Achievement Gap

Raised Hands Contribute to Achievement Gap
The following statement was shared at a district meeting and passed on to me by a fellow middle school teacher: “If you let students choose if they want to participate by raising their hands you are contributing to the achievement gap“ This message is backed by research by Mr. Dylan Wiliam. See article: The Six Secrets of a Happy Classroom.  (Dylan Wiliam is Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the Institute of Education, University of London.).  And in the book “Teach Like A Champion, 49 techniques that put students on the path to college” author Doug Lemov states that the most powerful of all 49 techniques is “Cold Call” (not picking students for participation based on hands). I wholeheartedly agree that allowing classroom participation roles to set-up and endure leads to unequal learning in the classroom. The hand raisers – are with you – they are checked-in.  But what about the nonparticipants? I used to think that when I asked a review question that resulted in only a few hands:  OK, call on student A, she gives answer, I comment on answer, the class hears this exchange, now I can move on.  In fact, my annoyance with myself for allowing these roles to develop and persist was the impetus to the development of Effort Tracker (see “About Us”). Letting an app or popsicle sticks or whatever system you prefer, select the next participant to answer a question, read a direction, come to the board, etc. is fair and allows you to make better judgments about where the majority of your students are.  But be careful about nonverbal communication – when an improving student surprises you with the correct answer, act the same way you would act if you had just called on one of your former hand raisers. Most of the students that were previously leading classroom discussions will understand about their new diminished role.  However, Mr. Wiliam suggests mini-whiteboards as a way to keep the formerly dominating participants happy.   “…the idea with the mini-whiteboards is that the whole class simultaneously scribbles their answers before displaying their boards to the teacher – and each other.”  This is also formative assessment on the fly. I like the purpose of the mini-whiteboard but prefer instead to ask students to draw a box in their notebook.  When I ask a review or higher order question, write the answer in the box (don’t take all the room there are more questions coming).  If you are wrong, cross out the wrong answer and write in the correct answer.  One reason I prefer this method is because I don’t have to supply white boards, white board markers and erasers, nor do I have to worry about students leaving messages for the next user of the whiteboard… – L Boler

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