Teaching Opinion

Cold Call Protocol

By David Ginsburg — September 25, 2011 2 min read
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In previous posts I explained when and why it’s better to ask students questions using cold calling rather than hand raising or choral response. Now, here are some tips on how to use cold calling:

    1. Call on students equally yet randomly. Some teachers rely on memory to do this. Others place Popsicle sticks with students’ names on them (one stick per student) in a cup, and then pick a stick each time they ask a question. And others use technology, including St. Paul Public Schools Special Education Teacher and Technology Coach Chris Alper-Leroux who uses Microsoft Excel’s random number generator function, as follows:
      • Step 1: Insert the formula =RAND() into Column A of an Excel worksheet.
      • Step 2: Copy and paste the names of all students in a class into Column B of the worksheet.
      • Step 3: Select Columns A and B, and sort by column A.

      Chris says, “When I use this co-teaching, I do it on the computer, and keep track of student responses. There is a key for question asked (no answer), answered incorrect, answered correct, and skipped. My co-teacher asks me who to call. That way, I still have some choice, if I need to skip a struggling reader during a group read, for example. When I am working solo, I print the sheet out and put it on a clipboard, and make quick notes for later. Not only does it spread out questioning, it can show patterns of answering/not answering/avoidance, and gives some accountability when you say ‘I’ll come back to you,’ to a kid.”

    2. Be unpredictable. Keep students on their toes after you’ve asked them questions by occasionally asking some of them multiple questions over a short period of time. I used to throw kids off by saying, “Let me call on someone we haven’t heard from in a while,” and then call on the same student I had asked the previous question.
    3. Be reasonable. Only ask students questions they should be able to answer. It would be unfair, for example, to direct higher order questions to students whose current cognitive limitations prevent them from responding.
    4. Ask the question first. As illustrated in the above graphic, insert the student’s name at the end of a question rather than the beginning, since many kids tend to tune out as soon as they know they’re not being called on. Be sensitive. Ask for volunteers rather than cold call students for reading aloud or other tasks they may feel self-conscious performing in front of others.

    It’s inevitable, of course, that some students will feel uncomfortable at first in a classroom where they can’t stand on the sidelines. But as I wrote before, it’s important to put students on the spot now so they’re prepared when a professor or boss puts them on the spot later. And besides, in my experience, after just a few weeks of cold calling, most students warm up to it.

    Image provided by GECC, LLC with permission

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