Mississippi Teacher Corps

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cold-calling from index cards

Today, I took two 45 minute periods to review for tomorrow's Algebra I test. I conducted the review session primarily by giving students a worksheet of problems on each of the topics we've covered, giving them a minute to work on a problem, and then calling on a student to go to the board and show the class how to solve the problem. Normally, I pick students to go to the board by asking for volunteers. Today, I tried something different. I made an index card for each student and announced at the beginning of the review session that I would choose people to do board work by shuffling the cards and randomly pulling out one card.
I ended up really disliking this method for my class. I have a class of 12 excited students who, on a normal basis, frequently ask ahead of time if they can go up to the board to do the next problem, and although they sometimes get distracted and try to talk to each other when they're supposed to be solving math problems, all of them will work on the problems assigned in class. The bottom line is that I am never at a loss to find eager volunteers to go to the board and solve a problem. For this reason, I was somewhat hesitant to even try the cold-calling card method for a lesson, but I tried it anyway.
As luck would have it, I ended up pulling the same person's name out of the deck multiple times, while there were 4 kids whose names were not getting pulled out at all. The kids whose names weren't getting pulled were not happy with this situation. They kept on asking me if they could do the next problem on the board, even though they knew that I was using the cards to pick people; several other students made the same request. By the end of the period, I felt like the 4 kids whose names I hadn't pulled were getting shortchanged, so I just abandoned the stack and called on each of them. When I talked to my second-year mentor teachers after the lesson, they said that I didn't really need to just randomly pull a card out, and I could stack the deck. Unless I have students who will personally resent me for calling on them when they don't volunteer, I would rather just call on random people than pretend to randomly draw names.
Another aspect I didn't like about the cold-calling method was the lack of personal attention. As I discussed with my second-year mentor teachers after the lesson, my students get very excited when they raise their hands and I pick them. The personal attention makes them feel special and proud, and cold-calling took away from this interaction.
I have not completely given up on the idea of using cold-calling in some future classroom if I have reluctant and/or unfocused students. One positive outcome I observed from employing the cold-calling method was how the students all fell silent and focused their attention on me every time I announced that I was about to draw a card for the next volunteer. In the case of my class, this was positive anticipation, since everyone was hoping I would draw their names. I think that in a less motivated class, where the anticipation would be more negative, the suspense would nonetheless draw students' attention and keep them focused, because no one knows what name will come up next.


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