Grading Participation in Korean Universities

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Grading participation

Grading Participation: I Refuse to Do It

Grading participation in Korean universities-I did it for quite a few years but in the past 3, I’ve refused to do it. It basically has to do with the classes that I’m teaching-mostly advanced level ones for English majors. If you’re an English major, it seems like you should be graded on your actual English ability and not whether or not you try hard.

Are we Teaching in Elementary Schools?

We’re in a university here, not elementary school. I want to prepare my students for the real world which is why I expect them to show up on time for my classes. If you’re late for work at Samsung every single day, you’re probably going to get fired. If you don’t produce results, you’ll likely meet the same fate.

So in my classes, I don’t really care how students get there, but can you produce a 5 paragraph essay? Great. You’ll get an A. Can you achieve a reasonable mastery of the target grammar and vocabulary that we’ve studied during the semester. Awesome. Here’s your A.

Can’t do those things? Well, it’s time to pull yourself together and get serious about English. You’ll be in for a rude awakening in the real world when you graduate with a degree in English but are actually pretty terrible at it.

Gil Coombe: Loved your Presentation

Anyway, what inspired this post is a presentation I attended at the recent Kotesol International Conference by Gil Coombe, “Grading Participation in University English Courses: Why?” He gave 15 stellar reasons why you shouldn’t-here are some of the highlights and a few of my own comments. As an aside, it was an excellent presentation and one of the best I’ve ever seen at Kotesol. Nice work!

Why Grading Participation is Bad News:

Mastery of Course Content

Isn’t this important, more so than effort? We’re teaching in universities! Seriously. At some point (perhaps high-school?), it’s time to just expect competence in something that Korean students have been studying for a decade.

Participation Reflected in the Final Grade

Good students will participate in class, but will also do the best on tests and homework. Gil Coombe did a bunch of research and found that removing participation grades actually has no effect whatsoever on final grades. It’s just way more work for the teacher for basically no change in the actual grades of the students.

What about Introverted Students?

Grading participation in language classes really, really favours extroverted students. As kind of an introvert myself, I have a lot of sympathy for them and I really do think it’s unfair that quiet people get punished basically. Just because someone is quiet, it doesn’t mean that they’re not participating in your class.

Why do the Task?

You are failing as a teacher if you ever get into the situation where students are only doing a task because they’ll get some participation points. There are plenty of far better reasons for students to do tasks than this.

What Criteria to Use?

It all just seems so subjective and biased and I would argue that it basically comes down to giving points to the students that you like and taking away points from the students that you don’t. This certainly isn’t my style and I try to never, ever play favourites. Even if you try not to do this as well, it’s pretty hard to avoid when you’re handing out participation points.

And, if someone ever questions your grading, it’s so, so easy to point to a test or piece of homework to justify yourself. Participation points? How could you ever justify this? Min-Su spoke 17 times, but Ji-Su only spoke 11 times. Min-Ji looked happy but Ji-Won was always grumpy.

It’s Time Consuming

I’m personally kind of a lazy teacher. I recycle lessons. I’m all about teaching self-editing instead of editing writing work myself. I lesson plan, but only an average amount. Then, I get students to talk to each other for tests instead of with me. I go student-centered to the extreme and spent most of the class just kind of lurking around, eavesdropping. Grading participation each class just seems far, far, far too time-consuming and requires way more brain-power than I’m willing to spend.

What’s your Job?

I personally would rather be a facilitator of learning than a full-time assessor. I like to help while in class and judge only on tests. Finally, I hope that my students can just relax and enjoy the class and not feel like I’m always watching them. Big Brother just ain’t my style, you know?

Students Don’t Care About It

In Coombe’s experience, his students don’t seem to care one way or the other whether he graded participation in class. It’s a lot of work and so if students don’t care about it, it doesn’t really make sense to use them.

How about you?

Grading participation-do you do it, or not? Why? Leave a comment below and tell me.

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  1. I use participation. The good students don’t need it as they are already motivated. I want to have classes where the lowest are encouraged to learn. Included in the grade is organisation: bring a pen, notebook, textbook – and write the date and something in your notebook everyday. I check it at the end of the semester. Before I did this only the best students took notes and they didn’t need to. Now, most of them do and take a little more pride in their work. Let’s face it, some of these students do not seem to know the ‘how’ of learning and they do need a bit of encouragement. I still have a few that don’t bring a book or pen or … but heck, you can’t help everyone.

    1. admin

      I like your system because it’s something that all students, even the shy ones can do. It’s also very, very objective and students know exactly what they need to do to get the points. It also requires very little from you in terms of time for grading.

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