Participation Points: Making Student Engagement Visible

By: . Participation Points: Making Student Engagement Visible via Faculty Focus (March 13, 2017). Retrieved from

“As I contemplate my syllabi for a new semester, I possess renewed hope for students eager to discuss anything at 8 a.m., yet I have taught long enough to know that I will simply appreciate clean clothes and brushed teeth. As reality sets in, I add to my grading criteria an element that I hope will encourage engagement from even the most timid learners.

Often labeled “participation points,” this topic has been explored from myriad perspectives in any number of books and articles published in the last 20 years. Some approaches to participation include using discussion to facilitate teaching and learning, implementing standard-based grading to eliminate participation points, or creating rubrics for participation to make standards visible to the students.

Here I must acknowledge that my 8 a.m. courses are usually populated by freshmen; many of these students, educated during the NCLB era and fresh from standardized tests and state-mandated EOCTs here in Georgia, struggle to adjust to rigorous college expectations. Most can’t comprehend or articulate our expectations for participation and thus often don’t participate fully.

And here’s the rub—first-year students often don’t know why engagement is important either in their classroom or their learning. They’ve yet to learn that participation is an investment in themselves. We know that engaged learners are active learners, but how do we help our students shift from grade seekers to knowledge seekers? Even college students need to be reminded that they are building intellectual and personal skills that will serve them well in all future professional and personal endeavors.

In order to help students become aware of the need for a new level of academic performance, let’s change our own strategies concerning participation points.

  1. Use a new moniker
    • Instead of participation points, call them engagement points
    • The goal is to move students from grade seekers (passive regurgitation of information—written or verbal) to knowledge seekers (independent, engaged learners who see, reflect on, and share their thoughts on the complexity of problems/situations)
    • Balance preparation and participation
  1. Lead with preparation
    • Engagement = Preparation + Participation
      • Create opportunities for students to share homework or research
      • Make homework vital to class conversation and student learning, not simply a formative check preceding a summative assessment
  1. Share and review your Engagement Rubric from Day 1 (below is a version of the rubric I created for my 2000- and 3000-level students)
    • Make the balance of preparation and participation part of your classroom routine in independent daily writing or group work by encouraging students to reference their notes and research.
  1. Students must score themselves against the Engagement Rubric
    • Metacognitive exercises help students understand their responsibility in their own learning
    • Make this a quick two minute monthly activity
    • Repetition allows students to reacquaint themselves with the desired behavior
    • A monthly check allows you to praise, schedule conferences, or recommend tutoring while the semester is still salvageable.



(outside of class)
(in class)

I am fully engaged

Exemplary PreparationI read carefully and research background information on the author/topic ahead of time.

I research social, cultural, historic, economic, political connections to the text/topic.

I consider the course’s Essential Questions as I prepare.

Animated Participation

I attend class and I speak daily.

I try to advance the conversation by presenting evidence to support my ideas.

I present related research, implications, or complexities in the text/situation/topic.

I am occasionally engaged Novice PreparationI read assignments ahead of time.

I do basic research to understand the material, but I do not go beyond the obvious.

Sometimes I consider the course’s Essential Questions as I prepare.

Occasional Participation
I attend class daily.
I speak occasionally—mainly when called upon by the professor.
Sometimes I present general evidence to support my position.
I’m not sure how to be engaged; I need some direction Inadequate preparationSometimes I do the reading.

I don’t research to understand the material, nor do I go beyond the obvious.

Inadequate participationMy attendance is inconsistent.

I participate only when prompted.

I am
No PreparationI neither read nor research before class. No ParticipationMy attendance is inconsistent.

I do not speak in class.

  1. Recognize quiet learners (during and after class)
    • Accept e-mail responses from quiet students
    • Accept reflective e-mails—after class discussion has occurred
    • Ask permission to share their ideas (with attribution) in the next class session
  1. Re-direct garrulous students who don’t full engage with the content
    • Reinforce preparation by encouraging “talkers” to support their ideas with research, articles, quotations from the text as hand, homework, etc.

