Thursday, August 9, 2018

To Call or Not To Call?

This month, I'm participating in a blog challenge called Blaugust.  To see the list of participating blogs, click on the logo above. I would encourage to you please cheer on our participants with either a tweet or a comment on their blog during this month. It can be hard to blog on a daily (or even regular) schedule! :)  If you would like to join the blogging challenge, you can still sign-up anytime!

One of the Blaugust prompts is:
  • Something I struggle with as a teacher/in the classroom. 

And to be honest, there are a lot of things that I struggle with in the classroom - things that my students and my admin would never notice, but things that bother me personally because they don't flow quite as well as I would like them to.  One of these topics came up today as I reading "Making Number Talks Matter" because it presents a conflicting set of messages to me and I don't know which way to go!

So, my teacher dilemma of the day is:  Cold Call or Not?

I don't know when I first learned of Cold Calling, but I know most recently, it's a technique that I heard about via podcasts and a book by Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion) and also used by many other edu-gurus.  Some teachers suggest using popsicle sticks or index cards to decide who to call on, others just call on students haphazardly.  When I hear the reasons for Cold Calling, I agree and I want to use it in my classroom, but then I read something like this quote from Number Talks:
"...researchers in psychology have found that stress interferes with performance in mathematics problem-solving tasks by reducing the working memory capacity (Beilock 2011). Knowing that they must be ready to speak at any time, whether they want to or not, can interfere with students' learning."
And all of a sudden, I'm at an impasse.

Why is this an issue for me right now?

Well, because last year, one of my Geometry classes was silent.  Like painfully, awkwardly silent.  And they were okay with that.  And I wasn't.  In their groups, they would talk quietly.  Before and after class, they would be social with me.  But once that bell rang and class began, crickets.  One student even wrote on an exit ticket that "I wish my teacher knew that I often know the answer but don't want to speak out loud because our class is so quiet."  :( :( :(

I tried Cold-Calling, but it felt more like a "gotcha" than a way to build accountability and engagement, so instead I let it fall to the wayside and did nothing.  I was at a total loss.  So, I was determined to do some research this summer on various techniques to address this lack of participation and I thought I had a plan.  But then Making Number Talks Matter had to come in with that quoted research....

And I get it.  In fact, that's part of the reason I had never used Cold Calling up to this point in my career.  I had not read that specific research, but as a very introverted person, I know it to be true for me personally.  When I know I might have to share out, especially to a large group, the anxiety builds and builds until I'm literally frozen.  When I'm at a workshop, I am willing to share out within my group, but if you ask me to share out to the entire group, that's a big nope!  (Note: this isn't limited to a workshop... I'm the same way when I sing at church - I shake for probably 10 minutes after I finish singing and cannot focus on the sermon... but I can speak to hundreds of teenagers in a large group setting with no issues.)

So anyway... how do I balance this in my classroom?  How do I create the safe space necessarily to implement something like Cold Calling while keeping down the anxiety levels in my students?

From the end of that paragraph in Number Talks:  "Our job is to make Number Talks [our classrooms?] a safe place for students to try out new ideas and to share their thinking when they are ready to do so."

How do you get them ready?  How do you build that safe space?

I would greatly appreciate any ideas :)


Danitte Kozai said...

As a student I dreaded cold-calling and vowed to never use it as a teacher. Now as a teacher, I also struggle with some classes: on the one hand, I don't want to put students on the spot. I know that there are other valid ways to participate than raising your hand. On the other hand, I would always get the same handful of students answering every question, or crickets.

Some tips a principal gave me in my first year that I use regularly:
1. If you have a few questions to answer, like if you're looking for a pattern or something, you can give students work time and at the end of let's say 5 minutes, give one question to each student or pair to answer. Give them 1 minute to prepare their answer. This works because:
--the prep time decreases the cold call anxiety of not knowing what's coming
--you have the chance to go around and reassure students with low confidence, check solutions, and help ESL students with language
--you can scaffold questions so as not to embarrass students in front of their peers

2. For low risk questions like notice/wonder with no wrong answer, you can go around to each table/small group and ask them to share one thing that someone at their table said. It doesn't have to be their own opinion or idea. I also give them the 1 minute prep time. That way the group can decide on who wants to talk and what to say and it also creates a low risk environment.

