No Hands Up (with popsicle sticks)
Pros: Even spread of questions (unbiased); motivates all learners to think about each question (all “at risk” of being called); puts the onus for critical thought on individuals (in a low risk setting); motivates learners who consider themselves low-achieving.
Cons: Demotivation of higher end learners (loss of status; need to recognize personal imperfection); adaptation period/ growing pains.
Commentary: This is an equalizing strategy. It increases fairness, decreasing impact of teacher bias. Although there are growing pains, it has the potential to close social gaps between students by reducing the perception of academic achievement (students considered smart are seen to make mistakes; students considered low achievers are seen making correct responses). Once the growing pains subside, this strategy will develop group morale, team cohesion, and will facilitate collaborative learning.
Pros: Additional physical exercise incorporated into every school day.
Cons: Difficult to arrange (arriving early. Need teacher, parental, administrative, and student support); although physical exercise is positive, impact on academic learning is unclear.
Commentary: More physical exercise is a good thing for youth. However, the impact on learning in other topics is difficult to measure. If we implement it, we put ourselves at risk of a Type 1 error; if we don’t, we’re at risk of a Type 2 error. Some statisticians suggest that human’s are more likely to implement the program, even if the benefits are unclear, because the risk of being wrong is lower. More evidence that School Divisions aren’t human.
Pros: Gives a voice to all class members without reducing teacher control (potential con mixed in there); gives teacher immediate feedback on class thinking; encourages higher performing students to remain engaged (counter-measure to No Hands Up).
Cons: Start-up cost; slight learning curve (students learning to treat boards as learning tools); encourages low-level (Bloom’s) questioning (answers on whiteboards are, of necessity, simple); can fool teachers into false sense of security with respect to diagnosing class understanding.
Commentary: Any learning tool can be used inappropriately – it takes a skilled teacher to implement any tool effectively. So the superficial diagnosis con can be ignored, and, if the teacher is cognizant of it, the lower level questioning can be balanced with higher level engagement. However, the teachers in “The Classroom Experiment” did not effectively use the mini-whiteboards and had to be hounded to try. So, evidence is lacking.
Pros: Low cost; low risk way of signalling teacher for help (social stigma mitigation); easy and quick classroom diagnosis for teacher; gives a “middle option” (in a traditional classroom, no hands raised=green, a question=red. Yellow allows for differentiation); offers an alternative way for students to engage with the teacher; can increase class cohesion (students can see that peers are also having trouble).
Cons: …I guess you have to distribute and collect them. Those take time.
Commentary: This is an excellent, low cost, easy-implementation way to increase classroom engagement and give a snapshot of current student understanding. It’s essentially a “pulse” on each and every student. The risk is in poor implementation: if students are flipping to yellow or red, and the teacher ignores them, the system and inherent trust breakdown. To be successful, this technique requires teachers to be sensitive to what their students are telling them, which requires some withitness.
Pros: Students become critical observers of their classroom space, and demand better treatment; students become empathetic with teacher, building respect; students learn useful life skills of observation, note taking, and tactful feedback (pro for holistic pedagogy); the amount of feedback available to a teacher increases several fold.
Cons: If the teacher is ill prepared for constructive feedback, they may: 1) damage relationships with students (by taking feedback poorly); 2) damage trust with students (who feel they can’t provide accurate feedback, for fear of reprisal).
Commentary: This technique requires a mature, professional teacher who respects and believes in their students. If such a teacher implements it, the amount of feedback available to them, and the trust and depth of their relationships with students, will skyrocket. Further, student behaviour and empathy will increase as a result.
Comments Not Grades
Pros: Encourages critical thought by students on past performance; allows greater communication between students and teacher; makes student comparison of outcomes more difficult, limiting social inequality.
Cons: Takes a long time; huge growing pains; negative feedback likely from students, peers, administration, parents.
Commentary: This is tough to implement. There’s a lot of push back against it, because grades are so engrained in our education system. However, it is valuable for student learning. With some adaptation, and careful balancing between graded and ungraded work, this can have excellent results. One technique used in my ELNG 300 class was to return work with feedback, and then we received our grades a week later. I liked it, and, perhaps to improve it, you get your grade after writing a letter to the teacher, responding to the feedback given, and setting goals for improvement.
Pros: Get buy-in from parents before complaints arise; build relationships with community; improve support for techniques at home.
Cons: Takes time.
Commentary: Building relationships with parents is always a useful endeavour – bringing them in to experience life in the classroom is a very time effective way to do so. There’s only one better way to learn about your students – talking to them directly. Bringing in parents also allows parents to learn about you, which is essential to building a trusting relationship.
Alternative References: Davies, 2011, pp 21-22.
Pros: Students are encouraged to “behave”; there is a tangible reward for good behaviour (particularly if grades are based solely on academic performance).
Cons: Strictly extrinsic motivation, with little chance of transition into intrinsic; essentially bribing students; cost associated with reward; motivation plummets if reward is not achieved; it’s a one time thing – each reward is essentially starting fresh; entirely behaviourism in design.
Commentary: I very much dislike this. It teaches students life lessons (so, holistic in design), but not necessarily good ones. It teaches them to only do work for rewards. It doesn’t focus on teamwork, but it does ensure that individuals do not take personal responsibility. It’s a consumerism scheme, by design. It teaches that you either achieve something, or you do not – no middle ground, no learning from the journey. If the Secret Student program is stopped, then students lose all motivation to behave – they may even misbehave, to encourage staff to bring back the program, so they can earn rewards.
Judgement: Not Approved
Alternative References: This article neatly explains this form of manipulation.
“The Classroom Experiment” has some good instructional techniques, a few that are inconclusive, and one that I disagree with strongly. But, overall, did the implementation of these techniques have a profound and lasting impact on those individual learners? It’s hard to tell. There is no magic cure-all in education, nor in anything truly worth doing. However, there were some good suggestions to take, adapt, and implement to improve instruction in the long term.
Overall Judgement: Inconclusive