Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

12.02.15Guest Post: Ronnie Seneque on Implementing Cold Call

Image result for kramer middle school washington dcRonnie Seneque is a 16 year veteran teacher at Kramer Middle School in Southeast, Washington DC. It’s a high-need (100% frpl) school in one of the country’s fastest improving major school districts. He’s read Teach Like a Champion, Teach Like a Champion 2.0 and Practice Perfect in addition to having attended our workshops.  Recently he wrote to describe both how powerful one technique (Cold Call) had been for him and some of the things he’d learned in rolling out the technique.  His insights about how to implement were so insightful that I asked him if he’d be willing to share some of his thoughts on the blog.  He graciously sent along the attached letter.

I thought that I was a great teacher but there was something missing.  I didn’t know that I didn’t know.  Looking at a teacher chat on twitter last year I came across Teach Like a Champion. I started ready and highlighting and immediate saw my class culture begin to change.  I was so happy at the improvements that I went to my interim principal and told her about it.  Together we have been bringing about change to our school little by little.

One of my first successes was with Cold Call. Like many of my peers I had previously only called on students whose hands were raised.  That meant to me that they were engaged in the lesson and so they were rewarded with being the stars for the moment.  Problem was I never realized the effect this was having on the rest of the class.  When I called on the students whose hands were raised I was validating the students who wanted to answer but they were not necessarily the students who most fully grasped the lesson.  Sometimes my quiet kids surprised me.  And I also saw benefits from having students know they might be expected to participate at any time. It made it normal for all students to be called.

Interestingly, one of my first steps was to use equity sticks. This allowed me to train myself to call on every student.  That made Cold Calling even easier.

My next step was to train my students on how to be patient while their peers were involved in think time (using their think time was something else I had to train them to do). The hand raisers didn’t want to play along at first. They tried to flip the script on me by shouting out the answers. They had been trained to want to give their answers and to not worry about whose turn it was.  I had to teach them to let others speak.  My process we something like this:

  1. Introduce my students to the concept of a Cold Call.
  2. Introduce them to the nonnegotiable that class participation was 100%.
  3. Introduction to “Think Time”  No interrupting your peers when they are thinking, and be prepared to defend a solution even if you are not the originator of that idea.
  4. I also introduced my students to the Flexible mind idea.  Many students thought that if they didn’t have the answer first  then they were dumb.  Many teachers ingrain this idea into students by not using the cold calling strategy. To counter this idea I spent weeks starting with a thirty second think time all the way up to a minute just to train and get my students accustomed to the idea that quickness and intelligence are not the same thing.  By the end of the school year they were in shape and totally comfortable with cold calling and all of  side strategies that come with it.

Over the summer I studied even more and this year I started using more of the techniques as situations that required them came about.  By now my students are so accustomed to the strategies that I can plan exactly the the lesson I want and take my place as a facilitator and guide to their comprehension.  As I walk about the classroom Circulating and asking those deep, rich, and scaffolding questions, I am very happy with my students’ progress. They are making steady gains and progress. They are embracing their learning and I am confident that my goal of two years’ gain can be met and even exceeded.


2 Responses to “Guest Post: Ronnie Seneque on Implementing Cold Call”

  1. December 3, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    What I love about using the techniques like “Cold call” is that they take almost zero effort to implement. You don’t need any money, or resources or help from other staff members. And the impact that they can have is huge.
    Quite often when we hear people talking about reforming education, they throw around big ideas like “let’s give them all iPads!” or “we need to incentivise education – we should pay the kids to come to school”. Those large projects cost money, so someone gets to stand in the limelight pointing out all the “improvements” they have made.

    When all the while, we just need to teach teachers how to ask a question.

    • Doug Lemov
      December 4, 2015 at 7:29 pm

      Thanks, John. I always think teachers are the solution so I love helping them think about little changes that can make them even better. I really happy to hear that resonates with teachers like you! Thanks for teaching (and for your comment).

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