Assessment Opinion

Quest for the Best Questioning Strategy: Cold Calling vs. Choral Response

By David Ginsburg — June 19, 2011 2 min read
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In my last post I declared cold calling the hands down winner over hand raising when it comes to engaging and assessing students, and preparing them for future endeavors. Now cold calling takes on another challenger in the quest for the best questioning strategy: choral response.

Choral response is a good choice when all students will benefit from responding aloud and in unison, as when early childhood/primary and foreign language teachers ask students to repeat a new word or sound. Another possible example is when teachers want students to call out arithmetic facts in an effort to build computational proficiency and efficiency.

Yet in most other cases traditional choral response is less effective than cold calling from both engagement and assessment standpoints. With respect to engagement, I often hear teachers ask questions like “Who is the protagonist in the story?” with the expectation that all students will respond. But more often than not only a few students do respond. And usually it’s the same students from one question to the next, since others have either checked out or opted out--both of which happen far less frequently when teachers use cold calling.

As for assessment, one problem with choral response is that teachers often assume the whole class is with them just because two or three students are calling out the right answers, and fail to realize that other students are lost. Conversely, at other times teachers assume the whole class needs them to re-teach something when two or three kids blurt out the wrong answers. Yet just because other students are quiet doesn’t mean they’re confused.

Still, let’s not write off choral response so fast, since it can be great for quick checks of students’ understanding--provided you go with a silent version of it. One option, if you have an interactive whiteboard, is to use student response devices (e.g., Promethean, SmartBoard, and eno). Another option is to have students record responses on mini-whiteboards, and then hold them up for you to see. Both options beat traditional choral response when it comes to student engagement. They’re also more effective when it comes to assessment, since what you see is often more reliable than what students say--or don’t say.

Keep in mind, though, that the use of student response devices and mini-whiteboards is generally limited to short, simple responses. They can be great, for example, at helping you identify how many (and which) students think Character A, B, or C is the protagonist. But finding out why students chose one character over others involves hearing what they have to say, which brings us back to the merits of cold calling that I cited in my last post.

It also brings us to the following conclusion about questioning: rather than take an all-or-nothing approach, it’s important to choose the right approach--choral response or cold calling--at the right time.

Image by Archerix, provided by Dreamstime license

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