I was speaking with Terry Sale and some of the A.P. Literature teachers about grading practices the other day, and Terry gave me a new idea...
When his students participate in Socratic seminar, the ones who don't speak receive a non-grade instead of a zero. Since I've been doing fishbowl discussion with my sophomores lately, I started thinking about whether a zero or a nongrade more aptly fits a student who simply chooses not to participate. I have many smart students who are terribly shy, and there's a part of me that feels like someone needs to "force" them to participate, however uncomfortable it may for them at first; the idea is that hopefully, they'll grow increasingly confident when it comes to class discussion once they get through the embarrassment of speaking out loud. But there's another part of me that respects the quiet, cerebral student who learns by listening, thinking, and reflecting through writing.
While students usually have the option to write for credit instead of discussion, there are two times in the unit when they must come into the inner circle and discuss. Still, there are always a few students who enter the inner circle on their assigned days with the same enthusiasm with which they might approach a root canal, and they sit mutely (and awkwardly) throughout the entire discussion without offering a word. In the gradebook, this tranlates into a zero out of ten. However, judging by the pained expressions on some of their faces, they probably were trying to participate...maybe. In any case, they weren't detracting from the discussion, which makes me wonder why they should receive a failing grade. They were, instead, a non-factor, which might be better represented by a non-grade.
How should this be handled? What's more important--encouraging students to participate, or creating grades that reflect their roles as accurately as possilbe?