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This past week some of our teachers tried a new formative assessment strategy.
The purpose was to adjust our practice and how we check for understanding in our classrooms. Students quickly learn to adopt the convention of raising their hands to answer teacher questions. Even our kindergarten students had difficulty waiting to be called upon rather than pressing to be chosen by pumping their arm in the air. Some scholars refer to this as "Playing the Game of School".
Teachers commented that "No Hands Up" is hard! It is hard because we develop ways of being in schools that are habitual, but don't necessarily reflect current beliefs about what teaching can be or should be. Some context: Our current model of education is only about 100 years old, and evolved in response to the Industrial Revolution. "Education for all" was not the goal, and schools effectively sorted students into those who would go on to higher education and those who would not. Think about what the function of putting your hand up in such an environment. If I needed to compete with those around me to ensure that I would move on or to ensure that I was seen as the most intelligent in the group, it would certainly fulfill that purpose. From the teacher point of view, it would likewise help me to sort students into the most capable and keen and those who were less worth the trouble. In current practice, we use hands up to train students to be respectful of one another, to wait their turn or to show readiness. We are beginning to realize that there could there be new conventions that accomplishes these desired behaviors while honoring all our students thinking and participation?
"When we encourage students to speak their minds some voices are initially barely above a whisper," (Reggie Routman - Read, Write, Lead). When we insist that all students prepare to be engaged we are saying that each child matters. We are being inclusive in a way that moves all students forward. We also change the dialogue from being about the right answer (sometimes an easy answer) to being about communicating thinking. Students who know they have to consider what they might say are thinking!! They are not passive, even if they are not the one to be called upon. When we can cultivate a culture in each of our classrooms that honours thinking we increase respect among our students while we demonstrate respect for all students.
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