The other day I was trying to convince a colleague about the benefits of «cold calling», a technique explained in the book «Teach Like a Champion 3.0» by Doug Lemov. The technique consists of asking someone in our class (without them raising their hand) to check their understanding. The adjective my colleague used was that she found the technique problematic, because many would not know or would not want to answer. And that is the origin of this reflection that I now share.
In our normal day-to-day classroom life, we probably do face a large number of problems. If we have some responsibility in the management team, if we have had a difficult group, or if it has simply not been our day, it is very likely that we are constantly dealing with problems. And when we arrive in a classroom, our approach is similar: we are going to pay attention to the problems in order to solve them.
Thus, when we arrive in the classroom, we focus our attention on those students who we know have problems, because our previous experience tells us so. However, there is a critical mass of students who, without having obvious problems, often do not understand the fundamental ideas of our subject. However, as they are often able and/or hard-working, or make an immense effort to study just before the assessment, they are people who develop an average performance that puts them in a comfort zone. At the same time, they develop working habits that are not at all recommendable, because their understanding is superficial. This means that what they learn disappears in the long term, or is not transferable to situations that are more or less similar to the ones they have been taught in class. Generally, we don’t pay much attention to them either because they don’t want to and we don’t have time to create more problems for ourselves.
We have already talked in other blog posts about the lack of validity of asking general questions at the end of an explanation such as «Do you understand? In most classes this elicits a general assent that is almost never correct. In this case, a person who has not understood has two options: to say so (image on the right) or not to say so (image on the left). As we have said in the previous paragraph, there are some people who develop many strategies to go unnoticed in class, so we can find the example on the left: they do not know but prefer not to say it, and give the impression that they have.
That is why my colleague was right: it is problematic. Cold calling allows us to detect gaps in understanding that would otherwise go unnoticed. It creates discomfort for the students and for us, because we can start to uncover those who seem to be learning but are not. That’s why it´s worth it. I was amazed at how powerful it is to ask questions in the right way to the students. It´s the best way for them and me to realise that something is not well understood. It´s also the best way to set them on the road to learning. It also communicates many other things about the classroom culture. It is not about discriminating against the shy, because you are not asking them to talk about their feelings, but about provoking thought in the whole class. The questions allow the class to be a vehicle for welcoming the different starting points of each student.
Besides that, when we ask a question to a person in class and the answer is a shrug of the shoulders and a mumbled «I don’t know», there may actually be more going on than we have thought about so far. In particular, I can think of at least two other very frequent ones:
This illustration helps to understand that «cold calling» should not be limited to the first question, but that it is necessary to extend it in the form of small questions that either help to arrive at the answer or help to find out the real reason for answering «I don’t know». For this, Doug Lemov proposes the following keys:
- Pose the question and allow a few seconds for everyone to have a chance to think about it. When «cold calling» has become routine (which is highly recommended), the expectation is that everyone will think about it for a while.
- Randomly select someone to answer the question. This selection can be really random, using roulette wheels or wooden sticks (ice-cream sticks) with the names of all your students. We pick one at random after the break.
- But we can also throw it to someone specific. We can, for example, propose an easy question so that someone who is not used to answering successfully can do it once in a while. This will help them to take this dynamic more comfortably next time, and will generate a feeling of achievement that may increase motivation to keep thinking about the other questions.
- If person X answers «I don’t know», you can move on to another person, but always remembering that you will come back to person X to repeat in their own words the answers of other colleagues. In short: a sequence that starts with a learner unable to answer a question should end with that learner answering correctly as often as possible.
If person X answers «I don’t know», you can move on to another person, but always remembering that you will come back to person X to repeat in their own words the answers of other colleagues. In short: a sequence that starts with a learner unable to answer a question should end with that learner answering correctly as often as possible.
When we use this strategy frequently, it helps us to make it a habit to be attentive in class. At least that we expect it to be so. We talked about this in the post on five ways to improve attention in class that you can read here. At the end of the day, successfully participating in a discussion, knowing that your words are going to be important and that they can demonstrate that you are learning, is an incredible driver of learning itself. So my advice is: detect unseen problems through cold calling.
2 comentarios sobre “Beware of «no problem teaching””
Gracias por la explicación,detallada paso a paso.
Me gustaMe gusta
Un placer, gracias.
Me gustaMe gusta