I had an idea come out of nowhere today when I was driving home. I'm not sure if I've read it somewhere before (Teaching Philosophy, maybe?) or not. I can't imagine it's original, but it's very simple: replace "participation" points with "preparation" points in my syllabus. Four distinct advantages came immediately to mind:
- It distinguishes nicely between "good" and "bad" types of participation in the classroom. Idle banter doesn't show preparation, so it doesn't count. Socially adept students don't get points just for joining the discussion.
- It's a bit more of an incentive for actually preparing by doing the reading than just rewarding participation. And really, the whole point of rewarding participation in the first place was to encourage preparation. In fact, it might be worth ramping up participation points to 15 or 20 percent of points available in the class if the incentive turns out to work well enough.
- Students who are shy or uncomfortable talking in class can prove preparation in other ways: one-on-one, perhaps. Conversations with me in office hours would count for preparation. One could even count students who show you notes over the reading (imagine: people might take notes on the reading to get points!).
- You don't have to prove preparation in every class -- just like you wouldn't have to participate in every class -- in order to get preparation points. But if it looks like someone hasn't done the reading for quite some time, his or her grade would suffer.
So this sounds like a great change to make. What does everyone else think? Are there downsides to this I'm not thinking of?