Holding Students Accountable with a Participation Grade

Tomorrow is a big day – the first day of classes! I’m so excited/nervous/stressed/happy/exhausted/you-get-the-picture. I’m going to fly through this post so I can get a good night’s sleep.  I apologize in advance if it doesn’t make much sense.

Today was our community day: the first day when we gather as an entire school community.  We began the morning with class meetings.  I’m the freshman class moderator, so I was busy leading the meeting this morning.  Those fresh-faced frosh are filled with questions, let me tell you.

After class meetings, we came together as an entire school community for liturgy.  The students were spirited and well-behaved (for the most part); and although I think the homily went right over some of their heads (The topic was learning to not make things all about you. I’m looking at you, seniors), we always just hope we’ve planted the seeds for the future.

After liturgy was the annual volleyball tournament.  Seniors vs. juniors, sophomores vs. freshmen, and then winners battle it out.  The frosh won this year, but the seniors were still the ones to play the coworkers for the final game.  It was noisy and chaotic – a total representation of my state of mind during the first week of school.

The students were dismissed after the coworkers’ victory (aw yeah!), but of course, I hung around my classroom to go through final preps for tomorrow.  My main objective for my worktime in the room today was to print/copy for the week. This meant making final revisions to the yearbook staff manual, freshmen and sophomore seating charts and participation logs for all five of my theology classes.  I had prepped the frosh logs already, but there had been changes in my class list since then so I needed to update.

My participation logs for my senior classes are fairly informal – nothing more than a spreadsheet to track participation in discussion and take off points if they’re off task.  My freshmen and sophomore logs have a more rigid purpose.


Sneak peek at the participation log. Names are cropped to protect the innocent. 😉


Basically I use the log as a method of classroom management.  The idea was adapted from a classroom management book I lent to a colleague (so I can’t think of the name).  I started it a few years ago when I was having a particularly difficult time with the frosh.  They were coming to class late and forgetting their materials and I was getting so frustrated.  We’d spend the first five minutes of class waiting for people to get back from their lockers to retrieve their textbooks.  I’d get annoyed and lecture the kids who were in the classroom with me waiting (you know, the ones who weren’t at their lockers because they already had their materials and didn’t need the reminder?) and the kids holding us all back got a nice stroll around campus.  The checklist was a huge relief to my nerves and also held the students accountable.  

Each week the students have the opportunity to earn five participation points (one per day).  They earn the points by:

  1. Having their materials (M)
  2. Being in their seats at the bell (B)
  3. Being on task and participating (P)
  4. Following our classroom technology rules (T) – cell phones off and away, laptops only when appropriate

Now when a student comes to class without her textbook, I calmly cross off her M for that day.  She loses a quarter of a participation point on her grade and I don’t feel the need to jump on a soapbox and lecture the entire group on personal responsibility. 

It’s not a perfect system, but it suits my needs.  It provides me with concrete evidence to back up a participation grade and it ensures that my students are held accountable for knowing how our classroom is run.  I printed out a quarter’s worth of logs for each of the sections. (Each class has a clipboard where I keep the logs.)

After all my printing and copying, I went home for dinner, but was back at it for another couple hours.  I updated all of my websites’ calendars and planned out another week’s worth of lessons for my senior course.  In total…12 hours of work today.

Now it’s off to bed. School tomorrow!



2 thoughts on “Holding Students Accountable with a Participation Grade

  1. I love this idea. Do students get to see how their participation points are being tracked? Is it in a public place in the classroom/can they ask to see? I’m wondering if you’ve had students improve their behavior or “forgetfulness” once they saw that it really did impact their grade.

  2. Hello! I can’t claim the idea as my own – I surely adapted it from someone else, but I love it, too.

    We use an online grading system so the students see their grades weekly as I post them. If they lose a point, I try to add a comment just noting, “8/23 – materials”. I keep the clipboards in a file holder on my desk and grab the appropriate one at the start of each period. The students are welcome to schedule a meeting with me to check out their logs if they want.

    Does it work? Mostly. It has cut down on everyday “forgetfulness” tremendously. In terms of bringing materials to class and arriving on time, I’ve noticed a huge improvement. The students who tend to get off task in class still do, but at least it gives me a visual to try to explain to them how their behavior is affecting their grade.

    But seriously the biggest benefit it has served me is in terms of stress relief. I can’t even tell you how nice it feels to be able to give them an appropriate consequence for behavior without dwelling on it and pulling my own hair out. Crossing off a letter when a student shows up late without a pass has become almost therapeutic for me. 😉

    Thanks for reading! That was my first blog question – woohoo! I feel like you should get a prize. How about this – if you’d like any more info or want to see my full participation log, just send me your email? Happy Friday!

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