I have visited a few different primary and preschool classrooms this month and one thing they all have in common is the hand raising ritual. A teacher asks a question and waits for the hands to go up. Many do, some waving wildly. Many don’t, the children staring into space or playing with the rug. Some children seem to still call out, no matter the grade level. When the teacher eventually calls on a child, often he doesn’t know the answer and stumbles for a minute or so before the teacher moves onto to someone else. Sometimes the child does answer in a correct, thoughtful way, while the rest of the children zone out or anxiously wait for their own turn. The teacher is often exhausted from trying to keep the children on-task.
Ooh, Ooh, Call on Me! Alternatives to Hand Raising
Sound familiar? Besides the management challenges of controlling children’s behavior, the part of this ritual that concerns me the most is that during these exchanges only one child at a time is fully engaged in the learning interaction. Young children don’t learn well from sitting and listening to others, even if they can get themselves to be able to focus on the interaction. This is an ineffective learning pattern, yet teachers repeat it because it’s so familiar and comfortable.
Here are some better alternatives to the hand raising routine:
Turn and Talk. After the question is asked, pairs of children turn to each other. One listens while the other answers. This way half of the class is engaged in talking, and it is easier for children to pay attention to the speaker in a paired situation. Be sure that children know ahead of time who their partner is and that they practice how to pair up. This should move quickly, so keep the pace brisk to support children staying on task. Check out this video of a kindergarten class from andreaheckel and notice the difference in the children’s engagement during Turn and Talk compared to when one child is talking.
Think-Pair-Share. Similar to Turn and Talk, except that children are first given time to solve a problem or answer a question individually, then they turn to their partner, quickly share responses with each other and come up with the best or most interesting answer. Next the teacher calls on a few pairs to share with the class.
Choral Responses. To increase student engagement and reinforce simple concepts, allow the children to respond all together. This works best for questions with one answer, and as a quick review of previously covered material.
Individual Lapboards. Each child has a whiteboard and marker and they write down their answer to the question. Children hold up their boards so the teacher can judge how well the children are understanding the concepts.
Cold Call. Keep a list of children’s names, put their names on cards, or sticks, and randomly pick children’s names to answer. This helps to improve the pace of the lesson, and keeps children engaged since they don’t know when they will be called on. However, it should still be used sparingly since it still suffers from the problem of only one student at a time interacting with the question.