Engaged students are agents in their own education. Of course, the sole responsibility for engagement mustn’t fall squarely on the students’ shoulders; professors can prepare the classroom and create daily activities to support knowledge-seeking, engaged students. Take a look at your syllabi and lesson plans to ensure that you provide opportunities for students to share their preparation, research, and new knowledge gleaned, even early in the morning.

Dr. Stephanie Almagno is a professor of English at Piedmont College, Demorest, GA.

Participation Points: Making Student Engagement Visible

A Model of Intrinsic Motivation

By: Middleton, J. A Study of Intrinsic Motivation in the Mathematics Classroom: A Personal Constructs Approach  via Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved from

“James Middleton, Joan Littlefield, and Rich Lehrer have proposed the following model of intrinsic academic motivation.

  • First, given the opportunity to engage in a learning activity, a student determines if the activity is one that is known to be interesting.  If so, the student engages in the activity.
  • If not, then the student evaluates the activity on two factors—the stimulation (e.g. challenge, curiosity, fantasy) it provides and the personal control (e.g. free choice, not too difficult) it affords.
  • If the student perceives the activity as stimulating and controllable, then the student tentatively labels the activity as interesting and engages in it.  If either condition becomes insufficient, then the student disengages from the activity—unless some extrinsic motivator influences the student to continue.
  • If the activity is repeatedly deemed stimulating and controllable, then the student may deem the activity interesting.  Then the student will be more likely to engage in the activity in the future.
  • If over time activities that are deemed interesting provide little stimulation or control, then the student will remove the activity from his or her mental list of interesting activities.

The challenge, then, is to provide teaching and learning activities that are both stimulating and offer students a degree of personal control.”

Source: James A. Middleton, “A Study of Intrinsic Motivation in the Mathematics Classroom: A Personal Constructs Approach,” Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Vol. 26, No. 3, pages 255-257.

A Model of Intrinsic Motivation

Why the First Weeks of Your Course are So Critical

By: Aaron Johnson. Why the First Weeks of Your Course are So Critical  via Excellent Online Teaching (June 8, 2015). Retrieved from

“Why the First Weeks of the Semester are so Critical

Here’s a quick way to get a picture of student participation in your class:

1. Click on your participants list in your course site.
2. Then sort you students by their last access date.

Here’s what you’ll likely see: most students are logging in once a day, or every other day. However, there will be one or two students who have not logged in for some time. With rare exception, these students will be struggling in the class.

Another interesting correlation is between professor engagement and student engagement. In courses where the professor logs in less often, and communicates less often, you’ll find that students access the course site less often, and that the number of days between logins increases. In short, professor presence directly impacts student presence. And the early days of the semester have the most impact on this dynamic.

Here are a couple ways your online engagement impacts the online classroom, especially in the early weeks of the semester:

1) You set the tone and the culture
In the first weeks of the course, you have an opportunity to set the tone of communication and the culture of the online classroom. This happens in your emails, by engaging introductions, facilitating online discussions, and adding custom elements to the course. Sometimes—but, not often—you may need to email a particular student to explain how they are coming across in their discussion posts and to give them some pointers on etiquette. In an online course, a student became accusatory and belligerent toward another student in an online discussion forum. Because the instructor was engaged in the discussions, he was able to intercept the behavior early in the semester and reset the tone of conversation in that group. At the end of the semester, the previously hostile student sent her professor a note of gratitude for making the course an excellent learning experience.

2) You have the opportunity to establish your presence in the online classroom
Supposedly, you have about 20 seconds to create a first impression in the face-to-face classroom. Students form opinions quickly, and those can be tough to change. In the first few weeks of an online course, students will figure out whether or not their instructor is really an active participant or a monitor; then, they will adjust their own engagement to match. If that social presence is not established early on, it’s a hard thing to course correct.

Email is a powerful tool for this. Timely responses and short, checking-in emails tell students you are interested in them as individuals and available to them as a resource for learning.

