Hands up in Class

Always a debate about hands up or not in class when the teacher asks a question. I guess that it is actually variety that wins for learning – it usually is. So hands up is ok if it is not the only strategy used in response to the teacher’s question.

I like to start from somewhere else. Contrary old me…

Why do we ask questions? If you reply, “To get answers”, then give yourselves the sack and start again.

We ask questions for assessment and we also ask questions to support student’ learning. What does that mean? Do students learn from being asked questions? No, they don’t. “What?”, I hear you say. Perhaps, you say.

Students don’t learn from the answers that are given to questions either. “Extra what?”, you retort.

Students learn from the thinking that the questions stimulate.

That thinking process is not often allowed to mature given the average wait time is less than one second in classrooms across the UK, and probably elsewhere in the world.

A small digression. I loved English Literature. All that analysis of language and meaning suited my now science brain almost perfectly. So much easier than all that writing essays about stuff I had to invent! In my English Lit classes I sat by the windows and I wrapped my arm in the blind cord so that my hand was always raised. Whatever question my lovely teacher had for me would be welcomed and answered. So much simpler than raising and lowering my hand all the time! How does that fit with the no hands up stuff, I wonder?

Back from the digression. If we let students decide when they have an answer they expect that when they raise their hand we will attend to them in some way. Either to ask them the answer or to say put your hand down. Is that the best way to develop quality thinking in our students? The speedy ones may well have a good answer but we should be expecting great answers from them and great answers come from deeper reflection than a few moments – or we are asking low level questions that do not require any real depth of thinking.

But “hands down and wait for the teacher to ask you” is not the panacea; not the method that sorts it all. If we ask a single student for his/her answer how do we know if any of the others have done any thinking. We can keep a record of who has answered and ensure that all get a chance to be involved. But there are other ways.

Ask a question. Tell students it is a 5 second question, that means you will wait AT LEAST 5 seconds before asking for a response. (Use a method I call “ask around”.) Do that and get a response and put on your best poker face and ask another student for his/her answer, and so on. Students get really good at reading your body language so practise keeping cavey (think that is slang for not giving things away, staying low profile).

This method is super when used with the “ask around” process. What you do is group students, threes or fours and get them to discuss and decide the best answer for the group. Then ask each group.

Then, pat yourself on the back as you have a method for encouraging students to think deeper.

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2 thoughts on “Hands up in Class

  1. I like ask around! Think time and poker face, Sometimes the 1st students to answer are the most confident and give a sound answer, less confident jump on the band wagon and agree. So need to plant a seed of doubt to move the thinking on. Need to practice my Poker face

  2. Yes. I enjoyed this blog. I'm often thinking about this as too often the questions are about reassuring me about what's been taught and not about deepening their thinking (a weak version of AFL – shocking confession I know). Asking pupils to interpret other pupil's responses also encourages thinking and opinions. I like the 5 second rule too. I think I smile too much.

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