Everyone Has To Raise Their Hands… and other thoughts…

We haven’t started school year. But last week and this week I’ve done some brainstorming about things I intend to do this school year (which *ahem* has some aphorism involving a road and hell associated with it, right?), and so I thought I’d pull out those few concrete little bits that deal with questioning that I want to do this year.

  1. If your group has a question, everyone in the group must raise their hand to call me over… This is how I started the last couple years of precalculus (all my kids work in groups). The idea was that if a kid had a question, they needed to first talk with their group so that the math teacher (me!) was not the sole mathematical authority in the classroom. I quickly added on … and I will call on one of you randomly to ask me the question. That way everyone in the group had to be comfortable asking the question, and that it was a real group question and not just an individual question.Last year, for some reason, I didn’t keep up with this practice, and started answering individual questions. I need to remember to keep up with this practice, because it’s awesome  and it works to get kids really talking and explaining without you.
  2. I taught calculus for seven years, and when I started standards based grading, I used to put after each question testing each skill a little box:
    rateIt was useful when I met with students to discuss their tests. If they felt shaky and did poorly, that meant one thing to me. If they felt confident and did poorly, that meant another. If they felt shaky and did awesome, that meant something totally different. It led to some good conversations, and got kids to be more meta-cognitive. It also led to some interesting written feedback on the tests (even if I didn’t meet with the student).But I only ever did that in calculus, and I don’t teach calculus anymore. So I want to incorporate this on my assessments in my other classes — at least geometry and precalculus. When I’m asking a “mathy” question, this is a sort of different additional question that helps me put their response in some context.
  3. Questions can have different purposes for me, even though I don’t (in the moment) think of them this way. Mostly they are to either (a) to get a student to go from a place of not understand to understanding (through asking questions to get them to think and make connections), or they are (b) to help me understand what a kid (or my class as a whole) is understanding.If I’m asking a question to the whole class, and my purpose is to figure out what my kids understand and what they don’t, I’m not going to have my kids raise their hands anymore. I got to the point where sometimes I would call on kids with their hands raised, and sometimes not. I mean: if the kids all raising their hands to answer a question feel they know the answer, then why am I calling on them? Instead, I am thinking of stealing an idea from a friend who taught middle school: THE POPSICLE STICKS OF DESTINY. I am going to have my kids’ names written down on popsicle sticks and pull them out of a mason jar (because I’m such a hipster!) to randomly call on someone. Yeah, index cards work too, but INDEX CARDS OF DESTINY is way less fun to say dramatically.

    If I do this, however, I need to make sure that the kid who doesn’t know something or is confused feels like the classroom is a safe space. This year I’ll be teaching the advanced sections, so there is a lot of insecurity that these kids have about “being smart” (*cringe* I hate that word) and “appearing dumb” to their classmates. I have to brainstorm how I’m going to publicly reward kids for having good questions or being confused but doing something about that confusion or for being wrong but for owning it and saying “I NEED TO GET THINGS WRONG IN ORDER TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO BE RIGHT. AND I’M AWESOME FOR KNOWING THAT.” Heck, maybe I’ll have a poster made which says that, and have kids read it aloud occasionally when they’re wrong. And I should point to it and say it when I am wrong. Or maybe that’s dumb. I don’t know.

That’s about it for now. Hopefully more to come as I figure things out!


4 thoughts on “Everyone Has To Raise Their Hands… and other thoughts…

  1. RE: Your 3) – I struggle with cold calling on kids too, and I know it’s something I need to get more comfortable with. It’s hard for me for the same reasons you wrote about – I worry about creating anxiety in students or having negative impact on self-esteem that is tied up in “not looking dumb” to classmates. I agree with you that we are partly responsible for creating a classroom culture where this becomes more okay. I’ve also used the “index cards of doom” as a way to randomly select. Just brainstorming: perhaps to lessen the anxiety for those who don’t know the answer when called on, we could explicitly state that a great response when called on for a question you don’t know is to ask a clarifying question – this could contribute just as much to the classroom as a whole and makes “not knowing” seem less like a personal failing and more like an indicator of what the class still needs help on. (Still unsure how to handle flat-out-wrong responses in this case, but will think more.)


  2. I really like the group suggestion. As for the cold calling, I have the less-exciting “deck of fate.” Students hate being cold called, but it has helped me know where they are in the learning path. However, for those who are uncertain, it is rough. I have been cold calling for a couple years and I still haven’t found a good way to ease that pain. I try to reword the question or scaffold it a bit more, but some students end up in full panic mode. If you find a magic way to help them without letting them off the hook, let me know.


  3. Pingback: Everyone Has To Raise Their Hands… and other thoughts | Continuous Everywhere but Differentiable Nowhere

  4. I tried the “everyone in a group raise their hands” idea with a class on Friday. They were in groups of twos and threes. They are not very comfortable interacting with each other, yet. I do have them turn and talk, to get more comfortable with ideas and each other. The raising hands let me see which groups were actively working as teams, and who needed a little more practice at group work.


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