Afterword: With and Because of Genevieve

Afterword: With and Because of Genevieve

Donna Qualley

From the Program Materials (2013-2014) for TAs: "About Class Participation and Preparedness"

We do not give class participation marks in English 101. Nancy Johnson, a professor in our department says, “The class that creates the community creates the class.” She’s right. A class that actively participates in the work of the course and with each other makes for a valuable learning experience for everyone. We have all seen or experienced how one person’s contribution can facilitate another person’s learning. Don’t we want to encourage and acknowledge such work?

Yes, but … class participation is almost impossible to evaluate fairly and objectively. Just what do we mean by “class participation?” Participating in large and small group discussions? Asking thoughtful questions? Carefully reading and annotating all the assigned texts? Actively engaging with in-class and out-of-class writing assignments? Showing an interest in the course by visiting you during office hours? To what extent are these activities part of our basic expectations for students in the course and under what conditions might they demonstrate superior or less than satisfactory performance? While instructors can be explicit about their expectations for preparedness and participation and to what extent these things may affect students’ grades, you should keep the following cautions in mind:

  • We can assess who brings their books and who has read the texts that we have assigned (preparedness), but many of the other features of “class participation” are more complicated.
  • It is extremely difficult to render a fair and objective judgment about a student’s oral class participation. We typically rely on imperfect memories. If teachers are honest with themselves, they may discover a tendency to award participation points to those students who ask a lot of questions, frequent their office hours, or even voice positions compatible with their own.
  • Placing too much emphasis on class discussion can sometimes reward student glibness rather than student thoughtfulness.
  • This definition of class participation can sometimes unfairly penalize naturally shy or quiet students

Unlike literature classes, for example, which rely on class discussion as a primary pedagogical vehicle, English 101 is a writing class.

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