So, be engaged from day one so that you can set the tone and establish your presence in your online classroom.”

Why the First Weeks of Your Course are So Critical

Five Ways to Teach Students to Be Learning Centered, Too

By: . Five Ways to Teach Students to Be Learning Centered, Too via Faculty Focus (September 16, 2016). Retrieved from

“Have you ever wondered if your students are as concerned about their learning as you are? If you prioritize student learning, you may be the only person in your classroom with that goal. Learning-centered teachers seek to coauthor classroom experiences with their students, whereas students may seek only to be taught passively. How might you inspire your students to share accountability for their learning? These five considerations can help you teach your students to be learning centered, too.

  • Encourage students to view themselves from a capacities and growth mindset (“I can learn with adequate effort and use of appropriate strategies”), rather than a fixed or deficiencies mindset (“I’m just not smart enough”). For example, instead of accepting a struggling student’s mindset that “I just can’t do math,” the instructor can help the student understand the importance of time and practice.
  • Coach student success by encouraging and rewarding hard work. Students possess a wide range of learning preferences that allow them to be successful in some classes but not others, depending on the course content and context. If students view their dispositions as “muscles,” where some are stronger than others, instructors can more readily build their academic potential.
  • Provide students with ample active-learning activities. Break up your lectures with activities that get students working with the content, both in and out of class. For example, have students create diagrams/graphic organizers to help improve their understanding of how concepts relate to each other. Additionally, field trips and online modules can provide a range of opportunities to help solidify the material outside of class. Providing students with a menu of optional assignments allows them to reinforce, practice, and learn content in a way that is more aligned with their interests.
  • Build “learning how to learn” outcomes into your course. Fink’s work on significant course design provides key considerations for teaching students how to learn. He proposes that students’ educational experiences will be strengthened if there is a focus on building universal skills for approaching learning opportunities. These acquired competencies will help them in your course and beyond.
  • Provide students with structured opportunities to think intentionally about the cycle of learning. The authors of the book How Learning Works recommend building a cycle into your pedagogy in which students assess the demands of tasks, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed. Providing students with these opportunities not only teaches them how to become learning centered, but also gives them techniques that can help them monitor their learning processes in your course, the next, and beyond. For more specific approaches, check out the book Using Reflection and Metacognition to Improve Student Learning.

When we broaden our approach to implementing learning-centered methods, we have the potential not only to inform how students approach tasks, but how they view themselves as learners. The previous strategies are just a sample of the many ways you can better align students with your efforts both to prioritize and enhance learning in your classroom. You might also consider reading the book Creating Self-Regulated Learners, which provides helpful details for how to integrate some of the ideas mentioned here into your own strategies and designs.

Knowledge is a great gift, but teaching students to be learning centered is a gift that keeps on giving.

Dr. Carl S. Moore is the Director of the Research Academy for Integrated Learning at the University of the District of Columbia, he also serves as Certificate Faculty for the Teaching in Higher Education Program at Temple University.”

Five Ways to Teach Students to Be Learning Centered, Too

The Rhythms of the Semester: Implications for Practice, Persona

By:  Shadiow, Lynda and Weimer, Maryellen (January 18, 2016). The Rhythyms of the Semester: Implications for Practice, Persona via Faculty Focus. Retrieved from

“We recognize that in the march of the semester we begin on a different note than we end on. The early weeks hold promise and high hopes, both often curtailed when the first assignments are graded. The final weeks find us somewhere between being reluctant or relieved to see a class move on. There is an inexplicable but evident interaction between our teaching persona and the persona a class develops throughout a semester. Some structural factors influence both: among them—the type and level of a course, the discipline, the time of day, and whether the students are a cohort or a unique collection of individuals.

Calling attention to the structure of the semester: In research that tugs on the edges of something that we take for granted, Mann and colleagues (1970) describe how a structural arc in a semester influences the persona of a class and its faculty. Duffy & Jones (1995) built on Mann’s work by addressing the predictable swings of attitudes and emotions during three phases of a semester. There are no discrete boundaries nor fixed lengths of time in the three phases, and their generalizations have differing degrees of influence depending on the personas of the teacher and class. However, once each phase is understood, planning for them can occur.

