Saturday, July 11, 2015

Why I Don't Have My Students Raise Their Hand to Participate Anymore (and how I grade participation now)

Ah, the traditional classroom...the teacher asks a question, students raise their hands to participate, and the teacher calls on one of them to answer. And so it goes...except, did you ever notice some kiddos never raise their hands? and some kiddos always do? And on top of that, we teachers are grading kids on participation based primarily on whether or not they've raised their hand. Hmmm... what if the kid doesn't know the answer, but is paying attention? or he is shy and is reluctant to participate, but knows the answer? In my classroom, raising a hand to participate and then grading that action (or lack thereof) wasn't doing my students justice. Then I went to a Marzano workshop in which the case for random selection was made- forcefully and very convincingly. Here's what I learned:

*When random selection is used in place of the standard 'raise your hand to be called on' kids pay closer attention to class activities. Not knowing when you might be called on motivates students to be engaged, sending the message that they need to be ready at all times.

*Over the course of a student's education, those students who are more naturally inclined (for a variety of reasons) to raise their hand to be called on receive more attention and more learning opportunities, more practice of content, and ultimately see greater gains in learning and mastering material. Those students who sit back and don't raise their hand lose out. They fall further and further behind, without an expectation or responsibility for that learning.

*Random selection expects all kids to be part of class. This doesn't mean a teacher won't help a student or scaffold the activity to ensure success, but some kids aren't going to slip through the cracks or fall behind because the teacher unintentionally allows that to happen. Random selection raises the bar-when all kids are expected to participate, the students understand that there is an expectation they will and can learn.

Not convinced yet? After hearing these bullet points and the rationale behind them, I had partially bought into it...but then I saw it in action. I started calling kids randomly, using the DecideNow app (I'll talk more about this in a moment). Kids quickly got the idea that raising their hand didn't matter, everyone was responsible for paying attention- you couldn't just sit back and be a bump on a log. I began to see greater engagement from ALL students, more attentiveness, more effort. Best of all, those kiddos who hadn't been taking part in class (and let me digress for a moment- in language class, practicing those mouth muscles by speaking the language is so important, as we all know!) started being active members of our class community. There were side benefits, too. I noticed fewer interruptions and fewer kids calling I love that! Everyone is held accountable for learning, everyone gets an opportunity to practice what is being more falling through the cracks.

*Updated note: I've had several questions about those kiddos who struggle in class, including: doesn't random selection raise their anxiety? how can they be successful with random questions that they may not be able to answer? GOOD QUESTIONS! Here's what I have found with my struggling learners: Giving think time before calling on someone is crucial to success, as is fostering a community where errors are supported. Additionally, the expectation that a kiddo WILL be a participant, a member of the "class team", if communicated in a positive manner, makes a huge difference. My demeanor and my reaction when an error is made is also very important- going back to the idea of errors being part of the process of learning. If a kiddo isn't able to answer a question, even with prompting, I ask someone else, but always come back to the first kiddo and ask the question again- this helps them to gain success by being able to now answer the question (if they are paying attention, which is one of our expectations).  As kids practice answering questions, even if after someone else has answered it, this raises confidence, particularly as I (and the class) celebrate this effort! That is the other key- celebrating effort just as much as "correct" answers.

So, how to pull it off organizationally? I had seen on Pinterest the DecideNow App, a spinner wheel in which you enter your students names, hit the center button and a name comes up randomly.

It's great in some ways- the kids are fascinated by it and the sound effects are fun (it has a ticker sound as it spins and bings when the name is chosen). Also, I like that a kid can be picked more than once- no 'I've had my name picked so now I can relax' phenomenon. However, two things made me give it up- it is not quick enough for me when spinning- I've got 30 minutes for class, so every second counts. And, having to re-enter the names each year is a drag.

So, back to the tried and true popsicle sticks. Though the work involved at the outset is hefty, once you have them made, you can re-use the bulk of them the following year, just rearranging the names into new classes (with on average 375-400 students each year in 20 separate classes, that makes a difference!) Pose a question, pull a stick, easy as that! I put the sticks back in so everyone has to remain on their toes. If by some chance a name gets pulled more than twice I might pretend it is someone else's name who hasn't been called on. I'm sold!!

So, how do I assess participation now that I can't mark down who has their hand raised? I've redefined participation, for starters. Now, I'm looking principally for focus- if I call on you, are you paying attention? I look for participation in other activities we do in class- if we are singing a song, are you? If we are playing a game, are you actively engaging? In essence, are you part of our class community, a contributing member? If so, you are a PARTICIPANT!

Tell me what you think! Do you use random selection? If so, how has it worked for you?


  1. I also keep my seating chart taped on top of the folder for each class and then put a mark next to the student's name if they are prepared when I call on them. I don't do it all the time, but pick times to do it. If they get 18-20 marks per quarter = A, 15-17 = B, etc. It works well and gives me some backing for what could be my subjective opinion. Thanks for sharing a great article! ~Sherry

  2. Sherry- I love the idea of using your seating chart as a data collection sheet! Makes it easy to find their names when you are marking down checks and/or notes. I also think it's important to keep that data- as you say, what we think we see and what we actually see can be two different things. Having the hard data means you are maintaining validity in your assessments! Julie

  3. Great post!I like Jeres121's idea about using the seating chart - our music teacher does something very similar. I also like to have the students tell their neighbor the answer before I call on someone so that everyone has a chance to talk to someone even if it's not me.

  4. What a great idea having a partner share! I definitely do not use partner activities as much as I of my goals for this year!

  5. I use equitiy sticks with numbers... All students have their "lunch number" so we use those. When I call the numbers we do it in Spanish - another way to practice their prior knowledge.

    1. What a wonderful way to incorporate numbers vocabulary at the same time! Thank you for sharing!