“Everyone has to raise their hands”

The great Sam Shah has written another classic blog post, a post that needs to win a prize for immediately persuading me to implement what he recommends. How often does that happen? Here’s the central paragraph:

math group

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.

As I said, I was instantly convinced. I’ve started implementing this in my honors freshman class but not yet in my college-prep sophomore class.

Why, you ask? For two reasons: honors classes tend to have a higher percentage of cooperative students (seems to be 100% this year!), and freshmen are more moldable than sophomores. So, we’ll see how it goes. I do foresee one potential problem: Mollie has a question about a geometry problem, and the other three members of her group either can’t or won’t explain their (correct) solution to her. So only Mollie wants to raise her hand. She can’t do that, so her question goes unanswered and she feels ignorant, discouraged, and/or resentful, depending on her personality and her level of knowledge. I don’t yet what to do about that, except to encourage her to see my outside of class. So far my freshmen have been good at doing that.

So have some of my sophomores, by the way. Let’s see what happens there.

On a related point, Shah has another interesting paragraph later in the same blog post. It relates to cold-calling on kids who don’t raise their hands:

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.

Yeah…hmm…let’s think about that too.


Categories: Teaching & Learning, Weston