“Your Hand’s Not Raised? Too Bad: I’m Calling on You Anyway”

I first came across this article by Alfie Kohn on the practice of cold-calling students last year, and I felt embarrassed that I had never really questioned this aspect of my own pedagogy.

Should teachers call on students who haven’t indicated they want to talk and, in fact, have tacitly indicated they don’t want to talk?

I’ve never been too much of a jerk in the classroom, but I’ve certainly used cold-calling on students whose hands are not raised as a way to keep them “on their toes” or even to shame those who were very visibly not engaged. So what’s the alternative? Mr. Kohn suggests:

What we need to develop — with students, not just for them — is a model of discussion that encourages everyone to speak up when they’re ready without forcing anyone to do so, and that supports the community in becoming self-governing rather than giving one person in the room the sole authority to decide who talks when.

I have not successfully created this kind of atmosphere, but it sounds like a goal worth working towards. I do think there's a way to build a rapport with my students such that I can call on them in a way that is still respectful, as part of a "self-governing community" like he describes.

The closing statement from Mr. Kohn sums it all up quite nicely:

But the general rule is that treating students with respect — which means we neither compel them to speak nor determine unilaterally who gets to do so — is ethically appropriate, educationally beneficial, and practically realistic . . . as long as we’re willing to give up some control.