Reflections on Cold- Calling

Before returning to school in September, I listened to a podcast between Craig Barton and Doug Lemov which encouraged me to reflect on my use of cold-calling in lessons. Barton began to describe how he had misinterpreted Cold-Calling and believed there was more to be gained from this popular teaching technique than first meets the eye. Upon further discussion, Barton and Lemov linked cold-calling together with “hunting not fishing” and described how teachers could hunt for excellent responses before cold-calling the class. 

Another document that drew my attention to this topic was a study from America on the “Impact of Cold-Calling on Student Voluntary Participation” by Dallimore et al. (2013). The study indicated that “the percentage of students who participate in class discussions increases quite dramatically… in high cold-calling sections”. Furthermore, “students in high cold-calling sections are more comfortable participating [than in low cold-calling sections]… high cold-calling is associated with increased frequency of participation, especially voluntary participation”. The results from the study can be seen in the table below. 

The positive impact of cold-calling is evident and a high level of cold-calling makes students more likely to offer to put their hands up and get involved in future class discussions.  I therefore wanted to think about how I could speed up this process and get the maximum impact from the technique as possible.  

Observations that led me to change my practice 

  • I noticed a lack of confidence in responses from my students when I cold-called them; often their tone of voice indicated they were unsure if they were correct
  • Many students didn’t put their hands up voluntarily and I relied heavily on cold-calling to get them involved. 
  • Some students would say they “didn’t know” the answer and I would have to do a lot of work to lead them to a response

I have been adapting my use of cold-calling based on the discussion between Barton and Lemov and have made the following changes to my practice:

Before cold-calling

  • Ask students to discuss the task in pairs/groups 
  • Walk around the classroom and observe the students’ work, be it written or verbal
  • Look/listen out for good examples to later share with the class

During cold-calling: 

  • Choose a student that you have seen a good response from and cold-call them
  • Ask the class “did anyone get the same answer as [name]”.
  • If appropriate, make use of the visualiser to show the students’ work to further encourage and praise them.  

During my observations, it may be that I notice an excellent response from a student who doesn’t usually offer to answer questions in front of the class. Depending on the confidence of the student, I decide whether or not to speak to them and let them know that I am going to ask them to share their answer with the class. I have found this to be an effective way to increase the confidence of students and help them to feel “seen” by the teacher. I have also found that the responses have been more confidently expressed as I have already reassured them that they are correct so there isn’t the same element of uncertainty when they answer. 

I think it is really important that teachers take a genuine interest in their students’ ideas and “allow them to shine” as Barton puts it. My aim is that by having  1:1 conversations  with students before I cold-call them, I will increase their confidence in their own ability and hopefully they will be more likely to voluntarily participate in future class discussions. 

Zofia Reeves

Zofia is a maths teacher and Research Associate for Durrington Research School.

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