Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

03.23.15When a Pre-Call Killed the Mojo- And What to do About it

Recently, our team sat down together to watch footage of a first rate elementary teacher leading a math lesson with her second grade scholars. We observed a lot of great things–and one very unexpected outcome.  Joaquin Hernandez and Colleen Driggs describe it in this guest post:

After giving students a few minutes to solve a word problem, the teacher Show Called two pieces of student work, displayed these examples on an overhead projector for the class to analyze, and then released students to Turn and Talk to compare the two different approaches their classmates took to solve the problem.

There was so much that we loved about this teacher’s use of Turn and Talk, everything from the way she managed turns (“Turn. Windows side. Talk.”) to the way she Cold Called scholars to share their analysis coming out of it.

But with the benefit of hindsight and the luxury of being able to hit the “pause” button, our team also identified one particularly surprising challenge that was probably invisible to her–and to many teachers. During the Turn and Talk, the teacher Pre-Called students who she heard make a strong point (i.e. gave them a “heads up” that she would call on them to share their Turn and Talk response with the class). On first viewing, we thought her Pre-Call was effective for several reasons: it enabled her to maintain strong Pacing since she already knew who she would call on and could deliberately steer the conversation in a productive direction. Plus, it provided great positive reinforcement for kids who had engaged and worked hard.  But we began to notice an unintended consequence of using it during Turn and Talk.

After the teacher Pre-Called students with the prompt, “I’m going to ask you to share that out, okay?” students stopped working.  They would often nod in agreement (sometimes with a proud yet sheepish grin) and then end their conversations. In other words, the teacher’s attempt to acknowledge strong discussions had the unintended consequence of stopping them altogether. We’re not completely sure why this happened, but we saw it several times in a row.

Why, we wondered?  Was it possible that students heard “you got it right” and thought, by implication, that no further thinking was needed? Did knowing they would speak aloud cause them to want to spend the remainder of the Turn and Talk rehearsing their answer?  Were they reluctant to engage new ideas because they were worried about forgetting their point?

Seeing this challenge, we brainstormed some ways teachers could preserve the benefits of Pre-Calling scholars during a Turn and Talk while avoiding the potential pitfalls.

Here are some of our ideas. What do you think? What would you add to this list or adapt for use in your classroom?


Alternative Ways to Pre-Call During Turn and Talk

What it Could Look and Sound Like

(Teacher to Student)

Preemptive Rollout

When you roll out Turn and Talk, establish the expectation that students continue writing/talking even after you’ve Pre-Called:

“Sometimes when you’re writing or talking with a partner in a Turn and Talk, I’ll tell you I am going to ask you to share your thinking with the class. If I do that, make sure you keep on writing or talking so you can develop your strong thinking even more.”


Plausible Pre-Call  Explain to students that while you are circulating and listening you may place dots (or some other mark) on the papers of several students to signal that you may call on them to start the conversation.
Pre-Call with Stretch It task When you identify a student or pair with a promising idea ask them to keep developing it so it’s ready for sharing:
“Strong work. Keep trying to think of more examples with your partner because I might ask you to share.”


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One Response to “When a Pre-Call Killed the Mojo- And What to do About it”

  1. March 24, 2015 at 4:13 am

    It seems that the very act of pre-call, of giving a “heads up”, was exactly efficient: the dynamic of the students’ interaction was interrupted because the instructor imposed a new focus. The pre-call, while encouraging, puts pressure on students to perform. It is efficient because students prep their answers to be shared with the class, yet it disrupts the productive interaction the students were having. One has to wonder when efficiency is more important than the insights students glean from further open discussion.

    I think a way to facilitate open discussion in this case would be to pre-call the whole class. Say, “I’ll be monitoring and listening, and I may ask some groups to share when discussion has finished.” That way, everyone has the expectation that 1) discussion should take place, and 2) sharing will come after.

    One more thought, if some groups notice the teacher encourage and pre-call other groups, they may be more likely to disengage from the task since they know they aren’t being pre-called. Perhaps the teachers should do the “Pre-Call with Stretch It task” (or a variation) and give encouragement and prompting to all groups.

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