Developing a community during the opening weeks: Most faculty and students approach the opening weeks of a semester with beliefs about fresh beginnings; students will do better and teachers will be better. These views influence how the community for learning evolves and can be used in building that community.

Implications for practice: Pursuing questions like the following generates mutual respect and trust during the period when the persona of a class is developing: What does it mean to be a learner in this course? What will it take to be a teacher in this course? What is the starting place? What experiences with and views of the content are students bringing with them? How do they want to be learners in the class? What expectations do they have of themselves? Of the teacher? What expectations does the teacher have of them? Of himself or herself?

The strength of the learning community built in the opening weeks can influence the inevitable impact of the midsemester doldrums.

Revitalizing a class during the midsemester doldrums: As the semester marches on, teachers and students realize that the optimism and expectations felt during the opening weeks will not all be realized. We have all experienced this period of the “doldrums” (Duffy & Jones) that challenges whatever sense of community was developed earlier. With both students and faculty feeling overworked and even a degree of “deflation and defensiveness,” Duffy and Jones acknowledge “students and faculty…rely on each other for the stimulation to move the course forward” (p. 162). This down period can impede learning. What can be done to mitigate its effects?

Implications for practice: Some faculty have found directly acknowledging the “rhythms of the semester” with a class conversation helps confront its challenges. Others revitalize the learning environment by interjecting an unexpected approach: inviting a guest speaker, using an unusual resource, giving an unexpected assignment—doing something that disrupts the routine. One physics colleague presents a “Gee Whiz” lecture that provides illustrations of unusual applications of theories within the field. A sociology colleague has students visit a local bookstore and survey books in the parenting section that present different views of “childhood” in titles and tables of contents.

Achieving closure during the concluding weeks: The final phase of a course features a general recommitment to course goals and, as end-of-semester deadlines approach, a slowly building tension. Stress levels increase for faculty and students as time diminishes for teaching and learning content and for completing and grading assignments. On both sides of the desk procrastinators face a brick wall and perfectionists face inevitable disappointment.

Implications for practice: Acknowledging these challenges provides an opportunity to address them. Doing so enables conversations either online or in class about productive ways to study. A syllabus revisit can direct a conversation about key content points students now identify with each segment. Providing opportunities for students to recognize not just what they learned but how they learned it gets everyone focused on what was accomplished rather than what was left undone. Acknowledgment, joint pursuit of concrete evidence of progress, and identification of the best avenues for concluding the semester can help achieve positive closure.

The personas of the teacher and the class are conduits for learning: The arc of the semester often catches students off guard, and they’re surprised that faculty not only notice the arc, but we experience it too. Using our understanding of the effects and predictability of the arc, we can help students effectively navigate through the highs and lows of a course.

Persona series
This is the fourth in a series of five articles that explore teaching persona—what it is and what influences its evolution. Review the previous articles:

  1. How Do I Make Choices About Who I Am as a Teacher? – Oct. 5, 2015
  2. Six Myths About a Teaching Persona – Oct. 26, 2015
  3. A New Twist on End-of-Semester Evaluations – Nov. 23, 2015

On February 29, the series concludes with a look at how the “signature pedagogy” of a discipline influences the persona of a class and its teacher. Stay tuned!

Duffy, D. K. & Jones, J. W. Teaching Within the Rhythms of the Semester. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.

Mann, R. D., Arnold, S. M., Binder, J., Cytrunbaum, S., Ringwald, J. & Rosenwein, R. The College Classroom: Conflict, Change, and Learning. New York: Wiley, 1970.”

The Rhythms of the Semester: Implications for Practice, Persona

Taking Risks in Teaching

Hoefer, Mark (November 11, 2015). Taking Risks in Teaching via Luminaris. Retrieved from

“Like many of you, I enjoy reading about teaching, listening to podcasts and watching videos for inspiration. I find it very interesting the many different ways faculty engage their students in learning. Many times, I’m inspired to incorporate some of these strategies or activities I discover in my own teaching.

