Knowing (and liking, though I’ve never used) your poker chip method for participation, I thought I’d share what I do – maybe you’ll find it interesting. It’s worked extremely well for me over the last ten or so years.
I usually make participation worth 15 or 20 percent (regardless of level of class). Students have a single mandate about participation – the class has to be better for their being in attendance than it would have been otherwise. If they improve the quality of class, they write a sentence or two regarding what they contributed and why it mattered on a piece of paper and hand it to me on the way out of class. It has to be handed to me (not left on the lectern). I either accept or reject it. Students have to do this in something like 80-90% of classes to earn the full 15-20 percent for the course.
The things I like about this are (at least):
-students are responsible for themselves, and have control of their participation grades. I like that they are empowered and control this active part of their own learning.
-deterrence – bullshit will get handed right back. I have to reject very, very little.
-I learn students’ names pretty quickly – I’m handed a piece of paper, and say “thanks >>>>” – this was an unintended but nice consequence.
-I think students get something out of writing down what they’ve contributed and why it mattered – it’s a small bit of reflection.
-students who are shy etc. and have a hard time taking part I urge to come with 2 or 3 things written down, promise themselves they’ll say at least one of them, and I try to make eye contact to invite these things. A lot of kids have sort of broken out of their shells this way. Would they have done so anyhow? Unknowable, maybe, but I suspect this invites them to take part in a way they find pretty non-threatening.
-quality of discussion – this is hard to know, but I sure think my classes with this are worlds better than they were without. Students learn fast that they just can’t get credit if they don’t read, so reading *seems to be better.
-paper trail – On the rare occasion somebody says I’ve miscounted their participation points, I invite them to come plow through the mountain of papers from the semester, weed out their own, and count. On rarer occasion, they’re right.
I’ve used this in our upper-division lecture courses (40-50 seats), in undergrad seminars (15 seats), and my TAs use it in the discussion sections for our big intro class (350 seats). It’s been really successful, at least compared to anything else I’ve ever tried.
Anyhow, sorry for the long account, but I’ve long admired the chip deal, and thought I’d share another approach.
Hope all’s well.