Friday, 1 October 2010

Randomisation of responses

How do you single out students who are to answer to your intriguing questions? Professor Dylan William proposes six novelties in the class room to boost teaching, one of which is to abolish the hands-up habit. Instead we are to choose students at random to reach out to the lazy ones in the back of the classroom.
Some sort of randomisation process is required, Wiliam long ago decided, and his unorthodox solution, as demonstrated in a new BBC2 series, The Classroom Experiment (part of the channel's very welcome School Season of programmes), is to write the pupils' names down on lollipop sticks, the teacher then pulling them at random from a pot. No one can hide – everyone is potentially in the firing line.
Such an idea doesn't seem ground-breaking to me. I am sure that any seasoned teacher has his own nice tricks to circumvent the active clever kids who are so eager to spout the right answer, some highly idiosyncratic pranks to attract the attention of any one and to get every one involved in thinking.
These are my favourite ones:
  • The nursery rhyme.
    Any form of poetry will do, but I prefer silly rhymes like
    Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, / catch a tinker by the toe / if he squeals so let him go / eeny, meeny, miny, moe. Of course you are to point at a student at each syllable, actually you can feel the attention of the class mount nearing the end of the lines. The student who is put on the stage never refuses to co-operate as it is completely clear that he has been chosen at random. I have lots of rhymes stored in my memory over the years, to prevent boredom by repetition, Dutch poetry for most classes, and English nursery rhymes for my immersion classes. A spin-off is that it convincingly demonstrates that learning stuff by heart pays off. Also you can use the jape to inculcate your students with wisdom using quotes like Shakespeare's "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."
  • The Roulette
    I put my pen or pencil or whatever pointed object at hand on the ground and give it a twist. While it swivels students often raise their buttocks to see what's happening and when the object rests, I extend its direction to the student. Dodging kids are severely punished of course. The teacher has to accept all ramifications and in case he is singled out he has to produce the correct answer himself.
  • The Countdown
    Just ask some student to give a number lower than the amount of students in the class and perform a countdown. Frequently this is used by clever kids to place the onus on some friend, but as a teacher you observe the rapid eye movements, and you have the right to go left or right, at any moment, only to end at the culprit's desk. This takes high-speed calculation and if you make a mistake, you end with the perpetrator's neighbour, which is fine, as the complete class is aware what you were trying to do, and nothing is more suited to attract the students' attention than a teacher fooled by his own histrionics.
  • The Lottery Price
    If you have established the procedures listed before then you could try this one: Just single out a student whose voice hasn't been heard too much lately, ask him/her " Give me a number lower than [number of students in the group]", and react being surprised: "That's right!!!" to any number the student comes up with. This one never fails to raise laughter, and, what is more important, it makes clear that you are never subject to any procedure what so ever, not even to the ones you invented yourself. You are the alpha person in the room, aren't you?
I' am curious about your ruses. By all means, please, publish them in a comment to this blog

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