Cold Call Controversy

Reflection & Practice: Chapter 7, Building Ratio Through Questioning

For this chapter’s Reflection, I chose the following prompt:  “Many of the teachers I work with think that of all the techniques in this book, Cold Call is the one with the greatest and fastest capacity to shift the culture of their classroom.  Why do you think they feel so strongly about it?


Building a Culture of Accountability

I firmly believe that Cold Call has the greatest and fastest capacity to shift the “culture” of a classroom.  This strategy directly impacts the culture of the classroom in that teacher leadership improves dramatically; not necessarily as a ‘power shift’, but the capacity for the teacher to silently prove to students that they are, indeed, taking their cue from the teacher, and not, themselves charting the course of the classroom.  As an educator, standing, waiting, depending on someone to raise their hand and respond in order for the lesson to move forward, puts the ‘control’ into the hands of the student.  Done consistently and confidently, Cold Call quickly becomes the norm; all students begin to assume that they will be called upon to respond on a regular basis.  Is it really, though, an issue of power and control, or more an issue of accountability and assessing students for understanding?  Both, I believe.

noshyIn the foreign language classroom, no one, initially wants to raise their hand; the content area, in and of itself, is intimidating.  Cold Call has been instrumental in raising the ratio of students who participate.  This practice and expectation, once it has been consistently established, allows the students to feel that everyone is accountable.  I prefer a Culture of Accountability.  Cold Call does level the playing field; all eyes, ears and minds on deck!  In fact, teachers have a responsibility to randomly call upon any and all students.  How else can teachers gather valuable, critical, consistent, and current data on student comprehension?  Without current, viable data, teachers are relying on the next unit test to compare performance on the assessment given prior to that one; it’s stale, old news by then.  At this point, the “quiet” student has established a pattern, or behavior, of non-participation and the window for preventative remediation has narrowed or closed itself.     I’ve observed in the classroom over the past decade than school culture has endeavored to establish more and more “student oriented” philosophies, practices and goals.  Catering to many students’ desires to “tune out”, “hide out” or evade “embarrassment” is part of what I’ll refer to it as; a Culture of Enabling.  The real skill to develop, is to use Cold Call consistently; make it a normal, daily, unemotional practice.

In the world of differentiation in classroom, equality and equal access, Cold Call allows forbeuler everyone to be a part of the classroom activity.  Calling on students, even if they haven’t volunteered to respond makes everyone responsible and accountable.  Teachers become responsible for giving everyone (not just the select few in every class that is always eager and willing to participate) a chance to grow and interact with the content and their peers.  Cold Call provides students with in integral life skill.  It allows for a wider variety of the classroom population to practice public speaking and to demonstrate their comprehension of content.  The easy road for the teacher to take is to simply call upon the demographic that is always willing to respond.  Cold Call in effect makes the teacher a more accountable, equitable educator.  This practice allows the eager, high-achieving student to learn how to develop life skills such as patience, listening to others, and an understanding of how to work and learn in a group where differentiated ability levels exist .  Tolerance, in effect.

miltschEstablishing a Culture of Accountability, while at the same time reducing the Culture of Enabling, is precisely why the use of Cold Call in the classroom is invaluable.  I was, pedagogically perturbed, after doing a little digging on line, to find that Cold Call, as a practice is controversial.  Labeled in the article, “Your Hand’s Not Raised?  Too Bad.  I’m Calling on You Anyway” by Alfie Kohn, for 01 Feb. 2016, for the Huffpost Education blog, as “militaristic”, “control & power” effused, and “pedagogy of poverty”.

For me, this was infuriating food for thought. There is no equity in calling only upon the upper echelon, the talkative student, the ‘easy sell’.  In the 21st century classroom, mainstreamed and equal access ready,, in this equitable place, all students should be learning and participating.  What good comes of enabling a shy personality?  How doesshypoverty that student learn, that in equitable, safe environments, participation is an empowering and productive experience?  What better place for a “shy” individual to practice public speaking, than in the classroom?  Does the disengaged, unmotivated student have the right to learn that if they don’t raise their hand, the adults will leave them alone?  Well, there is an injustice they don’t even realize; they deserve the opportunity to be drawn into the learning, to participate as much as all the other students in the class.  In effect, not using some sort of Cold Call strategy is send the message to the students that they don’t really have to pay attention or be active participants.

In a counter-counter Cold Call argument by Timna Jacks, “Not you, Hermione: teachers ban students from raising their hands“, The Age Victoria, 5 June 2015. Web. 25 April 2016: “The theory is that the same minority of top students are raising their hands to answer teachers’ questions, and are getting smarter with each response, widening the gaps between the high and low performing students.”.

Cold Call certainly did revolutionize my classroom.  Instantaneously, I was hearing voices of students who rarely volunteered, once I gave myself permission, as a teacher, to randomly call on all students.  In effect, I was doing a disservice to those students who were entire confident about volunteering to participate.  Very quickly, (primarily using the Popsicle stick method) all students in my classroom were normalized to the culture of accountability that Cold Call brought about.  There was, additionally, a subtle, yet very significant, shift of power in the room;  instances of behavior management were significantly reduced.  The responsibility of when should I raise my hand was essentially one less task occupying students’ minds.   A Culture of Accountability can be established and sustained meaningfully, in any classroom, but Cold Call is certainly one simple, normal strategy that opens up a wider avenues of observable data, learning, and participation.  There is much more equity to be found in Cold Call than meets the eye.