It is risky, though, to try something new. Just because a particular approach works well in one class, doesn’t mean it will work well in others. Any time we incorporate something new, it takes time to plan and implement. This means that there are opportunity costs. If we incorporate a new activity in class, it means that we need to make time for it by eliminating another activity. It also means that the extra time it takes to plan for the activity is less time we can spend on our work outside of teaching as well. Finally, we also have to take into account student evaluations of our teaching. If we take a risk that fails, we may come to regret it at the end of the semester. With all these reasons not to take risks in our teaching, why should we consider it?

Why take risks?
I’ve found that when I teach one of my courses in the same way each semester, it’s disadvantageous for myself and for my students.  First, I’m not growing – in my teaching and in the way I approach my course content. One example that comes to mind for me is the way in which I teach my preservice education students to integrate technology through instructional planning. I have worked with colleagues to develop a particular strategy with materials to assist students in the process, but I essentially used the same series of in-class lessons to introduce it. I realized over time that sticking with the same way to engage students with the material had some issues. Working together with them in class didn’t give students the time they needed to work with the materials, grapple with their ideas and produce good work. Consequently, through several different iterations, I have developed a new self-paced, online approach that I think works much better and improves my course.

Trying new strategies and activities also helps us to better respond to students’ learning needs and preferences in the classroom. One way I’ve taken a risk to provide my students with more choice to better meet their needs is through offering more choice in the materials and different strategies to approach their work. Giving them a range of different materials to introduce new content allows them to pick the mode and format that works best for them. I also like to provide options for both the specific focus for course projects and how they present their work as well. While these efforts do require more time for me to plan and prepare, my students consistently have positive things to say about the choice they have in my courses.

Taking risks and trying new things can also increase our enjoyment and engagement with the class. Even when things don’t go exactly as planned, experimenting with different strategies forclass discussion, student writing assignments, and different ways to present content can keep us engaged and interested in our own work. A few years ago, one activity I had to help students understand TPACK, a theoretical construct to describe teachers’ knowledge for integrating technology, had become stale. I traded out a series of readings and a paper with a project where students developed TPACK teaching cases. Not only were these teaching cases much more effective in helping students to understand TPACK, it was also much more satisfying for me to design, facilitate and assess their final projects.

Tips for getting started with new approaches
Despite the potential payoff for trying new approaches in teaching, it can still be daunting. I’ve learned over time that a few tips can be helpful in taking the leap and being successful with new strategies.

  1. Try small “hacks” rather than huge changes. If you can identify small, manageable changes to explore you can build confidence to take bigger risks. So, for example, rather than building your course entirely around case studies, try planning and implementing a single, brief case in one class session. This experience will help you to determine if you want to try additional cases in future class sessions.
  2. Consider your rationale for change. I think that when we make a significant change in our teaching, we ought to have a reason to do so. If we identify a challenge or opportunity in our teaching, we’ll be much more likely to invest our time and energy into trying a new approach.
  3. Determine if the innovation is a fit. Even if we have identified a challenge or opportunity in our course content, a particular strategy or approach we come across may not be a good fit for the content or students in our class. To avoid a mismatch, be sure to clearly identify your learning goals and consider any new ideas against them.
  4. Be transparent with your students. When you recognize you’re taking a risk in trying something new, tell your students up front what you’re planning. Tell them why you’ve decided to try a new approach. Ask them for their feedback afterwards. In my experience, being open and honest with students and then asking them for the input goes a long way towards getting their buy-in for a new approach.
  5. Be reflective. When you try something new, take some time after class or at the end of the project to think about what you’ve learned. This reflection can help you to zero in on effective elements of an activity, how you might be able to improve, and what lessons you learned. Armed with these reflections, the next time you try a similar approach, you will have the benefit of your reflective experience.

What risks have you taken this semester in your teaching?”

Taking Risks in Teaching