Saturday, March 7, 2015

Cold Call- The Only Technique You Will Ever Need


In the rapidly-changing world of education, there is a myriad of books, resources, programs, and techniques. But forget the trends and false research for a second, because there is only one thing you need for a successful classroom- cold calling.

Ok, you need a lot of things to be a great teacher, but cold call can help you integrate all of those elements successfully to create an incredible classroom.

Cold calling is the simple act of calling on a student to respond to a question, whether they have raised their hand or not.

Cold calling was not developed by Doug Lemov, but it has been very popularized by one of his books, Teach Like A Champion, which is a best-seller, in addition to being extremely controversial. I am going to stay out of this debate for the sake of objectivity. I will say that many of the criticisms of his books are incredibly valid. But if you can put those aside, you can find some life-changing techniques that will change the way you teach.

Yes, life-changing. Those are extremely strong words. But they are also true. I learned more from Lemov's book than from four years of college, and while I disagree with some of his assertions and implications, I believe that he has written the best teaching book ever.

Having said that, cold call is not originally a teaching term. It is used in business. Here is Lemov's definition:

In order to make engaged participation the expectation, call on students regardless of whether they have raised their hands.

That's it? That's going to change my entire classroom? You might be asking yourself those questions, and you would not be wrong to do so. One of the paradoxes of the techniques in Teach Like A Champion is that while being extremely effective, they are simultaneously incredible simple. While teachers are often overwhelmed by new programs, books, ideas, research, and resources, cold call is a timeless technique that teachers have been executing for years. If you want to see it in action, take a look at the clip below.


I love watching this clip. It has helped me model how to integrate the technique into my own classroom. Cold Calling can be used for any subject and at any grade level. I have never cold-called students while they were standing, ironically, although I am considering it now. Here are some benefits to this amazing technique:

1) It's fun! You can use it as a game for extra credit points by keeping track of groups, individuals, or boys vs. girls. (The latter seems to generate the most excitement in my classroom.

2) It is fantastic for guided reading! Yesterday in my classroom we concluded the Tom Robinson trial in To Kill A Mockingbird. My students were enthralled. Cold calling for reading brief passages can help build suspense and keep students on their toes, especially for engaging text. Students want to be successful. It can build intrinsic motivation or extrinsic motivation in the point system described above. Lemov refers to Control The Game in his book, which is essentially cold-calling guided reading. I use this technique constantly.

3) It builds "ratio". Ratio is another Lemov term, which is essentially how much learning and active schema is being created in your classroom in a certain period of time. The higher your ratio, the more your students are learning. I observed a teacher doing a "read aloud" for their classroom. The teacher had the book, but no students did. Many students put their heads down and were not even paying attention. Here, the ratio is low. An effective teacher will have copies of the text (even if they are short passages) for all students so they can follow along, and can also cold call higher-level students to read. This can model fluency and even decoding strategies, especially for English Language Learners. Here the ratio is dramatically increased, especially with cold-calling text-dependent questions and Common Core question stems.

4) It build rigor. When I cold-call students I think a lot about Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. What is a question that they can realistically answer, but will also stretch their intellectual capabilities? If all students know that they can expect a question, you are building ratio, while having your students push themselves and their metacognition. 

5) It provides great opportunity for differentiated instruction and scaffolding. In Atticus' closing speech of To Kill A Mockingbird, you could ask several different questions based on student abilities:

A) How is Atticus trying to prove Tom Robinson's innocence?
B) Which repeated words and phrases help convey Atticus' tone and his attitudes towards Mayella Ewell?
C) Why does Harper Lee have Scout enter the court room and only hear parts of the trial, such as this one? What does that suggest about her purpose for writing the text, especially her tone and the audience she wrote for?
D) What is the effect of Calpurnia entering the courtroom at the end? How does it affect the mood of the story?
E) If you could rate each character from 1-10 based on their level of courage, how would you rate Mayella Ewell? Cite textual evidence to explain.
F) If you were to make a plot diagram for the text so far, what would it look like? Would the trial or the verdict itself be the climax? Explain why.

I particularly love this last question, because Lee's book is very atypical in terms of plot. You could argue that one might even have to create two separate plot diagrams- one for the Tom Robinson trial and one for Scout and Boo Radley. All of these questions have different levels of rigor and help challenge students in different ways based on their abilities and reading comprehension and inferring skills.

The second to last question is also great. I got it from my coworker. Depending on how much detail you want to go into, that question could be an entire lesson where students give a rating to each character in the trial.

6) It can help builds students' confidence. For students that have difficulties with a given skill or particular content, you can cold-call them with less rigorous questions. This can help build their self-esteem, in addition to building a strong classroom environment. When I call on English Language Learners to read, students often clap afterwards on their own volition. This helps struggling readers (including special education students) to build confidence in their own abilities.

7) It is fantastic for close reading. If you practice creating questions using Common Core Question Stems, you can quickly have students responds with their own questions or answers based on whatever text(s) you are reading in class.

8) It is a great assessment tool. This is its best merit and most critical attribute. A popular term in education is "checking for understanding". Assessments, formal or informal, are essential to a successful classroom, and cold call is a great way to see if your students are achieving mastery. Do Nows and Exit Slips are great, but a quick cold call can give you instant feedback and you can see if your teaching is effective.

9) It is a great way to defend evidence! You can ask a student what they think about a response, dipstick with your remaining students, and then ask a student to defend why they agree or disagree with their peer's claim.

10) It rocks for pacing! Instead of waiting for students to raise their hands, you can simply call on students to move along the pace of your lesson. Again, the questions should be appropriate for the students. You can also integrate other of Lemov's techniques such as No Opt Out, Stretch It, and 100% to maintain the fluidity of your lesson.

11) It is an effective classroom management tool. It conveys to the students that the instructor has the authority. Students can no longer "choose" to participate in various activities; they are now all participants. This is great for teacher direction so that the instructor can establish clear expectations such as CHAMP.

These are a few simple reasons why Cold Calling has revolutionized my classroom; I hope that it can help yours as well. Feel free to comment on your successes and challenges with this incredible technique.

6 comments:

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