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Back in 2012 I wrote a post about the value of ‘wait time’ when asking questions of my students. Since that time I have endeavoured to use ‘wait time’ with mixed success. I have tried really hard to find other ways of encouraging student participation besides ‘hands up’ including a pack of cards with students names on, that I hold in my hands and use to randomly select names. As well as named popsicle sticks which I can draw from a mug that sits on my desk. Again I have had mixed success with these methods. After my PD with Dylan Wiliam though I have been reflecting on this. With determination to get it right this year.

Dylan was quite clear on the need to stop relying on students putting up their hands to answer a teacher question. Why? Because a teacher who just takes answers from students with their hands up, gives permission to all the other students to switch off. Dylan’s research clearly shows that when a teacher relies on ‘hands up’, students will only answer if they think their reply will be the right one. We all know that our classes are populated with some students who love to hear the sound of their own voice and others who shrink from publicly putting themselves out there. Add to the mix those who, for whatever reason, do not listen to your questions and the chances are any discussions will not be as rich as they should be.

So why are some students so determined to thrust their hands in the air? Is it because after six years of schooling this is ingrained behaviour?
Why do others avoid eye contact and shrink from having a go? Is it because they still have a fear of failing?
How can we ensure all students at engaged, listening all the time? So that as teachers we can be sure they are learning.

My goal this year is to avoid having students put their hands up 80% of the time. Dylan assured us that to enforce this as a routine will take up to a year for me to use as habit. How will I achieve that goal?

I will continue to use cards and pop sticks. I know there are apps too, so I may explore those.
I will plan, prepare and think deeply about the questions I want to ask. So as to ensure they are not ones I already know the answers to. I need to ensure they are ones that will encourage rich discussions.
I will use think. pair, share to ensure all students are talking, at least to each other if not always to me.
I will reiterate and reiterate that in 6MW there is no such word as failure. That to fail is to take ones First, Attempt, At, Learning.
Once I have ensured I have chosen a few students at random, I will allow those eager beavers to have their say too.
I will ask ‘no hands up’ questions at least every twenty minutes, so as to ensure my students are engaged and listening.

I will change my habit of relying on students who put their hands up
to answer questions in class. How about you?

Image thanks to manos al cielo

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11 comments

  1. Pam Thompson

    Hi Henrietta. I have been using a “no hands up ” approach for about two years now after first coming across Dylan Wiliam’s research. It took a little while for it to become my default but we are all used to it now and my students will remind me if I forget. It ensures that everyone is aware they may be asked a question at any time and that there is no being invisible in our classroom. My goal this year is to develop my questioning skills and use the mini whiteboards more often to get some more effective formative assessment happening.

  2. Ed

    Another useful trick is to have everyone jot down their thinking first, perhaps on a post it note. That way, everyone has time to think, before anyone is called on to speak… And those who don’t get a turn to speak can hand you their notes to read later.
    But I prefer having kids talk in smaller groups, so that the teacher isn’t the filter through which all conversation must go!

  3. Great post! I totally agree with you, Henrietta. Equity sticks are a great way to call on students randomly, but as you said, there are other technologies we can now use for calling on students randomly. Teachers learn new things all the time and if we embrace it, then we can have a lot of different ways to keep children engaged.

  4. Pingback: Reflection #6: Classroom Chronicles, “No Hands Up” | Jessica Steele

  5. henriettami

    thanks for your comments Edna and Pam. I love the post it note idea too. I am also going to try that. But you are right that small groups or think and pair work just as well. I use mini whiteboards all the time. Best invention ever. Ask for donations of old socks from your parents to use as erasers, saves using masses of tissues!

  6. henriettami

    Dylan Williams said himself that it takes at least a year for that to become the default way of calling attention to oneself. I’m finding it hard to always remember to do it but hopefully it becomes easier with time. I love that your class remind you too.

  7. Holly

    I agree that the ‘hands up’ approach may not always be the best way to get the students involved as the quite/shy pupils may not wish to voice their answer. Also that students can be scared of having the wrong answer so they will not put their hand up and become involved. Paring the students up with each other means they will have to communicate together and become more involved. I think this idea is great and supportive of the students needs. It definitely gives you more to think about when conducting a class.

  8. Hi Henrietta, I enjoyed reading your post and as a student teacher I have seen some of the examples you have listed used by some of my Prac teachers. One of the problems I have discovered is that students will say what they believe the teacher wants to hear. My wife is a teacher and she always uses the pop sticks and cards with her students. I will be using some of your suggestions in my next up coming professional experience.
    Thank you.
    Regards,
    Rob Thomas

  9. Hi Henrietta, I enjoyed reading your post and as a student teacher I have seen some of the examples you have listed used by some of my Prac teachers. One of the problems I have discovered is that students will say what they believe the teacher wants to hear. My wife is a teacher and she always uses the pop sticks and cards with her students. I will be using some of your suggestions in my next up coming professional experience.
    Thank you.

  10. Amber Harris

    Mrs. Miller, I very much enjoyed your post, but as a student and not yet a teacher, I must say that I like the Hands up for questions. I agree that it is good to have “question time” to see if the students are listening, but hands up for answers allows the eager students to answer. I think having a student who knows the answer, say it aloud can help the students who don’t know it. I will be sure to think more of your idea and perhaps use it in my future classroom.

  11. Claudia

    I really enjoyed reading your post, as a training teacher I value you your idea on ‘No hands up’. As asking for hands up during lessons can create the shy children to hide behind the more confident and eager students. I also value your idea Ed on having the children jot down their ideas before sharing, as this will not only encourage the students to think deeply about the topic but could encourage the shy kids to come out of their shell, as they’ve had more time to think about their answer.
    I will definitely be using some of your suggestions stated in the article in my current professional experience.
    Thank you.