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Classroom Participation. Factors Affecting Student Participation in Discussion and Why it Matters. Cheryl L. Gaines Eighth Grade Allen Jay Middle School. Background. I chose this the topic because I am concerned with the trend I have noticed in my classroom.

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Classroom participation l.jpg

Classroom Participation

Factors Affecting Student Participation

in Discussion and Why it Matters

Cheryl L. Gaines

Eighth Grade

Allen Jay Middle School

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  • I chose this the topic because I am concerned with the trend I have noticed in my classroom.

  • Why is it that some students always participate in classroom discussions and other refuse to join in?

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“A thoughtful classroom discussion helps students develop critical thinking. Talking in a group helps them learn to organize their thoughts and present them coherently. They also learn to be active listeners, holding other peoples’ ideas up to critical analysis. Through this they realize there are alternative ways of looking at a difficult problem.”

David Elkin & Freddy Sweet

Schools in the Middle, 1998

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Research Questions

  • Does the format of discussion groups (whole class vs. small) affect the frequency of student participation? ...or engage different students in discussion?

  • Does the level of participation really determine the level of understanding students gain from class discussions?

  • And do factors such as gender, race, academic ability, and personality affect which students participate in classroom discussions?

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  • 75 Eighth Grade Language Arts students

  • 43% African American, 41 % Caucasian, 12% Asian, and 4% Hispanic.

  • Three academic groups: advanced (19 students), middle level (45), and (EC) inclusion (11 students are learning disabled or other handicap impaired.)

  • 60% of the students are males and 40% females.

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Instructional Procedures

  • My study was conducted over a period of five weeks.

  • Class literary discussions were held for 15 to 20 minutes.

  • I took on the role of facilitator. I supplied students with a topic and a goal, but stayed out of discussion as much as possible.

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Data Collection

  • I recorded 10 sessions of classroom discussions (5 small group & 5 whole class).

  • I used seating charts to record the frequency of participation in small and whole groups. I only counted relevant answers.

  • I kept notes about observed behavior.

  • I asked other subject area teachers to indicate student participation [Frequently (F), Occasionally (O), or Rarely/Never (N)] in their classes to compare interest levels.

  • I gave students a survey on classroom participation to find out student perceptions and feelings about class participation.

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Data Analysis

  • I transferred all information collected during class discussions to a database along with other relevant student information such as academic level, grades, gender, and race.

  • I tallied information from student surveys and teacher charts which I compared with the classroom data to draw a variety of conclusions.

  • I use the database to graph the information to understand it better.

  • Much of my results reflect all 75 students. However, some results were calculated using only select groups.

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Whole Group vs. Small Group Participation

Small groups resulted in greater frequency of participation among students who never participated in whole group and little or no decline among those who participated regularly in whole group.

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Small Group vs. Whole Class

What about AIG and EC students?

Both groups participated more in small groups.

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How Participation Affects Grades























Josh Mi




Daniel G



Participation and Grades

The more frequently a student participated, the higher their average.

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Participation by Race

  • Each groups’ average grade was related to their participation level with the exception of Asian students.

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Participation by Gender

In general, the boys participated more in class discussion than the girls.

Neither group correctly perceived their participation rates.

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Interest vs. Personality

Personality rather than interest in a subject area played a bigger role in whether students participated in class.

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  • There are many factors which influence student participation in class.

  • According to student surveys, 96% of my students think participation is important, but only 83 % claim to participate.

  • Both whole group and small group discussions are valuable, but small group seems to be a more comfortable setting for most students.

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  • Reasons listed by students include:

    • Afraid of messing up being wrong

    • People might pick on me

    • Other may not agree

  • Grades seem to play a large role in whether students choose to participate in class.

  • Whole class is as valued as small group but more uncomfortable, so…

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  • Teachers must find ways to make students more comfortable with whole group:

    • Participation grades

    • Affect on grades

    • Class can create participation rules

    • Keep a journal or scoring chart

    • Innovative whole class strategies

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Future Direction

  • I would like to look at how different whole and small groups strategies work with in my classes and see which engage the most students and produce the best results.

  • Another topic: What can we do to help middle school students who are non-readers or barely literate.

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References & Resources:

  • Center for Instructional Development and Research. (2004). Inclusive Teaching. Retrieved on Nov. 9, 2005 from

  • Center for Instructional Development and Research. (2000). More and Better Class Participation. Retrieved on Nov. 9, 2005 from

  • Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. (2005). Ground Rules for Class Participation. Retrieved Nov. 9, 2005 from

  • Connolly, Bill and Smith, Michael. (2002). Teachers and Students Talk About Talk: Class Discussion the Way It Should Be. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. V 46 no1,16-26. Retrieved on Sep. 24, 2005 from WNCLN Education Full Text.

  • Cooper, Georgeanne. (2000). More Good Thoughts on Participation. Teaching Effectiveness Program of University of Oregon. Retrieved Nov. 9, 2005 from


  • Crombie, Gail, Pyke, Sandra, & Silverthorn, Naida. (2003). Students Perceptions of Their Classroom Participation and Instructor as a Function of Gender and Context. The Journal of Higher Education. V74, no1, 51-76. Retrieved Nov. 8, 2005 from WNDLN Education Full Text database.

  • Elkind, David H. and Sweet, Freddy Ph.D. (1998) Ethical Reasoning and the Art of Classroom Dialogue. The High School Magazine. Jan/Feb. Retrieved Sep.25, 2005 from Education Full Text database.

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  • Elkind, David H. and Sweet, Freddy Ph.D. (1998) Classroom Dialogue Stimulates Respectful Relationships . Schools in the Middle. V8 no2, 38-44. Retrieved Nov.8, 2005 from WNCLN Education Full Text database.

  • Furr, Mark. (2003).Welcome to EFL Literature Circles. Retrieved Sep. 24, 2005, from

  • Green, Susan & Johnson, Douglas. (2003). I Ain’t Thinking About No…:The Development of Two Parallel Diversity-Related Case Studies for Higher Education. College Teaching. v51, no4, 148-52. Retrieved Sep. 24, 2005 from WNCLN Education FullTex.

  • Green, Timothy D. (2000). Responding and Sharing: Techniques for Energizing Classroom Discussions. The Clearing House Journal. July/Aug. v73 no6 p.331-4. Retrieved Sep.24, 2005 from WNCLN Education Full Text database.

  • Kagan, S. (1992). Cooperative Learning. San Juan Capistrano, CA

  • Maznevski, Martha. (1996). Grading Class Participation. Teaching Concerns. Spring. Retrieved Nov.9, 2005 from

  • Robinson, Maria K. (2005). Koosh! Enhancing Class Participation. MAA Online. Retrieved on Nov 9, 2005 from _l/koosh.html

  • Tou, Ng Hwee. (2003). Increasing Student Participation: A Classroom Experiment. Centre for the Development of Teaching and Learning, CDTL Brief. Retrieved Nov. 9, 2005 from http://www.cdtl.nus.edusg/brief/V6n10/sec3.htm

  • Wilen, William. (2004). Refuting Misconceptions about Classroom Discussions. The Social Studies Journal. V95 no, 1, 33-9. Retrieved Sep.24, 2005 from WNCLN Education Full Text database.