I choo choo choose you

One of the perennial problems of classroom management is dealing with the over-dominant students (or, inversely, the very timid ones who don’t like to volunteer). The obvious answer is to make sure you call on all students equally, but this can be more easily said than done: it’s hard to keep track of who’s spoken already and it can be tempting to just let the students who want to talk talk.

I’ve tried a few techniques. I used to have a little pack of index cards with a students’ name on each one. I’d shuffle them then pick them one by one, calling on the student named on the card. This worked pretty well, though I had to remember to reshuffle regularly or those students who’d already been called would get complacent…also I had a bad habit of losing one of the cards somewhere.

Thomas Farrell has suggested giving each student two talking sticks and making a rule that a student can’t say any more once they’ve used up their sticks. I like this idea but I’ve always been put off by the prospect of managing the sticks: distributing and collecting them, monitoring who has used up their quota. Still, this is an intriguing idea because it makes it easier for students to volunteer contributions without being called on by the instructor. It seems like it could be a good technique for students to use in small group discussions where the instructor isn’t actively participating.

Not me again!

Recently, I’ve been trying a high-tech solution, with pretty good results. There are several apps (and websites) that will randomize a list for you, or choose an item from a list. So I have one of these apps on my tablet and whenever I want to call on a student I tap the screen and it chooses the student for m e (from the class list that I’ve previously entered into the app). I find this quite easy and generally non-distracting. Although it is quite teacher centered it does prevent me from playing favourites and keeps the students on their toes. Recently I found a variation on this idea that even included student pictures, but it does feel a bit like cheating—I mean, I don’t exactly need any encouragement to avoid learning names.

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