Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

10.28.16Two Clips for Those Who Want to Master the Cold Call Technique

Had the opportunity to talk teaching with an amazing group of math, science and technology teachers from my own region in the New York State Master Teacher Program on Saturday.  This post is specifically a follow-up to share two more examples of Cold Call, one of the techniques we discussed during the session, but the clips will be useful to anyone who is interested in this powerful technique–perhaps even after reading my post from earlier this week–so after the two clips I’ve shared below, I’ve also posted a few observations about each.  Hope you like them.

Clip 1: Gary Lauderdale, West Briar MS, Houston TX.  (NYS Fellows, this is the clip I tried to show you where the sound failed):

Three of the many things I love about this clip:

  1. Gary’s positivity. Going into the Cold Call he frames it this way: “Looking around, I saw a lot of good math; I saw some simple mistakes; but mostly I saw a lot of thought. I saw a lot of thought and a lot of effort. Whenever we have those two things we’re always going to be successful.”  Right away everyone in the class knows that the rigorous questioning Gary leads them through is a good thing, a reflection of their own success.
  2. Gary quickly picks up on his comments about being successful. His first Cold Call is of Andrew of whom he asks, “Can you please read number 1 for us.”  Subtly but cleverly, Gary has ensured that the first Cold Call in class yields success. All Andrew has to do is read the problem. The idea of Cold Call is established but students have already seen that they’re going to be fine. They can handle this.
  3. Predictability. Cold Calling Andrew straight off like that also does another thing–it makes it clear to students that there’s going to be Cold Calling since Gary does it right away. Just five or ten seconds into the lesson, students have already seen two Cold Calls, both of which resulted in success. Now, if I am in Gary’s class, I know I should be on my toes. My turn is almost assuredly coming, which is a big deal because it causes me to react before it happens. Thus, I am more likely to be successful and already more engaged in class.

Clip 2: Denarius Frazier, Uncommon Collegiate Charter HS, Brooklyn NY.

Some of the many things I love about this clip:

I love Denarius’ question!  He’s asked his students for another conclusion.  They seem pretty stumped. Only one hand is up. Most teachers would assume the kids just don’t get it.  But not Denarius. He says, “What are you thinking [pause here for everyone to think]… Imomi?”  His question is brilliantly phrased. There is almost no possible wrong answer to the question, “What are you thinking?  Imomi is guaranteed of success, even if all she can do is start the discussion in the most general sense. This makes it safe for her. And I love that she crushes it! But even if she hadn’t, I love Denarius’ faith in her and his students. There is a big difference between not having your hand up and having nothing to say.  In fact my post earlier this week was in part about all the reasons a student might have a valuable contribution and still not raise her hand. That’s why Cold Call is so inclusive.

‘Hands Up’ is OK.  I was deeply gratified to have Dylan Wiliam comment on my post earlier this week about the inclusiveness of Cold Call.  He cited the experience of teachers he’d worked with in a school in the UK.

“Everyone hated Cold Call at first (we called it “No hands up, except to ask a question”). Teachers hated it because it disrupted their routines. The students who had their hands up all the time hated it because they couldn’t show off that they knew the answer. The students who never raised their hands hated it because now they couldn’t stay “below the radar” and instead had to pay attention. But over time, the class became more cohesive. One high achieving student, William, said, “I never knew my classmates were so smart.” When students were allowed to raise their hands, the classroom dialogue was dominated by the quickest students, not necessarily the ones with the most important or interesting things to say. And the students who used to have their hands up all the time (actually, just most of the time, not all the time) said they always seemed to get called on when they didn’t know. The result was that students saw that everyone got things wrong at times, which made the class more supportive of each other as learners.”

Anyway, you can see the inclusiveness here, but you can also see a variation on hands down.  Denarius is fine with a hand raised. He wants students to volunteer. And he knows how many volunteer is useful data. But he is willing to–and his students know he is willing to–Cold Call even when some hands are up.

Finally we see more of that positivity to go with the inclusiveness: Both girls he Cold Calls get it right. Perhaps they’ve even surprised themselves at how much they actually knew. And for each there is praise from the class–in the currency of snaps–for their hard work and risk taking. In that sense, Denarius is building a culture that illustrates when there is hard work and students are not afraid to take a risk, they are bound to be successful.

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