate
• It’s anonymous – we can express misgivings or
ask awkward questions without fear of
instructor punishment
• It’s inclusive – everyone has an equal chance
to participate & no-one’s concerns can
• It shows the teacher is interested in our well
being & how we’re doing
• When the teacher takes it seriously it builds
our trust & confidence in her
Further Resources
• The Skillful Teacher: On Technique,
Trust & Responsiveness in the
Classroom (2015, 3rd ed.)
• The Discussion Book: 50 Great Ways
to Get People Talking (2016) - with
Stephen Preskill

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