Class Participation? … Rhetoric

As the week of finals loom over our heads, we are all left to think about one thing: our final grades. We go over our past test grades, homework grades, and then we arrive at the one section of grading which is completely at a professors will: participation. Some professors chose not to take it into account, while for others the entire class grade could be dependent on what the professor thinks a student contributes in class.

One rhetorical situations of which we all engage is the classroom. We attend class almost everyday and have done so since we were young. I think it is definitely worth our while to examine the situation through our educated eye. For most classes, exigency is implicit in the situation – we go to class, the teacher speaks and we are encouraged to ‘participate’. There it is, that word, ‘PARTICIPATE’. It is our opportunity to make something happen with rhetoric.  However, for many of us, this can be difficult. Who is our audience? Is it the rest of the class? Or, should we be concentrating on what we think the professor wants to hear? Does the rest of the class even listen to classmates when they raise their hands? Or, could participation just mean listening, being a member of the audience?

Participation is hard to define. The constraints within a classroom are difficult to overcome. Some members of the class have no interest in being there, they are simply fulfilling a General Education requirement. Others are too tired because the class starts at 9:30 am. However, somehow we have to establish ethos, pathos and logos to our professor. Sure, if we can do that, we are ensured a nice participation grade. However, the consequence for not being able to overcome these constraints can lead a not-so-hot GPA.

Carly Huber


8 comments so far

  1. johnsokb on

    I absolutely love this post! It is very much likely true in every class. I recently, had a teacher who gave a midterm evaluation for her own personal use to find out why the class never “participated”. She was so curious. I can’t speak for others, but as for me it was not that I did not do the readings nor was it because I hated the class. I actually read the readings and I thought the class was very interesting. However, I was very new to the topic. Some days the assigned readings were difficult for me to understand. In these cases, it was necessary for me to listen first to get a good understanding of what the article was about before I was able to respond to it analytically.

    With this said, is class a rhetoric situation? Or, is it something that has been somewhat forced to be a rhetoric situation from teachers and it really isn’t establishing the fact that ethos, pathos, or logos can be seen through research papers or reflection papers. I once was in a class here at Denison University, where a teacher gave his students the choice to either “participate”, write reflections after each class, or even do voice recording on their own time on Blackboard. The way to participate was up to the student according to his or her way of learning. Because each student’s learning process is different, it gave the students who preferred to not speak up in class, but rather listen to properly analyze and critique in their own ways.

    I feel if this could be done in every class then the students can participate to the best of their ability. Some students are weaker than others concerning the two ways to participate. Then, the teacher can be satisfied to his or her own need. Some teachers weigh in-class participation heavily just because that is the way they feel is the only way that students can prove their pathos towards the class. But again, I say from experience that this not true at all.

    I like how blogger Carly Huber states, “Sure if can do that, we are ensured a nice participation grade.” I like this phrase because the use of the word ‘sure’ displays exactly how whether or not a student’s strong point is speaking or not speaking, then it can affect 25% of their total grade. Is that fair if someone loved speaking and hated writing compared to someone who hated speaking but loved writing?

    -Katelyn Johnson

  2. dupublicaddress on

    This is so interesting!
    In class participation is always a part of every teacher’s final grading system. Sometimes that participation grade involves class attendance and attitude, but sometimes those two components are left out and we are graded solely on whether we actually speak in the class or not.
    Do you ever find that there are some classes where you talk a lot and others that you kind of step back and let others debate around you? I definitely do this. For example, I speak up a lot more in my Soc/Anth class more than I did in my Women’s Studies class. I did the same amount of work for both classes! But for some reason I felt like I could speak more in my Soc/Anth class. Part of me thinks that the environment of the class was more open and inviting, and the audience was much more accepting. It think that in this case, my Soc/Anth class was an audience who’s ethos was close to mine, and therefore I felt more comfortable.
    I guess audience is really the determining factor in a participation grade. I participate in conversations the most when I feel comfortable with my audience. Teachers should strive to create environments where students feel comfortable enough to address the class as their audience. Ethos is part of what makes us comfortable to speak up, so the more open of an audience the teacher can create, the better participation grades will be.

    ~Molly Coyne

  3. jenniferephillips on

    This is a really great post! I completely agree that class participation is public address. I think that we have all been in that situation in a class where we raise our hand, feeling as though we have a really good comment to make, and then we kind of stumble over our words and our point is completely lost. This kind of occurrence proves the importance of rhetoric and public address. If we are able to speak well we would be able to make an intelligent point. This happens in public speeches all the time. If someone stumbles over his or her words the credibility is lost again proving the importance of rhetoric and ethos.
    Also, considering class as audience is a large factor. While many times I feel like I have had a good comment to make, I have decided not to speak based on the interests of my audience. For example, as an English major I really read into everything, but not everyone does so many times I refrain from boring people with my over analyzations.
    Class participation is a really good example of public address.

  4. jenniferephillips on

    Previous comment is by Jen Phillips

  5. cjryan9 on

    This is a really interesting point Carry, I’ve thought about this before as well. I think there’s a couple different points that can be made. First of all, I’ve often thought of myself as a very quiet person, and i’ve always thought that I was the type of learner that benefited more from listening and taking notes, more so than being an initiator. I felt as though I could gain a lot more from being more of an observer, than keeping myself preoccupied with making as many comments as I can think of. I think professors who has a strict contribution policy doesn’t really take these types of students into consideration.

    Although professors may not say so, the grading system for contribution is inevitably be based on a curve in one way or another. It seems obvious that if two students who missed the same amount of classes, and one student made five comments every class while the other made just 1, who is the teacher going to give the better grade to. Thus, the issue becomes this. How do you prevent students from drowning out the voices of other students with the sole purpose of getting those participation points. We all have different ways of learning that are most effective to us, and for some, forcing themselves to be confident and outgoing in front of a classroom is not the most effective way.

  6. cjryan9 on


  7. akdaniels919 on

    I really like Molly’s point about the environment of a class contributing to how much you speak out. I think there are some classes where the audience just “clicks” for whatever reason, and in those classes people are much more likely to participate — probably because they feel that their comments would be better received by their classmates. In these types of classes, true discussions occur, and the audience is engaged. In other classes, people will occasionally make comments but people don’t tend to build off each other as much — sometimes this is due to how the class is run, and sometimes it has to do with the people that happen to be in the class. In these situations, people tend to not talk as much, and as the year goes on, participation is rare.
    The audience as a whole definitely affects class participation, despite the fact that the majority of the audience does not impact the individual grade — the professor does. But the dynamic of the audience makes a huge impact on how willing people are to speak up, and the quality of the rhetoric is impacted by everyone in the classroom. I think class discussions are a great example of how audience in particular affects public speaking.

    -Amanda Daniels

  8. jswanson89 on

    This is brilliant. Participation is such a tricky concept. We participate by listening, and we participate by asking questions, but we also participate by bringing up points. I would be hard-pressed to say that we need to establish ethos, pathos, and logos in order to earn that point, but I think we need to at least appeal to the logic part of it. Sometimes though, you could make the argument that challenging the professor earns you the point as well. With this, you are essentially creating a constraint for yourself when you challenge the professor, what some would consider to be the most intellectually advanced person in the room (although we know this isn’t always the case). In challenging the professor, you might be offending other people in the class, creating a need to persuade them on your point.

    -Jason Swanson

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