Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

09.02.17Adding a Parameter to Cold Call

Image result for beautiful new zealand

Gratuitous Picture of Spectacular New Zealand Scenery- Couldn’t Help It


I’m on my way back from New Zealand today. In the course of doing some training down there for NZ Rugby coaches, I met a music teacher from the South Island named Sam Hadfield. He’d been experimenting with a few carefully chosen techniques—Cold Call, No Opt Out, Right is Right—in his classroom with generally positive results but over a beer he mentioned one adaptation he’d tried that I found really intriguing.

We’d been discussing the use of sentence parameters in writing. Sentence parameters are rules or challenges given with a writing prompt such as “use the word exponential” in our answer or start with the phrase, “After the revolution.” I discuss them in the 2.0 version of the book as part of the Art of the Sentence technique.

Ah, Sam said. He often used something like that with Cold Call. That is, when he cold called a student he might add a parameter like, “See if you can use the word ‘pitch’ [again, he’s a music teacher] in your answer.”

I thought that was a simple but pretty brilliant adaptation of the technique. You could use something like that to make a Cold Call a little easier for a student but you could also use it to make it a bit more challenging.  And if you did it with some frequency you could help make those slightly nervous kids a little more successful on their first Cold Call and then seamlessly offer some clever challenges for students who liked to rise to the challenge and the whole process would be invisible to kids… just part of how you did things. I’m not saying to add a parameter every time, but just every so often so it’s normal.

I’m sure Sam has better examples, but I thought it might look like this (I’m not very strong in Music so I tried something from History instead):

  • To make it a bit easier for a student: Tell me one important outcome of the Great Depression. Try to use the term “New Deal” in your answer.
  • To make it a bit more challenging: Tell me one important outcome of the Great Depression. Glory points for you if you describe a key banking reform.

Anyway I thought Sam’s idea was really interesting. Would love to hear from anyone who does something similar or who tries out Sam’s idea.



2 Responses to “Adding a Parameter to Cold Call”

  1. September 3, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    This is great! We have been working with teachers using essentially the same technique and calling it “Use These Words.” We have been encouraging teachers to use it in both pre-planned and responsive versions of Cold Call, Turn and Talk, Everyone Writes, etc. We find it really useful in real-time coaching: if a teacher is struggling to provide an appropriate scaffold without doing all the thinking work for kids, or is having a hard time pushing student thinking beyond the factual answer, a coach can jump in and model Use These Words. It’s a transferable skill the teacher can run with. It’s probably the most frequent real-time coaching move that our coaches make during discussion.

    One innovation on this that I’d offer up and love thoughts on: we developed a “Use These Words” drill that is teacher facing. The goal is do help teachers get a ton of repetitions with this kind of thinking, so that for any question they ask – planned or in the moment – they are immediately thinking about the words or phrases they might provide students to scaffold or increase rigor and are instinctively anticipating student responses.

    The drill has the following steps, and can be one-on-one or in a small circle, ‘whip around’ format:
    1. Teacher(s) selects a question (“How do you cross the road?”)
    2. Coach provides constraint: (“Give a sentence starter,” or “Give a sentence ender,” or “Give one content word,” or “Give two words, one that is a content word and one that connects/frames ideas like ‘therefore’ or ‘surprisingly'”)
    3. Teacher(s) rapidly generate words/phrases they might give within that constraint. (For example, if the first constraint was “Sentence starter,” teachers might generate: “To cross the road, first…”, “When crossing the road…”, “You cross the road by…”, “The challenging part of…”, “Never forget that…”, “First, …”, “In most cases, …”, “While some may argue that…” and on and on, as many reps as possible)
    4. Coach changes constraint (“Now give a sentence starter AND one content word each time”)
    5. Coach says, “Rigor up,” or “Scaffold down” within that constraint
    – A teacher “Rigoring up” might be: “Start with ‘Depending on your location…’ and include the word ‘norms'”
    – A teacher “Scaffolding down” might be: “Start with, ‘To cross the road, first look to your left, then…’ and include the word ‘crosswalk'”
    6. At any time (but not every single rep), coach can ask the teacher to actually provide the response a student might give if the teacher gives those words (“Ok, pause. So what might a student say if you gave them, ‘In most cases…'”

    We think this teacher facing drill can build stronger content knowledge even if the teacher doesn’t use any of the frames generated – or uses 1 or 2 of the 40+ generated – in class with kids. Would love your thoughts.

    • Doug Lemov
      September 5, 2017 at 3:51 pm

      This is great stuff, Paul. THanks for sharing.

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