Kit Golan said...

I often prep kids that I want them to share their idea during think pair share or work time. I'll say "That's a really great idea. Would you be willing to share that with the class?" And if they say no, I'll often ask why or ask if their partner can share it for them.

Elissa Miller said...

Could you do a beginning of the year survey and ask when it’s okay or not okay for you to call on them?

Amy Hogan said...

I like to do a mix of warm and cold calling in my classroom. Some students like to participate and some are less willing to participate. I like to hear, nonetheless, from all students. One of my former students had major anxiety speaking in class. In my class, he presented his work in front of the room by himself. I was so proud of him but also for how supportive the class was to help him get there. I believe this was perhaps one of my greatest personal accomplishments as a teacher.

Some ideas:

1. Stress all talk in class is a rough draft. Thoughts do not need to be finalized. Let students know it's okay to have mistakes in their words/ideas whenever sharing and that they can make amendments if they wish later on.

2. One thing I love having my students do is read aloud, in small groups and as a whole group. For me reading aloud is a great time to process questions and information. It is a low-stakes way for students to participate.

3. Create activities that cannot be done alone. For example, in order to complete the activity, students must help each other or get information from each other. My Day 1 activity is an example of this and I like it to set the tone about what my classroom is like.

4. Build a culture of community by having students work in small groups. Classes that are more student-centered with problem-based and activity-based learning will encourage organic reasons for students to talk through their work.

5. Like Kit, I like preparing students to share with the whole group. Perhaps, even, have them practice what they will say (with their small group). This is especially important for students who you know are shy or are less willing to offer to participate.

6. Have students read each others' written words. This can be students from another class or from the same class. You can obscure the identities of the writers if you wish. Sometimes it's easier to share and discuss work that is one step removed from ownership.

7. Incorporate a stand-and-talk routine in your class. I am going to do this in my room starting this fall. In the past, I have used standing for lots of reasons and I'm hoping to develop more standing and movement in my classes.

Sra. Brewer said...

I agree with others who have posted, I also like to do a mix of cold-calling and "warm"-calling in my classroom. However, I find that when issues with this particular technique come up, the issue has more to do with implementation than the technique itself. Cold calling, like most anything within a classroom, has to be set up very intentionally. The teacher must set the stage to make this practice a safe one. This means that like any other procedure or expectations, the students need to be informed that it will be occurring as a part of the classroom culture. They also need to be taught what it will look like, sound like, feel like and how they should respond when it occurs. For best results, this should be modeled with some very innocuous questions or experiences first to help everyone build success and relationship with the teacher. There must be trust. Without trust and relationship between the student and the teacher, this technique will not be very effective.

I have witnessed many situations where cold calling is used more as a really poor attempt to manage an unruly classroom (or student) than it is as an effective instructional strategy. I think we have all seen, experienced, or even created a situation where we purposefully call on "Johnny" because we are fed up to "here" with him today and he is off task...yet again. It typically sounds something like this: Teacher asks a question. Teacher notices that Johnny is, yet again off task (long pause)..."Johnny, can you tell us the answer?" And when Johnny doesn't know, there is some type of admonishment of Johnny's poor behavior. This is NOT an effective use of cold call. Not only has the teacher now created a barrier between she/he and Johnny. They have also created barriers between he/she and the class, Johnny and some of his peers, and even potentially between Johnny and the subject matter. This develops bitterness and resentment, which does not lead to learning at all. This is not an effective use of cold call, nor classroom management.

When cold call is set up in a psychologically safe classroom as just another way or strategy for a teacher to use, it can be very effective in helping scholars become productive thinkers. They learn to expect that anyone could be called on at any time, so it is the responsibility of all, not just a chosen few, to do the mental lifting and have an answer. It is all about setting up a clear expectation, building a relationship with students where they trust that you really do have their best interest and safety in mind, and using it to promote learning, not admonish or embarrass.