Pop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Calling on Students

I suck at calling on students during a classroom discussion.

I believe that this is a holdover from my own days as a student when I didn’t raise my hand and I was called on to answer a question.  At those times I could feel a burning rise from my core, my face would turn bright red, my head would empty of any useful knowledge and a normally mild to non-existent stutter would burst from my mouth in a jumble of verbal nonsense.

My perfectionist nature and my professional pride required me to overcome this flaw.  I know that I have a tendency to call only on students who raise their hands, and I also know that this is a mistake.  It is important to call on and interact with all my students in a class, and so I needed a tool to make this happen.  I use cards.  My school’s attendance program has a feature that allows me to print out a seating chart with student’s names and pictures.  I print this out on cardstock and cut out the individual squares.  At the beginning of the year I use these cards as flashcards to memorize my student’s names, and as the year goes on I use them to call on students to answer questions.

At the beginning of class I undo the rubber band that holds the cards together and throw them into my pocket.  As the class progresses I draw a card from my pocket and ask a question, I discard the cards into another pocket.  This way I am not just calling on a few students.  Most times I get through my entire pack of cards and then switch to the other pocket to run through them again.  (It is also a handy way to take attendance as I place absent student’s cards in a cup on my desk)

But wait you say what about students like you who hated this random method, or who have a speech impediment?  Well here is where I cheat; it is not 100% random.   On each card I make notes of things about the student for instance a student’s speech impediment or that they turn bright red when asked a question.  I then try to compensate for this.  Sometimes I write a question on an index card and give it to a student at the beginning of class.  I give that student a subtle signal when their question is next.  Sometimes if an answer contains a lot of S’s and a student with a speech impediment comes up I pick another card.  I also employ a generous wait time, and call on students to answer questions that they wrote down and thought through.  And if all else fails I employ the “phone a friend” fail safe, where any student can call on another to answer a question for them.

This is my question for you today: How do you make sure that you overcome your own personal bias when calling on students during class discussion?  How do you make sure you call on all students and not just those who raise their hands?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons (ET).

Feature image Questions? by Hector Alejandro

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Jennifer teaches science in a public school in Pennsylvania. She lives there with her husband and two dogs.

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