Establishing a routine whereby your pupils put up their hands every time is pro-thinking, pro-participation and pro-community. It also places in you in control.

“Let them call out, I say. It gives the lesson a bit of dynamism and pace. It’s fun. It shows them you’re cool, not a fuddy-duddy.”

The person I‘m quoting is me, back when I started teaching. However, my view then had a slight flaw: it was completely and totally wrong. Calling out is not dynamic, it’s chaotic; it’s not fun, it’s stressful; it doesn’t show you’re cool, it shows you’re not in control. These are reasons enough to put a stop to it, but there are other reasons too. Calling out is anti-thinking, anti-participation and anti-community.

Calling out is anti-thinking

Asking a question is a great way to get your students to think. But if you tolerate calling out, then your question becomes nothing more than the starter signal for a race – the race being the first to get their voice heard. But thinking needs time … and thinkers need to be free of the pressure of time so they can get on with the job of thinking.

Calling out is anti-participation

Calling out creates a free-for-all in which only a few participate. And it’s always the same few, too. But why should those with the loudest voice be the ones who are heard? What about your quieter
students or those who lack a bit of confidence? Ignore them and they’ll simply switch off, either through boredom or resentment – or both.

Calling out is anti-community

Classroom communities are built on respect, politeness and inclusivity. Calling out is the opposite of those things. It’s the verbal equivalent of pushing into the front of the queue. By tolerating it, you’re promoting selfishness and undermining togetherness.

So, if calling out is a problem (and it is!), what’s the solution? Is there an effective alternative strategy?

Yes there is! And it’s a super-duper one too.

Drumroll, please.

It’s called (…wait for it …) ‘put up your hand’.

Now, of course, this strategy’s not new. It’s been around as long as there’s been students. But, unfortunately, many teachers struggle to get it right. In fact, often it’s nothing more than a variation of calling out, with the teacher accepting the first student to put up their hand instead of the first to blurt out an answer.

But there is a hands-up procedure that works and here’s a proven way to teach it. It uses the ‘do as I
do method’ and it comes in three stages.

1. You model

Sit yourself down at a student’s desk and show how NOT to do it. It’s fun to have a student acting as the teacher, perhaps reading out a question or two that you’ve prepared. Exaggeration is the key, so include all of the following: hand waving, arched back, bottom out of seat, grimaced face and finger clicking. Throw in a “Me, Miss, pick me!” for good measure. You’ll almost certainly get lots of laughter at this point, much of it the laughter of self-recognition. Include sighs of disappointment when you’re not chosen to answer, together with an “it’s not fair” and “I never get picked”.

Next, model the behaviour you want to see. During this phase, it’s very helpful if you (as the student) externalise your thinking. It might go something like this.

Hmmm. That’s a good question that the teacher has just asked. Let me think about it.

[A thinking pause.] Oh, I can see that others have raised their hands. That’s ok, though, because the teacher doesn’t necessarily pick the person with their hand up first. I can think some more. [Another thinking pause.] Right, I have my answer and I know how I want to say it. [Calmly raise your hand.]

2. They model

Next, a small group of students model the correct way of raising their hands. You are now back as you, the teacher. Ask them a range of questions, give them a LOT of thinking time, and then choose a student to answer. Do this a couple of times – aim for perfection, not just an ok-ish job. Again, it’s good to have a bit of fun with this.

3. All practise

Now ask questions to the whole class. The questions can be about anything, but a neat trick is to ask questions about what they noticed in the previous ‘they model’ stage. As before, externalise your (the teacher’s) thinking. For example:

I have asked my question and now I am waiting so that everyone has a chance to think.

Oh, there’s an arched back. I won’t be picking that student. Shame, it would have been good to hear their answer.

More hands are calmly being raised. I am catching the eye of those with their hands up so they know that I have spotted them. That doesn’t mean that I will or won’t pick them, but it lets them know that I have seen them.

More hands are going up. Those students have done their thinking and are now ready to answer.

I can’t see any waving hands. I can’t see anyone with an arched back or a ‘pick me’ face. If I did, I wouldn’t pick that person. In fact, I will never – never, ever – pick that person.

Let me think about who I want to answer.

[Teacher chooses a student]

Again, keep going until the class have repeatedly demonstrated perfection.

Ta-da!

Right, that’s it. You’ve done it. You’ve taught your students how you want them to put up their hands. However, teaching a behaviour is not the same thing as turning it into a routine. It’s not yet habitual. For that to happen, you yourself must stick to the routine. You must not accept any instance of calling out. You must not accept any waving hands, clicking fingers or ‘pick me’ faces. You must give sufficient thinking time, and as you do you must catch the eye of students who have put up their hand so that they know that you’ve seen them. And you must do all of this every time you ask a question. Every time.

If you break the routine, if you do not do your part, they won’t do theirs. But if you keep to it, then you will have developed a routine that is pro-thinking, pro-participation and pro-community. And as routines go, it’s one that wins hands down – or should that be hands up?