For these reasons, I tend not to assign a separate mark for class participation. (And I've had experiences in the past where I've assigned, say, 15% for class participation because it is important, only to realize at the end of the semester that I didn't keep track well enough to hand out a meaningful mark. In such cases, strong memories of positive or lacking contributions may affect the mark, but in general class participation works out to the student's average in their other assignments. This sort of "fudge factor" grading is obviously not ideal.)
In a small 4th year seminar, however, creating an ethos of community participation is vital; learning to contribute thoughtfully to high level discussions is part of the point of the course. In this context, assigning a grade for participation, however small, is important and makes sense.
But how does one do it efficiently and fairly? Here are a couple suggestions from an article and comments in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
- "If they are actively participating every day, they get a perfect score. While active participation is easiest to measure by those students who speak in class and contribute to discussions, I also consider those who are clearly following the conversation and being thoughtful about it. If you don’t regularly participate in class, your score drops. Those who never participate in class but have perfect attendance will end up with a score around 60-70%." - Brian Croxall
- "A person who comes to every class but never contributes earns a 50. A person who contributes to every class but never says anything of value–working for that tick mark–gets a 75. I tell shy students who protest that they don’t “like” to talk that I am certain they have classmates who don’t “like” to take exams or write papers. Don’t like the policy, don’t take the course. I send around a clipboard at the end of class for students to claim their participation and I keep weekly records. This all translates into real grades–not quite a bell curve, but stand outs and freeloaders earning their As and Ds, with various shades of B and C for most." - englishwlu (scroll down to the comments); profe1 in the same thread recommends a mid-semester self-evaluation.