Showing posts with label TLAC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TLAC. Show all posts

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Thoughtful Questioning: Why Cold Call Is Not Enough

Cold Calling is the name given to the practice of asking a question and then selecting a child to answer. The theory is that it causes all children to think rather than just a single child who has been called upon to answer, or who has put their hand up. This is great because it lessens the likelihood of children, for whatever reason, opting out of the lesson and increases the number of children who are thinking about an answer.

But this alone is not enough - if that is all that is done in the name of Cold Calling then there are a couple of obvious problems.

Problem 1: Generic vs. Targeted Questioning

The first problem I assume here is that the questioning is generic. When you ask a whole class the same question it does not take into account the varying needs and understanding of the children in the class. Perhaps this issue is less prevalent in classes set by prior attainment (as in most secondary schools) however in such settings, each child will still have differing levels of understanding and knowledge.

Questioning will be more beneficial for both children and teachers if it is targeted. Targeted questioning allows teachers to get a better understanding of individual needs - it is a form of formative assessment. For children, it means that they have the chance to answer questions that are appropriate to them: if teachers already have knowledge of a child's current levels of understanding, they can pitch the question so that it is not too hard and not too simple, finding that sweet spot that gives the child a chance to experience success (a great motivator).

Of course, many great teachers out there will be Cold Calling and asking targeted questions. Although on the face of things they are asking a question to the whole class, they will have done something else first: they will have already decided on who to ask and asked a question that suits that child's needs. That's the way to tackle this first potential problem:

  1. Ask a tailored question of the whole class with a particular child (or children) in mind
  2. Provide some thinking time
  3. Name the child who you want to answer the question and allow them to answer
Problem 2: Inclusivity

Most proponents of Cold Calling will ensure that they pre-empt their questioning with a warning: "I'm about to cold call" or "I'm going to ask you all a question". But a blanket warning does not help to alert a child who might require a more specific warning.

Some children, for a variety of reasons, will not respond well to being chosen and then asked to try to convey their understanding out loud in front of the whole class. Sometimes it might be the case that they need more time to think, for others it will be difficult for them to articulate what they know, yet others may feel underconfident. Should we force answers out of these children without specific warning that we are going to ask them? (Should we force answers out of them at all?)

We warn because we want children to be prepared so that they can give the best answer possible. So, how can we help more reticent children to be prepared without singling them out and signalling to the rest of the class that they don't need to think or participate?

One answer to this conundrum is to provide further thinking time (once you have called their name) for a child who is going to find it more difficult to find an answer. However, this thinking time potentially just provides the rest of the class with the chance to switch off for while as they wait for the child to answer. This is not a sufficient answer.

A better answer is to add something else into the teacher's script:

"I am going to ask <child's name> to answer in 10 seconds. Everyone else must be ready with an answer too as I will ask <number> other people to provide an answer too."

There are added benefits to this approach. Having more than one answer to a question will allow answers to be compared and contrasted. Having several answers allows for a collaborative answer to be built from the component parts of different children's answers. These follow-up questions should also be tailored and targeted, based on teacher's assessment of prior learning. Other bits of teacher questioning would help here:

"Can you add to <child's name>'s answer... <select child to answer>?"
"What do you think about  <child's name>'s answer... <select child to answer>?"
"Is <child's name>'s answer correct... <select child to answer>?"
"Please can you summarise everyone's answers... <select child to answer>?"

In the above examples the ellipsis signifies a pause, and you will note that the question always comes before the selection of a child to answer, ensuring that the most children possible are thinking about an answer. Some of the above examples fit with TLAC's Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce routine.

A better version of the routine above then would be:

  1. Ask a tailored question of the whole class with a particular child (or children) in mind
  2. Provide some thinking time
  3. Name the child who you want to answer the question and warn the rest of the class that they will be required to answer too
  4. Provide further thinking time, according to the needs of the child who has been asked to answer
  5. Allow the child to answer
  6. Ask other children to contribute their additional answers

A Word On Lollipop Sticks

The primary purpose of lollipop sticks should be that they an aid to ensuring that a broad range of children are being asked to answer questions. As teachers we can often, without thinking, revert to asking the same children questions (often because subconsciously we know that they will be able to answer and therefore will not disrupt the flow of the lesson, also giving us a false sense of security that the lesson is going well and the children are learning). Lollipop sticks, used as they were intended (i.e. you don't put the stick back in the pot once you have asked that child), make sure that it is not the same children being asked all the questions.

However, there are problems even with this primary purpose: what if a child needs to be asked another question? What if further questioning will actually help them to understand more? Sticking rigidly to the lollipop stick process could mean that those children miss out because they've already had their question for the lesson. It's also worth mentioning that some children might not need questioning, or might benefit from more private questioning at another point during the lesson - not everyone has to speak out loud in front of the class.

Lollipop stick usage has morphed into something else though - they've simply become a tool of random selection in the Cold Call scenario.

When used in this way, for Cold Call, a common process is to ask the question, provide thinking time and then select the stick (this way, everyone thinks about the answer as it could be their stick that is picked). 

However, as already discussed, there are problems with this: the question can't be targeted. A better process for the use of lollipop sticks then would be to select a stick first, keep it secret, then ask the question, provide thinking time before finally revealing whose stick it was - a simple tweak allowing the questioning to be more targeted.

Essentially, lollipop sticks are only really necessary if teachers struggle to keep track of who they have and haven't questioned during the lesson.

A Word on Mini-Whiteboards

Mini-Whiteboards were all the rage in primary schools when I started teaching 15 years ago. At some point more recently, they've become a big in secondary schools.

The purpose of them is that you can actually ask children to provide written answers to the questions that you are asking. It is a much more visible way of ensuring that children are involved in the lesson at the point a question is asked. Instead of just providing thinking time, you can provide writing time. This is a good thing, of course (and there are added benefits to writing things down, for example, it can help us to remember things, either facts or processes).

However, there are practical problems with the usage of mini-whiteboards:
  1. They get dirty, and get everything else dirty (fingers, tables, books, uniforms, etc)
  2. The pens run out or stop working quickly, especially when oily fingers have been used to rub out (see 3.)
  3. The pens, boards and rubbers seem to go missing very regularly - there is always at least one child crying out for a new pen!
  4. They can present some storage/handing out issues (however you decide to do it)
  5. Everything recorded on them gets wiped
The above might not seem like huge problems, and they might not bother some teachers at all. Having said this, there is a simple alternative and that's jotters or notebooks. Using jotters and notebooks means there are fewer items to get lost or stop working, they don't cause the same amount of mess and - the most legitimate, non-pernickety reason - is that they provide a record of what has been done. This record can be useful for both children (they can look back to see a mathematical process or to find information or ideas) and teachers (they can, if they should choose, see how a child has been doing during whole class questioning).

To summarise, Cold Call is fine as an alternative to hands up, but making some simple additions to the process will enhance the questioning, ensuring that it is targeted and inclusive. Lollipop sticks can help and asking all children to participate in writing and having more children joining in by providing additional answers can improve both the questioning and the answers.