Friday, September 27, 2019

Cold Calling Pitfalls

This blog post is about cold calling. Randomly calling on students can go well, but it's not so easy as pulling a name and asking, "What's the answer!?"

The pitfalls of basic random cold calling is that it's not an equitable practice in its barebones form. Some issues include (but are not limited to) the following.

  1. Making a mistake in front of the whole class can be stressful. This is a high risk situation.
  2. Not everyone thinks fast, so they may be in the process of figuring something out, and then called on the spot to have the goods, right then and there. 
  3. Thinking fast is not necessarily smart, and thinking slowly is not necessarily not-smart. But having to be quick on your feet biases the definition of smart as having the answer quickly in class on the spot.
  4. Stereotype threat can be triggered. Some students are the only one of their identity in your class. If this student makes a mistake, then the stereotypes could be "validated." 
What can we do?
Randomizing who contributes does have a positive facet. It spreads the chances around. That's good. The key is to do it in an inclusive way.

Here's one example:
Instead of going with something like "What's the answer!?"you can add think-pair-share into the mix.  First, state the question or task, and ask students to think first and the talk to their partner. Then when you select a person at random, the prompt could be, "Share with us what you discussed with your partner." What students share could be a partial answer, a question, a comment, the whole answer, or perhaps asking for another minute to finish their conversation. If framed as a way to generate discussion and engagement, rather than having to be right, this can reduce anxiety and be a more inviting experience.

Riffs: We can think of think-pair-share as the base layer, and add on or adapt layers above it. Instead of randomly calling on a pair, you could visit a few groups and see what they tried. You can usually very quickly find a pair willing to share. Quiet students who have a useful idea can be encouraged to share, and this specific teacher move is where you enact inclusion! The quiet student is invited in by the instructor and is validated for having something worthy of being shared.  

Keeping track of who has shared will then help you spread chances equitably.  This riff works well earlier in the term, as you are developing student buy-in and comfort with talking about and discussing math. It's lower stakes, and doesn't put people on the spot.

Another riff is for classes that include student presentations. Assigning randomly the first chimers is a way to spread who makes the comments. Otherwise, it's the usual people raising their hands again and again. This can be done by selecting two students, then asking everyone to talk to their partner about the presented work. The selected students chime in first. They can ask a question, comment, or give a compliment. Again the contributions are done in a way, where students have time to think, discuss, and prepare remarks. Once the first chimers have made their comments, you can open the floor for further comments.

Cold calling can be warmed up with some additions and tweak. Using a small amount of time, allowing for thinking and talking, and taking perceived judgment off the table, creates an environment where students are less concerned about how they might appear and more focused on the Math.