Tutors on our pre-sessional this year will now be familiar with Dylan Wiliam’s 2010 BBC2 documentary The Classroom Experiment. In it [from 7:21], he says:
The children who are answering everything you ask them are actually getting smarter – their IQs actually go up. And there are other children in the same classroom who are foregoing that opportunity to get smarter. So, if you are allowing children to volunteer to participate or not in your classroom, quite simply you are making the achievement gap bigger.
Lo-tech option: lolly pop sticks
…When you ask a question … you choose who to answer. It’s very hard to do it at random, unless you have some kind of randomisation device. The way to choose students’ names at random is to write their names on lolly pop sticks, put them in a pot, and when you’ve asked a question, just pull out a student’s name at random. (Wiliam 2010, from 8:05)
You can get a box of 100 tongue depressors online for about £2.
Katherine: I trialled both the Randomly iPhone app and the sticks with my foundation students, and asked them to evaluate the most effective method to encourage class participation. Most agreed that the sticks were better, mainly because I was quicker at whipping out a stick than using the app on my phone.
Also, as I couldn’t have my phone on silent, I received text messages which interrupted the lesson and resulted in a few raised eyebrows – I was clearly in breach of our class rules. One student commented, “we prefer your voice – the Randomly app doesn’t pronounce my name correctly and it sounds like a robot!” Either way, they all concluded that they were participating more as a result of paying attention – they knew at some point they would be nominated.
As I now had so many sticks, I started using them for entry CATs which yielded impressive results. For example, to check how much students remembered about the assessment criteria for their end of year written assignment, I asked them in groups of four to list the key points and then chose one point to write on a stick. Then nominating them at random, each student had to explain the point on their stick and exemplify it – some students had the same points but it just reinforced what they knew and led to further clarification.
Hi-tech option: Randomly
Hannah: I’ve been using a the Randomly app for over a year now. As Katherine said, the voice does sound a bit robotic, but I have my phone on silent and just call out their names myself. Sometimes I put my phone on the DocCam / Visualiser if students need to see the names come up. Below, I outline some of the additional benefits:
- When teaching a class of, say, Chinese students, you may find that a general question to the class is met with silence (for a range of possible reasons). Nominating at random is a great way to overcome this.
- Delegating the nomination of students to a randomisation device reduces your cognitive load – you don’t have to think about who you’ve already asked, who you might’ve missed out … and what’s the name of that student in the corner?
- You learn students’ names and faces more quickly – you repeatedly read their name, say their name [I don’t use the voice function on the app], look at them as they respond and students won’t feel anonymous in your class. It also gives the illusion of knowing their names, if you have to cover a class.
- If you provide the rationale for what you are doing, students will realise that the process of nominating students is fair, because it’s random. NB you are still in charge of this – if your randomiser picks the worst person in your class to perform a certain task, discretely skip over them [another reason I keep the sound off].
- It shows that engagement in your class is non-negotiable. However, teachers must foster a learning environment in which it is clearly okay to make mistakes.
- It works well with a technique called Pose Pause Pounce Bounce, which helps students to listen to each other’s contributions. 1. POSE the question (it’s important to do this before choosing a student). 2. PAUSE, giving ALL the students crucial thinking time. 3. Using the randomiser, POUNCE on a student to answer. 4. Without evaluating their response, BOUNCE to another random student to evaluate / summarise / (dis)agree with the contribution of the first. You may want to bounce once again before you comment on the answers.
If you have an iPhone, you may want to download the free app Randomly. Here are the instructions to set up a new class and add the student names.
Open the app. Tap on the + (top left).
Give your class a name (e.g.PS1001 or PS1002) and tap Create..
Type in the student’s name, and tap Add. Repeat these two last steps until all names have been added.
Next, tap Randomize; choose Uncalled or Anyone (I like to vary it). I used Uncalled to allocate students to seminar groups and ‘Chatty Tuesday’ groups.
The randomiser allows you to hear from a couple of random individuals, whereas the mini-whiteboards / Socrative allow for whole-class response.
Alternatively, you could try the Random Name Picker from classtools.net. One tip is to start the spin, and ask the question. By the time you’ve finished speaking, it will have picked a name.
High-engagement classroom environments appear to have a significant impact on student achievement. … So when teachers allow students to choose whether to participate or not – for example, by allowing them to raise their hand to show they have an answer – they are actually making the achievement gap worse, because those who are participating are getting smarter, while those avoiding engagement are foregoing the opportunities to increase their ability. (Wiliam 2011, pp80-82)
Gurr, Hannah. Randomizing the classroom: ways and whys December 2015: Issue 15. pp. 8-9 [Accessed: 01 July 2016]
The Classroom Experiment, 2010. [TV programme recording] BBC2, 27 September 2010 19:00. Available through: Box of Broadcasts database [Accessed: 01 July 2016]
Wiliam, D. 2011. Embedded Formative Assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press