Attentiveness and Participation Assessed! Sort Of.

In an attempt to reframe effort in the classroom I’m trying to sift through the more traditional elements of effort (attentiveness, participation, compliance, focus, organization) and save the learning kernels after the chaff has drifted away. In my SBL and TTOG classroom I’m finding the learning outcomes that help students see the reason we tried to value effort by awarding points.

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My less-than-effective way to encourage and grade classroom conversation: Track how often students participated in class activities. Award points to frequent talkers, hand-raisers, and question-askers. Remind infrequent participators that class participation is part of their grade.

My less-than-effective way to assess attentiveness: Observe the body language of 20+ students while I lecture. See who can answer the occasional pop question. Prod the inattentive or slumbering with a walk down the aisle and/or a reminder of the importance of attentiveness to their participation grade.

Even though it has been a long time since I practiced those methods, it’s pretty embarrassing to see them in print. What specifically did I think I was teaching those students? And while I stopped using such methods (which were far more about filling up a grade book than about learning) I didn’t find alternative ways to help teach the skills that I was ineffectively trying to value with my participation grade, skills such as speaking and listening.

Speaking and Listening are two of the language arts that appear in my curriculum, and they are a big part of what I was trying to encourage when I stressed the value of participation. They are valuable tools for learning and everyday skills that can improve quality of life in and out of school.

Here is my more effective way to teach and develop attentiveness and participation in class:

The beginning of the year includes mini lessons on speaking and listening. For example, I try to simplify speaking to the intentional use of face, body, and voice in order to enhance meaning. A good speaker will use a gesture to emphasize an important point or feeling; they will use a pause or change in volume to draw attention to a key idea. Other teachers use other methods (PVLEGS for example), but once the basic instruction for speaking and listening is in place, the classroom is ready for some practice.

Next I will ask the students to listen for moments of quality speaking in class. Perhaps, Jason shrugged emphatically when he replied, “I’m not entirely sure,” to a question. Maybe Sherise paused effectively when challenging Greg’s line of reasoning. I will also point out a few quality moments as a model.

Once a few examples have clarified the type of observations that I’m after, I will more formally assign a minimum number of positive observations to be made in a set time period; something like five observations in the month. I’ll have students post their observations using Google Keep notes. If you haven’t used Google Keep, it is basically a Sticky note app with variety of helpful functions like tags, sharing, and colour-coding. I will have students tag their observation notes with tags signifying standards/skills (eg. speaking, voice) and then share the note with me and the observed student speaker. When it is time for me to track or assess progress, I can search and filter my Keep notes by standard or by student.

There are many benefits to this assignment:

  • It creates artifacts of learning that can be tracked over time for both individuals and the entire class.
  • It creates teachable moments for speaking and listening.
  • It offers insight into further instruction based on which standards/skills are underrepresented or observed without adequate sophistication.
  • It values attentive listening and quality speaking in everyday classroom conversation.
  • It builds community and reflection through the encouraging, positive observations of peers.

That’s my rough draft idea, one way to reconcile “effort” and standards-based assessment. Already I can see the potential to teach responsible social media use by having the observations shared class-wide, but at this moment I haven’t imagined how to make the tech happen (a Padlet wall? A class social media account? Any ideas out there?). I’m excited to try it out in class, and I will report on field testing during the semester.



Filed under Classroom Ideas

2 responses to “Attentiveness and Participation Assessed! Sort Of.

  1. Scott, I love the idea of handing observations over to the kids – it’s just so much when I’m trying to do so as the facilitator. I’m first wondering – how can they do so w/o Google Keep? We currently have to check out the tech days ahead of time. I’ve never used Google Keep – could they just give you sticky notes (one per observation), or would that be too overwhelming? My next wonder – What if some kids get left out, because no one notes them participating? Or will you have “student observers” for the day, and they try to track everyone? So much to consider. I’m not there…yet. I will be keeping track of book talks (see the form here: ) and hope to keep track of those same ideas throughout other participation. You’re helping me get there!

    • Excellent questions. I have the challenge and opportunity of working in a 1:1 iPad classroom, so I’m looking for positive ways for students to use digital tools in the moment. With more occasional access to tech, I think a Google Form would be a good option. The form could use multiple choice or checkbox questions to include skills and standards and some writing space would allow students to include their individual observations. You could still sort and filter the results for formative assessment, and you could even make the results public to your students if you wished. Students would have to write their observations on paper in the moment and then transfer to the Form at the scheduled time. A reminder that the tech time is approaching will spur on a few more observations.

      The flipside of this assignment is that students need to speak. Perhaps it needs to be part of the formal assignment that during the time period each student needs to speak at least __ times? Two? This could be in any classroom context: small groups, one on one, or whole class. I don’t want participation to be based on quantity, but speaking in groups of 2-20 is an essential life skill, so I’m while I don’t like putting kids on the spot or embarrassing them, I think it is essential that they work through their discomfort and develop this skill. I hope this method respects their discomfort and allows them to pick their moments. I’m hoping that the control and autonomy of the choice will help.

      I’m going to improvise if faced with the issue of a student(s) being left out. Students could certainly make observations/reflections of their own speaking attempts in order to clarify their intentions. This would add to the learning and maybe needs to be part of the assignment, writing reflections on their own speaking (always cool to see what happens when I/people start writing/thinking). Perhaps over the course of the year, as the assignment repeats itself as part of the class routine, a condition/challenge could be added to try to observe every student–just like Pokemon Go: gotta observe them all!

      That’s my thinking of the moment; thank you, for helping me through it by taking the time to comment. Happy New School Year!

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