A Curation of Student Voices on Participation in the Writing Classroom

A Curation of Student Voices on Participation in the Writing Classroom

Lauren Obermark


As I emphasize in my introduction, this study offers an initial attempt toward including student voices in the research surrounding participation. I hope other scholars find it useful as an invitation to undertake their own research. I would like to partially conclude by offering some questions connected to each commonplace that stood out to me as important directions for future student-based research on participation.


  • Does grading participation potentially produce the same negative correlation Jennings et al. discover in their research?
  • How does grading participation affect students’ notions of participating in the public sphere?
  • Beyond grades, what are other ways teachers of writing can encourage participation?
  • Or, how can we redefine participation—that is, push ourselves and our students to see it as more than oral contributions—to make it more inclusive of a variety of behaviors, voices, experiences, and identities?
  • In redefining participation, what are more ethical, meaningful ways writing teachers can “count” it as valuable to students’ grades?

Now THAT would be my ideal English/composition class… participating in 'The Great Conversation' with past and present writers and ideas, with modern writers, with young students and nontraditional students, with people from all different backgrounds and cultures…that would be a dream come true!

— Kris, Interview Prewriting


  • As online writing courses become increasingly common, how must generally accepted definitions and understandings of participation (held by both instructors and students) shift?
  • How can technologies like discussion boards and blogs make writing itself a more central form of participation in composition classrooms—both online and F2F?
  • What methods can scholars use to better understand how students participate in online spaces?
  • How can theories of universal design for learning change participation expectations and practices in the writing classroom?
  • How can, in the words of Critel's dissertation, “technology hope” and “technology criticism” guide the pedagogy that undergirds participation?


  • How can the writing classroom serve as a microcosm of the public sphere? What are the benefits and challenges of such a model, and where does community come into play?
  • How can teachers create and engage forms of participation that can encourage students to be more thoughtful and ethical “citizen participants” beyond the walls of the classroom? And beyond their years at the university, as well?
  • How can notions of community and participation be productively complicated, thus avoiding the dangers of eliding difference or colonizing student voices?
  • In what ways do the goals of classroom community, participation, and rhetorical education intersect? In what ways do they diverge?

In general, I think class participation just means that you offer up your two cents on the topic at hand. At the very least, just pay attention, respect others' opinions, even if you do disagree.

— Anastasia, Interview Prewriting


  • How do various student identifications—overlapping and fluid as they may be—affect students’ desire and ability to participate?  
  • How do participation policies, practices, and expectations privilege certain bodies and marginalize others?    
  • In what ways do dominant understandings/conceptions of “normal” shape participation practices in the writing classroom?
  • What steps can be taken—at the level of the classroom and the institution—to change discriminatory participation practices?

Beyond the richness of the questions, I want to conclude with one last video. I refrain from offering my own analysis here. I will simply preface this video by sharing that all of the comments included within it were responding to the guiding questions of this study—that is, the questions Critel leaves us with in her own chapter. As she suggests, I asked students, “How would you like to participate? What’s your ideal? How can teachers support you?”

Fig. 13. Video of interviewees discussing participation.

Conclusion Video Transcript

  • AS- Anastasia
  • CF- Christian
  • LO- Lauren Obermark
  • MS- Marche
  • KS- Kris

Anastasia on Moving Away from Talking as the “Ideal” Form of Participation and Valuing Listening and Writing More

AS: For me, I think, like, in class participation, it doesn’t have to mean you’re sitting there like…[short pause] talking, the whole like, hour and a half or however long the class is. I think that, you know, if you’re just sitting there listening actively, thinking about the topic, I think that’s a form of participation. I wish they would not really just focus simply on the talking aspect of the participation, I wish they could see, like, the writing aspect of it and just thinking about what you’re saying, and I wish they could see that as another form of participation.  Most of the time they really don’t… [trails off into next video]

Christian on Making Participation "Relevant"

CF: I mean, like we talked about at the very beginning about making it relative to what those students are most interested in.

LO: Yeah.

CF: You know, like…[short pause, thinking] you know, like, if their major is…[short pause] archaeology, or Business, or Spanish, or something than maybe, [laughing] well maybe not all Spanish would work with writing but you know, like, something, something, um [thinking] making it relevant to them [inaudible agreement from LO].

CF: [short pause] I know, like, in the Nursing classes I find that the most helpful things are when there’s case studies.

LO: Oh, yeah [agreeing].

CF: When you can apply it to something, you know, solid, um, that seems to tie it in, tie it in socially to something.

LO: Right.

CF: I think that’s, that’d be a good way… [trails off into next video].

Marche on Icebreakers and Group Work as Part of Participation

MS: Like this might sound really cheesy but I’m thinking like a [thinking] an icebreaker that might lead into the, um, the topic of discussion for the day, so like something to get, to get the juices flowing, the mind juices flowing and get us to participate in class.  Or, like, maybe more…[short pause] group assignments with each other to help us engage more…[shaking head] stuff like that.

MS: Yeah you get to know people, get to network and you’re still engaging with your classmates even though it’s not at as a whole, but you still feel like, you know, like you know she can switch it up every now and then, like you know, okay, these people grouped already so now we can mix it up and switch the groups around, so you still, like, get to engage with each other.

Kris on the "Great Conversation" and Personal Connection as the "Ideal" Form of Participation

KS: I’m a big picture, big meaning, deep idea, yeah, person, so, um, first of all, ideally I want to be connected with the person, um…[thinking] in a personal way.

LO: Yeah.

KS: Not, um…[thinking] but I also want to connect to big ideas, to important ideas, to universal ideas, to meaning.

LO: Right.

KS: And I want, so, especially in some type of Literature class or an English class, um, there’s so much rich opportunity to engage with, you know, I called it the Great Conversation.

LO: Yeah.

KS: With these writers, with, because really when you read, um, really good writing, it, it is a conversation…with the writer.  If it’s good writing, you’re having a conver…at least with me, the way I read, it’s a conversation, and to be able to carry that conversation now, from the personal one on one with the book to another person that you’re connecting to on a personal level, that would be ideal.

LO: Yeah.

KS: To me.

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