Last week I continued to use the PaddlePop sticks and ‘no hands up’ strategy with my classes… and so too did lots of other teachers it seems! It’s been really nice keeping track of other people’s use of the same strategy via Twitter, and it seems it’s been just as successful for them as it has been for me. I quite like how something small like this reveals the creativity of teachers – some are letting students decorate the sticks themselves, and one person used pegs because she couldn’t find sticks!
So, how did it go in week 2?
I used the sticks in a range of new ways last week. Early in the week I asked students to keep them in front of them to help me learn their names during group work, this was fun but I did end up down a couple of sticks – one student ended up becoming ‘Jerry the pencil’, lol. I also used the sticks to select teams for our micro-project. I usually create teams more thoughtfully than this, however as I don’t know the students yet, I can’t really make any judgement about the team they should be in, can I? It was fun pulling the sticks out one by one and arranging them on the table in a quietly theatrical way whilst students completed a quiet task… I knew they were all super curious about the purpose of the groups, so it got them engaged with the task straight away. The class have spent the last few lessons working on a small video project where they are making a clip for YouTube answering a question they have posed about authority and the individual. I used the sticks occasionally to call on students randomly to share with the class what their team was up to, and where they were going next. Not a bad strategy for PBL. So far there hasn’t been any frustration towards the sticks – and none have been stolen (well, intentionally at least anyway!).
I’ve started to use the sticks in two ways with this class, determined by the type of questioning I am employing. I’ve noticed (thanks to commentary by Kelli McGraw) that I ask two broad types of questions – open, and closed. Open questioning happens a lot in English, because often our lessons are discussion-based since literature is mostly about interpretation. This means that the questions are I ask students to respond to are more subjective, and thus students are less concerned with there being a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ response, meaning they are more confident to contribute when their name is selected. There are times, however, when I want a more developed response from students, and that’s when I use a second stick to get someone else’s input – sometimes the first student is a little miffed that ‘back up’ is required. I will note that this type of response is dependent on the student – some are stoked to have extra support. Closed questioning happens less in my English class (although I know that some teachers use it a lot more than I do), but last week I did use it recap/quiz students after their reading a summary of Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ the lesson before. Students seemed to struggle with being put on the spot in this way (there was a clear right/wrong answer), but all had a go and gave some type of answer. What I found interesting was that some students who knew the answers started putting their hands up, calling out, or whispering the answer loudly (accompanied with rolling eyes) to their neighbours. Very interesting indeed, as it reflected what Dylan Wiliam experienced in his classroom experiment! I wonder if this sort of thing will continue as we head towards more closed questions when recapping/quizzing based on our upcoming text study?
As with year 11, I’ve started using more closed questioning because we’re covering concrete stuff – contextual detail relating to our study of Ondaatje’s ‘In the Skin of a Lion’, and therefore answers aren’t really open to discussion as much. Students have mostly been responding positively to this when called upon (they know I’ll pick a back-up stick if they can’t get an answer themselves), but there is also the stirrings of frustrated frequent-contributers who wish to share their correct answer. As with year 11 we are starting to move into the analysis of our novel, and I feel that the sticks may become less warmly received when the questions are content-driven (where is this scene set? who does such and such action? what’s this device used called?). Luckily I have a plan – whiteboards! I’m purchasing two class sets of whiteboards, markers and erasers today, so hopefully by next week they will arrive, providing all students with the opportunity to respond to questions.
One thing overall that I’ve found really interesting regarding my own practice is that I didn’t realise how many questions I ask in a lesson! It’s kind of mental! I also am more conscious of the need to give students more control with regards to questioning, and then using the sticks to select students to respond. How have the sticks been working for you?