April 7, 2016

Participation Tracking

Recently, I have begun using a small group tool that might sound a little crazy while at the same time completely uninteresting. I've dubbed it my "Participation Tracker" Read on for my story and for my reasons why I think you should try this, too. 

Why did I start tracking participation?

So the first thing I have to say, is this: This Participation Tracker thing wasn't really my idea at all. I began piloting a program called "Jacob's Ladder" with my highest readers (those falling in the 90th percentile with their Reading MAP scores). One thing our principal wanted us to do was to keep track of how each student was participating in the higher order discussion work she envisioned happening around this group. She thought maybe we could make little checks by students' names or something so we could compare their participation to their score growth. Initially, I thought, "That is crazy. And silly. Nope. I do not have time for that. I am not going to do it.I'm just going to focus on what this program says to do. Again, No."

So what made me start it?

I decided to change my mind about that when it began to dawn on me that some of my highest performers were also the least likely to take part in the discussion and sharing. Getting them to add their ideas to our discussion or respond to others who were talking was like pulling teeth. And I began to realize that this was happening frequently. And by frequently I mean almost every day. I thought. I didn't actually know since I was simply relying on my memory for it. And why weren't they participating? We were having deep and challenging discussions! Furthermore, they had good things to say (according to their written work)! So, I decided to put a quick little table together to see if there actually was a problem like I thought.

Why am I still using it?

Ok, I have a few big reasons:
  1. It helps me be more fair with my attention. With a brief glance at my checklist, I can see who I've given attention to (whether they have asked for it or not), and who still needs to be invited to participate. Then, I can work to purposefully invite them into the discussion. 
  2. It has been super motivating for many kids. They know I'm giving them a check or a tally, and they know how to get it. (But don't forget to get some "baseline" data when they DON'T know you are using it as well.)
  3. It gives me real data to start a conversation with students who struggle to participate. You can't argue with the data! And yes, at this point, I am showing them the whole class spreadsheet. I feel like it is effective for the struggling student to "see" himself in the context of the whole class and the whole learning conversation. 
  4. It also has given me real data to start a conversation with one student in particular who thrives off of attention and participation, but on the other hand falls apart when I don't call on him every time he has something to say. I'm able to show him how he has been called on more than others and that he needs to let others speak. Again, he can "see" himself in the context of the whole class.

Does it have potential for other areas? 

Of course! One week, I printed off the whole class roster and challenged each kid to participate in whole group Math discussions at least twice during the week. I planned the goal  number based on the opportunities I knew students would get that week to be one voice of many during whole group instruction.

I would encourage teachers at any level to try some form of Participation Tracking out-even if it's just for the day. Challenge yourself! Challenge your kids!

Here is a link to the tracker shown above. It's available to you to edit and use as you need:

Click For the Free File!


  1. This would be great for any special education students who need support in pragmatic/social skills. A great way for the classroom teacher to have data to support the student in the classroom environment! I like how it is open ended, for students who need support you could even make notes for if or how many prompts they needed to participate.

  2. AND since you're already taking data on the whole class, you actually have something to compare to!