Cold Call 2.0

calendar6_thumb[2]TECHNIQUE # 33: Cold Call

The practical simplicity of Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov, 2010², introduced significant tactical weight into my daily practices as a teacher.  Cold Call, as a technique, is  a standard bearer and represents a strong strategic point of practice in the 21st century classroom.   The contention involved with this practice, to me, asks us to look at accountability, enabling, and the solid assumption that all students are capable of being present and the joy, if consistently expected, of participation.  Why shouldn’t all students be called upon to participate?   The most practical thing I ever initiated in my classroom was the use of Popsicle sticks, with students names, to engage in the practice of calling on students randomly, in the interest of student accountability and participation.

Cold Call:  ‘Call on students regardless of whether they’ve raised their hands or not‘.  Rigor, ration and level of expectations in the classroom.  The transformative effects of implementing this technique in my classrooms was overwhelmingly positive.  Cold Call  “…is an academic technique.  It’s designed to engage all students in the academic discourse of your classroom  You don’t want to confuse an invitation to participate with a consequence or a correction. “,(p253)¹.  I’ll include some counter arguments at the conclusion of this post. Here are some solid proponents of using Cold Call in today’s classroom:

  1. Checking for Understanding:  By calling upon”unaware”students and the usual Unexpected-416reluctant, avoident suspects, the teacher is able to determine a more objective perspective of the retention of information being presented.  Subjective data retrieval stems from calling upon student whom you know will have the correct response.  Gathering objective data begins with a random selection of responses.
  2. Creating a Culture of Engaged Activity:  The expectations, preparation and roles of accountability apply to everyone.
  3. Pacing:  Don’t waste time pleading for students to answer questions; the “plead for someone to participate slows the perceptive clock to a crawl.”, (9p.250)¹.
  4. Backstopping Your Ratio:  Boost the “thinking time ratio”; “backstopping” means that SOMEONE is on deck to answer the question.  If students are aware that anyone in the classroom can be called upon to respond, they will be more aware and diligent about paying attention and being mindful about their preparedness to respond and where to locate the resources necessary to respond well.

Here’s a great video clip:

Here are some key tactics towards effectively using Cold Call:

  • Keep Cold Call Predictable: Ask all students to stand up.  WOW.  Out of their seats on their feet, present and accountable.
  • Make Cold Call Systematic: Consistent routine in the classroom; it is “universal” practice in your classroom.  This is not an effort to “single out” a particular student; simply a matter of expectations for all students.
  • Keep Cold Call Positive:  Foster positive engagement in the classroom.  Surprise students with their ability to field questions they might not necessarily volunteer to answer.  Use statements like: “Give me you best guess”, “Remember, all of us will know this at some point”, or “Let’s try #2, tell us what you think; we’ll figure it out with your help”.

In the interest of being conservative, I’ll not exaggerate the case for opponents of Cold Call.  Maintaining a conservative frame of reference, in the 21st century classroom, where everything is  differentiated, “flipped”, aligned, and objective, I feel that all students should be accountable and participatory. There are, however, very strong arguments against Cold Call techniques in the public education classroom.  Personally, I have witnessed and practiced polite persistence and insistence with students, regarding who is called upon to respond.   When calling upon, students randomly in the classroom, the overall culture of accountability is increased.  self_awareness_333.jpegHow about the sense of empowerment that a student gains when they are called upon in class, randomly, and is willing to put forth a response?  And what if , as a teacher, you rarely asked them to participate because they were “shy” about responding on their own.?

Some food for thought: ‘Should We Call on Non-volunteering students?”, Kim Kastens, 2010.

Cold Call‘ revolutionized the manner in which I randomly selected student pairing and individual response-es.  Essentially,  my Popsicle sticks or tongue depressors, which students embellish in their own style along with their name, became an essential tool throughout the academic school year.   Time to answer a question?  From a can, I randomly selected a students’ Popsicle stick and they are obliged to respond to the task.  As part of the class’ normal operating system, students know that at any given time, they may be held accountable for material that is being presented in class.   Not entirely comfortable with the subjectivity of mentally having a strategic sample of students for each class ready to select from, I do prefer the accountability attached to the ‘Cold Call‘ method of selecting students to respond to a rapid succession of target questions.   I love this video explanation of the legitimacy of Popsicle sticks in the classroom from The Teacher Toolkit!


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