Results of “The Classroom Experiment” are Inconclusive

“The Classroom Experiment” (Part 1 and Part 2) was, essentially, a forced introduction of some alternative instructional strategies into a learning space. I’ll address the strategies individually:

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.

Judgement: Approved.

Alternative References: Lang and Evans, 2006, pp 247-252; Duckor, 2014

Exercise Burst

 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.

Judgement: Inconclusive.

Mini Whiteboards

 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.

Judgement: Inconclusive.

Alternative References: Lots of sites have them for sale, but Google Scholar doesn’t have a single paper on them.

Coloured Cups

 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.

Judgement: Approved

Student Observers

 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.

Judgement: Approved

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.

Judgement: Approved

Alternative ReferencesSmagorinsky, 2008, pp 100-101 (He accepts reality of grades in school; argues for constructive feedback and rubrics whenever possible); Lipnevich and Smith, 2008.

Parent Visitation

 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 ReferencesDavies, 2011, pp 21-22.

Secret Student

 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


2 thoughts on “Results of “The Classroom Experiment” are Inconclusive

  1. Zach your analysis of the video is profound and intriguing, for that I am grateful. I really like how you simplified the different strategies displayed in the thoroughly engaging videos. I would agree wholeheartedly on the topic of coloured cups, I find myself wondering if I could use them in my classroom in high school. What are your thoughts?

    In regards, to the secret student I never saw it quite the way you saw it, but in your statements they opened my eyes to the underlining theme. “It’s a consumerism scheme,” shows me that yes we don’t want our students fixed on the wrong target, but do you think there should be reward for appropriate behaviour? Such as marks? At first I liked the S.S. but now with your revolutionary thoughts I have to think again.

    The one side that I must object is the one referring to Exercise bursts. I believe that exercise is crucially important in todays world yet is being minimized for some reason. Let me know what you think of this article. Being an advocate for physical activity by being a physical educator I strongly see the need for more physical activity, especially in the younger generation. Though I feel I may be from a biased point of view.

    But if it is true and this 10 minutes a day does improve health then I see no reason why we wouldn’t implement this strategy into every school, even though there are a few cons to the point as you have pointed out.

    One topic that I am still contemplating on is the parental involvement. Though I want the parents of the students to be happy and feel valued I am still weary on involving them in my classroom that much. This is ongoing for me, and as I see one embracing it as you are it encourages me to also strongly consider implementing this strategy into my way of teaching. Talking to past teachers they say that the biggest trouble in being a teacher is communicating and cooperating with the students parents. As I hear horror stories and encouraging stories on this topic it has broadened my view on parents involvement in the classroom. Do you think there is a line when it comes to involvement and where would that line be if you were actually in that position currently? I wait for your response with great anticipation.


    • I appreciate your respect Joel, as always, and especially enjoy that we can disagree politely. Let me respond to a few things:

      I absolutely think that cups can be used in high school. The only pitfall is if students see the cups as childish. Let me clarify that point: teenagers, and adults, enjoy playing games and doing things that are fun. What they don’t enjoy is being treated like children – they don’t like condescension. So, don’t lead off with the cups. First, get to know your students, show them that you respect them and their ideas. Then, introduce the cups as a way to help you, as the teacher, help them learn. It’s a tool that allows you to serve them better.

      I don’t like using marks as a reward. As we’ve discussed in class, fewer than a third of students are motivated by marks. Marks are not a reward for good action – they are a reflection of your performance. If you don’t receive the grade you want, you need to examine what concepts or processes challenge you – when you’ve improved them, the grades reflect that improvement. The grades are not, in an of themselves, a reward.

      Your bias for physical activity is a good thing. We’re all biased – we want those biases spread out, so equal arguments can be heard from each side. I love physical activity, and I agree with you – we need more of it for youth. I think the extra ten minutes in the morning would be good, from a physical activity side. What I’m not sure about, from lack of critical sources, is the impact of a boost of exercise on students academic performance in other subjects. Does that exercise improve their math performance? I don’t know. So absolutely, would it help the health of the students? Yes. Re: the article, it’s fine. It says that exercise helps with health, which I agree with. I wish they’d show more citations though.

      When it comes to parents, I think they’re essential. You need open channels of communication with them – horror stories, inevitably, arise from a breakdown in communication. However, there are some ground rules that need to be established. When you communicate with parents, you are informing them of what’s going on. You’re not asking permission, you’re not giving an opt out, or a series of options for them to choose from. However, if they have issues, you need to make it very clear that you’re willing to talk, and the first place they should go with their issues is to you. In 95% of situations, keeping parents informed and giving them a way to express concerns and get more information will prevent problems. In the other 5% of situations, a problem is going to arise anyway – being proactive means you have the channels open and you can deal with the problem directly, so it doesn’t fester. Conflict is part of our job – we prevent, we mitigate, we manage, and we persevere through it. That includes changing our plans if the concerns are valid, and it includes holding our ground if they are not. A final note: teenagers want independence. They want to be respected and treated as adults. With each individual student you need to judge and act accordingly. Some won’t want you talking to their parents. Some would rather you talk to their parents and never speak to them. We need to balance – respect the individuality of the students, keep the parents informed. Too far in either direction is a problem.


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