“No hands up”

One of the best ways to stir such a large community of people appears to be arguing about the “no hands up” idea with teachers. I first saw the idea used by Dylan Wiliam who has been lauded as a teaching guru when it comes to assessment. The purposes of the idea is to firstly raise engagement in the classroom because the teacher selects the student who answers a question, and any student could be selected. This means students concentrate much harder so that they are able to answer correctly. The second reason is that it allows the teacher to select students who are possibly the more reluctant contributors to classroom questioning. This raises inclusion.

I understand and agree with these benefits however, I see little positive reason to enforce this policy to solve the problems described above. It seems to me that disallowing hands to be raised means that a variety of teaching techniques are lost. To me, using this policy is simply a remedy to the common problem of the same students answering all the questions. Instead we should be focusing on cause of the problem which is essentially an issue of inclusion and possibly inappropriately designed questioning.

Some of benefits that I personally see by allowing hand raising is that students can signal they want to ask a question (which could easily be mistaken for wanting to answer a question in a “no hands up” classroom). Using hands up can also allow a teacher to gauge the understanding of the class. Polling techniques like this is AfL in action. Using polling and simple questioning also works very well with gauging who is listening when asking relativity simple questions. Flipping the hand-raising model completely could be to ask for students to raise their hand if they don’t know the answer to a question. This is especially useful because most often the students who can’t be bothered engaging in class behave in the same way as students who genuinely don’t know the answer to a question — they do nothing. Finally using a coded hand raising policy means that all learners must engage in the questioning, for example raise left hand for yes, right hand for no, both hands for not sure e.t.c.

Wiliam has another technique of selecting sticks out of a cup which have the pupils’ names on them. I haven’t tried this method but I believe that random selection to be effective for specifically designed activities — where firing through many questions is needed. Colleagues have described that this technique creates an air of theatre around the activity and can effectively improve engagement. To use the stick method in all moments of questioning in my practice would personally difficult for me to orchestrate and disruptive to my steadying style of teaching. It may be in some time I come to change my opinion on this.

To my knowledge there are other ways of solving the problem of the same learners answering all the questions. Gentle techniques such as allowing thinking time before asking students to raise their hands has been especially effective in my practice. My favoured technique of having a mixture between hand-raising and randomly selecting students is working well for me so far— which doesn’t require a ban on hand-raising.

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