Is it a discussion if only one giraffe’s talkin’?

April 28, 2016

You know what I’m talking about.  In every group (classroom or otherwise), there seems to be that one giraffe who has something to say about everything.  You know there are other giraffes who have something of value to contribute to the conversation, but they are either reticent to speak in front of others or are introspective and need a bit more time to formulate their thoughts before they articulate them.  With Chatty Giraffe (Chatty G), no such airtime exists.giraffes-627031_1280In a classroom, this can pose a problem.  As instructors, we want to encourage discussion.  A good conversation brings out new ideas and engages the group in critical thinking.  It also gives the instructor an idea of where each of his/her students are at with respect to the content they are learning in class.  How do we encourage quieter ones to participate and the chattier ones to do so in a less overwhelming way?

Brookfield (2015) in his book The Skillful Teacher provides several great suggestions for using discussion methods in the classroom.  Something that surprised me, though, was his thoughts on using participation marks.  Typically I am not a fan.  Petralia (2013) says, “Mandatory participation marks marginalize the shy and instead serve as easy grades for those to whom speaking comes most naturally.”  He adds, “Students must be encouraged to participate because they find it genuinely worthwhile to discuss the topic, not because they just want to earn easy marks.”  I tend to agree with him…and yet…

Brookfield comes at participation marks from a different angle.  He looks to the intent of participation when crafting his expectations and says that his aim is to “socialize students into understanding participation as listening carefully, responding to contributions, synthesizing and analyzing comments already made, asking questions of others and showing appreciation.” Here are some of the specific behavioral examples he provides his students that demonstrate to him they have participated well:

Ask a question or make a comment that shows you are interested in what another person says.

Make a comment that underscores the link between two people’s contributions and make this link explicit in your comments.

Ask a cause and effect question – for example, “Can you explain why you think it’s true that if these things are in place such and such a thing will occur?”

In looking at the Petralia statement I quoted above, it seems that Brookfield has found a way to incorporate participation marks into the curriculum while still fulfilling what Petralia hopes for.  Perhaps giving students marks for participation in discussion but using a rubric like Brookfield’s will motivate those who are more reticent to speak out and cause those who love to contribute to do so in a more meaningful way.

I think it’s worth a try…



Brookfield, S. D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Petralia, A. (2013, 12). Participation Marks: the good, the bad and the ugly. Retrieved from The Bull and Bear:



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